The killer success of Fox’s Deadpool franchise has made subversive superheroes and R-rated comic book adaptations all the rage in Hollywood so it’s no surprise to find a wave of elite assassins and lab-created warriors following in his ultra-violent footsteps. What is surprising, however, is how many of the characters have sound-alike names and similar backstories. Below is our “who’s who” index of five comic book properties that are gunning for Hollywood hits but may find themselves in a brand-name crossfire in a marketplace crowded with high-caliber competition.
DEADSHOT Suicide Squad sequel, (Warner Bros., August 2021)
On Screen: Will Smith played a world-weary version of this world-class marksman in David Ayers’ Suicide Squad (2016) but he won’t be back for the sequel. Incoming director James Gunn has already targeted Idris Elba for the role.
Background: Floyd Lawton, aka Deadshot, wore a top hat and tux when he was first introduced in a 1950 issue of Batman but the character didn’t become a formal fan-favorite until his 1977 redesign by artist Marshall Rogers, who gave the hitman his signature look: wrist-mounted guns and a sleek metal helmet with a target scope over the right eye. Deadshot has been portrayed as a conflicted crook or even anti-hero at times.
Sounds Familiar: The year before Deadshot’s disco-era revival, Marvel introduced Bullseye, another masked assassin who boasts that he “never misses a shot.” Who is the sharper shooter? Ben Affleck might be a good judge of that — as the title character of Daredevil (2003) he battled Bullseye (Colin Farrell) and in Suicide Squad his Batman was in Deadshot’s sights.
Big Difference: Deadshot has no super powers, he relies on talent and training, which makes him similar to, say, Batman and Green Arrow — but makes him unique among the five characters in our spotlight.
DEATHSTROKE THE TERMINATOR Titans (DC Universe, Season 2, date TBA)
On Screen: Esai Morales will portray Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke, next season on Titans on DC Universe, the streaming site. Manu Bennett played Slade in 39 episodes of the soon-retiring CW series Arrow. Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) provided Wilson’s gravely voice in 18 episodes of the Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans, while Joe Manganiello’s stint as Deathstroke was limited to a post-credits cameo in Justice League (2017).
Backstory: A DC Comics character created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez and introduced in The New Teen Titans in 1980. Wilson was an elite commando before the Army gave him a superhuman upgrade. He can use 90% of his brain but only 50% of his vision. (His wife shot his eye out, hence the distinctive one-eyed mask.)
Sounds Familiar: Just how many one-of-a-kind super-soliders are there in comic books anyway? Wilson was preceded by Captain America, the Red Skull, Black Widow, and OMAC, and then followed by Bloodshot, Nuke, Winter Soldier, to name just a few.
Big Difference: Deathstroke is portrayed in his earliest comic appearances as a manipulative mastermind and expect Titans (a show that pushes hard into mature-audience themes and imagery) to double-down on his pervy ways and sadistic streak. While some versions (notably the Arrow portrayal) present Deathstroke in a different light, his early comics persona qualifies him as the only pure super-villain among the five characters in our spotlight.
DEADPOOL Deadpool II sequel (Fox/Disney, Date TBD)
On Screen: Ryan Reynolds has portrayed Deadpool in three Fox films (plus a savvy PG-13 repackaging of the most recent film, last year’s Deadpool 2) and fourth will be on the way as soon as Disney sorts out the merging of two studio universes. Reynolds fought for a decade to make the first solo Deadpool film in 2016 — the film then delivered the largest R-rated opening weekend in Hollywood history. Currently second on that all-time list? Deadpool 2, from last year.
Back Story: Created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza, Deadpool was introduced by Marvel Comics in 1990 in the pages of The New Mutants No. 98. The mercenary mutant evolved into the most inherently satirical major Marvel Comics character since Howard the Duck and the only one that routinely breaks the fourth-wall (a trademark that makes the big-screen version like a profane, ninja-version of Ferris Bueller). Deadpool’s name is a reference to a group gambling game predicting fatalities, just like Clint Eastwood’s fifth and final Dirty Harry film, The Dead Pool.
Sounds Familiar: Co-creator Liefeld has said Deadpool was inspired by both Spider-Man (with his motor-mouth humor and nimble fighting style) and Wolverine (another un-killable mutant who underwent a laboratory “upgrade”) but the most direct influence on the character’s look was clearly DC’s Deathstroke character. The Deadpool creators weren’t especially shy or subtle about it, either: They opted to name their mercenary Wade Wilson, a clear nod to Deathstoke’s civilian name, Slade Wilson.
Big Difference: Deadpool is hilarious. The other four characters in our “who’s who” are dark, haunted and serious, but the “merc with the mouth” is dark, haunted and ridiculous. (As well as surprisingly heartfelt). The other four properties would kill to match the red-hot popularity of Deadpool, who rivals Wolverine in Fox’s stable of superheroes. Deadpool 2 was Fox’s top-grossing film in 2018 and the character is such a merchandising sensation that even strait-laced Disney is committed to finding a way to keep the brash franchise’s hard-R magic intact.
BLOODSHOT THE TERMINATOR Bloodshot (Sony Pictures, Feb. 21, 2020)
On Screen: Vin Diesel is bringing the Valiant Comics character to the big screen in Sony’s sci-fi action film Bloodshot. Directed by Dave Wilson and written by Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer, and produced by Neal Moritz, Toby Jaffe, Dan Mintz, Dinesh Shamdasani, and Vin Diesel.
Backstory: The script by Oscar-nominated Arrival scribe Eric Heisserer introduces Diesel as the cyborg called Bloodshot, an unstoppable machine-man assassin whose human memories were wiped clean by the lab experiment that created him. Created by Bob Layton and Kevin VanHook, Bloodshot melded elements of Rambo, Captain America’s origin and The Terminator (including its name).
Sounds Familiar: Bloodshot’s lost memory pushes him on a quest for answers to his own identity. Sad story but not a new one: Deathlok, Wolverine, Jason Bourne, and Robocop also had to solve the mystery of their own past. He has amazing healing powers like Deadpool and Wolverine (although they aren’t mutant-based) and he is a enhanced product of a secret laboratory experiment (like Deadpool, Deathstroke, Deathlok, Wolverine, Winter Soldier, etc.).
Big Difference: There’s been plenty of science-created super-soldiers in comics but Bloodshot was distinctive in his debut as being a product of nanotechnology. Micro-computers are constantly repairing the damage to Bloodshot’s body like a biological version of a raceway pit crew. His name is a reference to the lab process that pumped a billion nanocomputers into his circulatory system, devices that all enable him to interface with technology and shape shift (not unlike the silver shapeshifting killing machine in Terminator 2: Judgment Day).
DEATHLOK THE DEMOLISHER
Background: A lab-created killing machine introduced in Astonishing Tales No. 25 in 1974 and created by Rich Buckler and Doug Moench. That was a big year for bloodthirsty Marvel characters with cool names: Deathlok, Wolverine, and the Punisher which were all introduced in within an eight month span. Deathlok has been completely revamped as a character at least three times but in his original incarnation he was Col. Luther Manning, a Detroit native killed in battle whose corpse is reanimated in post-apocaylptic future for battlefield domination. He rebels against his makers and goes his own way, including a time-travel trip to the present day.
On Screen: Deathlok was a oft-discussed project back in the 1990s when Marvel characters were still a tough sell in Hollywood and a script by Randall Frakes (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) stirred fan hopes but it never materialized. A version of the character has appeared on the ABC series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (portrayed by J. August Richards) and there’s been rumors that Marvel Studios may use the character soon.
Sounds familiar: Missing one eye (like Deathstroke) but outfitted with a glowing target eyepiece (like Deadshot), Deathlok was created in a lab (like Deadpool and Bloodshot). Deathlok was originally going to be called Cyborg (like the similar DC Comics character that arrived a decade later and is now featured on Doom Patrol) but that name was already taken by author Martin Caidin (his 1972 novel became the basis of ABC’s The Six-Million-Dollar Man). With his metallic arms, Deathlok evoked two other Marvel Comics super-soliders, Winter Solider (played by Sebastian Stan in Marvel Studios films and an upcoming Disney+ series) and Cable (portrayed by Josh Brolin in Deadpool 2). Like Cable, Deathlok has been a time-traveler.
Sounds different: Deathlok was fairly original when he debuted in 1974 but after all the Terminator and Robo-Cop films that beat him to the screen it would be a challenge for Marvel’s man-machine to feel like a fresh screen concept here in the 21st century. However, Deathlok may be the only one of the metallic warriors with his own heavy metal theme: Megadeth’s 1992 track Psychotron is an epic tribute to the Marvel character: “A killing machine/Just downright mean/And forever gunning…”