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James Gunn made sure Peacemaker’s White Dragon was the absolute worst

But he doesn’t have to say slurs all the time to make us know that

Robert Patrick in a still from Peacemaker Photo: Katie Yu/HBO Max
Zosha Millman (she/her) manages TV coverage at Polygon as TV editor, but will happily write about movies, too. She’s been working as a journalist for more than 10 years.

Marvel hasn’t quite nailed down whether the members of Hydra are straight-up Nazis. Aside from some discussion in Agents of SHIELD, the MCU has only gone as far as to say they’re the sort of villains who would happily work with Nazis, but don’t hold any sort of fascistic or racist views themselves. It’s the sort of thing that’s increasingly common as comics are adapted to blockbuster movies and beyond, where most real-life prejudices get scrubbed away, even as they’re used to inform the level of evil we’re supposed to read into a villain.

Enter Peacemaker. In the new show, it doesn’t take long for Auggie Smith (Robert Patrick), the father of Chris aka Peacemaker (John Cena) to reveal that he is an avowed racist. In Chris’ first trip home Auggie rattles off a few racial slurs, while Chris just shakes his head and tells him those aren’t people he stands against. James Gunn, who developed the show, tells Polygon he didn’t want to be wishy-washy about who Auggie is; he’s the White Dragon and an avowed white supremacist. The choice, perhaps unexpectedly, is true to the comics.

So who is the White Dragon in the comics?

A shot of the White Dragon suit in Peacemaker’s dad’s quantum unfolding storage area Image: HBO Max

Like so many comic book characters, the “White Dragon” has been a few people across a few timelines in the DC world. First appearing as a Golden Age villain, then later a hero who was also a member of the Blackhawk Squadron.

But it’s the later two White Dragons that are most notable for Peacemaker’s purposes. Eventually William Heller, a man raised by his Nazi grandfather, became the White Dragon. He funded Neo-Nazis and other white supremacist groups, squared off against Deadshot, and, after being arrested, joined the Suicide Squad. Predictably he didn’t get along with Amanda Waller; after trying to kill her himself, he was ultimately killed during a coup organized against Waller.

The other more recent White Dragon was Daniel Ducannon, who with the help of the MetaTech Corporation, got special armor and a public relations campaign designed to sell him as a superhero. He later clashed with Hawkwoman (who’s rightly offended by his racism, among other things) and joined the Fourth Reich, which hoped to bring Nazi rule to the United States.

While Ducannon had pyrotechnic abilities, Peacemaker’s White Dragon has so far followed in the abilities of Heller: an unpowered individual who’s just skilled at combat. But considering Peacemaker has gone out of their way to establish Auggie as a technological wizard, there’s likely more to that White Dragon suit than meets the eye.

James Gunn’s take on the White Dragon

By episode 6, “Murn After Reading,” the Auggie Smith of the Peacemaker world clearly takes after the latter two incarnations, overtly a superpowered white supremacist. After having a post-jail hookup, he walks past the folks in his kitchen wearing white hoods and heads to his quantum unfolding storage area, where he keeps his tech. Donning his costume, his fellow white supremacists kneel around him and salute him with Sieg Heil.

“He is really a piece of shit,” Gunn said of Auggie. “It’s a real thing in our world, it’s a real thing in our life. And to, kind of, do these sort of McDonald’s versions of white supremacy that happen in these types of tales seems inauthentic to me. So I decided to just let him be what he is, which is a racist piece of shit.”

Gunn cops to it being a delicate balance: He obviously didn’t “feel OK” with Auggie “saying the N-word every two seconds,” and hoped the character wasn’t just going to be “pressing buttons for the sake of pressing buttons.” Rather, he and Patrick wanted Auggie’s characterization to balance out — and inform — Chris’ extreme douchebaggery.

“Auggie Smith did exist in the DC comic world prior to [Peacemaker],” Patrick says. “I think James kind of took what he was written as back in the ’60s, and tried to bring it up and make it current for today. And just if you sort of follow that line I think you can understand that it’s demonstrative of just how horrible a human being Auggie is, and that his racism exemplifies that.

“So that’s how awful they wanted me to be, just to show how horrible an upbringing Chris Smith had.”

Peacemaker and his dad standing at a garage doorway in a still from the pilot of Peacemaker Photo: HBO Max

It was “once they got down to it” that the character of Auggie Smith, and the eventual reveal of him as the White Dragon, white supremacist supervillain, clicked into place as a both a key element of Chris’ upbringing and for the show as a whole. In one of his comics origins, Peacemaker’s father was “a regular Nazi” whose deeds he acted in opposition to, but that timeline didn’t make sense to Gunn for Peacemaker’s portrayal.

“It is incredibly important for who Christopher Smith is, in that he knows his father is immoral, and yet also seeks his father’s approval, because he is his father and he’s imprinted upon him like a duckling,” Gunn says. “The fact that he is in the shadow of this really terrible supervillain — who is also a supervillain who sees himself as a superhero.

“It just seemed to be what was most honest and it reflects a part of our world and a part of our country that’s affecting all of us, and how do you deal with that?”

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