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Give peace a chance: Behind the reinvention of Peacemaker

As Peacemaker Tries Hard! channels James Gunn’s take on antihero, here’s the story of the character’s surprise evolution

Peacemaker catches a dove
Image credit: DC Comics

Of all the relatively obscure Charlton Comics superheroes to make their way to the DC Universe, who would’ve guessed that one of the most prominent would be Peacemaker? The jingoistic antihero, complete with his audaciously impractical helmet and contradictory modus operandi has made a splash in comic books, film, and television over the past two years. Much of this leap into the multimedia spotlight comes from filmmaker and DC Studios Co-CEO James Gunn’s use of the character, played masterfully in film and television by actor John Cena.

As Peacemaker leads DC’s repositioning on the screen, the antihero has similarly been reimagined and reinvigorated in the comic book medium, both in comics set in the main DCU continuity and a line of non-canonical miniseries and one-shots. One such Peacemaker-headlining project is the DC Black Label miniseries Peacemaker Tries Hard! by Kyle Starks and Steve Pugh, blending action comedy with a healthy dose of ultraviolence. More than simply providing an entertaining Peacemaker-centric story outside of DCU continuity, Peacemaker Tries Hard! doubles down on the sensibilities and tropes established by Gunn’s work with the character.

Here’s how Peacemaker has evolved over the years and how his Black Label miniseries serves as a spiritual continuation of the acclaimed Peacemaker television series.

The original Peacemaker

Peacemaker takes aim in front of a rocket
Image credit: DC Comics

Peacemaker is created by Joe Gill and Pay Boyette, debuting in 1966’s Fightin’ Five #40 as part of an espionage-oriented special forces team. Following Charlton Comics acquisition by DC and the integration of its characters into the DCU, Peacemaker is reintroduced by Marv Wolfman and George Perez in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, joining forces with heroes from across the multiverse to combat the Anti-Monitor’s army of shadow demons. Following the merging of universes, Peacemaker is retroactively made part of the DCU all along, complete with a new backstory.

Christopher Smith was now the son of a Nazi concentration camp commandant who committed suicide in front of his young son rather than face a tribunal, traumatizing Chris for life. Haunted by visions of his father urging him to commit violent acts, Chris impulsively massacres a village of civilians during the Vietnam War and is imprisoned back in the United States. In exchange for a pardon, Chris volunteers for the top-secret Project: Peacemaker program to become an elite black ops soldier. By day, Chris operates the non-profit Pax Institute, promoting peace and assisting victims of terrorism worldwide. By night, Chris fights crime and terrorism as Peacemaker, killing to preserve peace while remaining haunted by his father.

The James Gunn effect

Peacemaker sits in a restaurant
Image credit: Max

James Gunn first uses Peacemaker in his 2021 film The Suicide Squad as the member of the latest Task Force X most loyal to Amander Waller and her sinister agenda. When teammate Rick Flag discovers evidence of the American government’s involvement with the supervillain the Thinker’s experiments on Starro, Peacemaker murders him to prevent the information from being leaked. Barely surviving a duel with his teammate Bloodsport, Peacemaker continues working with Waller to uncover a clandestine extraterrestrial invasion of Earth in the HBO Max continuation series Peacemaker.

In expanding on Peacemaker’s backstory for film and television, Gunn retains Chris Smith’s father being a virulent racist and committing hate crimes, albeit as the white supremacist supervillain White Dragon instead of being a literal Nazi. After killing his father, Chris is haunted by visions of him, echoing his comic book counterpart. Peacemaker himself is deliberately dialed up even more with his over-the-top in his jingoism and eagerness to kill to maintain peace for comedic effect, but with bouts of intense vulnerability and self-doubt throughout the television series.

There is a constant wink at the absurdity of the character’s entire core premise, but Gunn is still playing with serious stakes and nuance between the choreographed opening dance number and bullet-ridden action set pieces that reinvents the character. Any Guardians of the Galaxy fan knows Gunn is capable of blending laughs with heartbreak in equal measure, with Peacemaker, he gets to do it unfettered with rated R sensibilities. And frankly, Peacemaker himself wouldn’t have it any other way.

The impact on Peacemaker Tries Hard!

Peacemaker stops Mallah from eating honey
Image credit: DC Comics

Starks and Pugh’s Peacemaker Tries Hard! isn’t a literal sequel to Gunn’s work but a clear love letter to it while forging its own narrative path. Like the show, Peacemaker is linked to Amanda Waller on black ops missions across this iteration of the DCU, cruising from destination to destination in his converted sports car. Other allusions between the comic book and television show include Chris enduring an abusive upbringing from his father and a home that resembles Chris’ in the HBO Max series, similarly equipped with an armory of helmets, each boasting their own unique features.

That said, Starks has been working on acclaimed comic book action comedies for years, particularly across his creator-owned work, including the Eisner-Award nominated Sexcastle, Rock Candy Mountain, and I Hate This Place. The presence of several characters killed in The Suicide Squad confirms Peacemaker Tries Hard! of maintaining its own continuity and it leans right into Starks’ usual wheelhouse of ‘80s action-influenced spectacle, replete with cuss words and high-octane bravado. Gunn may have repositioned Peacemaker as a musclebound goofball but Starks and Pugh provide their own twist on the antihero while acknowledging his multimedia depictions by Cena.

Peacemaker’s comic book reinvention

Peacemaker leads the Suicide Squad
Image credit: DC Comics

For those looking for a more serious Peacemaker, or at least one active in the main DCU, DC’s done a good job of capitalizing on the character’s leap to the Hollywood mainstream. In the months leading up to The Suicide Squad’s theatrical release, Robbie Thompson’s run on the Suicide Squad ongoing series placed Peacemaker as Task Force X’s field leader, though with his own agenda conflicting with Waller. Savvy as always, Waller puts Peacemaker in his place and firmly under her control, leading to his role in Dawn of DC, DC’s current publishing initiative.

Spinning out of the 2022 crossover event Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths by Joshua Williamson and Daniel Sampere, Waller is organizing a team to dismantle the DCU’s superhero community. Among her closest associates is Peacemaker, who has already confronted the Doom Patrol, Titans, and Green Arrow family in an effort to bring them in line and keep Waller’s scheme a secret. And though the DCU’s Peacemaker may not be played for laughs like his counterparts, his obsessive drive and penchant for violence make him just as dangerous as ever.

Newfound Peacemaker fans have an embarrassment of riches starring the helmeted antihero. While a second season of the Max series is on the way, the character appears prominently in comics covering both a deadly serious side or hilarious approach to Christopher Smith. But across all modern interpretations, there is one constant – Peacemaker loves peace so much he will kill anyone who stands in his way in order to achieve.

Peacemaker Tries Hard! is written by Kyle Starks, illustrated by Steve Pugh, colored by Jordie Bellaire, and lettered by Becca Carey. The miniseries continues with its third issue, on sale July 4 from DC Comics.

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