The Belle Reve Files: Suicide Squad / JLI Crossover Retrospective

Jordan is back with the next instalment in his look back at John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad.

Welcome back to The Belle Reve Files. Today we’re taking another detour into yet another crossover. If it wasn’t clear already, Suicide Squad was a popular book to cross over with other titles and Ostrander had to really work to keep his ongoing story moving while catering to various other books. Today’s story might just be the most successful of these crossovers. It’s the Squad’s encounter with the Justice League International, as featured in Justice League International #13 and Suicide Squad #13

One of the difficulties I think Ostrander found with these crossovers was making them feel natural in the world of the Squad. It can feel like the ongoing story pauses for a brief aside with some other DC characters. Here though I think the creative team found the perfect balance between a usual Squad story and a crowd-pleasing crossover. The setup for this two-parter relates back to the arc in Russia. Both Flag and Nightshade are intent on saving Nemesis, who was captured by the Russians in that story. But Waller refuses, believing it to be a trap for the Squad. Flag and Eve ignore her anyway and rally the Squad to rescue Nemesis and bring him home. This Squad is different from past crossovers with Firestorm and the Doom Patrol in that it retains the entire cast. Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, Duchess, Bronze Tiger, Vixen, and newcomer Javelin. The gang’s all here for this one. 

So they head off to bring their teammate home which unfortunately gets the attention of Waller, who recommends that the President send in the JLI to bring them home. So that’s the basic premise. The Squad wants to free Nemesis and the JLI are sent to stop them from causing an international incident. Even more variables are thrown into the mix as Russia sends the Rocket Reds, The People’s Heroes (from the arc in Russia), and Teen Titans character Red Star into the mix. So it’s a story that retains the international politics and global espionage of the usual Squad stories, but now with added characters to play around with. 

And play is the right word here. It’s clear that everyone had an absolute blast working on this crossover. Keith Giffen and J.M DeMatteis write the first part of the story and give the Squad a more comedic tone that Ostrander runs with in Part 2. Both of these titles are quite different tonally and aesthetically yet they’re still able to somehow make them feel connected and cohesive. The two books never clash or feel like they don’t belong together. It’s a real testament to the strengths of both creative teams and it allows them to switch up their usual approach to the characters. Giffen and DeMatteis get to do even more political intrigue and conspiracy while Ostrander runs wild with the goofball comedy. 

But what’s also great is how this story is really a crossroads for both books. A LOT happens in these two issues that reflect on past stories and bring forth interesting ideas for future ones. There is a lot of tension in these issues. For the JLI that mostly comes from Batman. He’s absolutely focused and driven to rescue Nemesis but Martian Manhunter refuses to jeopardize the League’s goodwill. It leads to one of my favorite moments for J’onn ever as he pulls his rank and talks down Batman. Most writers would make this just a fun crossover but the creators involved worked to make it a stepping stone for actual development and growth. This political tension is what fractures the team and causes Batman to quit. 

Similarly for the Squad, Ostrander is playing with ideas of the Squad being revealed. The League’s benefactor Maxwell Lord threatens Waller with the notion of the Squad being revealed to the world. Which is apt since this is an important story in that aspect. This is really the first time the Squad enters fully into the DC Universe, interacting with the freaking Justice League. It’s another big turning point that notes a shift in the series progression. They’re in the big leagues now and there’s no going back. 

In the second issue, Ostrander also gets to have a lot of fun playing both teams off of each other. My big complaint with the Firestorm and Doom Patrol crossovers was that Ostrander was writing characters we weren’t invested in. Here though, we are seeing two teams we know and love interacting in various ways. It’s not all punch-ups. Vixen reconciles with J’onn, her former teammate from the Justice League Detroit days. He supports her as she discusses her guilt surrounding the death of Cujo in the last issue. It’s a genuine moment of character growth and a display of a sweet friendship amidst the chaos. 

There are other wackier interactions as well, like when Captain Atom and Nightshade “come to blows.” The two were dating at the time so they pretend to be fighting to hilarious results. There are other really fun matchups as well, like Javelin being totally out of Booster Gold’s league and Mister Miracle recognizing Duchess (another hint to her true identity to be revealed way down the road). Of course, both teams’ resident idiots are a joy to watch with Guy Gardner defeating Boomerang with ease. 

The real highlight of these matchups though is Flag and Batman. This was the first Squad story I ever read and I remember looking at this page of the two absolutely slaughtering each other. It’s one of the most brutal things I’ve seen in a comic book and Luke McDonnell absolutely kills it. It’s tight and close and violent. A real testament to the unique creative possibilities afforded by comic books. 

The two teams agree to a truce and go their separate ways. The JLI take Nemesis with them to their embassy and the Squad escape just before Russia’s cavalry of heroes shows up. A crisis is averted and the Squad evades the international spotlight. So it operates on the same terms as your usual Squad story just with fun newly added characters. It’s one of my favorite crossovers of all time. I think a lot of times people talk about how events or tie-ins can be detrimental to the ongoing story. But the creative teams of both JLI and Suicide Squad show that a crossover can bring a lot of value to your story. Both teams are contrasted with each other; showing the limitations of the League’s ability to intervene and the Squad’s reckless freedom. It’s a story that has fun with the two teams meeting but never loses sight of an entertaining and thought-provoking story.

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