There’s been some confusion over Joe Manganiello’s role as Deathstroke in the upcoming The Batman movie.
Manganiello’s role was revealed in a costume test on the set of Justice League and he was confirmed to be the primary antagonist of the upcoming solo Batman movie, which was then planned to be directed by the film’s star, Ben Affleck.
However, plans changed when Affleck dropped out of directing the film. War for the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves stepped in and while we know plans are in flux we do not know any real details beside questionable, unsourced rumors floating around the internet.
What we do know is that Manganiello is no longer certain that he is even in The Batman. Those admittedly suspect rumors suggest that he will be in the film but in a greatly reduced role. Everyone seems to be asking if Deathstroke is in The Batman and for how long.
But those are the wrong questions. Fans should be wondering why Deathstroke is in The Batman at all and not in Nightwing instead.
It is only in recent years that DC Entertainment started treating Deathstroke like a member of Batman’s rogues’ gallery. This move seems to be motivated by the need for another character that can keep up with Batman in hand-to-hand combat to fill out Batman’s video games and animated movies. Deathstroke made his first appearance in New Teen Titans #2. He was intended as an enemy for the team of teenage heroes which were led by Dick Grayson, then Robin and later Nightwing.
But the reason Deathstroke should be in Nightwing is more involved than simple nostalgia or a desire to mirror the DC Comics source material. It goes straight to the motivations of Nightwing himself and does again date back to the early days of New Teen Titans.
As Robin, Dick Grayson had been spending more and more time with the Titans, which made him less available to serve as Batman’s sidekick. Batman eventually made Dick choose between being Robin and being a Teen Titan. Dick chose that latter and began operating under the Nightwing persona.
For years, Nightwing struggled in his comic book stories to honor the things that Batman taught him without becoming Batman himself. He wanted to step out of Batman shadow and show that there was a different way to fight crime, one that didn’t require the crime-fighter to become entirely consumed by his masked persona.
If Deathstroke were to be the antagonist of The Batman, he would essentially be acting as Batman’s dark doppelganger, the twisted mirror image of what somebody as hypercompetent as Batman would be if he lacked Batman’s moral compass (or the moral compass of the friends and allies that Batman keeps in his company, depending on the story in question). Deathstroke even has a small litter of wayward children – Ravager, Jericho, and Rose – just as Batman has his family of Robins and Batgirls and other sidekicks and partners.
Rather than using Deathstroke as a physical mirror match for Batman, let him serve as a physical representation of Nightwing’s internal struggle. Fighting someone as deadly and skilled as Deathstroke is about as close as Nightwing can come to ever fighting Batman himself without actually fighting Batman. Through the course of the movie, Nightwing would fail to beat Deathstroke head on because he was playing by Deathstroke’s, and vicariously Batman’s, rules. He would only find success by determining what it is that sets Nightwing apart from his mentor.
This seems like a much more thematically resonant way to use Deathstroke. If nothing else, we’ve seen Deathstroke fight Batman several times across multiple media in the last several years, enough so to preemptively drain the tension out of what is meant to even combat. In this case, giving Deathstroke to Nightwing in what appears to be an uphill battle for the hero is a much more exciting endeavor.