Photo: HBO Max
An investigation founded on some (potential) DC comics lore
After murdering his way through Corto Maltese in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, Chris Smith, aka Peacemaker, is back on screens in his own expectedly brutal HBO Max show. Though he’s not a complicated man, the series introduces a rather complex mystery with one question that looming large: Who are the mysterious Butterflies, and which DC villain is pulling their strings?
While the mysterious insect-themed threat might not be directly from the comics, there are actually some pretty obvious — and deep cut — potential inspirations
From those with butterfly in their name to those with mind-controlling powers and the most likely of all … an alien queen with possession powers and a passion for insects; let’s dig into just who’s behind the Butterflies.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for the first three episodes of Peacemaker.]
What we know about Butterflies so far
In order to stay out of prison, Peacemaker has once again been enlisted for one of Amanda Waller’s nefarious schemes. This time, rather than a giant starfish that takes over people’s minds, he has to take down a series of mind-controlled killers known as Butterflies.
Image: HBO Max
Not much is known about them, but by the third episode there has been one key reveal: inside each of the Butterfly’s heads — maybe acting as transmitters? — are some actual real life scary butterflies. That makes the question of who is behind it all a little harder to answer, but it does open up some interesting avenues.
While your mind might have immediately gone to the ’50s Quality Comics (now owned by DC) character Madame Butterfly when the Butterflies were first mentioned, she’s definitely an outlier. First debuting in 1948’s Modern Comics #78, she was a Japanese supervillain introduced as an antagonist for the Blackhawk Squadron. While Gunn loves a deep-cut pull, there’s not much aside from the name to link her to the Butterflies. So let’s move on.
Most likely to mind control
Geoff Johns, Gary Frank/DC Comics
Next up are the DC characters with mind control powers. Seeing as a major part of the Butterflies is that they are mind-controlled humans, these characters would be an obvious bet.
First up and most likely of the mind-controllers is Mister Mind, the founder of the Monster Society of Evil. An incredibly intelligent caterpillar, Mister Mind can control minds, technology, and more across the universe. Created by C.C. Beck and Otto Binder, Mister Mind first appeared in 1943’s Captain Marvel Adventures #22. The nature of him being a caterpillar makes his connection to the Butterflies even more intriguing. But he was also a villain in the recent Shazam movie, so that makes him slightly less likely to appear here. Also, he wouldn’t necessarily need technology or wireless devices to control the minds of his human minions.
You can’t talk about DC mind control characters without mentioning Doctor Psycho. While he might have been a less well known character since he popped up in 1943’s Wonder Woman #5, his regular appearances in the Harley Quinn animated show have changed that. Peacemaker’s first Butterfly being a woman made Psycho a prime contender as he’s been defined by his misogyny. In both the comics and the animated series, Psycho takes pleasure in using his powers to control and manipulate women. But then Goff the Butterfly established that the mind-controlled killers are not all women, making him less likely. So while his mind control powers make him a contender, he’s low on the list.
So if it’s not any of these mentalists then who? Get ready to meet the Insect Queen.
Who is the Insect Queen?
Image: Kurt Busiek, Peter Vale/DC Comics Insect Queen in a panel from Superman #672
After episode 3’s big reveal, Insect Queen seems like she’s the most likely one to take the crown of being Peacemaker’s big bad. While the first two iterations of the superhero mantle were held by none other than Lana Lang, there is a third version of the Insect Queen who makes a lot of sense for Gunn’s deep cut tastes.
Introduced in 2008’s Superman #671, the insectoid alien had plans on world domination. That seems to fit with whoever is behind the Butterflies in Peacemaker. And episode 3 confirmed that there are some likely alien shenanigans going on. How else do you explain those strange purple tentacles? Add to that the fact that this Insect Queen had the powers to possess people, something that could explain the mind-controlled army in Peacemaker. So what was her plan and how could it play into the series?
As she came from a planet where only one queen could reign, Insect Queen decided to find a new planet to colonize and make her own all-hive. That could definitely be the case here, especially as whoever is in control of the Butterflies in Peacemaker appears to have been creating an army of what are essentially worker/killer drones. The gross-out comedy aspects of Peacemaker make this dreadful fate seem pretty likely. And the nature of her Butterflies becoming killers ready to take down any humans adds fuel to the colony theory: clear out the existing population before making her stake on the world and its resources.
But will any of these prove to be the mastermind behind the Butterflies? Knowing James Gunn there’ll likely be a lot of twists, turns, red herrings, and hair metal before the truth is revealed.
The first three episodes of Peacemaker are now streaming on HBO Max. New episodes drop every Thursday.