In 1966, Charlton Comics introduced a character called the Peacemaker created by Pat Boyette and Joe Gill. The first issue of his solo series stated he was “a man who loves peace so much that he is willing to fight for it!” He carried a pistol—among other high-tech devices of violence—was dressed in blood red, but had a white crest n his chest as a logo and wore an oversized silver helmet. He was, in other words, a true creation of the Silver Age, and rather ridiculous.But once DC Comics bought Charlton, the Peacemaker’s obvious contradiction became a psychotic trait and, in the rare times DC used him, Peacemaker became as big a danger to the people he was protecting as the threats he was protecting them from. This was not unusual in the rise of the anti-hero—Marvel’s Punisher began with the same thought process. In fact, Alan Moore wanted to use Peacemaker (and the other Charlton heroes) in a little old limited series he was writing called “Watchmen,” but DC wouldn’t let him, so he made up the Comedian instead, a rare case where the captain ersatz would up being better known than the real thing.
But not anymore. DC did several things right. First, they hired James Gunn to direct the 2021 movie “The Suicide Squad.” Second, they decided to include Peacemaker, crazy contradictions and all, on the team. Third—and most importantly –they cast John Cena in the role.
Better known as a pro wrestler, Cena has proven to be that rare sports entertainment athlete who can do both action (some really generic stuff but best in 2021’s “F9: Fast & Furious”) and be really, really funny. Dwayne Johnson is Dwayne Johnson, but Cena chooses roles so offbeat, he can’t help but win you over. Did you see him (see what I did there) in 2015’s “Trainwreck”?
In “The Suicide Squad,” Cena’s Peacemaker is introduced straight up like the DC Comics character, down to the “mission comes first” part and (spoilers) actually kills Joel Kinneman’s fan-favorite Rick Flagg and then (spoilers again) is shot in the neck by Ildis Elba’s Bloodsport. But the movie’s post-credit scene reveals Peacemaker actually survived.
This brings us to HBO’s “Peacemaker” series—which like the movie, exists in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU)—and if you expected more of the same, boy are you in for a surprise. There can be no greater surprise or delight than watching the entire cast—led by Cena—dancing in the opening billboard. This sets the mood just right.
The team that betrayed Task Force X’s Amanda Waller has essentially been demoted to running a second-rate task force of their own with Peacemaker as their primary asset. Not only does the team (Jennifer Holland and Steve Agee with Danielle Brooks in a great turn as the audience’s POV character Leota) get stuck with the worst mission (“Project Butterfly” involves assassinations) but Peacemaker—whose real name is Christopher Smith—is kind of unstable, having father issues with Auggie (Robert Patrick) and haunted by the death of Flagg.
But this is a true James Gunn TV show (he wrote the whole season and directed several episodes) starring Cena, so it is expectedly full of action and ridiculous things, even at a threadbare budget.
Cena pays for his taxi fare with his helmet (don’t worry his dad has spares), he has a sidekick, an eagle named—wait for it—Eagly, and drives a red, white, and blue striped 1976 Mercury Comet. Yes, the show is violent but there is a deeper subversion going on here, because “Peacemaker” takes characters practically defined by their propensity for violence and then turns them into funny (but still dangerous) characters. Take for example, Freddie Stroma’s Vigilante (it’s already in the name), as he and Peacemaker wind up teaming up despite Peacemaker’s complaints.”Peacemaker” is significant because of one other thing. DC has long had a stranglehold on comic-book TV because of all their CW shows–everything from “Arrow” to “Naomi”-but it has been absolutely made clear these shows have no connection whatsoever from the DCEU. On the other hand, Marvel (putting aside the confusing ABC show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” which has been retconned out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU), has been churning out MCU shows on Disney+ starting with “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and most recently “Hawkeye,” and now blurring the lines with the Netflix Marvel shows like “Daredevil,” which may soon become parts of the MCU.But “Peacemaker,” who incidentally has no comic book of his own and was chosen by Gunn probably because of how batsh_t nuts the characters was, is essentially the first DCEU show on TV.This is also Cena’s show through and through and if he was all aggro and heroic in the WWE, his comedic abandon to Gunn’s over-the-top satire creates the unlikely, funniest and yet canonical corner in an admittedly overly serious DCEU in general. Come for John Cena and James Gunn, stay for the craziest DCEU show of them all.
“Peacemaker” is now streaming on HBO GO.