It's often said that a superhero movie is only as good as its villain, and if that's true there's a major chance The Batman — in which Deathstroke the Terminator will go up against the Caped Crusader — could be a very good movie indeed. Personally, I take the view that a superhero movie is only as good as its villains, plural.
Look at The Dark Knight Rises: The final instalment in Nolan's trilogy featured three classic comic book rogues — Bane, Catwoman, Talia al Ghul — and found a way to weave all three into a complex, epic narrative. Sure, Catwoman wasn't in full-on villainess mode throughout, but she did kick Bruce's cane from under him and leap out of a window clutching his dead mother's pearls. Ooops...
The truth is that few modern superhero movies really just have the one villain, and if there's any superhero out there likely to attract an entire gallery of rogues, it's the Batman. With that in mind, it seems there's one pressing question surrounding Deathstroke's role in the DCEU that hasn't been asked: Why?
Who Hired Deathstroke The Mercenary?
Slade Wilson is a contract killer, and while it's certainly possible that he crossed paths with the Bat at some point during the past twenty years he spent playing vigilante in Gotham (Slade's motivations therefore being personal or vengeance-driven, rather than financial), assassins and mercenaries, by definition, generally work for payment and keep a low profile. If Deathstroke is coming for Bruce Wayne, chances are he's doing so because somebody has paid to take Batman out.
My theory is that behind Deathstroke is some kind of puppetmaster, a scheming svengali perhaps powerless to kill Batman himself. An echo of the Bane/Miranda Tate dynamic in The Dark Knight Rises, that would give The Batman a third-act twist and allow the DCEU to introduce a different kind of villainous threat to Gotham. Who could that person (or persons) be?
It's far too soon to revisit the League of Shadows (or Assassins), but Gotham has its own shadow society, an organization so shrouded in secrecy they're generally considered mythical, and even have their own nursery rhyme. You know who I'm talking about.
The Court of Owls is at least as ancient as Gotham City itself, a ruthless cabal of Gotham's oldest and most moneyed families with influence in every sphere of society. They operate from covert headquarters in some of Gotham's oldest buildings, and use assassins known as Talons to murder those who threaten the Owls' order. The senior Owls have no actual powers, using an owl mask to conceal their identities, but further down the hierarchy exist actual owl-human hybrids.
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Although only created in 2010, the Court has been subject to some epic storylines in the New 52 continuity, not least the Night of the Owls in which a group of Talons are sent to kill Batman at the Batcave — only to be met with Bruce wearing some seriously next-level armor...
You can probably guess who emerged victorious from that.
The saga involved pretty much the entire Bat family and half of his most popular allies and adversaries, from Catwoman to the Penguin to Jason Todd and Dick Grayson. It would have to be scaled-down for the DCEU, but the idea of Deathstroke being in the Court of Owls' employ is a pretty interesting one — especially if one of the Robins also has a role to play in the story. After falling into the trap set by Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman, this Bruce Wayne still has to prove his alleged intellect. Is he really the world's greatest detective? Outsmarting the Court of Owls would be a great claim to that title.
If the Court truly has eyes in every corner of Gotham, it wouldn't be totally insane to suggest they could have a spy inside Wayne Manor...
Making Alfred a plant and a traitor would be a super-audacious move, but it would also be the mother of all twists, something the DCEU has so far failed to deliver on (and which the Nolanverse did to perfection). I could be way off base. It's always possible that Deathstroke is simply working alone, and that he has prior beef with Batman.
Ultimately though, I'd rather we got something a little more unpredictable than that, and the Court of Owls would make The Batman a real thrill ride into the oldest, most corrupt quarters of Gotham.
Is there a puppetmaster behind Deathstroke, and could the Court of Owls be the real villains of The Batman? Share your thoughts on the theory!