Is Peacemaker a villain?

Peacemaker

Many comic book characters toe the line between hero and villain. That includes Batman and Spider-Man, both of whom have fallen foul of public opinion and found themselves on the wrong side of the law. After all, one person’s hero is another’s villain, and when you’re a vigilante working outside the system, that’s bound to happen at one point or another. 

Peacemaker turns that idea on its head. He’s a character so devoted to peace that he’s prepared to kill to preserve it. His crusade is utterly consuming, proving that he’s not a Peacekeeper after all, which makes him one of the most fascinating antiheroes in comics. 

Many people first encountered Peacemaker in 2021’s The Suicide Squad. Many more are now discovering him in his self-titled TV show on HBO MAX. It’s a wonder that the character took so long to take a stride into popular culture, but he’s been lurking behind the scenes for some time. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons initially planned to use old Charlton Comics that DC had picked up for their dystopian tale of mismatched superheroes, Watchmen. Peacemaker was the inspiration for the Comedian in that influential series. 

His current live-action success is thanks to writer-director James Gunn and actor John Cena. The two have turned a second-string DC character into one that’s highly entertaining to watch. Cena is one of The Suicide Squad’s highlights and it’s hard to believe he wasn’t the first pick for the role. His brilliant comic performance supports the film’s self-awareness, but it’s not all comedy, and Cena has the muscles for the character’s darker aspects, too. At the end of the movie, a running gag comparing his and Idris Elba’s Bloodsport’s similar abilities reaches a bloody conclusion. That’s when Peacemaker shows just how dangerous he is, how twisted his priorities are, and just how dedicated he is to his cause.

As James Gunn described the character, he “believes in peace at any cost, no matter how many people he needs to kill along the way.” Look nor further than that chest emblem: A falling dove.

Over 50 years of Peacemaking

peacemaker
Image via HBO MAX

Peacemaker, otherwise known as Christopher Smith, debuted as a pacifist hero in the pages of Charlton Comics in 1966. The Fightin’ 5 #40 introduced a character who tried to keep the world safe with violent but non-lethal actions. After DC Comics picked up the Charlton properties, the character re-emerged with a distinct antihero spin. Peacemaker now pursued peace at all costs and would kill for it at a moment’s notice. 

It’s no coincidence that Peacemaker took this darker turn in the 1980s when comics were exploring more mature themes and antihero characters like the Punisher and Wolverine were soaring. 

Peacemaker’s new backstory explained his contradictory M.O. A close family connection to Nazi atrocities triggered a severe mental health illness and altered his perception of right and wrong. Smith believed that the spirits of the dead were captured in his helmet, either praising or criticizing his actions. While Peacemaker’s formidable skills and single-minded determination have led him to work for US Government agencies in the comics, his actions are often considered too extreme. Still, he’s proved to be more of a team player than his singular mission suggests. Peacemaker has been a member of Checkmate and the Agency at one time or another. 

Like many characters in 2021’s The Suicide Squad, Peacemaker has no superpowers. His live-action character is streamlined from the comic books, which works perfectly when matched with Cena’s timing and Gunn’s script. The writer-director had no intention of letting the more interesting facets of Peacemaker’s backstory go to waste. While Peacemaker is continually criticized by his dead father in the comics, in the movie, it’s Polka-Dot Man who is haunted by his domineering mother.

Qualities that made it to the screen include Peacemaker’s peak physical condition, expertise in hand-to-hand combat, and skilled marksmanship. Given his indiscreet costume and silver helmet, he’s hard to miss.  

Is Peacemaker a villain?

Peacemaker The Suicide Squad
Image via HBO MAX

Being a villain is one of the prerequisites for being tricked, blackmailed, or conscripted into Amanda Waller’s infamous Task Force X, aka the Suicide Squad. However, despite his ultra-violence and a trail of bodies he doesn’t think twice about, Peacemaker considers himself to be a hero.

During his original Charlton appearance, Peacemaker was easy to see as a hero. The later, more familiar version is more difficult to categorize. He may be misguided and the victim of severe psychological trauma, but the atrocities he commits in the pursuit of peace speak for themselves. 

As shown at the climax of The Suicide Squad, it’s all a matter of perspective when it comes to this bunch of villains. The twists and turns of the third act explore the conflict in Peacemaker’s character and the Suicide Squad’s missions. It’s revealed that Peacemaker was included in the team by Amanda Waller as an additional guarantee. Waller doesn’t take chances, and he was one member she could rely on to carry out some of her more questionable instructions, as his loyalty to the U.S government would always beat his commitment to the team. That’s quite a reference from someone who notoriously trusts nobody, but of course, Peacemaker’s values are perfect for the DC Universe’s arch-manipulator to play on.

After betraying Rick Flagg in The Suicide Squad, the running contest between Bloodsport and Peacemaker, who share similar skills, ends in Bloodsport’s favor. The movie’s mid-credit sequence revealed that Peacemaker miraculously survived the devastation on Corto Maltese, nicely setting up his HBO MAX series. There wouldn’t be much to explore in the character if Peacemaker’s will was as indomitable as he thinks, and there’s no doubt Rick Flag’s final words have left a big impression on his mission. It’s no mistake that the line is riddled with irony, too: “Peacemaker, what a joke.”

Peacemaker is streaming on HBO Max, with broadcast dates outside the platform to be confirmed.