DC’s Peacemaker had absolutely no right to be so excellent — but boy are we glad it is.
The HBO Max series was just renewed for a second season after wrapping up its first eight-episode run on Thursday. Without getting into major finale spoilers, let’s take a look at the many, many things that Peacemaker nailed — things that other shows, and superhero franchises, could stand to learn from.
1. Letting superheroes curse and f*ck
For many years, superhero movies played it safe with a PG-13 rating, worried about shutting out younger audience members and suffering at the box office. That all changed with not one but two Deadpool features, and with Peacemaker’s introductory film The Suicide Squad. Not only are characters besides Tony Stark having sex now, but they are letting expletives fly as freely as super powered punches to their enemies’ faces. The word “fuck” is so intrinsic to Peacemaker’s style and vernacular that it’s almost scary to imagine a clean version of the show.
The pilot episode’s sex scene actually drives the narrative when Chris/Peacemaker (John Cena) sleeps with a woman who turns out to be a major lead on Project Butterfly. She then tries to kill him in a no-holds-barred fight sequence throughout the apartment and sets the entire series in motion.
Later on, Peacemaker and Vigilante (Freddie Stroma) ostensibly have a threesome with a witness from that building, which serves as comic relief but also hints at Peacemaker’s sexuality. Is this the same HBO that gave us Game of Thrones’ “sexposition?” How far we’ve come.
2. Queer representation
Credit: Katie Yu / HBO Max
Peacemaker stars a queer black woman, doesn’t care to be coy about it.
With queer representation in demand from both audiences and filmmakers, a character like Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks) can and should be front and center. None of the other characters care about her sexuality, which is especially refreshing from Peacemaker himself. Her wife Keeya (Elizabeth Faith Ludlow) remains a central figure in the series, not cast aside or fridged for the sake of Leota’s growth, and their reunion is one of the most emotionally gratifying moments of the finale.
Chris himself has a history of queerness, something stamped down by his father which he’ll hopefully revisit in future seasons.
3. Dismantling toxic masculinity
Credit: HBO Max
When only the white male character from The Suicide Squad was slated for his own show, fans were quick to point it out. His own companions on Project Butterfly are also uninterested in what they perceive as a violent, rude individual — but Peacemaker quickly turns all that on its head.
In early episodes we see Chris lashing out at his colleagues, only to come home and break down because he can’t get people to like him. When he’s alone, he grapples with his hatred of violence, his relationship with his father, and the loss of his brother. By the end of Season 1, Peacemaker’s tears are a regular occurrence, a necessary release after near-death experiences and building emotions.
Peacemaker takes down toxic masculinity in its smaller moments, too, like when Chris is trying to prove he didn’t write the journal found in his apartment. He’s quick to mock the cover art and collage aesthetic, but when he considers for a moment, he takes it back.
“Fuck it,” he says. “If I enjoyed it, I wouldn’t let people’s judgements hold me back. I’d collage all sorts of shit.”
4. Punching Nazis
Credit: HBO Max
Not all TV villains are black and white, but Peacemaker isn’t interested in redeeming the White Dragon (Robert Patrick). The only complication is that he’s Chris’s father, but he’s also a card-carrying white nationalist with deeply harmful views on women, people of color, and queerness. Leota underscores in episode 4 that there is nothing redeeming about this man. Later episodes refer to his supporters as “racist thug” in closed captioning, and no one on Peacemaker’s team has any problem fighting and killing White Dragon’s crew.
5. A simple, satisfying story
At its core, Peacemaker is the story of a super strong costumed ex-con who joins a secret government task force to track an alien invasion. The plot is clean and gripping, with twists doled out regularly that always satisfy even if they don’t shock. From Leota’s agenda to the butterflye reveal and the truth about the cow, the show is less interested in eliciting a reaction than it is in telling a story, and a good one at that.
6. Compelling villains
One one hand we get the emotionally compelling White Dragon storyline, which boasts a despicable villain with complex family ties to Peacemaker. On the other, we have the butterflies, whose unclear motivation is what makes them such a threatening enemy.
When Goff and the others come clean about their intentions, Peacemaker puts forth intriguing thoughts about humanity’s essence and role in its future — and then tables those conversations in favor of friendship, truth, and kicking ass.
7. The friends we made along the way
Credit: Katie Yu / HBO Max
Peacemaker so skillfully builds its central relationships that you’re almost caught off-guard when you realize how much these characters have bonded.
Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) goes from hating Chris to begrudgingly calling him a teammate and being genuinely grateful for his presence in the finale. She goes from rolling her eyes at Adebayo’s ineptitude to relying on her heavily in the finale, and the two share a poignant moment outside the shack before Adebayo goes charging in. Episode 4’s 11th Street Kids group text is an unapologetically sweet moment, as our disparate and emotionally stoic characters soften, realizing that they might finally have a group of friends who get it.
8. The right amount of winks and nods
Credit: HBO Max
Adapting an extended universe is no joke, but it doesn’t have to be exhausting. Disney’s The Book of Boba Fett happened to release in tandem with Peacemaker, and it’s stuffed to the gills with suffocating Star Wars fan service that ultimately amounted to nothing.
Peacemaker, on the other hand, stands alone with confidence. It references the Justice League and Task Force X but doesn’t bend over backwards to explain or include them. It comfortably weaves in Judomaster and Vigilante in the same way, letting their arcs during the series build up their characters rather than anything outside the show.
Peacemaker Season 1 is now streaming on HBO Max.