As the newest offering from the DC Extended Universe, Peacemaker certainly stands out. The show was spun off from The Suicide Squad, and it follows the titular Peacemaker (John Cena) being recruited into yet another top-secret mission with the entire world at stake.
But Peacemaker isn't your average DC hero. Despite his self-proclaimed love for peace, he's absurdly violent, immature, and ignorant about modern social niceties.
As part of "Project Butterfly," Peacemaker has had to cooperate with teammates like Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), John Economos (Steve Agee), and Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland). But he makes little effort to play nice, subjecting his teammates (particularly Harcourt) to his crude sensibilities and outdated and derogatory statements about other people. There's little about him that makes him charming or likable, but the show creator would argue that that's exactly the point.
Is Peacemaker racist?
From the very first moments of Peacemaker, the show makes no attempt to hide how problematic its title character is. Barely inches out of his hospital room, he encounters a janitor named Jamil (Rizwan Manji) who only recognizes Peacemaker as "that racist superhero."
As the hero tries to argue that he isn't racist (which is already a big red flag) and hates all criminals equally, Jamil insists that Peacemaker targets people of color committing crimes at a higher rate than white people.
Shockingly enough, Peacemaker takes that to heart. Eager to shed his reputation as a racist superhero, he vows to look at white criminals with more scrutiny and "kill a higher percentage of them."
This scene is wholly emblematic of Peacemaker's character flaws. He doesn't see himself as racist or offensive, and he lacks enough knowledge to realize that he is both. This is thanks in no small part to being raised by his openly racist father (Robert Patrick), who named himself "White Dragon."
Peacemaker is undoubtedly racist, to say the very least. But instead of trying to excuse it, showrunner James Gunn wants him to confront that kind of behavior and address how it alienates him from other people.
The character is often described as a jingoistic killer — someone unafraid to use violence in the name of nationalism. Even James himself has described him as someone who embodies "toxic masculinity at its most toxic." But rather than try to shift him into a likable character, James vows to have the show be a catalyst for his growth.
"Peacemaker has a lot of issues," James stated in an interview with TVLine. "And I don't sit down and say, 'Well I've got to make this character likable.' I just sit down and try to make a character as fully fleshed out as possible."
As a character, Peacemaker is fully aware of his flaws. In his most private moments, he acknowledges his own toxicity and is deeply affected by his traumatic childhood. James Gunn wants to make sure he confronts those emotions throughout the show.
“One of the things though that made me want to tell the story of Peacemaker is that he has a lot to learn ... a lot to learn,” James said. “And it wouldn’t take just one season of TV for him to learn that. But it is that ability to learn that he does have that for me makes him a little bit more likable. His blindspots in some places are pretty terrible, and in some places they’re just him being ignorant. And I think that’s an important distinction to make.”
New episodes of Peacemaker premiere every Thursday on HBO Max.