The Belle Reve Files – Suicide Squad #8

Jordan continues his look back at John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad!

Welcome back, Convicts. Today we’re looking at the 8th issue of John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad run. It’s more of a slow burner as a contrast to last week’s hectic 3-parter. So this story concerns the fallout of the Squad’s exhausting mission in Russia, as they ‘enjoy’ some downtime. It was a pretty wild story that shook many of the characters in a lot of different ways. The sheer volume of events that happened in Russia would be difficult to track. How can we understand how every character reacted to it? Thankfully Ostrander found a great narrative device to help, Dr. La Grieve, the Squads resident psychologist. That’s right this issue follows La Grieve as he recounts the psychological impact of the events in Russia. It’s a really smart decision that expands the character of the Belle Reve staff but also allows us to see each character’s psychology in a natural way.

The first of La Grieve’s patients that he makes mention of is Amanda Waller. Here we learn that Waller had met with La Grieve well before the reformation of Task Force X. He had encouraged her to confront and channel the anger she felt from her past, sympathising with the horrible and tragic death of her three children. Instead, though La Grieve considers that he may have made the issue worse, as Waller now uses her anger as a tool to be used in her work. He notes that Waller’s anger and ferocity have become a part of her. Something totally inseparable from her character and personality. This is expressed visually with Waller storming into an office. It’s one of my favourite images of Waller ever drawn. McDonnell perfectly channels her commanding presence, intimidating manner, simmering anger, and cold efficiency all in a single panel. It’s a perfect summation of the character.

Of course, I did mention that Waller was storming through a door. What’s she so angry about this time you ask? Well, dear reader, Waller is confronting a character called Derek Tolliver. Tolliver was a character created by Ostrander in his other ongoing series of the time, Firestorm. Ostrander tends to share minor supporting characters within his books. Characters from Suicide Squad can crossover into his work on Firestorm, Spectre, and even Aquaman. It provides a fun throughline through his work, which most people won’t notice but if you’re a fan of his work like me, you’ll love it. Gives his work a real sense of belonging to a wider universe. Anyway, this Tolliver guy was introduced in a Squad crossover series in Firestorm (which took place before the events of this issue, but I’ll be covering it next time).

Tolliver is the Squad’s NSC liaison, essentially the series representation of the US government. He’s the ultimate slimy bureaucrat so naturally, he doesn’t get along well with anyone here. Waller blames Tolliver for bad intel on whether Zoya really wanted to leave Russia. This scene mostly functions to establish Tolliver’s relationship with Waller and highlight Waller’s anger. However, Ostrander also allows us to see ā glimpse at some of the Walls’ compassion, as she rejects the notion that her Squad’s deaths don’t matter. “They are considered expendable if necessary Tolliver! They are not meant to be thrown away on garbage missions like this one!”

La Grieve transitions us into a scene where Flag confronts Waller demanding the rescue of Nemesis from Russia. Karin Grace sidles in and Flag gets really aggressive. Of course, he needs to do something with this aggression, and who should show up but a showy pirate man. Perfect. This is The Privateer a creation by the king himself Jack Kirby. He’s a member of a cult surrounding the Manhunters and he’s one of the more antiheroic characters in the team. He’s our newest addition to the Squad and you can’t be a part of the Squad without roughhousing with Flag. So a fight happens and Privateer warns him that he needs his strength if he is to fight the Manhunters. A rather cryptic set-up for the next issue.

Waller calls for Flag to check in with La Grieve and Karin gets too close to comfort with the Privateer. Not looking great for old Flag. This sequence really goes to show the toll that leading the Squad is taking on Flag. I mentioned last week that the Russian mission started a change in Flags character and we start to see the fallout of that story here. He’s an emotional wreck at this stage, as he begins to struggle with keeping this crew together while maintaining his own morals and sanity. Waller demotes Flag and passes the position of Squad leadership to Bronze Tiger.

Speaking of Bronze Tiger, we cut to Ben and June as they head to a local psychic for help with the Enchantress situation. I love the detail of La Grieve, a man of logic and science, disapproving of these methods but understanding it may be beneficial. It’s always a fun playoff in comics to see characters with such wildly different fields interact. Ben and June arrive at an ominous-looking house to be greeted by two spooky-looking folks. Ben and June don’t know it but they are Jim Corrigan, The Spectre, and his partner Kim Liang. They’re associated with the psychic of this issue but they also function as a fun bit of unintentional foreshadowing. Aside from Suicide Squad, Ostrander’s most famous work might be his run on The Spectre which I highly recommend reading.

Anyway, the psychic is revealed to be Madame Xanadu, DC’s supernatural soothsayer. She explains that June is struggling with Enchantress because she lacks training. She encourages June to bring out Enchantress, only to cancel out her magic with a nifty little ring. Xanadu gives this ring to Ben but with a warning. Xanadu warns that June is a mystic time bomb and that the ring is only a temporary solution. Someday soon Enchantress will come back stronger than ever and with a vengeance. It’s more of Ostrander’s signature long-form storytelling and excellently sets up future stories.

Next, we get to focus on two characters; Marnie Herrs, and Floyd Lawton. We get this great scene where Herrs tries to dig into the psyche of the man who never misses. Of course, it’s revealed that Lawton misses sometimes, particularly when it comes to women. Lawton is brutally honest with some incredibly misogynistic views on women. He uses them just for sex because according to him all they want is money. He flips this onto Marnie noting that she’s the same causing her to slap Lawton. Of course, Deadshot being the creep he is gets aroused and kisses her, before abruptly leaving asking that she never speak of the event again.

It’s a pretty abrupt moment that I’ve never really known what to do with. Which I think is ultimately the point. Most stories with Deadshot nowadays paint the character as an everyman. The well-adjusted family guy just looking out for his daughter. But this isn’t how Ostrander wrote him at all. Here we see Lawton at his most vulnerable. Where the swagger and bravado are pulled away to reveal a confused and mentally fractured character. I love how McDonnell sells it as well with Lawton hanging in the doorway, silently processing what has happened. The panel below it as well using strong blacks on the left to highlight his dark thoughts and clear trauma. It’s a quiet moment that I think really speaks to the talent of all creators in this book. As I read and reread this series I gain a greater understanding of it. It’s not meant to make us understand. Its uncertainty lets us know for certain that Deadshot is not okay.

Of course, it shows some character for Marnie as well. She’s one of the many victims that the Squad drags down with them. Nobody crosses paths with this group and gets off easy. It’s not just physical stakes but emotional. She helps show the danger in working with these dangerous criminals. La Grieve closes out this section worrying about Marnie, clearly noticing that her session with Lawton had affected her.

Of course, La Grieve also has to discuss the resident comic relief, Boomerbutt himself. We find Harkness in an interesting spot, evading from the law disguised as Mirror Master, his late Rogues buddy. Boomerang can’t help himself, he’s a crook. A character born from the era of bank robberies in cooky outfits. But of course, he can’t do it as Boomerang as Waller would have his head. So he disguises himself as Mirror Master to do his dirty works and get away with it. It’s a really fun idea and comes up again in some fun ways.

I especially love La Grieve’s commentary here. He notes that Boomerang is the least complicated of the entire group. He’s just a criminal. No trauma or emotional baggage. No grand plans or internal struggle. He’s just a dude who loves being a criminal and is totally fine with it. It’s so funny to end this psychological deep dive on a character whose whole deal is “I like robbing banks.”

The issue closes out with La Grieve discussing how this all affects him. It must be a tiring job being the psychologist of a bunch of supervillains on an expendable black ops force. Ostrander gives him a real humanity showing us his feelings of stress and doubt. But he’s interrupted in his brooding by his wife. Ostrander chooses to sign off the issue with the couple heading off to bed in each other’s arms. It’s a sweet ending to a pretty heavy story. But it also goes to show that La Grieve has the solution these characters are looking for. Stability and rest. He may be stressed and mentally exhausted, but he has support. He has someone who loves him and will always be there for him. Someone to help him work through all of these issues and that’s something no one else on the Squad can claim.

On that downer of an ending, I bid you farewell. Next week we take a detour to Ostrander’s work with the Squad in Firestorm #64 and Annual #5. Go read some comics and tell those around you that you love them.

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