Since it was first announced that Idris Elba would be taking on a mystery role in James Gunn’s Suicide Squad sequel (simply titled The Suicide Squad), fans clamored for rumors on which DC Comics character he would be playing. Those rumors were finally put to rest during the company’s virtual event, DC Fandome, finally confirming Idris Elba will be playing the supervillain Bloodsport.
Like many of the film’s cast of super-criminals, Bloodsport is both an old character and one that most of the general public knows very little about. But unlike most of the film’s other characters, Bloodsport’s comic book origins are considerably less zany and far more grounded in the real-world violence plaguing America today.
First appearing in Superman (Volume 2) #4 in 1987, the titular Bloodsport AKA Robert DuBois opens fire on a crowded diner the day before Christmas Eve, killing twenty-five civilians–including children. Following the shocking bloodbath (notable that Byrne’s reputation for controversy is common knowledge), DuBois proceeds to monologue about the horrors of the Vietnam War, and vows to put Metropolis “on notice” for its mistreatment of veterans. Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen happened to be eating at the diner with his girlfriend Lucy during the mass shooting, and quickly uses his special signal watch to summon Big Blue to the scene. Bloodsport easily evades the Man of Steel with the help of a high-tech motorcycle, but continues his rampage at a bowling alley. Superman eventually catches up with the militarized fanatic, but made the mistake of underestimating Bloodsport… which nearly cost him his life.
Though not a metahuman, Bloodsport possesses a personalized teleportation device that allows him to transport an almost unlimited variety of military weaponry, both big and small, right into his hands. The first time he used this trick on Superman, he managed to take the Kryptonian off guard and famously shoot him with a kryptonite bullet–which Superman later remarks had never been done before. The Big Boy Scout would have died right then and there were it not for Jimmy Olsen intervening. Like with his first attack on civilians, DuBois ends it with a rage-induced rant centered around Vietnam before once again escaping.
As it turned out, Bloodsport’s high-tech terror spree in Metropolis was being financed by none other that Superman’s greatest foe, billionaire Lex Luthor. Hoping to exploit not only DuBois’s military expertise, but also his shaky mental state, Luthor hired psychologists to fanaticize him against his mortal enemy. Arming him with the most state-of-the-art weapons in LexCorp’s illegal arsenal, Luthor hoped Bloodsport would come at Superman with a level of brutality even the seemingly invulnerable alien wouldn’t be able to survive. What Lex didn’t anticipate was that Bloodsport’s mental state would deteriorate to such a degree that he would openly kill civilians, and to Luthor’s minimal credit, he actually does send his security forces out to stop him.
In their final confrontation, Superman attempted to reason with Bloodsport–even offering to find him a doctor to help him overcome the hell he went through in “that useless war.” While DuBois and Supes battle it out through Metropolis, Jimmy investigates DuBois’ history, eventually realizing Bloodsport wasn’t even in Vietnam–he was a draft dodger. After receiving his Induction Notice DuBois fled to Canada, but his younger brother Mickey decided to pass himself off as Robert and take his place to keep his brother from being branded a coward. But while in Vietnam, Mickey suffered a life-threatening injury that left him a quadruple amputee. Though Robert spent years in psychiatric hospitals trying to process his brother’s trauma, the guilt became too much for the older brother to bear, and it quickly chipped away at his psyche.
Realizing there was only one man capable of stopping Bloodsport, Olsen reached out to his younger brother and convinced him to talk sense into his mentally unwell sibling. The plan worked, and Bloodsport was left sobbing into his brother’s lap. In a unique twist, it’s actually Jimmy and not Superman who delivers the final monologue at the end of the issue, reflecting on the fact that for the DuBois brothers (and many veterans of the era), Vietnam never ended. And though he never served, Robert DuBois was nonetheless another victim of one of America’s “useless” wars.
Though he was sent to Stryker’s Island Penitentiary, Bloodsport would continue to appear in later comics, often depicted as a mercenary sent to assassinate Superman or one of his Kryptonian allies. He even previously appeared in live-action form (played by David St. Louis) in an episode of Supergirl titled “Girl of Steel,” hired by corrupt real estate tycoon Morgan Edge to level National City’s waterfront slums to make way for new high rise buildings. In the episode, Bloodsport is seen using stealth combat vehicles equipped with cloaking devices and plasma weapons. He also previously appeared in the animated series Justice League: Unlimited, first as one of Roulette’s Meta-Brawl champions and then later as a member of the Legion of Doom.
Internet researchers will also discover that while in prison, Robert’s codename was appropriated by a White Supremacist named Alex Trent. Like his predecessor, Trent was implanted with the same teleportation device that allowed him to summon weapons at his command, which he used to go on a racist terror attack throughout Metropolis. The two Bloodsports eventually met in prison, and DuBois nearly killed Trent in a fight–but is stopped by Superman (though the Aryan Brotherhood later burned Trent alive in his cell). Tragically, DuBois is shot and killed by prison guards not long after while attempting to escape.
Like many of John Byrne’s Superman characters of the 1980s, Bloodsport is a villain grounded in a dark realism not often seen in other depictions of the Man of Steel. He’s not just a villain, he’s a mass-shooter–created in a time before such horrifying events were even discussed candidly in comic books. And he represents an increasingly forgotten era of American history, where the United States forced young men to fight and die in an unnecessary war, and then condemned them after they returned home. A caption in the final panel of Superman #4 reads “Dedicated to the names on the Black Wall–and those who remember them,” a clear reference to the famous Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
While James Gunn’s Suicide Squad sequel promises to be a bloody action romp full of gore and wacky characters, the fact that they have award-winning actor Idris Elba playing such somber character means there is probably more emotional weight to this film than meets the eye.