The untold truth of Deathstroke

The classic DC baddie Deathstroke has enjoyed a resurgence the past few years thanks in large part to the CW's Arrow, and fresh off a surprise appearance on the big screen in Justice League, Slade Wilson is only getting more popular.

As we settle in for True Blood and Magic Mike vet Joe Manganiello's version of the character in the DC Extended Universe, we're taking a deep dive into the character and offering a few tidbits you might not know about one of DC Comics' greatest tacticians and most dangerous villains. From his TV history to some of his greatest (and weirdest) comic battles, here's the untold truth of Deathstroke.

He's been causing trouble in the DC universe for almost 40 years

Though he's likely best known for his more recent work, especially his roles on Arrow and the upcoming Batman film, Deathstroke caused trouble on the comics page for almost 40 years. Slade Wilson was introduced in New Teen Titans #2, which was released in December of 1980. Not surprisingly, fans loved the character, and that one-off cameo role would eventually spawn an ongoing series that kept on trucking for more than 60 issues. Slade has scored a smattering of standalone books in the years since as well.

Along the way, he's taken shots at just about every DC hero in the books (hey, he is an assassin, right?), plus a few prominent citizens, too. One of the biggest? In the Family Business arc, Deathstroke makes a botched attempt to assassinate the President of the United States himself, and winds up framed for the murder of a U.S. Senator soon after.

He was the Terminator...no, not that Terminator

When Slade Wilson was first introduced in the early 1980s, he was known as Deathstroke: the Terminator. His first appearance came four years before James Cameron's time-traveling sci-fi flick of the same name, but by the mid-'80s, most people associated the "Terminator" moniker with Arnold Schwarzenegger's hulking robo-killer (or protector, depending on the sequel) regardless of who came first. (Hey, it's hard for a mid-tier comic to compete with a blockbuster. At least it was before we started getting blockbuster movies about those B-list characters.) To avoid any brand confusion with its own stone cold killer, DC opted to quietly retire the "Terminator" subtitle and just stick with Deathstroke. But hey, never forget—Slade had it first.

Deathstroke took out the Justice League (well, most of it)

Lest you doubt the badass-ness of Deathstroke, just remember that he took on most of the Justice League at one point—and took down the majority of DC's Mightiest Heroes.

As part of DC's Identity Crisis storyline in 2004, Slade was employed as the bodyguard for Doctor Light. As part of the gig, Deathstroke had to protect him from a large contingent of the Justice League, and took care of business all on his own. Have we mentioned Slade is a master tactician yet? He faced off against a team comprised of the Green Lantern, the Flash, Green Arrow, Atom, Hawkman, Zatanna, Elongated Man and Black Canary (with A-listers Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman absent, it's worth noting). And he had the heroes on the ropes, at least until he lost his temper.

In a move not unlike something Batman might attempt, Deathstroke strategized how to take down each separate member, and systematically started neutralizing them. From manipulation to using their abilities against them, Slade had a plan and kept to it. For a while. It was working pretty well, until Green Arrow jammed an arrow through his eye and sent him into a blind rage (no pun intended). At that point, he just started pounding on Green Arrow trying to kill him, which gave the rest of the team an opening to tackle him to the ground and stop the fight. So close, Slade. So close.

He defeated the X-Men, including Wolverine and Colossus

The 1980s were a glorious time when DC and Marvel weren't afraid to crossover for some truly insane—and fun—comics events. Deathstroke got a chance to prowl around the Marvel Comics universe as part of Marvel and DC's The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans one-off, which found the Titans and X-Men teaming up to stop Darkseid from gaining near-limitless power. But the Titans brought along their most famous nemesis Deathstroke along for the ride, who took out both the Titans and the X-Men along the way. Not even Wolverine and Colossus could defeat him when the battle started. Wolverine managed to land a blow, but Deathstroke deflected most of the punch; Colossus tried to hit him, missed, and was tossed off a cliff. Slade has always been portrayed as a master tactician, but it took things to another level to see him literally slugging it out with Wolverine, Storm and Colossus. It just proved again that he's a force to be reckoned with—even when he's making surprise trips to the Marvel Universe. 

He helped inspire Deadpool

You don't have to look much further than their names, skill sets, and full-body face masks to realize Deathstroke and Deadpool share a few things. Well, there's a good reason for that: Deadpool is basically an homage to Deathstroke, just with a much snarkier attitude. Deadpool co-creators Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld were reportedly big fans of Deathstroke, so they borrowed from their fan favorite when putting together the pitch for Slade Wilson (no, not Wade Wilson). 

Of course, over the years the characters diverged quite a lot once Deadpool's story developed, leading him everywhere from his team-ups with Cable to his tenure on a few Avengers rosters. Liefeld said as much in regards to the similarities: "While ruthless, there is certain nobility to Slade. He tried to have a normal family at one point, and believed in honor amongst thieves. Wade, while canny, is an insane person. The similarities are they both shoot guns and wield swords."

Arrow's Deathstroke wasn't always excited about how the character was handled

For a lot of fans, Spartacus: War of the Damned and The Hobbit vet Manu Bennett's portrayal of Deathstroke in the first few seasons of the CW's Arrow was probably their introduction point to the character. Bennett did an amazing job, bringing heart, menace, and nuance to the role, and as Arrow rolls through its sixth season, he remains one of the best bad guys the show has ever featured. But that doesn't mean Bennett was always psyched about the way his character was handled.

After serving as the main big bad in season 2, Deathstroke was largely sidelined in season 3—only popping up for the one-off episode "The Return," which sent Oliver and Thea back to Lian Yu, where Slade was being held at an ARGUS prison. While they're there, Slade gets loose (surprise), and the siblings manage to take him out by the hour's end. Bennett was displeased, telling The Music the character "had a lot of possibilities," but ultimately the writers took his arc "in the wrong direction." Namely: "It took the Justice League to defeat him [in the comics]; it took an army to take him on. In Arrow, it took awhile for Oliver [Queen/Arrow] to prove his point, but [season three] was just a beating of Slade, adding insult to injury."

Thankfully, after keeping him on the sideline for a couple of years, Deathstroke is back and better than ever on Arrow. The character was reintroduced in a recurring role at the end of season 5, and has remained a recurring player in season 6. Slade is now an anti-hero of sorts, on a mission to reconnect with his estranged children. Upon returning, Bennett said he had some long talks with executive producer Marc Guggenheim about how the character will be handled, and he's happy with the direction in season 6.

Arrow's real-life Deathstroke had some trouble with the law

Deathstroke is known for his physicality and fighting skills, so it's no surprise the ultra-buff Manu Bennett was tasked with bringing the DC Comics legend to life for the first time on the CW's Arrow. But it turns out Bennett also has a few fighting skills of his own, which got him into a bit of trouble last year when he was a guest at a comic book convention.

While serving as a guest at San Antonio Comic-Con in September 2015, Bennett went from signing autographs to getting fingerprinted. According to My San Antonio, the 45-year-old actor allegedly punched a 29-year-old man in the face while attending a party, and was later arrested and charged. The details of the fight were never made public, but perhaps the younger guy made fun of his mask? Thankfully for fans, Bennett's stint in custody didn't last long. He was charged with assault causing bodily injury and released on a $1,600 bond. Unlike Deathstroke, Bennett does not possess the abilities to escape the authorities (and it didn't even take ARGUS to put him behind bars).

He's basically the evil Captain America, except at DC

Sure, he might be evil, but Deathstroke's origin is remarkably similar to Marvel's First Avenger. Slade Wilson's story begins when he was just a teenager, as he enlists in military service early in an effort to serve his country. Slade serves a tour or two in Korea, and becomes an excellent soldier. At that point, he's recruited into a mysterious Army super-soldier program (sound familiar?), and winds up with enhanced abilities that are (surprise!) very similar to Captain America's. He also has the ability to use a lot more of his brain, which is where all that tactical prowess comes into play (think Limitless, but more evil and comic book-y).

Here's where the path's diverge: Where Captain America has stayed locked in and continued serving his country (a recent, Hydra-related twist notwithstanding), Deathstroke had a falling out with the military following a dispute with his superiors and was no longer allowed to serve. With his particular set of skills, about the only other business he's suited for is mercenary work.

From there, Slade built his career as one of the most dangerous villains in the DC universe, while Cap became one of Marvel's greatest heroes. It's amazing the difference a few decisions can make along the way, right?

His family life is seriously messed up

Unlike a lot of comic book villains, Slade Wilson is also a family man—and his family has crossed paths with the Teen Titans. In almost every case, it did not go well. His son Grant cut a deal with the evil H.I.V.E. for enhanced abilities to take out the young heroes; calling himself the Ravager, he attacked the Titans, and though Deathstroke tracked him down to help him in the fight, the superpower enhancements taxed Grant's body too much, and he died in his father's arms. Slade's second son, Joseph, was kidnapped when a mission went sideways and had his throat slit while Deathstroke was trying to rescue him. Joseph survived, but the injury severed his vocal cords, leaving him unable to speak. Slade's wife, upset over the whole ordeal, shot him in the face and damaged his eye. And that's not all: his daughter Rose became a villain (and sometimes-hero) under the adopted mantle Ravager, occasionally working with the Teen Titans after training under Nightwing. She also worked a stint for the mysterious N.O.W.H.E.R.E. organization along the way.

He's getting his own solo movie

Warner Bros. has a laundry list of DCEU spinoffs and solo movies in various stages of development—and Deathstroke is on the list. The studio is eyeing Gareth Evans (The Raid) to write and direct a proposed solo outing, which would star Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke. The project is apparently still in the very early stages of development, but with Deathstroke popping up in Justice League's post-credit scene, you know the studio has big plans for the character. He's also rumored to be a possible player in DC's solo Batman film (the original draft reportedly had him as the primary villain), depending on how the new script shakes out. So if this solo project catches fire, we might not have to wait very long at all to see Deathstroke back on the big screen.

Arrow's Deathstroke had some fun with his DCEU counterpart

When you look at Manu Bennett, the guy who played Slade Wilson on Arrow, and Joe Manganiello, the guy playing Deathstroke in the upcoming Batman film, something stands out—these guys actually do look pretty similar. They're big, bearded, and share that same type of rugged handsomeness. Bennett showed exactly how the character should be portrayed in live action, and Warner Bros. followed suit by casting the same type of actor, and just going with a bigger name in Manganiello. The similarities weren't lost on Bennett along the way.

When word of Manganiello's casting started to break online, following a report from The Wrap and Ben Affleck's sharing of some Deathstroke concept footage, Bennett himself chimed in on the casting news. His thoughts? If Manganiello was taking over his old Deathstroke mask, Bennett should take over the … slightly more revealing outfit Manganiello sported in his box office hit Magic Mike, a film dramedy about male strippers. Sadly for fans who'd like to see Bennett shake it on stage alongside Magic Mike star Channing Tatum, it doesn't seem to be a tit for tat kind of deal.

Hellboy himself played Slade (twice) in animated form

Though he's still pretty new to the live action realm, Deathstroke has kicked around DC's animated universe for years. Thankfully, even in cartoon form, Warner Bros. knew they had to get the character right, so they turned to veteran actor Ron Perlman (arguably best known for bringing Hellboy to life in Guillermo del Toro's cult hit film) to bring Slade to life on more than one occasion.

Perlman voiced the character in the animated film Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. In this alternate timeline, Deathstroke is portrayed as the captain of a ship called the Ravager that comes under attack by the Atlantean army after he teams up with Lex Luthor to try and steal Aquaman's doomsday device. He handles the army pretty well, despite the long odds, but can't quite keep up with Black Manta's optic blasts in the end.

Perlman reprised the role (going by Slade at this point, because "Deathstroke" can be a pretty scary moniker) in the 2006 DC animated series Teen Titans, which aired on the WB and Cartoon Network. This version leaned a bit more heavily into the criminal mastermind take on the character (did we mention he's a master tactician?), as opposed to the more ruthless mercenary angle. Which makes sense, considering this was a show aimed at kids.

He's also been president of the United States

In another animated appearance, it seems Slade decided to use his big brain for something a bit more productive than just killing people. An alternate version of the character is introduced in DC's animated film Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (voiced by Bruce Davison, as opposed to Perlman). In this world, Slade has gone into politics and climbed the ladder to become the President of the United States. He's unsurprisingly a pretty badass POTUS, leading U.S. forces alongside the Justice League to battle the Syndicate. Going back to Slade's origin story as a soldier, this version of the character never went into mercenary work, and instead decided to serve his fellow man as opposed to serving them hot lead. Another interesting, mirror universe tidbit worth noting: This Slade has an eyepatch on his left eye instead of the right.

Deathstroke is only getting bigger

It's been a long time coming, but Slade Wilson is arguably bigger than he's ever been. Manu Bennett's portrayal in Arrow continues to blow fans away, and has opened up a whole new fanbase for the character. He's also riding a wave of excellent comics appearances, as DC's Rebirth line continues to light up the sales charts. With everything from a solo film to DCEU appearances in the offing, he could very well be the next breakout comic book star. Get ready for maximum Deathstroke in the years ahead…just don't call him "Terminator."