Deathstroke as a Nightwing Villain

Arrow is often ridiculed – and rightly so – for trying to co-opt the Batman mythos and trying to make it fit with Green Arrow. This includes using characters and concepts primarily associated with Batman, like Helena Bertinelli and the al Ghuls; giving the lead character Bruce’s dark, brooding, obsessive personality that lightens up around his family; and so on.

It doesn’t work. That’s because every comics fan knows that these concepts are tied to Batman and that the show twisted Green Arrow’s characterization beyond recognition because they weren’t actually interested in making a Green Arrow show. But what happens when a villain that debuts as one for the marginally less well known heroes becomes hugely popular?

Deathstroke started off as a Teen Titans villain. More specifically, there was a period of time when he was regarded as the first Robin’s nemesis. I find this fascinating, because of just how great a character he is. Usually, the characters known for being sidekicks don’t get the best villains. They basically get a subset of their mentor’s or, when they eventually strike out on their own, less iconic ones. Dick Grayson is an exception to that.

Dick was the first sidekick, and a trailblazer in terms of the sidekicks getting to graduate and move on to being their own characters. He’s just as central a character to the Batman mythos as Batman himself. He’s led the Justice League. He’s been Batman. He has his own city that he protects. He has his own Rogues Gallery. Despite all of that, though, he’s still perceived as a Batman sidekick, rather than his own character.

Despite the fact that he hasn’t been Robin in the comics since the 80s, both the Teen Titans and Young Justice cartoons depicted him as such, even if season two of Young Justice had him as Nightwing. The upcoming Titans live-action TV show is going to do that as well. He hasn’t been a sidekick in decades to comics fans, but as popular as he is as Nightwing, as much as he can be considered one of the A-List, adaptations keep reverting him to his younger self, the hero primarily known as Batman’s sidekick.

The DC Extended Universe is going to be making a Nightwing movie, which is huge. This is a movie that’s been anticipated by an enormous number of people for years. But it does raise the question of how Deathstroke – a character that’s already been cast and already appeared – will be used.

We don’t know much about the future interpretation of Slade Wilson yet. What we do know is that he’s in contact with Lex Luthor and has been invited to join the Injustice League; he was cast for the Batman solo, a movie for which we know nothing about, back when Ben Affleck was still signed onto directing it and before the Nightwing movie was announced; and he’s played by Joe Manganiello.

All of it suggests to me that the plans are to adapt Deathstroke as a Batman villain, probably without Nightwing costarring, even if he does appear. To an extent, I understand why: Batman has been adapted a lot. He and Superman have had the most adaptations of any comic book characters, and just about all of his best villains have been seen already. Deathstroke hasn’t been. It would be a fresh change. But Arrow used Batman villains because they couldn’t be bothered to put in the effort to building up the Green Arrow mythos and making villains iconic that creators have already done for Batman. They wanted to skip to the end. There’s no need to do that with Batman, because his villains are already iconic. A fresh take on one that’s already been used would be better than taking the lazy route and using someone else’s.

While I certainly think that using Deathstroke could be done well, I’ll be very much disappointed if it occurs without Nightwing. If Slade is the primary villain of the Batsolo, it’ll be insulting to the character’s long history for Nightwing to not be included. For all that Dick is a hugely popular character, he’s not a Batman level cultural icon. Robin is, but not Dick himself. Not to the general public. The DCEU could put him on that level, but that won’t happen unless he actually gets to face off against great villains. A good writer can certainly make a villain like Blockbuster or Tarantula memorable and awesome. But taking Slade off the table for the Nightwing movie while using him for a different movie will be tying one hand behind the writer’s back and making it clear that they’re not the priority – that Batman media will always take precedence over Nightwing, even if it means co-opting his best villains.  If that happens, the people behind the DC movies will be saying clearly that to them, Nightwing is just a second stringer and always will be, and to me, the message behind that will be that they don’t actually care about developing new and interesting films. They’ll be content to make and remake the same Batman stories for an eternity.

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