THE TOXIC AVENGER
SFX|January 2022
THE SUICIDE SQUAD’S PEACEMAKER IS GETTING A WHOLE SERIES TO UNPACK HIS MANY, MANY ISSUES. PRODUCER PETER SAFRAN TELLS US MORE
TARA BENNETT

HOW DOES THE “biggest douchebag in the universe” get his own TV series? That might sound like a trick question, but the particular douchebag being referenced is the one specifically labelled as such by writer/director James Gunn: Christopher Smith, aka Peacemaker.

Known simply as The Peacemaker when created in 1966 by writer Joe Gill and artist Pat Boyette, the Chris Smith iteration didn’t appear until DC Comics bought the character in the ’80s and turned him into a zealot vigilante for peace. After being used as a member of the Suicide Squad in some comic runs, it was Gunn who plucked him from the pages to join the ensemble of miscreants in his theatrical redo The Suicide Squad.

As embodied by professional wrestler/actor John Cena in the film, Peacemaker is a provincial, himbo bro-dude who follows orders to ensure peace, even if he has to kill women and children to make it happen. Technically, he is without a doubt a villain. But in the hands of Gunn and Cena, he kind of wasn’t. With major daddy issues seeded in his past (and the character revealed to have survived in a post-credits scene), Gunn knew there was plenty of story left on the table to fill an eight-hour TV series, which he agreed to write and direct for streamer HBO Max.

The man truly responsible for Gunn and Peacemaker’s transition to the small screen, however, is producer Peter Safran. He was Gunn’s first manager, and they’ve worked together since 1998. In 2006, Safran started his own company, The Safran Company, and transitioned to producing films with Warner Bros and DC. Because of their long-standing relationship, he was able to woo Gunn into DC’s waiting arms. After Disney fired Gunnas director of the third Guardians Of The Galaxy movie in 2018, Safran pitched making a new movie of The Suicide Squad to Warner Bros chairman Toby Emmerich, and the rest is history.

“I’ve said before that Marvel’s loss was DC’s enormous gain and Warner Brothers’ enormous gain,” Safran tells SFX via phone from the Hawaii set of Aquaman 2. “We had an extraordinary experience making the film. It was really smooth. And the critical reception to it, I think, justifies the studio’s and DC’s real belief in James and letting him make the exact movie that he wanted to make.”

HIRED GUNN

After post-production on the movie, the series idea came to Safran. “I went to him and said, ‘If HBO Max would commit to a series on one of these characters, would you be interested? And if so, which character?’” Safran explains. “He immediately said, ‘I would be thrilled to do it. And it would be Peacemaker’, so that was really the genesis of the Peacemaker series. It was as simple as that. It was really one conversation, and then a conversation with HBO Max, where they said, ‘Great, James, if you’re gonna write all eight episodes, we’re in’.”

Safran says he was unsurprised about Gunn’s character choice, because Gunn put in a lot of development below the surface for Peacemaker, especially in regards to him having a difficult father. “I knew that James wanted to tell that story and that he wanted to really go deep with John [Cena] on that character. And when you watch the series, you realise that his dad was every bit as bad as Bloodsport’s dad was – and in some ways, much worse. That was just a tiny little Easter egg in there, and it all gets unpacked in the series.”

Safran and Gunn also knew they had comedic/action gold with Cena’s take on Christopher Smith, which would only blossom given several hours to explore the character’s origins. “I think he felt with John there was a real untapped acting resource there, and that people will be very surprised to see how deep John can go,” Safran says of Gunn’s affinity for the actor. “We knew that he could go there, and there’s a real pleasure in bringing that to a wider audience.”

As a producer working on the DC Extended Universe, Safran is a key orchestrator of some of the connectivity in the various DC movies in production. But he says no-one from the studios laid out ground rules for how a Peacemaker series should exist within the current canon.

“It’s a good question, but what James was pitching obviously fitted within whatever greater concepts that Warner Bros, Warner Media, DC etc had in mind,” Safran says.

“I don’t think there was any character that we wanted to use that you can’t use because it’s spoken for elsewhere. I think the Peacemaker universe, if you will, was very much its own universe. We weren’t really treading on a lot of toes at that point. I don’t think it was carte blanche, ‘Do anything you want to do’ either. But we felt that way at times because what James wanted to do was very specific, and they were gung-ho in supporting it.”

Safran also reiterates that Gunn was unfettered when it came to making an adult series that leaned into everything that The Suicide Squad embraced. “We would hand in each episode and literally [executives] would call him to say, ‘Guys, we just really liked it’. There were not a lot of notes – which I think is unusual, because the quality of the HBO shows in the past is so incredibly high. James knew the show that he wanted to make, and because he was writing all eight episodes, it was just all from the brain of James Gunn.”

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