BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — There are two rules when it comes to characters in comic books. The first rule is that sometimes those characters die. The second rule is that no comic book character is really completely dead. All it takes is a few bits of creative writing and characters who went to the great printing press in the sky are back saving (or taking) lives.
That was a good thing for James Gunn. When he was directing the 2021 film “Suicide Squad,” Gunn had no future plans in mind for any of the characters. That was why he had no problem having Peacemaker – the character played by John Cena – shot in the throat and a building dropped on him.
It looked like he was dead but you have to remember rule number two. Gunn was approached by executives with DC Comics asking him who he would pick if he could do a television show based on any of the characters from his movie.
“I just found something really interesting about Peacemaker, both because I loved working with John Cena and I thought that he had a lot of acting gifts and comedy gifts that we weren’t able to fully utilize in the movie,” Gunn says. “And then, also because I thought he was just a really cool, interesting character that could be pertinent to today and today’s world, in terms of his sort of backwards way of looking at things.
“A lot of the show is about his friendship with these other characters, especially Danielle’s character, Leota Adebayo, and their friendship that emerges out of all of this, even though they very much represent very different parts of America today.”
Gunn worked his writing magic and Peacemaker is back. “Peacemaker” will debut on the streaming service of HBO/Max starting Jan. 13. All eight episodes in the first season were written by Gunn and he directed five.
The series looks at how the character is a determined vigilante who believes in peace at any cost even if a lot of people have to be killed. This examination is done through the broad and bawdy dark humor that is Gunn’s trademark.
What makes the series work is the fact Cena has given into this oddball character so completely. This is not the serious action star or professional wrestler that Cena has been in past years as he plays this role with abandon.
Even when asked if people are surprised that an athlete of his stature has a sense of humor, Cena can’t keep from going for a laugh.
“Well, I’m also surprised that athletes have a sense of humor. I’m not surprised in this case because I’m not an athlete and neither do I have a sense of humor. I have willed my way into the matrix simply by just failing to go away,” Cena says.
The fact that Cena is taking on the role of a person who does villainous things but believes he is the hero sounds a lot like the persona he took on for his professional wrestling days.
“I’ll say that it completely mimics my existence in the WWE, where I go out there in terms that I believe are virtuous to a thunderous chorus of ‘Cena sucks’,” Cena says.
His wrestling role is one that fans love to hate. It is a role that he has been developing since the Massachusetts native made his wrestling debut in 1999. His acting career was born out of his wrestling days as his first film – the 2006 release “The Marine” – was funded by the WWE Studios.
Since then, Cena has gone on to star in “Trainwreck,” “The Wall,” “Daddy’s Home 2” and “Bumblebee.” No character Cena has played in the past comes close to being as loaded with blind spots when it comes to dealing with race, women and people in general. Even Gunn admits that Peacemaker has a lot of issues.
That might seem to be a problem when creating a TV show. An audience has to connect to the character or the show won’t stay on the air. That may be the case but Gunn never sits down to write with the idea he wants a character to be likable.
“I just sit down and I try to make a character as fully fledged as possible. One of the things, though, that made me want to tell the story of Peacemaker is that he has a lot to learn and it wouldn’t take just one season of TV for him to learn that,” Gunn says. “But it is that ability to learn that he does have, I believe, as a character. And it’s that ability to learn that, for me, makes him a little bit more likable.
“His blind spots are – in some places – pretty terrible, and then some places are just him being ignorant. I think that’s an important distinction to make as well. He is open at the same time, sometimes, I guess, but we get to see that journey. It’s just very, very basic.”