Deadshot is about to become a household name. The gun-wielding villain has come a long way since first appearing as a D-list villain dressed in a top hat and coattails in Batman #59. He’s gotten a much better costume, become an iconic member of multiple teams, moved into DC cartoons and live action TV shows, and is now receiving a big screen debut. Now Deadshot is featured in both DC Comics Suicide Squad and a new miniseries, Suicide Squad Most Wanted: Deadshot and Katana. On top of all that he’s being played by superstar Will Smith in April.
With such a big role coming up, there are bound to be a lot of people asking “who is Deadshot?” and “what makes him so great?” Those questioners are in luck because we have answers. Deadshot isn’t just a cool name and costume ready for reinvention; he’s one of the most complex characters in the DC Comics stable. So if you’re looking for where to start reading about the deadliest sharpshooter in superhero comics, these are his five greatest stories to date and a great place to start.
1. Suicide Squad #21-22
Deadshot didn’t place a target on his chest for purely aesthetic reasons. He’s a man with a death wish and this is the story where he came closest to having that wish granted. Suicide Squad #21-22 is one of the best stories in the team’s entire history, falling under the inimitable run of writers John Ostrander and Kim Yale and artist Luke McDonnell, and Deadshot takes center stage at its conclusion. His appearance in Suicide Squad #22 sets the image of the fan favorite sharp shooter against his internal workings as his torment surfaces in a fearsome display.
Ostrander and Yale made Deadshot such a cool character in their series that finally seeing him come unhinged in these pages (related to the recent events of the next installment) was a revelation about what made this character tick. There are multiple moments too good to spoil, all set in the very lap of Washington, D.C. by the Lincoln Memorial. The lowest point in Deadshot’s life also made for his very finest story in a showdown that cannot be forgotten or missed.
2. Deadshot #1-4
Deadshot may have finally cracked in the pages of Suicide Squad, but the motivation for that story stems from the Deadshot mini-series created by the same top-notch team. This four-issue story allowed them to take Floyd Lawton out of Belle Reve and costumed missions to return home in pursuit of his kidnapped son Eddie. In these pages Deadshot is the only person wearing a mask amidst a scene of corrupt old families and the scummiest criminals you could possibly imagine.
Deadshot isn’t a comic for the faint of heart. While Suicide Squad often went to very dark places, this represents Ostrander at his most brutal and nihilistic. The final moments of Deadshot #3 are a revelation for both the character’s personality and his motivations. It is a comic that is equal parts revenge thriller and character study, delivering on both fronts and providing a definitive characterization and background for Deadshot.
3. Suicide Squad #51
As excellent as Deadshot’s costume may be, he looks almost as cool with his mask off. Slicked back hair, pencil thin mustache, and cigarette have come to define Floyd Lawton just as much as the single red eye in his silver mask. Suicide Squad #51 is the comic to establish that no matter who wore his costume or wrist guns, Floyd Lawton would always be Deadshot.
After having lost his outfit in Australia, Lawton is made aware of another criminal using it to make a name for himself as an assassin. Lawton tracks him down and the following shootout is one of the best action sequences in all of Suicide Squad. In addition to being a top-notch thrillride, the fight between Lawton and the costume that had come to define his death-dealing alter ego led to some deeper questions. Lawton is forced to question whether there’s any difference between himself and the identity he invented as he tries to put a bullet in that very suit. What follows in the final pages of Suicide Squad #51 is an absolute mic drop.
4. COPRA #13
Technically Floyd Lawton is nowhere to be found in this comic. Instead you’ll discover a story about a similarly garbed sharpshooter named Lloyd. It’s all part of Michel Fiffe’s tour de force in revenge comics, COPRA. The series began as loving homage to Ostrander’s Suicide Squad before evolving into its own unique entity. Buried in the expansive COPRA crew are many familiar faces from that series though, including this mustached marksman.
COPRA #13 is all about Lloyd and functions in two halves: the first a wordless, breathless, bloody chase and the second a revenge plot driven by Lloyd’s hardboiled internal narrative. There is no better fusion of inspiration and auteur style than this run of COPRA issues (#13-18) and Lloyd’s story perfectly encapsulates what about Deadshot inspired Fiffe in the first place. As odd ass it is to believe, the best comic to read Deadshot stories in today doesn’t even feature a character named Deadshot.
5. Detective Comics #474
While Detective Comics #474 may not bring the same depth and pathos to the character as all of the other stories on this list, it plays a very important part in the reinvention of Deadshot. This is the issue where Floyd Lawton returned to Batman comics after almost 30 years with a vastly improved costume. Whereas before he only wore a tuxedo, top hat, and domino mask, here he is featured in red, silver, and gold with a complete mask and bullseye on his chest.
Penciller Marshall Rogers along with inker Terry Austin brought Deadshot back in a big way. Here he was a one-shot rogue briefly tussling with the Dark Knight before later adventures. But his brand new costume (along with the memorable setting of an enormous typewriter) would encourage others to continue using the villain in both Batman and Detective Comics. He continued to pop up in individual issues until Ostrander and his collaborators would pick him out for the series that would establish Deadshot as an all-time great: Suicide Squad.