For a character who uses peace as his motif, Peacemaker is quite a disturbing figure. The self-described pacifist has recently become a household name, thanks to his role in 2021’s feature film The Suicide Squad and the Peacemaker spin-off series on HBO Max. A whole new audience now knows Christopher Smith, but do they know what makes him tick? This is the question that writer Garth Ennis and artist Garry Brown explore in a new Black Label one-shot called Peacemaker: Disturbing the Peace.
The story begins with Christopher Smith sitting on a park bench sharing his life story, almost like Forrest Gump. Well, it’s like Forrest Gump if you replace “ping pong champion” with “black ops masochist” and swapped Lieutenant Dan out with a killer shark named Bob. That’s right, there’s a killer shark—trust us, this isn’t a comic you want to miss.
Dr. Sedgewick is a psychiatrist who has been assigned to run a psychological profile on Smith, but she’s in for more than she bargained for. For starters, Smith wants to meet in a cemetery because he enjoys the ambience. This unnerves Sedgewick, but as our antihero recounts his backstory, the doctor slowly becomes more unsettled, and it’s safe to say readers might share her sentiments. Whether Sedgewick realizes it or not, Peacemaker is always in control, and all she can do is hope that her mind can survive the experience.
Interestingly, Christopher Smith never suits up as Peacemaker throughout the comic. Not once. In fact, the name “Peacemaker” only appears in the title, and as a military codename at one point. But as this comic reveals, Peacemaker is more than a uniform and superhero persona, it’s a state of mind. Garth Ennis and Garry Brown deconstruct Peacemaker perfectly without relying on his superhero flair, such as his helmet or dove imagery. To people like Dr. Sedgewick, Christopher Smith’s psyche is an oxymoron—violence in the name of pacifism. But to Smith, it all makes sense, and that’s why he’s content.
Do you ever have a thought that hits you hours after you’ve finished reading a comic? I had one of those moments a day after reading Peacemaker: Disturbing the Peace when I realized that Christopher Smith was emotionless throughout the entire story. Even during his childhood flashbacks, he showed no signs of distress when he discovered his dead family or when he was later kidnapped by bank robbers. It’s easy to confuse Smith’s calm demeanor with coldness, but he’s actually feeling peaceful, and that’s truly disturbing.
As an eight-year-old boy, Christopher Smith walked home from school to find out that his parents had killed his younger siblings before committing suicide themselves, and the boy quietly sat down to do his homework.
“My mother and stepfather knew only torment,” he explains to Sedgewick. “Yet somehow, insight had been born of all that pain. Now they only knew peace.”
It’s a dark epiphany that goes on to define Christopher Smith’s entire life. He has a peaceful look on his face when his kidnappers pointed a gun to his head, proclaiming they should kill him. That same peaceful look is still on his face when he engineers the deaths of his outlaw foster parents.
“They couldn’t find peace. I helped them find it,” Smith plainly explains.
As you might have gathered, this version of Christopher Smith is quite a bit different than the one John Cena portrays on HBO Max’s Peacemaker. Yet, despite the differences in their emotional demeanor, this 40-page comic goes a long way in helping readers understand what drives Smith, whatever medium he happens to be in. In other words, if you’re enjoying HBO Max’s Peacemaker, then consider this Black Label comic essential reading. And if you’re not watching Peacemaker because the fairly obscure character never struck you as one deserving his own series, Disturbing the Peace makes the case that there’s far more to this seemingly “joke” of a character (Rick Flag’s words, not mine) than you likely realized.
As Dr. Sedgewick unpeels the layers of Smith’s backstory, she becomes more and more unsettled. Her professional composure crumbles as she hears about all the violence Smith is responsible for, and by the end of their conversation she’s completely unraveled. When Smith casually mentions her overdo library books, Sedgewick panics and defends herself, even though the transgression is irrelevant and unimportant. The comic is called Peacemaker: Disturbing the Peace, because those are the two emotions associated with the story. Christopher Smith is feeling peaceful, while Dr. Sedgewick feels disturbed.
Yet, while its Sedgewick who’s shaken up at the end of the comic, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would take to break Smith’s unwavering Zen. As a child, he showed no emotion when he watched his criminal foster father burn to death inside of a car. As an adult, he betrays and murders his own allies without showing a hint of remorse. If those things couldn’t disturb Smith’s peace, then what would?
If a trained psychiatrist can’t find the answer, is it possible there isn’t one? Maybe you can’t disturb Christopher Smith’s peace, because his state of mind has become part of who he is. Or maybe we just haven’t found Peacemaker’s trigger yet. We’ve seen how violent a peaceful Christopher Smith could be. I’d hate to see what kind of damage he could do if he ever truly lost his composure. That would certainly disturb my peace.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.