Fans of director James Gunn's The Suicide Squad are well aware of the filmmaker's penchant for adapting obscure and offbeat DC characters (Polka-Dot Man, anyone)?
True to form, Gunn has doubled down on this trend in The Suicide Squad spin-off show Peacemaker, which includes references, Easter eggs, and even appearances from some of the weirdest and least known characters in the entire DC Universe - including some whose very mention could have some bizarre ramifications for DC movie canon going forward.
Who's on deck in Peacemaker as of January 21's episode 4? We'll break it down right now, from the obvious to the obscure.
Right off the bat, there's Adrian Chase (Freddie Stroma), AKA Vigilante, Peacemaker's somehow even more psychotic "best friend" who joins the fight against the Butterflies (more on them later).
Vigilante is a DC legacy character with roots in the Golden Age, though the Adrian Chase version is remarkably different from the original Vigilante (a cowboy-esque hero who had several appearances in the second season of the animated series Justice League Unlimited).
As in the show, the comic book version of Adrian Chase is a violent anti-hero, somewhat akin to Marvel's Punisher - though without the Peacemaker adaptation's ridiculous personality.
Vigilante was adapted to TV once before as a villain on Arrow, though in a very different context, with the name passing through the hands of several characters - Adrian Chase included.
Judomaster (Nhut Le) has a notable arc in episodes 3 and 4 of Peacemaker as a super-bodyguard for one of Peacemaker's 'Butterfly' targets. So why Judomaster, of all characters, as an apparent villain in Peacemaker?(opens in new tab)
The answer is fairly simple and lies in a fun bit of comic book history. Both Peacemaker and Judomaster first appeared in the Charlton Comics superhero universe - a totally separate publisher from DC. However, in the late '70s, DC purchased the rights to the Charlton characters - Peacemaker and Judomaster included - later incorporating them officially into the DC Universe.
Judomaster's inclusion (aside from being cool) is likely a nod to his shared past with Peacemaker at Charlton Comics. As an interesting aside, Peacemaker was one of several Charlton characters including Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and more, who inspired the characters of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen (opens in new tab).
So what the heck is with the 'Butterflies' - aside from being, well, literal butterfly-looking aliens? Though it hasn't been stated directly, they seem to be connected to the villainous Mister Mind - a caterpillar-like conqueror from the Planet Venus with mind-control powers, who is a classic enemy of Shazam! (dating back to the hero's Golden Age 'Captain Marvel' days).
In his more recent comic book appearances, Mister Mind has been shown as far deadlier than his unassuming nature lets on. His most diabolical moment came in the weekly series 52 (opens in new tab) which reintroduced the concept of the DC Multiverse to comics. In 52, Mister Mind used Booster Gold's robot sidekick Skeets as a cocoon, evolving into a monstrous butterfly-like creature whose wing flaps were able to wreak havoc on the Multiverse.(opens in new tab)
Perhaps the strongest indication that the Butterflies are Venusian mindworms (as Mister Mind's species are sometimes called) is that Peacemaker director James Gunn recently stated at least one character from the show would make another appearance in an upcoming DC film.
Mister Mind may be a shoo-in (assuming the Butterflies are connected to him), as the post-credits scene from the Shazam! film showed Mister Mind escaping from the Rock of Eternity.
Would it be the weirdest thing ever if DC's most R-rated, adults-only cinematic property yet was directly connected to its most outwardly family-friendly franchise? It would be pure James Gunn style if so.
In his original comic book origin, Peacemaker's father is a Nazi war criminal whose fascist past is a secret from his son - but which, when revealed, provides part of Peacemaker's impetus for becoming an anti-hero.(opens in new tab)
That doesn't exactly work in 2022 (for one thing, it's kinda distasteful in a way that might be too much even for Peacemaker, and for another, the character would have to be like 200 years old at this point). So instead, in the HBO Max series, Peacemaker's dad is the next worst thing: a white supremacist supervillain known as the White Dragon.
Peacemaker's version of White Dragon adapts the comic book villain of the same name (with a page-accurate battlesuit to boot), an armored white supremacist menace who has clashed with both the Suicide Squad and Hawkman.
Though the name and armor of White Dragon have been used by multiple characters in comics, Peacemaker's dad, Auggie Smith (Robert Patrick), is an original creation who borrows the comic book character's costume and evil motives.
Now we're getting into the really weird stuff.
Though he's garnered just a mention in Peacemaker episode 2 (in one of the show's funniest moments so far), the implied existence of Bat-Mite in the DC movie universe has some hilariously bonkers ramifications for whichever version of Batman happens to exist in the world of Peacemaker and The Suicide Squad.(opens in new tab)
Described by John Economos (Steve Agee) as a "two-foot-tall interdimensional imp who stans Batman," which is pretty much accurate to comic books, with an added mention of Bat-Mite's reality-warping powers, the comic book Bat-Mite is a being from the Fifth Dimension (the same alt-reality as Superman's strange foe Mr. Mxyzptlk).
Economos insists to a disbelieving Peacemaker that Bat-Mite is indeed real in their world. And director James Gunn agrees with Economos (he should - he presumably wrote the dialogue), tweeting the Bat-Mite is indeed now DC movie canon.
As for what that means for Batman in the world of Peacemaker, well, let's just say that somewhere out there is a version of the Caped Crusader who has had some much more comic book-y adventures than his usual big-screen depictions, right down to hanging out with (or more likely trying to avoid) Bat-Mite.
Interestingly enough, despite his unpopularity in the world of mainstream Batman comics, Bat-Mite is a cult-classic character nonetheless, having appeared in the '70s animated series The New Adventures of Batman, the more recent cartoon Batman: The Brave and the Bold (voiced by Paul Reubens no less), and even in the LEGO Batman video games.
Doll Man(opens in new tab)
DC's most famous shrinking hero is The Atom, something of the DC version of Marvel's now more well-known Ant-Man. But somewhere in the DC Omniverse, there's also Doll Man - a shrinking hero dating back to 1939 (making him likely the earliest shrinking hero in comics) who was created by legendary cartoonist Will Eisner for publisher Quality Comics.
As with the aforementioned Charlton Comics universe (from which Peacemaker himself originally hails), the heroes of Quality Comics were purchased by DC in the '70s and incorporated into their Multiverse as the denizens of Earth-X, as a super-team known as the Freedom Fighters led by the patriotic hero Uncle Sam (yes, exactly like the US government propaganda character) in a world where WWII never ended, and the Fourth Reich is still a threat.
Though he's only gotten a mention in episode 3, Doll Man is exactly the kind of bizarre character who makes perfect sense as an inclusion in a show like Peacemaker - even if just as an Easter egg for DC fans with an extremely deep bench of character knowledge. And yeah, as with Bat-Mite (and our next and final character), Gunn has confirmed on Twitter that Doll Man is DC movie canon.
Matter-Eater Lad(opens in new tab)
The remarkably bizarre Matter-Eater Lad (yes, that's a real DC comic book character) makes three-for-three in DC in-jokes inserted into the last few Peacemaker episodes, with a typically hilarious mention in episode 4 (and yeah, Gunn says he's canon).
In comics, Matter-Eater Lad is Tenzil Kem, a superhero from the planet Bismoll who, as with all people from his world, can eat and digest literally any solid matter. If you're thinking that's both somehow the weirdest (and coolest) superpower you've heard of yet, you're probably right.
Beyond just the mention of an obscure, cult-favorite DC character to go with the preceding bits about Doll Man and Bat-Mite, there's a potentially massive implication behind Matter-Eater Lad being namechecked in Peacemaker - because Matter-Eater Lad is a classic member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, an expansive team of quirky heroes who live in the 24th Century of the mainstream DC timeline, and who once boasted Superboy (Clark Kent as a teen crimefighter) as one of their longest-running members.
James Gunn has brought in a reference to the Legion of Super-Heroes before - The Suicide Squad's weird hero The Detachable Kid actually an adaptation of Legion of Super-Heroes reject Arm-Fall-Off Boy who has the exact powers described in his name.
Does this mean the Legion of Super-Heroes exists in the DC movie universe? Or is it more likely that if the Legion is ever adapted to TV or movies, Matter-Eater Lad won't make the cut for membership?
Well, we'll just say we're really hoping it's the former - if only because that would be so much fun.
If you're looking for some contemporary DC comics, check out the just-released DC Comics April 2022 solicitations.