Since 1987, Suicide Squad has always been about shining the spotlight on DC’s lesser-known characters, giving them a unique chance to show off what makes them an asset—if not as a super-villain, then as a member of Task Force X. Love her or hate her, Amanda Waller often isn’t picky with whom she gives a shot on the Squad. And there are few better at lining up shots than Robert DuBois, better known as Bloodsport.
But what is Bloodsport’s deal, exactly? What separates him from the Deadshots and Deathstrokes of the world? Well, for starters, when it comes to his enemies, it’s hard to aim much higher than DuBois has. Just as Bane is forever known as the man who broke Batman’s back, Bloodsport’s most famous feat is pulling the trigger on the Man of Steel.
Bringing Down Big Blue
When John Byrne reinvented Superman for the 1980s following Crisis on Infinite Earths, readers were presented with a modern Superman who faced modern problems—corporate greed, cults of personality, equal rights for women in the workplace. But one of the first new villains created for Superman in this era, Robert DuBois, stood in for the post-war trauma still lingering from the Vietnam War.
Bloodsport’s story is told for the first time in 1987’s Superman #4—and if you’re only going to read one comic about him, that’s the one to read. Burdened with survivor’s guilt for allowing his brother to go overseas in his name, DuBois was identified by a psychologist in Lex Luthor’s service as a prime candidate for supervillainy, turning his anger and fear against Superman. He was given the codename “Bloodsport,” and a small teleportation device which he could use to access an unlimited supply of weaponry. But while Luthor’s intended target was Superman, Bloodsport’s rage spilled out towards the people of Metropolis itself. In DuBois’ view, they were squandering the safety and freedom denied to his brother and, in his own warped perspective, to himself, now believing himself to have gone to fight in Vietnam as well.
In his first rampage through the city, Bloodsport killed at least twenty-five people. With Superman unaware of Bloodsport’s teleportation device, DuBois summoned a handgun in their first confrontation loaded with Kryptonite bullets and took the big man out of commission with a shot to the shoulder. It was the intrepid Jimmy Olsen who unraveled DuBois’ origins, and by confronting him with the truth of his history, led the killer to surrender.
From a Bad Man, to Something Even Worse
That’s really the last anyone hears of Bloodsport, until a new one surfaced in 1993. In the three-part storyline “Spilled Blood,” we’re introduced to Alex Trent, an even less sympathetic villain than his predecessor. With a new costume but a similar teleporter grafted into his body, Trent sought an ethnic cleansing of the city of Metropolis, with special retribution reserved for the “race traitors” in his eyes who supported racial equality. This especially meant Perry White, who as a young reporter, exposed and broke up Trent’s white nationalist brotherhood. Just as Jimmy Olsen took down the original Bloodsport, this time it was the Daily Planet’s Ron Troupe who was responsible for defeating Trent, by finding and destroying the warehouse from which Trent had been teleporting his weapons.
As DuBois served his time in prison, this second Bloodsport continued to appear throughout the ’90s, becoming something of an arch-nemesis of Daily Planet reporter Ron Troupe. His time in prison passed relatively without incident for a while, only briefly running afoul of his more famous counterpart Deadshot in 1999’s Batman & Superman: World’s Finest #10 (the two characters’ only meeting).
But when the original Bloodsport (who, it should be noted for this juncture in his history, is a Black man) was transferred to Stryker’s Island, where his white supremacist successor was simultaneously interred, racial tension increased to an all-time high.
As contention between race factions at the Stryker’s Island prison reached a boiling point in 1995’s Adventures of Superman #526, the Warden came up with a “brilliant” plan to let out some steam: allow the center of the contention, the two Bloodsports, to fight each other in a supervised boxing match. (Superman, for the record, thought this was a bad idea the minute he heard it. His advice to the Warden was disregarded.)
Just as Superman himself appeared to intervene, the situation got even uglier as Trent used his grafted teleporter to bring weapons into the ring, causing an armed riot to break out. Before the night was over, both Bloodsports were dead. DuBois was gunned down as he attempted escape, and after the riot had been quelled, Trent was burned alive in his cell by his own brotherhood for failing to deliver a decisive win against his predecessor.
A third Bloodsport would show up ten years later in the Post-Infinite Crisis Superman era, but his whole deal was never really explained.
Blood on TV
Idris Elba will be delivering his own take on Robert DuBois in The Suicide Squad, but it’s not actually the first time we’ve seen a live action Bloodsport. The Season 3 Smallville episode “Extinction” introduced “freak of the week” Van McNulty, whose anti-metahuman fanaticism, Special Forces background and gun fixation were clearly influenced by Bloodsport. Later in the season, McNulty comes closer than nearly any villain in the series to killing Clark, thanks to his armory of Kryptonite bullets.
The Robert DuBois incarnation of Bloodsport also appeared in the Supergirl Season 3 opener, “Girl of Steel,” as a mercenary who had been dishonorably discharged from the military for stealing weaponry. Morgan Edge hires DuBois as part of a scheme to tarnish Supergirl’s reputation, but Kara manages to stay a step ahead of the plan, bringing this Bloodsport to justice.
Since 1987, there’s been no better title, or series, or franchise in the entire DC Universe for rehabilitating the image of a forgotten character like Suicide Squad. With the return of the now relatively unknown Bloodsport as a major character in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, the comics are following suit as well. In the very latest issue of Suicide Squad, DuBois makes his debut on the team roster with his original background relatively unchanged, though “the war” is most likely a more recent one than Vietnam. The other big difference: after his arrest, DuBois was sent to Belle Reve, where he was given the chance to work off his sentence and…well, you know the deal.
But, just for a moment, let’s think back on Bloodsport’s origins. His entire backstory, the trauma which drove him into becoming a mass killer, was his guilt over allowing his brother to serve the country in his stead, all because he was too unwilling to go on what he deemed a suicide mission. And look at him now—the latest poster boy for Task Force X.
If that’s not karmic justice, then I’ve never seen it.
The Suicide Squad, directed by James Gunn and featuring John Cena as Peacekeeper, hits theaters and HBO Max on August 6, 2021. Not yet an HBO Max subscriber? Sign up today to enjoy the best of DC movies and TV.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCItyQuestion.