This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on August 4, 2016.
Deadshot is the coolest character in Suicide Squad.
When I first found the series at age 13, he was the character I immediately gravitated to simply based on the cover to Suicide Squad #6. Deadshot simply looks cool. He has a killer costume, as designed by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin in Detective Comics #474. Its beauty lies in its simplicity making it clear that this man is a deadly weapon and leaving his face as a reflection of whatever may come in front of his crosshairs.
His aloof attitude takes notes from the coolest of cool guys in the 1960s, actors like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke and Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Whatever the mission or trouble they found themselves in, they remained composed with a steely eyed gaze and indecipherable smirk. And so it is with Deadshot.
In addition to all of that, he brings the appeal of Batman to the table. He is a supposedly ordinary man, at least more ordinary than Bruce Wayne, capable of accomplishing incredible feats with his own training, skill, and resolve. In a series that led him to cross paths with New Gods, superheroes by the dozen, and the worst terrorist organizations in the DC Universe, Deadshot left a path of corpses behind them and never went down.
When you top all of that off with a history that stands side-by-side with the best of Alan Moore’s “grim and gritty” creations for DC Comics, it’s no surprise that Deadshot is the coolest character in a comic filled with them to a 13 year old boy. All of that only functions to hide the true core of Floyd Lawton’s character though: Deadshot is a loser.
While the anti-hero aesthetics – the great costume, deadly approach, devil-may-care attitude – all seem cool, cast off the superficial nature that Deadshot shares with characters like The Punisher and Deathstroke and what do you have left?
Suicide Squad #1 opens with Deadshot as an imprisoned felon. He is a three-time loser, beaten by a superhero who can barely spare time for him, locked up and following someone else’s orders. It’s John Bender in The Breakfast Club, except he doesn’t get to walk across a football field at the end of the day, he gets to go back to his cell.
This is a status quo that never really changes for Floyd Lawton. He remains a prisoner at Belle Reve with only two notable absences from prison. The first comes in Suicide Squad #22 when Deadshot is nearly killed on a mission that puts him in the hospital for an extended stay. The second occurs in Suicide Squad #39. With the Squad being shut down, Amanda Waller offers Deadshot an out. He can do one mission for her and she’ll release him before he is transferred to Arkham Asylum. Even finding a way back into the world comes under orders from The Wall.
When Waller returns one year later, Deadshot is drafted back into her now independent version of the Suicide Squad. The team is now a black ops contractor, but the deal is the same for Deadshot as he works and lives under Waller’s watch. While he is a member of the Squad, it is not his calling or his team. The Suicide Squad and Amanda Waller are the forces that use him like a tool. In this apparatus he is useful and recognizes some value, but it does not help him actualize or improve himself. From Suicide Squad #1 – #66, Deadshot is an expendable weapon.
And so it’s within the context of missions that Deadshot is at his best. When told who to shoot and where to fire, he is incredibly effective. Facing the Manticore, a monstrous bio-weapon of The Jihad, or the zombified hordes of the Loa he finds ways to kill or incapacitate his opponents no matter how harrowing the situation. Even when he is told to stop Rick Flag, Jr. from assassinating Senator Cray in Suicide Squad #22, he gets the job done in a way that satisfies his superiors, even if it’s not what Waller intended.
In this aspect Deadshot is a soldier. He can be made useful when told where to sleep, when to eat, and what to do. The question of his character is answered in examining the consequences of his choices outside of this rigamarole.
Deadshot’s life has been defined by following order and making bad choices from his very childhood. In the Suicide Squad spinoff mini-series Deadshot, writers John Ostrander and Kim Yale outlined his origins. Floyd Lawton’s parents were rich socialites who resented one another enormously. His mother convinced Floyd to shoot his father in an attempt to be rid of him without a divorce. However, Floyd missed his target when the tree branch he was on broke causing the shot to only cripple his father and kill his older brother Eddie.
It’s a soap opera level tragedy and helps to explain the damage Floyd shows as he enters the life of a super villain. His obsession with marksmanship, rejection of care and affection, and nihilistic worldview can all be traced to his childhood. His failures are not limited to his childhood or the manipulations of his mother though. They are the roots of a much larger tree of destruction.
Consider the choice to become a supervillain and his recidivism in that role, despite coming from a background of wealth and privilege. Consider his failed marriage and lack of involvement with his own son, named Eddie after his brother. Consider how every potential relationship in his life is ignored or twisted.
The example that best illustrates Deadshot’s failures and his acknowledgement of responsibility is in the before mentioned Suicide Squad #22. This issue follows on the conclusion of the Deadshot miniseries where he is unable to prevent the kidnapping or murder of his son. In this unstable state he is tasked by Amanda Waller to prevent team leader Rick Flag from assassinating Senator Cray (for threatening to expose the Squad to the American public). He finds the pair on the steps of the Lincoln monument and kills Cray himself in order to prevent Flag from doing so.
Deadshot appears to have suffered a break from reality though. Flag overhears him talking to himself saying, “I did it, Ed. I killed the old man this time. Did just like ma told me.” When he attempts to talk to Lawton and get him to flee the coming sirens of police officers, Deadshot turns to point the gun at Flag screaming “Go! Or I’ll blow your brains out again!” The police arrive and rather than surrender Deadshot attempts suicide by cop. He raises his guns in the face of a line of police and is shot down in a hail of bullets. Only good luck allows him to survive.
This may not be good luck though. Deadshot may be acting in an unstable manner at the moment he kills Cray and confronts the police, but his actions and words both before and after this moment reflect a man who knew what he was doing. Calling out to his dead brother and son in this climactic moment is not a sign of insanity, but of the intense guilt Deadshot is striving to find forgiveness for. The people he most cared for in the world are dead, some by his hand and some indirectly because of his criminal career, but he recognizes his role in them all. Flag filled neither the role of brother nor son, but he was one man Deadshot could save from uglier forces in the world. In this act he seeks some sort of catharsis. Even this act is in vain given Flag’s flight from the law and suicidal attack on The Jihad in Suicide Squad #26.
Deadshot is given opportunities for understanding, sympathy, and, perhaps, even real redemption in Suicide Squad. Dr. Marnie Herrs, the assistant of Dr. LaGrieve at Belle Reve, finds herself falling in love with Floyd Lawton after spending time with him and understanding his history. Lawton rebukes her advances by portraying the evil man others may see himself as. He dismisses the affection of women first claiming to only engage in intercourse with prostitutes, then accusing Herrs work as a psychologist to be an act of prostitution. He is vulgar and cruel to her, even after he embraces her at the end of a session in Suicide Squad #11. It does not take long for any hope for real understanding and change to be lost when Herrs leaves Belle Reve after her recommendations are ignored and Lawton is allowed to pursue Flag in his distraught state and attempt suicide.
The more descriptive friendship from Deadshot’s time spent in Suicide Squad is the often spurned one offered by Digger Harkness a.k.a. Captain Boomerang. Boomerang is everything that Deadshot does not appear to be. He is loud-mouthed, crass, seemingly ineffective, and wears a terrible costume. If Deadshot is Belle Reve’s saint of coolness, then Boomerang is the saint of the unpopular.
Remove their aesthetic qualities and you find two characters who bare a remarkable resemblance to one another. Both come from harsh childhoods and chose unambitious lives of crime. They are without accomplishment or strong ties to friends or family. Deadshot accompanies Boomerang to see his mother buried in Suicide Squad #44 to learn that everyone the man brags about hates him or is hated by him. These are two men who have only been effective under the direction of Amanda Waller, removed from their private lives and told what to do instead.
It is no surprise that Belle Reve Prison and the Suicide Squad are the settings in which Deadshot is most comfortable. It is here that he is effective and, surprisingly, causes the least harm. The Suicide Squad is a home for the broken and mistreated, an Island of Misfit Toys for DC supervillains. While some are capable of repairing themselves and moving on, others are not meant to leave.
Deadshot is someone who has failed as a member of society and an individual. His failure does not come from a mental illness; he is not a sociopath. He is someone who has failed in caring for others and achieving his own goals. As a husband, a father, and a super villain, Deadshot is a failure. It is only as a member of the Suicide Squad that his skills and personality can be put to use. And so it is where he remains with the likes of Rick Flag and Captain Boomerang, only able to really leave in a coffin. Deadshot may be a loser, but the Suicide Squad is the one place in the world he might be capable of not failing.