Basically: Taking John Cena’s anti-hero character from The Suicide Squad and turning him into a human through a quirky lens.
I wish I could say I was surprised that James Gunn decided to make a solo TV show for John Cena’s Peacemaker from The Suicide Squad but I’m not. Anyone who has watched WWE for a long period of time knows how good Cena is and how he’s different from The Rock in his character and performance. Cena can bring an earnest, honest, straight man-like sadness to a lot of his characters. He is, in a lot of ways, a big puppy dog.
First, a little background: Peacemaker is a costumed anti-hero who will kill anyone for peace. He’s from the 60s Charlton line of superhero comics along with The Question, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Judomaster, and others. The characters ended up becoming part of DC when they bought the company and then incorporated them into the DC universe properly. I bring this up because these characters were the building block inspiration for Watchmen by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore. For a long time, The Comedian—Peacemaker’s analogue in the story—became way more popular and kind of erased Peacemaker. So when Peacemaker popped up in The Suicide Squad, played by Cena, it kind of reignited the character and allowed him to be taken in a different direction. And Gunn’s take really works.
Here (spoiler alert) Peacemaker survives the events of The Suicide Squad but the fallout is still affecting him. Murdering the honorable Rick Flagg Jr. isn’t sitting right with our boy Peacemaker. He’s never killed an actual good person before, so while he’s alive and “free” he soon learns he isn’t. While at home he’s confronted with ARGUS agents Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and John Economos (Steve Agee)—both from The Suicide Squad—along with newcomer Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks) and their commanding officer Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji). They tell him he’s not free and he has to join their team to help them complete a new mission: Project Butterfly. But no one tells Peacemaker what it is or what it means just to follow orders.
From there, over the first three episodes, hijinks ensue. We see Cena’s Peacemaker AKA Chris Smith interacting with people and dealing with having feelings. We meet Auggie (Robert Patrick), Peacemaker’s terrible, abusive, and racist father. While Peacemaker loves his father, we don’t know if Auggie loves his son…yet. But he does make the Peacemaker’s equipment. Auggie’s workroom is a great example of showing that Peacemaker takes place in the DC universe as it exists in a pocket dimension within his house.
The show basically skews towards a workplace comedy—we have our clearly-flawed-but-never-thinks-he’s-wrong male lead and his co-workers who teach him to be better—except the job is to do some pretty bad things. The other main character is Danielle Brooks’ Adebayo who’s a newcomer to the whole superhero covert ops world. She’s a perfect point of view character who asks “why” most of the time and looks at people like they’re crazy when the situations are bugged out. Brooks and Cena really work well together and form the emotional connection of the show.
Now let’s get to Vigilante AKA Adrian Chase played by Freddie Stroma. Vigilante is played like a nerdy, out there sociopath who focuses completely on what is considered justice and law like an annoying little kid. He’s like Joey to Peacemaker’s Dennis the Menace. Fans of the comic book character might not be happy with this portrayal but it works for this story.
Peacemaker and even Gunn’s take feel like the comics. I’m not the biggest James Gunn fan, I do not like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies but I think he hits on something that is even better than what he did with The Suicide Squad.
Let’s rewind: In the 80s, superhero comics, especially DC, saw a lot of shifts. Post-Crisis happened and John Bryne, Frank Miller, and George Pérez changed the three main characters of the DC universe to the trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The British invasion also led to the Vertigo line of the 90s, which gave us takes on the characters that didn’t always mesh with what happened before. With these shifts the comics could go dark or into black comedy, they could go surreal and existential. They could also go hyper-violent. We’ve seen these shifts reflected in DC Comics characters and titles over the decades. It’s good to see film and TV embrace this nature and Peacemaker really feels like those comics from those years. It’s out there and weird with an interesting take on the characters and world. It’ll be nice to see where this show goes.
Oh, and take note: There are post-credit funny scenes for each episode.
In the End: Peacemaker is a surprisingly funny and violent superhero workplace comedy that really makes you want to watch each episode back to back.