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Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke, is an important character within the Arrow mythos, and while we haven’t seen Manu Bennett’s version of the character since Season 6, his legacy lives on through the show’s flash-forwards. In 2040, the Deathstroke Gang is running rampant in Star City, and its leader is John Diggle Jr., a.k.a. JJ, who’s being played as an adult by Russian Doll’s Charlie Barnett.
We finally met the adult JJ last week in the Arrow Season 8 premiere, and it’s clear that he’ll have a major presence this season as a formidable antagonist. But how does JJ’s version of Deathstroke compare to Slade Wilson? I recently had the pleasure of speaking Charlie Barnett on behalf of CinemaBlend about his time on Arrow, and here’s how he responded to that particular question regarding his character:
If you go back in the comic books, Deathstroke is already a completely different person and a completely different story. I have a backstory of my own, and I don’t know how much of it I’m allowed to give out because some of it actually relates back, some of it doesn’t. But Slade to me has become a father figure. He guided me to where I am and he took up a mantle that my father didn’t. My father, I don’t want to say that he vindictively misplaced that mantle or didn’t take the opportunity, but he was preoccupied with something else, with someone else. And so a lot of what Slade was in the comics is a thing that I felt JJ innately has to take on, but a majority of them extending from a mask. His core is more related to his father and his mother, and I think even his brother, as much as he would hate to admit it. But he tries as hard as he can to live the Slade life.
As fans saw last week, while Connor Hawke, John Diggle and Lyla Michaels’ adoptive who was originally raised by Ben Turner, a.k.a. Bronze Tiger, went down the heroic path, JJ went down a darker route, although Charlie Barnett was hesitant to label his character as an outright villain. We still don’t have the full story on what exactly caused JJ and Connor’s split, but as Barnett laid out, JJ grew up looking to Slade Wilson as inspiration, which explains why he’s now filling the Deathstroke shoes.
Of course, while Slade Wilson served as the main antagonist of Arrow Season 2, once the Mirakuru was finally out of his system, he returned to being an ally to Oliver Queen in the Season 5 finale and a few episodes of Season 6. JJ, on the other hand, is fully opposing the future Team Arrow. With the wall between Star City and the Glades being destroyed at the end of Season 7, the Deathstroke Gang has accumulated more power, leaving JJ to carry out a sinister agenda.
What’s unclear from what Charlie Barnett said is if JJ actually met Slade Wilson as a child or if JJ is just modeling himself after what he’s heard about the original Deathstroke. Either way, the man was obviously important to JJ, so between that and his issues with his adoptive family, all that was enough for him to take on the masked mantle.
It’s also worth mentioning that the synopsis for the Arrow episode airing on November 5, titled “Present Tense,” will see a “mysterious new Deathstroke” visiting Star City in the present day who Oliver and Team Arrow must take down. We’ll have to wait and see who’s under the mask in this instance, and there also hasn’t been any word if Manu Bennett will reprise Slade Wilson at any point during Arrow Season 8.
The last time we saw Slade Wilson, he left to go look for both his sons, Joe and Grant, not believing the former’s claim that he’d killed the latter. It’d be pretty weird for Slade not to return to Arrow given that its the final season and his legacy factors into both storylines. Regardless, JJ is holding down the Deathstroke mantle in the future, and it remains to be seen if he’ll turn back to the light like Slade did, or if he’ll remain a dangerous adversary.