Thanks to his association with the Suicide Squad, Floyd Lawton, the cold blooded, unflinching assassin known as Deadshot, has long been a fan favorite DC badass. Now that the character is soon to appear in DC’s cinematic Suicide Squad, the rest of the world will learn what comic fans have known for years: Deadshot is one of the most chilling and fascinating killers in all of comic. For years, Lawton has thrilled fans as a member of multiple, super-cool DC teams but has also had a memorable solo career as a gun for hire with a very unique sense of honor. Floyd Lawton is an extremely complex killer and has driven many classic comic stories. He has appeared in video games, animation, live action television and will soon arrive on the big screen played by superstar Will Smith. So, bear with me as we explore the volatile history of Deadshot, the noble, exacting assassin.
All that being said, it may shock casual fans that the character of Deadshot once went 27 years between comic book appearances. For a character that will soon be a major part of a tent-pole film event, that is utterly shocking, isn’t it? But it’s true; Deadshot first appeared in 1950 and then did not appear again until 1977. Floyd Lawton was once a clichéd, forgettable villain until he became one of the most multi-faceted and disturbing characters in the DC Universe. So as we enter into the dawn of the Deadshot age, let us take a look back at the strange history of the superstar that almost wasn’t; the anti-hero that always hits his mark; the sometimes honorable assassin with a death wish- Deadshot!
Oh, That Mustache
Deadshot has one of the most originally distinctive costumes in all of superhero comics, but that wasn’t always the case. In Floyd Lawton’s first appearance, the new rogue wore a sharp suit, a top hat, tails, and sported quite the mustache. He was taken right off the celluloid of a generic movie serial and looked like a villain that was more at home tying a woman to the railroad tracks than in late Golden Age Gotham City.
Deadshot first appeared in Batman Vol. 1 #59 (June, 1950) by David Vern Reed and Lew Sayre Schwartz. That old ascot-wearing so and so Bob Kane supposedly only drew the Batman and Robin figures in the issue so the visual creation of Deadshot was left up to Schwartz.
In Batman #59, a new hero arrived in Gotham City in a story entitled “The Man Who Replaced Batman!” At first, the residents of Gotham were wary of this mustachioed gallant, but soon the populace grew rather fond of Batman and Robin’s competition. This new figure carried two guns and bragged about his ability as a marksman, and this is just about the only commonality (besides the ‘stache, of course) that this early, top hat-wearing Deadshot/Floyd Lawton would have with his later versions.
It looked like the streets of Gotham were extra safe as it had two expert vigilantes patrolling the city, but Deadshot was biding his time and waiting to bump off Batman when the opportunity presented itself. Deadshot’s real plan was to take over Gotham’s underworld and killing Batman would open doors for the ambitious crook. He felt that one stray shot during battle would take down the Caped Crusader. Batman grew wise to the plot and defeated his rival, disgracing Deadshot in the process.
And that was it. Deadshot was introduced, given a unique ability (sharpshooting wasn’t exactly commonplace in the hyper-gentle 1950s comic book scene), and discarded and forgotten. It seemed that Deadshot, mustache, top hat and all, were doomed to the dusty back issue bins of history and to the memories of graying comic book historians. But 27 years later, a very new, very different Deadshot would return.
The Man Has Style
It would be twenty-seven years before Deadshot would appear again in the pages of Batman #351. In those twenty-seven years, Batman completed his Golden Age, began his strange sci-fi laden Silver Age, entered into the camp era of Batmania, became the Dark Knight once again, and starred in numerous cartoons.
By 1977, the world was nine years away from Tim Burton’s Batman film and enjoying the monthly Batman comic as written by Gerry Conway and drawn by the legendary Gene Colon. In those intervening years, I doubt many Bat fans were wondering where Deadshot was as Batman was plenty busy fighting the greatest rogues gallery in comics and becoming a pop-culture icon.
But the creators at DC didn’t forget, and in an epilogue to the main story of Batman #351, a very different Deadshot found his way back into the comic that introduced him almost three decades previous.
Deadshot would return again in Batman #369 by Doug Moench and Don Newton. This time, Deadshot targeted Alfred Pennyworth’s daughter Julia. This was an intense issue that saw the first real battle between Batman and the upgraded Deadshot. This tale continued in Detective Comics #536 (1984) by the same creative team as Deadshot began to become a semi-regular Bat rouge. Deadshot was sprung from prison by Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman #400 (1986). So was just about every other Bat villain, but hey, just less than a decade before this milestone issue, Deadshot was all but forgotten and now he was part of the Bat mix. And that is where Deadshot might have stayed, as a frequent Bat foe, if DC didn’t recruit Deadshot into its most dangerous team of costumed characters of all time.
Like Deadshot himself, the Suicide Squad was an all but forgotten DC concept from yesterday. Back in the Silver Age, the Suicide Squad was a team of rather generic military adventurers that went on incredibly dangerous missions. They were like the Challengers of the Unknown but with big guns and a more heavy-metal name. The name was so cool, that DC rebranded the Squad as a group of government sanctioned super-villains. Think the Dirty Dozen meets the Magnificent Seven meets the Legion of Doom and you get the idea.
When the Suicide Squad first appeared in DC’s first post “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover event, Legends (1986- and holy crap, has it really been 30 years??), Deadshot was front and center as one of the premiere members. Now, there have been many additions and subtractions to the roster of the Suicide Squad – after all, the team usually loses at least one member per mission – but Deadshot has been there from the beginning.
It can be argued that Deadshot may be the most iconic member of the Squad (I know, you’re going to say Harley Quinn, but Harley joined up in 2011 while Deadshot has been fighting the bad fight with the Squad since 1986). For thirty years, Deadshot has been taking aim and names as a member of Waller’s elite Squad, and there can be no doubt that most of the major character work done with Lawton was done in the pages of the Suicide Squad.
Before we continue, we have to give it up for writers John Ostrander and the late Kim Yale, both of who infused Deadshot with a depth of character that took him from the edge of obscurity and molded him into one of the most multi-faceted and dangerous anti-heroes ever to appear in DC Comics. In Suicide Squad, Ostrander and Yale established Deadshot as a man with a death wish. The writers presented a Deadshot who desired above all else to die spectacularly, but he refused to commit suicide. Unlike the other members of Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad, Deadshot wanted to be part of this conscripted team of super-criminals. Deadshot wanted to die during a mission, to go out in a romanticized Butch and Sundance-type blaze of glory.
In Suicide Squad, Yale and Ostrander established an origin for Deadshot. When he was a child, Lawton was raised by a brutally abusive father. Lawton tried to protect his brother from his father’s rages and one day, the future Deadshot had enough. Perched in a tree, Lawton took aim on his father as the senior Lawton pounded on the future Deadshot’s beloved brother. Sadly, the branch Lawton was crouched on broke and the bullet missed the father and killed the brother. That was the first and only time Deadshot missed his mark and it sent the future assassin into a spiral of violent self-loathing.
Deadshot built his signature suit to make sure he never missed again but he also longed for the bullet that would take his pain away and make him pay for the one time he missed. On each Suicide Squad mission, Lawton sought death, but his curse was that he was too good at what he did to die and survived mission after mission becoming one of Amanda Waller’s most loyal soldiers. For years, Lawton was inseparable from his Squad, and while Waller and the rest the team were wary of Lawton’s death wish, the Squad’s casualty count was greatly reduced by Lawton’s skills.
But living with a death wish made Lawton one of the most edgy characters in the DC Universe. One of the more memorable Suicide Squad tales Ostrander penned saw an airport security guard steal Lawton’s Deadshot suit. The thief used the suit to commit murders and mayhem until Lawton gunned him down. Shooting his own image had a great impact on Lawton as it underscored his almost fetishistic desire for death. Yeah kids, that’s some dark-ass stuff. Lawton never repaired the bullet hole he left in his own helmet as a bit of sick iconography that highlighted Deadshot’s desire for death. As dark as all this is, this suicidal preoccupation transformed Deadshot from a third-string Bat-villain into a DC Comics legend.
Deadshot has been featured in two fantastic mini-series that have both laid the foundation for many elements that have made Deadshot so darn popular. First off, let’s set the stage. In the mid to late 80s, DC was producing some of the most brilliantly dark comics ever to see print by a mainstream company. The gritty period of superheroes had yet to hit the parody stage, and DC’s ability to produce deliciously dark fiction was at its peak. You know the big ones, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Watchmen, and Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters. But a book that should be added to that list is 1988’s Deadshot miniseries by John Ostrander, Kim Yale, and Luke McDonnell.
I mean think about it; Deadshot appeared once in a freakin’ top hat in the fifties, disappeared for decades, missed the Batmania craze of the sixties, and had a handful of appearances before Ostrander captured brilliance with the killer character in the pages of Suicide Squad. The character became so popular that DC gave him an absolutely killer miniseries, and I mean that in every sense of the word. This series introduced Lawton’s son Eddie and Deadshot’s quest to save the son he barely knew.
Let me just say that in this series, Ostrander and Yale crafted a pitch-black, military-centered noir that saw Lawton witness the brutal death and sexual assault of his son. Yeah, it’s that dark. After this series, it was impossible to see Deadshot the same way as Ostrander filled the character with understandable pain and loss. This was a brave series for DC to publish and it still holds up. If you want a Deadshot 101, this is probably the series to turn to…but only if you can deal with the brutality and body count.
If you want a Deadshot 102 than the 2005 Deadshot miniseries by Christos N. Gage and Steven Cummings is your master class in all things Floyd Lawton. Like the previous series, this 21st century mini introduced a scion of Deadshot, a young daughter living in a crime-riddled ghetto of Star City. Deadshot put his constant suicide mission on hold to save his little girl and make the ultimate sacrifice for his young daughter- and remember that for Deadshot, the ultimate sacrifice is life not death.
The inclusion of a daughter fundamentally changed Deadshot forever and added a humanizing element to the already fascinating character. The daughter angle was used with Lawton on TV’s Arrow and it seems like it will play a part in the Suicide Squad film as well.
After the Gage miniseries, Deadshot popped around the DCU until he settled in with his new running mates, the super-villain team known as the Secret Six. Under the brilliance of writer Gail Simone, Lawton became a patriarchal figure to this new team of heroes. In this brilliant ongoing series, Deadshot and the rest of the Six were hired by the mysterious, hooded Mockingbird.
Deadshot used his share of the team’s ill-gotten gains to support his daughter and her mother as the little girl introduced in the 1988 series continued to be a huge motivator for Deadshot. And remember the tragic events surrounding Lawton’s brother? In Secret Six, Deadshot found that lost brotherly bond with his Secret Six teammate – and fellow obscure Bat rogue – Catman. Catman and Deadshot’s bromance was an entertaining and uplifting part of Secret Six and it remains one of the closest bonds in the character’s history. Too bad it was all about to be erased.
When DC rebooted its universe, it relaunched Suicide Squad in the initial wave of New 52 titles. Of course, no matter the reality, you just can’t have a Suicide Squad without Deadshot so a new version of Floyd Lawton was front and center with this new Squad. Lawton shared the spotlight with darling of the Suicide Squad Harley Quinn, and the New 52 version of the SS seems to be where the film is drawing a great deal of inspiration from. This new Lawton had many of the same elements of the classic Ostrander version of the character. From the cold-hearted ability to always hit his target, to the daughter and to the death wish, it seemed like DC knew that Lawton wasn’t broken, so why fix him?
Sadly, what was missing was some of the established bonds between Deadshot and the DC Universe. He no longer had his love/hate (or hate/hate) relationship with fellow squaddie Captain Boomerang; his complex bond with Amanda Waller was diluted by this new continuity, and his friendship with Catman was a thing of the past.
But now that fans have entered the Rebirth era of DC Comics, perhaps these elements can be reintroduced. Whatever the future holds, it will be clear that with his movie debut and his coming membership in the Rebirth Suicide Squad (with art by Jim Lee- awesome), Deadshot will be notching up the hits for a long time to come.