Hello again dear reader. Been a good while since I wrote one of these and while that’s because of many other factors in my life I think it might also just be because this story is a bit of a stumbling block. Up until now, I have lavished John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad run with praise. The dense plotting, complex characters, and morally ambiguous stories work to make it a consistently incredible read. However this I think is my least favorite arc of the entire series. Whenever I re-read this one it always sticks out and derails what I believe is one of the best runs of comic stories ever. Let’s get into why.
This story is ‘Nightshade Odyssey,’ and it runs from issues 14 to 16. Given the title, you’d think that this story centers on Nightshade, one of the Squad’s main players and one of the book’s moral centers. You would be wrong however because this story is being pulled in way too many directions for that to ever be the case. It starts out pretty strong with its first issue. Waller is called into the Oval Office and is told by a suitably slimy Ronald Reagan to work for Senator Cray, a corrupt politician looking to get re-elected. If she refuses, Derek Tolliver will leak the existence of the Squad, causing Waller to lose her job. It’s a moment that starts to pay off some lingering threads that Ostrander has been planting and gives Waller a new genuine threat that she can’t just throw bodies at. It’s a solid start, this kind of political focus and intergovernmental roughhousing is part of the series’ bread and butter, and it sets you up for what should be a very interesting and engaging story. Does Waller go along with a bunch of corrupt politicians to keep the Squad afloat or does she jeopardize everything to stick by her code? Unfortunately, these aren’t explored here and Waller heads back to Belle Reve and the arc redirects its focus elsewhere.
The rest of the issue is focused on Nightshade’s personal mission and follows up on threads from Secret Origins #28. That was a story written by Suicide Squad’s editor Bob Greenberger, but it didn’t release until a month after this issue. So what we have is a 3 issue arc that acts as a sequel to an origin issue that had not yet been released. Yeah…..it’s a bit messy. Essentially Nightshade wants to rescue her brother Lawrence, who was captured by a creature called Incubus in the Land of the Nightshades. The rest of the issue is essentially just a ‘getting the band together’ scenario as the Squad prepares. The highlight is easily when Bronze Tiger tries to recruit Boomerang who refuses to go on the mission. Ben meets with him at a bar and Boomerang figures out that he’s trying to get him drunk but arrogantly proclaims that he can take as many drinks as he gives him, before quickly passing out. It’s a really funny moment and once again demonstrates Ostrander and McDonnell’s comedic chops and timing. Anyway, the Squad all gets together and Nightshade teleports them into this other nightmarish dimension only to be attacked by her brother, twist! Onto issue 15.
Hoo boy. This issue is really just everything frustrating about superhero comics in a microcosm. Confusing, over-complicated, unnecessarily combining threads together, and a whole lot of mindless action. It’s essentially just one long monologue as Lawrence explains who he is, who Nightshade is, who the Enchantress is, his evil plan, blah blah blah. It’s like that bit in The Incredibles where Frozone and Mr. Incredible reminisce about how the villains just couldn’t shut up, but amplified. Because it turns out that Lawrence IS Incubus, and even better it turns out that Incubus is the brother of the Enchantress. He explains all about his lineage and how he and Succubus (the name of the Enchantress spirit) are children of some dark lord named Azhmodeus. It is just a constant barrage of information, the definition of telling and not showing. His ultimate end goal is to mate with his sister (Nightshade, not Enchantress. Because again both are his sisters for some reason.) I honestly couldn’t tell you why he wants to do this because there is just so much information thrust upon the reader and none of it makes any sense. Nothing is ever really expanded on and it feels like every word balloon is dropping another information bombshell.
Nightshade eventually manages to break free from his control and then Deadshot just shoots him in the head and he dies. The reality starts to break down around them before Nightshade teleports them to another dimension. Oh yeah, also Enchantress loses her powers. I apologize if that summary felt all over the place, but if you want to read the issue and try and explain it, be my guest.
Issue 16 just goes in a totally different direction with the Squad running into Shade the Changing Man in a new dimension. I’m sure that when most hear that name they instantly think of Peter Milligan’s and Chris Bachalo’s excellent Vertigo run in the 90s, but this is not that Shade, this is the original Shade created by Steve Ditko in the late 70s. He’s far more science fiction and is a law enforcement agent from The Meta-Zone, a dimension neighbouring Earth. He was a fun character but very short-lived. He helps the Squad fend off the creatures of his dimension and takes them all back home. In return, they help him take down his nemesis Doctor Z.Z. I’ve stated a few times that Ostrander seems to be a big fan of Steve Ditko, with Nightshade herself being a Ditko creation. The use of Shade is the best evidence of this. Shade and Doctor Z.Z’s conflict essentially ties up some of the loose ends left by Ditko’s brief run. It’s a fun little sequel but it feels out of place in what has already been an incredibly busy story. By the end, Shade is brought into the Squad as a fully-fledged member and becomes a mainstay for a good while. With that, the issue and the arc ends.
So yeah, a lot happens in this story. All three issues feel disconnected from each other and nothing feels like it builds or develops. The story with Incubus has nothing to do with the final issue once Shade comes into the picture. It’s basically a story cut in half, but both of them need to lay a lot of ground for the audience to understand. It becomes too overwhelming and nothing is given a chance to stick or cause any readers to be very invested. So we end up with a 3 issue arc that never comes together and mostly feels like a lot of filler. It’s not an awful comic but I think it is a big step down in quality from the high bar set by previous issues. I don’t blame the creative team, I just think that the sheer amount of stuff crammed into this arc means that none of it hits it home or sticks in your head. Sadly just very forgettable comics. But thankfully it gets a LOT better very soon. So check in next time, I’ll still be here talking Squad. So long.