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The Dark History Of Deathstroke

Since his debut in 1980's "The New Teen Titans" #2, Deathstroke has forged a dark path, ultimately becoming one of DC Comics' most dangerous characters. The mercenary is most famous for his rivalry with the Teen Titans, whom he has fought against (and occasionally alongside) for many years. Deathstroke's regenerative abilities and unparalleled skill in combat make him a fierce opponent for the Titans, but it is his skill with manipulation that makes him truly dangerous. Deathstroke has also been a thorn in the Justice League's side, sometimes nearly defeating the storied team of heroes.

Deathstroke has been adapted into a variety of media. "Hellboy" star Ron Perlman provided the character's voice in the 2003 animated series "Teen Titans," while his character was adapted for live-action on The CW's "Arrow," and HBO Max's "Titans," played by Manu Bennett and Esai Morales respectively. Additionally, Deathstroke made his film debut in 2017's "Justice League," played by "Spider-Man" actor Joe Manganiello.

Between his rocky relationship with his family and his ruthless professional code, Deathstroke the Terminator is a complex character with one of the bloodiest pasts in comics. These are the darkest moments in the mercenary's history.

Deathstroke gets skeezy with Terra

Deathstroke is a pretty despicable guy. The mercenary has manipulated many people throughout his history — including vulnerable young women like his daughter, Rose Wilson, and part-time Teen Titan, Terra. Terra and Slade's relationship is a dark one indeed: The duo meet when Terra is just 15, and embark upon a sexual relationship while she's spying on the Teen Titans for him. The 1984 arc "The Judas Contract," which begins in "Tales of the Teen Titans" #42, explores their creepy relationship, as Deathstroke uses the unstable Terra for his own ends.

Deathstroke's manipulation of Terra is unforgivable. It's so dark, in fact, that it sets him apart from many other DC villains — to say nothing of how much distance it creates between him and the canon's heroes. In an interview with Superman Homepage, celebrated comics writer Christopher Priest discussed Deathstroke's "skeevy" relationship with Terra, and how it makes him the first "modern supervillain." As an out-and-out jerk who isn't, as Priest put it, "some misunderstood anarchist," Deathstroke embodies an evil "beyond the Joker, [and] well beyond Lex Luthor." 

A father's failure

Deathstroke's career as a mercenary begins after he's subjected to governmental experimentation. This tinkering makes Deathstroke into a semi-evil Captain America, allowing him to use 90% of his brain's capacity and giving him complete control of his body, along with a good ol' dose of super strength. Now one of the most deadly characters in DC Comics, Deathstroke uses his newfound powers to begin his life as a killer-for-hire ... while keeping his career a secret from his wife, Adeline Kane. In the end, however, his two worlds brutally collide.

In 1984's "Tales of the Teen Titans" #44, a terrorist known as the Jackal takes Slade Wilson's son Joseph hostage and demands to know the name of the client who hired Deathstroke to kill him. Deathstroke refuses to tell him, abiding by a strict personal code, and his son pays the price. Despite his father's attempts to save him, Joey's throat is cut before Deathstroke can intervene. He survives, though his vocal cords are destroyed, rendering him mute. This low point is the catalyst for Deathstroke losing his eye — and his family.

Deathstroke's marriage comes to a violent end

Slade Wilson meets Adeline Kane while serving in the military during the early 1960s. Adeline takes an interest in Slade after seeing how gifted in combat and martial arts he is. The two fall in love, and Adeline begins training Slade as he steadily climbs up the ranks of the Army. Soon enough, they get married and have their first child. Everything seems to be going well for the Wilson family — until Slade undergoes clandestine experimentation, gains powers, and begins his new career as an assassin.

Slade keeps his life as Deathstroke away from his wife — for a while. This ruse falls apart when their son, Joey, is attacked by the Jackal. Devastated by what has happened to her child and her husband's betrayal, Adeline attempts to put a bullet through Slade's head. The gunshot only takes out his right eye, however, otherwise leaving Slade unharmed. It's a dark origin for the mercenary's signature feature, but when it comes to Deathstroke, nothing sunnier would be appropriate.

Deathstroke takes down the Atom

Following Geoff Johns' 2009 "Blackest Night" series, which sees zombified superheroes battle the Green Lantern Corps, Deathstroke forms his own Titans. Cheshire, Arsenal, the Tattooed Man, and Cinder come together as a group of anti-heroes to take on what 2010's "Titans: Villains for Hire Special" #1 describes as "the most volatile and profitable jobs in the world."

Things go sour pretty much instantly, culminating in Deathstroke putting a sword through Ryan Choi, a.k.a. the Atom. Choi is the fourth character to don the Atom's mantle: The character was introduced in 2006's "Brave New World" #1, before starring in his own series, 2006's "The All-New Atom." His death proved controversial amongst fans, as Choi was one of the '00s only high-profile superheroes of Asian descent. 

In an interview with CBR, writer Eric Wallace explained the reasoning behind Ryan's death: "First, everyone at DC wanted to show right off the bat what this new Deathstroke-led Titans was capable of and how far they would go to complete a mission. And secondly, Ryan's tragic death is a part of Deathstroke's larger plan." Fortunately for fans, Ryan Choi is eventually restored through complex superhero science. But no one is likely to forget the sight of his gruesome murder at Deathstroke's hands any time soon.

The destruction of Terra

Originally printed in 1984's "Tales of the Teen Titans," "The Judas Contract" storyline features one of the Teen Titans' biggest betrayals. After serving as a Titan for months, Terra makes her true colors known in "Tales" #42: She's been feeding Deathstroke their inside info all along. Deathstroke proceeds to go after the Titans one by one, to fulfill his late son Grant's contract with the H.I.V.E. Deathstroke shows no mercy in his pursuit of the Titans, using Terra's intel to brutally incapacitate every single one. Fortunately for the Titans, Deathstroke fails to capture Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Nightwing.

Deathstroke's origins are subsequently revealed when Dick meets Adeline and Joseph Kane at Titans Tower. Nightwing and Joseph, now known as Jericho, go on to confront the H.I.V.E at their base in the Rocky Mountains in 1984's "Tales of the Teen Titans Annual" #3. Chaos ensues: Jericho possesses Deathstroke with his unique powers and uses his father's body to free the Titans and attack the H.I.V.E. An unstable Terra rejects Deathstroke, repulsed by his love for his son. Her geokinetic powers go haywire, and she is killed by debris from the falling mountain. It's a tragic end for a young woman Deathstroke ruthlessly manipulated.

Jericho dies at his father's hands

Jericho, Deathstroke's second son with Adeline Kane, first appears in 1984's "Tales of the New Titans" #42. The heroic young man fights with the Teen Titans following the events of "The Judas Contract," using his powers to possess others after making eye contact. Jericho develops a bond with Raven after briefly possessing her, though this comes back to haunt him — literally.

Unable to possess Raven, the lost souls of Azarath take control of Jericho after they are exposed to the demonic essence of Raven's father, Trigon. As is revealed in 1992's "The New Titans" #83, the souls lay dormant, gaining strength from Jericho's powers, until moving on to the next phase of their possession: Taking control of more superhuman bodies. Slowly and methodically, under the souls' influence, Jericho captures various members of the Titans from past and present. This results in a clash with Nightwing and a heart-wrenching moment for Jericho's father.

"The New Titans" #83 sees things reach a bloody end as Deathstroke, our heroes, and their allies confront the possessed hero. The truth about the souls of Azarath is revealed, and Jericho reaches ghoulish heights of power. Yet a shred of his true self endures — and he begs his father to put him out of his misery. Recognizing there is no other way, Deathstroke slays his son with a single sword strike.

Deathstroke drives his wife insane

Slade Wilson and Adeline Kane's marriage is complicated, to say the least. A soldier who later becomes a mercenary like her husband, Adeline is not to be trifled with — she shoots Deathstroke through the eye, after all. If that wasn't enough to cement their toxic relationship, another tragic turn tears the duo apart when Deathstroke drives his estranged wife insane.

A thrilling caper in Egypt brings Adeline and Slade together again in 1994's "Deathstroke the Terminator" #34. Unfortunately, it ends in violence, forcing Slade to give Adeline a blood transfusion. 1995's "Deathstroke the Terminator Annual" #4 reveals that Slade's blood has given Adeline the same regenerative abilities her ex-husband enjoys. But there's a terrible cost to these powers: As Slade quickly deduces in combat, his blood is driving Adeline insane. 

After years of violence, manipulation, and underworld dealings, Adeline dies in 2000's "Titans" #12. Ensnared in a plot to use her blood to create an immortality elixir, Adeline begs Deathstroke to kill her. Instead, Starfire uses her starbolts to end her torment, leaving Deathstroke to mourn the woman he loved and lost.

The many deaths of Wintergreen

William Randolph Wintergreen first appears in 1980's "New Teen Titans" #2. His relationship with Deathstroke is somewhat similar to the one between Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth: Wintergreen is Deathstroke's butler, best friend, comrade, and confidant, until his tragic death.

To be fair to Deathstroke, killing Wintergreen isn't really his fault. After his death at the hands of his father, Jericho makes a typically comic book-y return when it's revealed that he transferred his consciousness to Deathstroke's mind at the moment of his death. In 2003's "Teen Titans" #2, Jericho, twisted by long proximity to his father's villainous mind, takes control of Deathstroke's body and kills Wintergreen. 

Wintergreen later returns from the grave in 2010's "Teen Titans" #77, as part of the "Blackest Night" event. Wintergreen, Adeline, Grant Wilson, and a number of other dead Deathstroke-related characters rise as zombie-ish Black Lanterns, forcing Jericho to kill his father's friend (and every other undead corpse hanging around) a second time. Thankfully, Wintergreen is back in action as of DC's 2016 "Rebirth" event, but still — no one's likely to forget Deathstroke's right-hand man has died twice at the hands of the Wilson family.

Deathstroke's daughter goes into the family business

The Skywalkers and Targaryens combined have got nothing on the Wilsons. Deathstroke shares a strained relationship with his ex-wife and his sons, but his relationship with his daughter Rose really shows the mercenary at his darkest. Rose first appears in 1992's "Deathstroke the Terminator" #15. Her mother, a Cambodian woman named Lillian Worth, met Slade after his relationship with Adeline crumbled to its end. 

Initially, Deathstroke avoids Rose after discovering her existence, believing she is better off without him. He's not wrong. In 2004's "Teen Titans" Vol 3 #1/2, the mercenary attempts to get close to his daughter by sending his half-brother Wade LaFarge, a.k.a. the Ravager, to kill her adoptive family. After the massacre, Deathstroke whisks Rose away, claiming to want to care for her ... which means training her in his bloody business. Her first act as Deathstroke's apprentice? She kills her uncle Wade and becomes the new Ravager. Rose's story has taken many twists and turns since, but one thing remains the same: Her relationship to her father remains a constant source of trauma, violence, and death.

The sad tale of Rose Wilson

Slade Wilson's terrible parenting doesn't end there. In 2004's "Teen Titans" #12, after Rose fails to kill her half-brother, Jericho, Deathstroke excoriates her for her "failure." Desperate to prove her loyalty and driven half-mad by the super-soldier serum her father injected her with, Rose gouges out her right eye to match her father. As she chillingly tells Deathstroke, "I'm just like you, Daddy."

The years since this act of mutilation have been complex ones for Rose. In 2005's "Batgirl" #64, Rose attacks Cassandra Cain, then serving as Batgirl. Batgirl defeats her, and correctly identifies Rose as entirely driven by a desire for her father's approval. Years later, in 2016's "Deathstroke" #3, it's revealed that Deathstroke sent Rose to Nightwing for training in the intervening years. Regardless of these good intentions, in the present day, he's interrupting her life to put swords in her hands once more. Moreover, he spends the entire issue insulting her as a good-for-nothing brat who does nothing but live life as though "every day is Spring Break." If he's not blowing her life apart, he's berating her for attempting to live normally.

Deathstroke plays a role in the destruction of an entire city

Slade Wilson has a lot of blood on his hands. In 2005's "Villains United" series, which is part of the build-up to that year's "Infinite Crisis" event, Deathstroke teams up with other supervillains including Lex Luthor, Talia al Ghul, and Black Mask to form the Secret Society of Super-Villains. It is while he's with the Society that Deathstroke enacts one of his darkest deeds yet: Destroying the city of Bludhaven. In 2006's "Infinite Crisis" #4, Deathstroke and a number of other villains drop the radioactive monster Chemo on the city. The villain's radiation devastates Bludhaven, killing thousands of innocents.

This horrific act stands out as one of the mercenary's most unforgivable deeds, and highlights Deathstroke's status as one of the most dangerous characters in DC Comics. There is no limit, when it comes to Deathstroke: He will do anything and kill anyone to achieve his goals. 

Grant Wilson's long road to vengenace

Multiple members of the Wilson family have taken up the mantle of the Ravager, including Deathstroke's son, Grant Wilson. The character first appears in 1980's "New Teen Titans" #1. As the first Ravager, Grant accepts a contract from the H.I.V.E to take out the Teen Titans. He is unsuccessful, perishing in his attempt in "New Teen Titans" #2 — that's right, one single issue after his introduction. He returns briefly during the "Blackest Night" series as an undead Black Lantern.

The New 52 changed Grant's history, as well as his relationship with his father. 2012's "Deathstroke" #6 captures the grueling years of training Slade put Grant through: Constant insults and gruesome contract killings were the norm. The end of this issue reveals that this treatment has never been forgotten by Grant — he's put together a complex scheme in the hopes of finally getting revenge on his father. Yet "Deathstroke" #7 sees him unable to deliver the killing blow against his father. There is no triumphant mercy in this moment, however — just the sad resignation of a son utterly broken by his  father.

That time Deathstroke beat Batman within an inch of his life

It takes a special sort of supervillain to get the upper hand over Batman. Deathstroke has clashed with the Caped Crusader on multiple occasions, sometimes besting the Bat and other times falling short. The 1991 "City of Assassins" story arc sees Slade Wilson hand Batman one of his most humiliating defeats yet. 

In 1992's "Deathstroke the Terminator" #7, Batman confronts the mercenary while he investigates a series of murders. The Dark Knight tries to apprehend him, but Deathstroke quickly gains the upper hand and beats Batman within an inch of his life, leaving him crumpled beneath a fallen bookcase. Few characters can boast of beating Batman like this: The Dark Knight is a combat expert with a plethora of gadgets and an insane amount of wealth backing him up. One thing he doesn't have though? Powers. Batman's lack of abilities can be exploited, as his defeat by Deathstroke proves. The Caped Crusader might be a master of martial arts, but this doesn't necessarily make him a match for a mercenary with regenerative abilities and the power to use way more of his brain than most people. Sorry, Batman.

The day Deathstroke actually killed the Teen Titans

Deathstroke has proved a formidable enemy for the Teen Titans throughout his history. For the most part, however, he doesn't manage to triumph over the adolescent super-team ... but only for the most part. In 2009's "Booster Gold" #22, Black Beetle's meddling in the past leads to several changes in the timeline. One change allows Deathstroke to finally achieve his grisly goal: Alongside his son Grant, he kills the Teen Titans.

Fortunately, Booster Gold restores the timeline and erases the Titans' death. But no fan is likely to forget the sight of the Titans' bodies lying bruised, bloody, and broken at Deathstroke's feet, finally defeated by their most persistent enemy. "Wow! I did it! The Titans are done for!" Grant exclaims excitedly, surrounded by smoking rubble. "Nice work, kid," Deathstroke tells him. "You did well." Grant proceeds to check Robin's body for signs of life, finding none. It's a dark day for the DC universe, but a dazzling one for Deathstroke — even if it is short-lived.