Welcome back! It’s Jordan, GateCrashers Task Force Xpert here. Last time we took a detour into John Ostrander’s Firestorm and that series crossover with the Squad. Today we’re talking about another crossover but albeit a very different one. This is Millenium, a 1987 weekly crossover event. The story of the event continued through weekly issues over DC’s entire lineup. There was an 8 issue event in the main book by Steve Englehart. Each week one of those issues would be released and all of the tie-ins would bounce off of it, leaving the rest up to the individual creators.
The story concerned the Manhunters as they were revealed to be secretly hiding in plain sight, disguised as supporting characters. It’s a sort of proto Secret Invasion, but decades before. It’s decent, but it’s hardly the greatest of DC’s crossovers. It’s an all-encompassing story that consumed all of DC’s books over 8 weeks, as the events of an issue of the main book would spring out into the tie-in issues. John Ostrander built off of the events of Millenium #4, with Suicide Squad #9. The Squad appears in that issue of Millennium, but Ostrander didn’t write it, so I won’t be talking about it here. If you want the bigger picture, feel free to read that event, but this story functions well enough on its own merits. Mostly.
So our story starts right in the middle of the action. The Squad is gathered outside a Manhunter temple In Louisiana, which they have orders to destroy with the help of a nifty explosive go-kart. The set-up is simple, go in and destroy the Manhunters and all their stuff. This issue’s Squad consists of the regulars you’d expect. It’s got Boomerang, Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, and Rick Flag. But also tagging along for this mission is Slipknot, who joined in the aforementioned Firestorm crossover, The Privateer introduced in the last issue of Suicide Squad, as well as Karin Grace, a member of the original Suicide Squad along with Flag. It’s odd that this issue just kicks off with Karin in the field with no real explanation as to why. She hasn’t been doing fieldwork with the Squad at all by this point. But hey, whatever, I can roll with it. This issue is also our first with Bronze Tiger as a leader since Flag’s been deemed psychologically unfit to lead at this point. However, I love how Ostrander sprinkles in these moments of Tiger confiding in Flag. He’s coming to grips with this new position, and Flag gives him some insight and encourages him. Most books would just have a new leader leap into the role quickly, but Ben has to take his time, and Flag, in a way, is still very much in charge.
Anyway, Captain Atom shows up. Yeah, he just comes in out of nowhere, with the same orders as the Squad to blow up the Manhunters. I love the detail that he’s here because the different government departments want to be the ones to take the Manhunters down. It’s a great bit of mockery for the government over the top machismo. Atom talks with Flag and learns that the Squad’s vehicle is holding an experimental explosive called Xyzedium. Essentially Flag is leading the Squad into a mission he’s not expecting them to leave. Flag chooses to withhold that information from the Squad, however. I think this is particularly cold for an earlier Flag, who would stop at nothing to get his team out alive. He seems incredibly casual about the fact that his entire time is being sent to die. Part of it may be the stakes of an event like this, or part of it may be his own mental health and stress at the time. Either way, I think it’s a touch out of character.
While this is happening, we get a great little exchange between Slipknot and Boomerang. If you saw the 2016 movie, you’ll be familiar with this moment. Slipknot asks if the explosive bracelets are legit, and Boomerang seizes the opportunity. See, up to this point we haven’t seen them used at all, so Boomerang wants to test them out. He tells Slipknot they’re fake, and Slipknot decides to escape moments later when the Squad gets into a fight with Manhunters. His arm gets blown off, and Boomerang has his answer. It’s such a great moment and a defining one for this book and for Boomerang. I should also note that there’s a great bit where Slipknot throws his rope around a Manhunters’s neck to choke it out, only to realize that he’s totally useless against a robot. This book is funny, people. People often talk like this was deadly serious, but it was often quite goofy. Ostrander has a twisted sense of humour, and I love it. Slipknot is a useless fool, but I love him for it.
During all this action, Firestorm appears for two panels, and Captain Atom goes off and fights him, setting up the next issue of Captain Atom. Yeah, there’s a lot of this in this issue. I interviewed Ostrander last week, and he said that this crossover, in particular, was difficult. Writers didn’t have a solid grasp on what the event was about or what was happening, so characters just kinda enter and then leave without any rhyme or reason. It leaves the issue feeling very cluttered and distracted. Unfortunately, this leaks into the core conflict of this issue.
The battle with the manhunters leaves Ben injured, Boomer and Lawton split from the group, Slipknot left for dead, and Karin kidnapped. This leaves just Flag and the Privateer to continue with the mission. They run into Karin, who’s just hanging on the side of a ledge, asking for help. Flag senses something is up but helps anyway, only for Karin to pull a gun on him. Turns out that Karin fell in love with Mark Shaw, the Privateer. I guess that explains their dynamic in the last issue, but it’s a really abrupt turn in this issue’s story.
Turns out that Shaw brought Karin over to the side of the Manhunters. But wait? Wasn’t Shaw against the manhunters now? Yeah, well, Privateer is just as confused as you since he claims to not even remember what she’s talking about. So they get interrupted by a manhunter who comes outta nowhere claiming to be the real Shaw and that the other one was just an android.
This manhunter takes out both Flag and Privateer and instructs Karin to kill them both. Karin can’t follow through with it as she remembers her happy memories with Flag on the old Squad. Anyway, all the Manhunters start to fall to pieces and break apart, including this supposed Manhunter version of Shaw. Karin tells Shaw to get Flag out as she charges the explosive vehicle into the heart of the Manhunters base. The base explodes, Karin dies, and the Squad makes it out alive.
That’s a lot. So much happens in this issue that it’s insane. Ostrander has been really great so far at pacing out information and plot revelations at a really efficient and enjoyable rate. Here, however, there are about three different twists within a few pages. It’s so fast, and none of it manages to have any impact. Karin betrays Flag, but then she dies a heroic death a few pages later. None of it really matters. The sad thing is that this could have been a great story. Other than Flag, Karin is the last (presumed, at this point) surviving member of the original Squad. So having her go out could have been prime for a great story. It could have been a great way to pass the torch to this new Squad and play up the tragedy of the old Squad. A Squad destined to die, left behind in favour of these villains. I don’t blame Ostrander, Yale, McDonnell, Greenberger, or really anyone for this. It just carries the symptoms of all big event comics. You may be wondering why I didn’t address how the Manhunters all started to fall apart. Well, that’s because this issue never tells you how or why. It just tells you to read the next issue of The Spectre to find out. This really isn’t how event tie-ins should work. A tie-in, I think, is best when it tells a story related to the event but not tied into everything else. They should give some extra context, but tell a story on its own merits. Here it feels like Ostrander is being forced to shove a story into about three other different stories. It’s a fun enough issue, but nothing sticks or feels focused and directed.
McDonnell does great work, as always, with dynamic poses and panel layouts, but it’s far from his best work on the series. The best stuff comes from Boomerang and Deadshot. They have a few great moments accusing each other of being gimmicky. It’s really fun and a nice breather from the rest of this very hectic issue. It’s also in this story where we get our introduction to The Duchess. She’s a character that will soon join the Squad, and she appears in front of Slipknot as he pleads for his life. It’s such a brief, inconsequential moment, which is odd considering how important her character will become.
Regardless this is a story that works better in retrospect but not on its own. The death of Karin will come to affect Flag in some really key ways. It’s just a shame that the story of her death couldn’t be given the room it needed. It is an Ostrander Squad book, so it does have some great little character moments, but it’s definitely one of the weaker issues of this run. But don’t worry. Next week Belle Reve is getting a rather interesting visitor, a certain someone from Gotham City. Until next time.
So if you’ve been following me here for a while you’ll be aware of my love for John Ostrander. I started this writing gig with his Suicide Squad and I continue to write about it, which you can check out here. So it was an absolute joy and honour to be able to interview the man himself. Ostrander is one of my favourite creatives in any medium so being able to talk to him was a surreal dream come true. The following is all the questions I asked Ostrander over our session, I hope you enjoy it.
So it’s something of a tradition here at GateCrashers to ask our guests first of all, what is your go-to sandwich?
Tuna salad sometimes, otherwise roast beef and I’m afraid I’m a white boy so it’s on white bread with mayo. If a hamburger is also considered a sandwich then absolutely.
We’re now amidst the release of The Suicide Squad. So what are your thoughts on the film? Did you like it?
Oh yeah very much, it’s not just because I’m in it, and I get thanks at the end. I felt that they captured what I did in the Squad without directly using any of the plots. They used elements that I would use and especially the big one for me was that they made sure that we cared about the characters before they killed them. If there’s no involvement with them then what’s the point?
Do you see it as a continuation of your run? Because I know James Gunn has said as such.
I don’t know if it’s a continuation of my run or the previous movie, it’s its own entity. I sorta saw it as what if the Squad was being invented for today rather than 20-40 years ago. I know the gore and violence bothered people but I always felt that was implicit in what we were doing, we just didn’t show it and he does and I think that is appropriate to today.
Do you think it’s as gory as you would have liked your work to be? I assume when you were writing the Squad you had certain guidelines or were you able to go nuts but chose to reign it in?
No, there were limits certainly. There wasn’t a comics code at that point but there were certainly editorial limits. It was just understood, there were certain things you just didn’t do. It was only after the Squad began that they started doing mature comics so we sorta predated that. So we’re not going to use that same level of graphic violence that is now being used.
What was the process like for your cameo? Was it cool going onto the set and seeing Belle Reve and this massive production.
Oh yeah. Tremendously cool! First of all, they paid my entire way down and took care of me down there. I went and got fitted in my costume I was going to wear that day, that was all nice. Then we went over to the studio itself. As I entered the soundstage, James and his crew were there and as I was walking up to them they started going, “we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy.” I said “stop, stop, stop” *laughs*. That was very generous. I got to watch some of the filming being done that day and they fed me and I gotta tell you I ate very well. The chow there was first-rate. I had my own trailer while I was waiting so that was kinda cool you know? Then I came out onto the set and did my thing and James tossed me a couple of lines. While we were shooting he suggested some lines for me to say because originally I didn’t have any. He kept one line for the film and typical with his eye he chose the best one so I was pleased with that. Then eventually it was over and I went to the airport and went home. But it was a massive massive undertaking. I didn’t get out to see the beach set but from what everyone was telling me it felt huge.
Yeah, I think it’s definitely a film that benefits from that scope. I saw it on an IMAX screen, it’s great at that size.
Yeah, yeah I really wanna do that.
Do you remember any of the other lines you had to choose from?
Uhhh, one was I was bringing the needle up, I said “this is gonna hurt a little bit.” I seemed to be pleased by that or at least I chose to be.
I guess you were in a way the real looming threat over the Squad putting those bombs in their necks.
Yeah! I mean it did strike me that the doctor’s oath, in general, is first do no harm. Well, he was doing harm so he must have been okay with that.
The Squad obviously undergoes a lot of change, the movie was a testament to that. What are the elements that you think need to stay constant for it to be a Suicide Squad story?
Well, you’re always dealing with a team that is essentially not a team they don’t really like each other very much. There also has to be an element that anyone of them could die. I also like the Mission: Impossible-type plots. Not necessarily the save the world plots, but more of an espionage-based sorta thing, I kinda like that. You also have to get to know the characters a little bit before you kill them off, so you have some sort of connection with them. Oh, and something has to go spectacularly wrong. I call it going sideways. In the Squad almost always something goes sideways. Sometimes that’s because one of the team members, often Captain Boomerang is pulling something. You see that with the first team at the start of the film where someone pulls a double-cross. I think it’s almost necessary. They aren’t nice people, their motivations are not what’s best for the world but what is best for them you know? What works for them? If they get in the way of the mission so be it!
Of course, your run is popular because of its ability to connect us with characters only for us to watch them die. But were there any characters that you were going to kill but came to love too much? I know you’ve mentioned Deadshot was supposed to die but were there others?
The trinity if you will, the characters I always threatened to kill but never quite were always Deadshot, Boomerang, and Amanda Waller. There might have been situations where I might have killed any one of them and often I would shoot some of them or they would get harmed so you would think that I would. What took care of that fact really was that during the run I killed Rick Flag, who was supposedly the leader of the Squad. Once I did that the readers went okay he’s serious. So that was a very useful death. That I think is a necessary element for the book. It creates that sense of tension automatically into anything that the Squad is doing. You don’t know who’s going to come out of it or even if the mission would be successful. That helped keep the tension and the interest in the book alive. The very fact that we kept on switching up the membership of the Squad, partially because some would leave and some would die. We kept on changing the makeup of the Squad and that kept it fresh I think as well.
Did you ever get any heated fan mail about the deaths of certain characters? I imagine Flag could have caused an uproar.
I don’t remember any but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t. We all know the word fan is short for fanatic. If you do something to somebody’s favourite then yeah you are liable to hear about it. I know I would’ve if I was reading a book where somebody killed one of my favorite characters. In fact, you could say that’s where Oracle came from. I like Barbara Gordon and I didn’t like how she wound up at the end of Killing Joke. So my late wife, Kim Yale, and I took her and left her paralyzed, and created a new character out of her.
I think one thing that your Squad does really well, it’s characters evolving and changing. Characters like Bronze Tiger are very different at the beginning and end of your run.
Yeah, Count Vertigo is a great example, we showed him as having a tendency to commit suicide himself. The last page of the last issue that I wrote had us resolving that with him choosing to commit suicide or basically have someone kill him who was willing to do it. Basically death by Deadshot. By resolving it that way it was an ongoing question in there. One of my favorite storylines, or bits. It’s not even a storyline it was a bit, the pie in the face gag. We kept that running for what, a year, a year and a half or so?
Yeah something like that, quite a long time.
Yeah, yeah. I basically wanted to see how far I could stretch it out, Kim was in on it too.
Where did you get the idea for that pie subplot?
When you have a book called Suicide Squad you look for places where you can have non-lethal humor. What I liked about was who we selected for the one throwing the pies was Captain Boomerang. What I really liked about it was that it’s the second person who gets hit in the face with a pie was Captain Boomerang. We explained that he made the pie kinda into a boomerang so he tossed it just before he entered the room, acted like he had heard something outside, and then took the pie in the face for himself. That way hopefully everyone would think, “well it can’t be him.” Even the fans, it diverted a lot of people. We had an odd sense of whimsy, humor, and goofiness in something that calls itself Suicide Squad. In a book that was largely pretty serious. We had lots of pretty goofy and silly moments. Two characters I loved playing with, Punch and Jewelee were sheer wacky. We managed to stir that in.
When you were writing Suicide Squad, how did you go about selecting characters? You mentioned Punch and Jewelee and they were very obscure. I know Boomerang was suggested to you, but were other characters suggested to you, or did you largely select them yourself?
Captain Boomerang was suggested by Robert Greenberger. At first, I thought, “Captain Boomerang. What a silly-looking person.” But when I got in and realized what his character type was like, the fact that..this is a slight segway to make sure to reel me back in. There was a series of books about a character called Flashman, the author was George MacDonald Frasier. Flashman was originally a guy who was originally in this book way back, ‘Tom Brown School Days’ about an English school. Flashman was a rotter in the book, written by a different author in a different era and the character was eventually tossed out of the book. Frasier picked him up from where he’s tossed out of that book and continues in a series of historical adventures and Flashman never changes. He is a coward, he’s a Letcher, a conman and he succeeds!
It was the first Flashman book I read, halfway through I threw it against the wall because he pissed me off so bad. But then I went back and finished reading and I was a big fan of it. Well okay, Boomerang will be my Flashman. No matter how low he could go there was always another level below that he could sink. He knew what he was and he was happy. He was the best-adjusted person of everyone in Belle Reve. Mainly because he liked who he was, he was happy with it. He just does the other stuff so he can stay out of jail as much as possible.
In terms of choosing some of the other characters, well yeah I deliberately chose more obscure characters because one of my rules was, if someone is joining the Squad I get to keep them. I get to do whatever I want with them. I can extend their character. I can kill them. For me that was important. That I had to have control over characters. Boomerang was a member of Flash’s Rogue’s Gallery but at that time they were remaking Flash and they weren’t using the Rogues Gallery, so he was handed to me and I said “okay but I get to keep him then” and they said yeah at the time. I would go through Who’s Who and look for those who are silly. Well, not necessarily silly but those who were less known.
There is one in particular who was used in the film that even I never considered using and that’s Polka Dot Man. They did a BRILLIANT job with him, Polka Dot Man was very much in the mode of how I would have chosen to use him. Who’s Who was a good place for me to go in terms of searching out characters. I figured the least known characters were the ones they would let me play with.
Yeah, that’s something I’ve always loved about the Squad, it fleshes out smaller characters.
Deadshot’s a good example. He originally had a half-page in the Who’s Who and I used him when Marshall Rogers and Steve Englehart were finished with him in Detective Comics I think, it was one of the Batman titles. They redesigned the costume and I thought the costume was really cool and the Who’s Who only had a paragraph on his background so I could extend it further. The main thing I had with Deadshot was Lawton was two things. I had seen a special with a hitman who had been incarcerated, he had the coldest eyes I had ever seen. His whole attitude was “I don’t care if I die so why should I care if you die?” It’s not that Lawton was suicidal it was just that he just didn’t care whether he lived or die. As a result, if his life didn’t mean anything to him, yours didn’t mean anything to him either.
You’ve hit on something there as well. You started out as an actor and your work has quite a strong focus on character psychology. Do you think your background as an actor fed into your writing?
Oh yeah absolutely, absolutely. My time in theatre I was an actor, I was a playwright, I was a director, I was a teacher. I’ve done most of the jobs you could think of in theatre, I’ve done tech stuff as well. So I knew theatre very well and knew it to be a very collaborative medium, which is what I brought to the book as well. The idea that it was a collaboration. I told the others, I told Luke, I told Karl Kessel, I told anyone who was working on it, including Bob Greenberger, that if they had an idea I wanted to hear it. I might not use it but if they had an idea for the Squad I was open to listening to it. We were a band and everyone in the band brings something different to it. All of that definitely came from theatre.
My whole sense of dramatic structure came from actively working in dramatic structure. One of the biggest things I had from my college days at University where I did theatre was a guest teacher who came in for one semester. A brit named Harold Lang. He had been in some films, basically small supporting films but he was also a brilliant teacher, just the best I had in anything, and the fact that he was in theatre was great. One of the things I remember him telling us was “you have a right to fail.” You have a right to try something and have it not work, don’t be afraid of failing just learn from what you do. That and also working with Del Close as a writer taught me to take more risks. It taught me that if it goes wrong it goes wrong.
You’ve said that you initially wanted to be a priest although I believe you’ve also said you aren’t catholic now. But your work includes a lot of catholic themes and undertones with Father Craemer in Suicide Squad and especially with Spectre. Why is it that you draw on this religious aspect?
Okay, let me explain that real quickly. I went to seminary for my freshman year in high school that came from an overdose of watching Going My Way and not the movie, the television series around at the time. It starred Gene Kelly and Leo G Caroll. I was raised a catholic boy and raised in a catholic school. You may entertain thoughts of being a priest, so I thought I had a vocation. I went off to seminary in freshman year. I discovered girls and that I didn’t have a vocation and left. Going to seminary was an indication that I had an interest in those kinds of questions but it didn’t really inform much of what I did. The interest in those sorts of things was not even because I was catholic but just because of who I am. I had an interest in that to begin with and having done that, that continued to be a part of me. It continues to be a part of me today. I call myself an RC which is Reformed Catholic instead of Roman Catholic. I’m an agnostic in general and an atheist in specific but the questions still interest me so that will be a part of my work I think always.
I did it in a book I recently did for Kickstarter as well with Tom Mandrake, KROS: Hallowed Grounds where we combined vampires and the Civil War.
I only learned this recently, that your Suicide Squad used the Marvel method. What was that like creatively? Do you prefer that style of writing?
It could be a switch. We switched methods along the way. Marvel method is also called plot first and what is called DC method is script first, but both Marvel and DC have used them. Plot first means you just plot it out and hand it to the penciller and they pace it basically and it comes back to you for dialoguing. What I like about that is that it allows me to work off of the art better, the expressions, and what’s going on, it allows things to end better. On the other hand, script first is just what it sounds like. I do the whole script, breakdowns, panels, pages, sound effects, captions, sound effects the whole thing is there on the page for the artist. Some artists prefer that and some don’t. I’ve done both on Squad, about halfway through my run I think DC wanted us to do more full script.
Were there any moments an artist threw in that surprised you or you thought were particularly good?
Luke was and is a wonderful storyteller. When I work with an artist I work to what I perceive their strengths and things that they like to do. Luke’s is, particularly as a storyteller. One that stands out to me is Flag goes off the rails and decides to assassinate an American senator who is blackmailing the Squad. Waller has already taken care of it unbeknownst to Flag. She sends the entire Squad out to stop him, by whatever means necessary which is what she says. Deadshot is the one who solves the situation in his own inimitable manner. The way Luke did that was simply stunning. I’ll also say when we did the Deadshot mini-series Luke inked himself and that is where I think we see the definitive Luke McDonnell art. He’s had other inkers who are very very good, no question about it. But there’s something about what Luke inks himself. You ask something sometimes from artists and what they give you is twice what you ask for.
Your Squad work had a lot of crossovers. Did you find it frustrating to constantly tie into different events or did you enjoy playing the Squad off of other futures in the DC Universe?
I enjoyed some more than others. There was one, I think it was Millenium. It was coming out weekly. There was one week where virtually every book I was then writing was then tied into this one moment. I think it was Engelhart that was writing the center book, he had a vacation and he went off to it. So we had like two sentences telling us what that week was about. So I ended up having to plot the thing over and above that. So that got a little tough. Sometimes some of the tie-ins were more difficult than others. The sheer amount of them was tough. But then we did it to ourselves as well. We did sort of a mini crossover with all of the covert action groups with Checkmate, Peacemaker. We did our own crossover between the books. That I brought on myself. So I have no complaints about it.
I recently did an article on every death in the Suicide Squad’s history and there are a lot of Firestorm villains in there. Was that just because you were writing Firestorm at the time and you had free reign or did you have some sort of vendetta against his Rogue’s Gallery?
I was writing Firestorm, it was less complicated using some of those villains. Especially if I wasn’t going to use them again. So I could kill them off with impunity and no one would complain cause I was the writer on Firestorm. You gotta be careful with writing Squad some time though. It’s not about killing the characters, it’s a story in which characters die. But we had to treat it as though there were real deaths. There was only one character I brought back from death and that was Rick Flag. But that was planned, I had the backdoor prepared when I wrote his death. I think now I wouldn’t bring him back, I would just leave him dead.
Oh interesting. Why do you think that is?
I think it was more effective when we killed him off. Bringing him back sorta undercut that so now I think “eh shouldn’t have done it.”
Of course, your stories aren’t all about villains. They also feature a cast of regular human characters as well. Not just Waller but Flo, LaGrieve, Briscoe, and John Economos. What made you want to flesh out this supporting cast as much as you did? Do you think they’re important to the dynamic of the book?
Yeah! One of the things I wanted to do when I did Squad was that I wanted to have a large support team. Any group that’s together like Justice League like Avengers would have to have a support staff, secretaries doing office work, mechanics working on their plane. I mean how does Batman find the time to keep all his gear in working order? Again that’s one of the things that led to the creation of Oracle. We figured at the time that if we did her right she would be very handy within the DC Universe, and other writers would want to use her. Because she helps solve a problem many times. You have a story where the main character has to learn something, the question comes if they do that how do they know to do that? Well instead of spending time in their own story with it, they just put a quick call to Oracle and she digs in her computer, finds it out, and gives it back to ‘em. Boom and you’re off and running, back into the fight scene which you’re ready to do. I think that’s a useful thing to have within a comic book universe.
Your Squad run is quite political in a lot of ways. Do you think the politics of those stories still hold up?
Some of it is gonna be dated, it’s the politics of the time so it’s gonna be dated but unfortunately, some of it is still very apt to today. The story we would do, say, with Soviet Russia. Interesting reading. I was just watching part of Hunt for Red October again last night and that’s dated in the sense that you don’t have the Soviet government anymore but it’s still a compelling story and it’s really easy to get sucked into it. Some of the politics on it are still bang-up. In the Squad, we did a story with a character called Willaim Hell, who was using the trappings of being a superhero to basically foment strife between the races. Yeah, I’m sorry to say that’s very apt for today. The very start of the Squad had a sequence that I don’t think I would be allowed to do today. It’s this superpowered terrorist group attacking an airport, right on the first pages. They wreck Air Force One, looks like they kill the president, they kill lots of people in the terminal. I’m not sure that DC would let me do that today.
Soon after your Squad work, you wrote another lengthy run with Spectre. Of course, that’s a character that is a far way away from the grounded black ops missions of the Squad. What was it like shifting from a more grounded series to one about an all-powerful figure? Was that difficult for you?
Oh not terrifically. The way you can do a lot of different books a month is by making sure each one is different. We have different sides to our personalities. An analogy I heard once that I thought was good was that you hold a diamond up to the light and turn the facet, you see something slightly different in each facet. I think that’s true of our personalities. So the Spectre brought out one side of me, Suicide Squad brought out another. Each book I was doing enabled me to bring out something different in myself and keep me interested.
Spectre was something that I had long wanted to do. There was something about the visuals of that character. Someone kept on telling us that well you can’t keep the Spectre interesting very long. You either have to reduce his powers or you repeat yourself and you’ll be done in a year. Tom Mandrake and I, we talked about and we knew exactly what to do. You have to keep the visuals because that’s what draws people to the book in the first place, the iconography as I call it.
We said the problem is not in the Spectre. It’s in Corrigan. We had a couple of rules. First of all: different people have brought Corrigan back to life and said he was a host for the Spectre who was an entirely different entity. We said mmmm no. Corrigan is dead he was killed in the 30s, he’s still dead, he’d been dead all that time. He was a hardboiled plainclothes detective back in the 30s. To know what that is you go back and read early Dick Tracy, you read some of the novels and newspapers at the time of what these guys were like. That’s what we modeled Corrigan on. He was still that. He was still that hard-boiled personality but he had a story arc as a result.
Usually, you gotta change before you die, but in Corrigan’s case, it’s the afterlife that ended up changing him and enabling him to come where he is at the end of the series. Tom and I had that figured out from early on in the run so we knew what we wanted to do and we got a chance to do it. DC said, “the numbers are slipping, so we’re probably gonna end the book in about a year.” We said great. We’ll use that year to wrap things up, which is what we did and they let us do what we wanted at the very end for the character. It made the entire series into one big story, and we’re very pleased with that.
One thing I like about your work is that you bring in characters from each of your runs. So Tolliver and Zastrow appear in Firestorm and move to Suicide Squad. Father Craemer appears in Suicide Squad and moves to Spectre. Why is it that you shuffle around these smaller supporting characters?
Because it’s one universe. I respect continuity and I use it quite a bit but I’m not a slave to it. There are those who every period and every comma has to be adhered to. Well not if it gets in the way of a good story. That’s why I would bring characters in, it was one universe and I tried to reinforce that when I can, so much again that it doesn’t get in the way of a good story.
Of course you also wrote the delightful Martian Manhunter series again alongside Tom Mandrake. But after your run, the character hasn’t enjoyed such a lengthy series. Why do you think that is? Do you think he lacks something that other heroes like Flash or Batman have to stand alone?
Maybe it’s because he’s an alien and he looks alien. This is also the approach when we started work on it. It’s that he started as a green Superman. His powers are very similar. Instead of Kryptonite, he’s afraid of fire. It’s essentially the same thing. So we wanted to explore how he was different and there were a few key ways. The telepathy, being able to phase through things and a few more stuff but also fire had to be a psychological question rather than a physical question. We wanted to find out how he’s different. Also, another major difference is that Superman was born on Krypton but came to Earth as a baby and was raised as a human. So his values are human, his culture is humanity. Yes, he has access to Kryptonian culture through the Fortress of Solitude but his values are those of Kansas, the Midwest. That’s how he was raised and that forms him as much as his powers, maybe more.
J’onn Jonzz on the other hand comes to earth as a full adult. He is completely shaped by Maritan society and its way of handling things, we explored some of that. You know if you have a planet of telepaths, what are the rules? How does that form society? You’re not allowed into another person’s mind, except in Crisis unless you were invited. The fact that you can phase through things means that he didn’t have stairways, he would float up and down. He wouldn’t need a door he would phase into the place. We just wanted to think, what are the logical extensions of what we know? A friend of mine, Jim Murdock over in Ireland. Hello Jim! He’s told me he really likes Spectre but he likes Martian Manhunter even more. It’s not so much a fantasy thing, it’s science fiction as Spectre was.
While you are probably most well known for your work at DC you have also done numerous creator-owned projects like Grimjack. Now Grimjack is being adapted by the Russo Brothers? What about Grimjack do you think makes it prime for film and what are you excited for audiences to see.
Well with Grimjack it goes right back to the beginning, back when I submitted it to First Comics. There was really nothing like it on the market. When it was being evaluated I was told they liked the idea, they liked the concept but it was an older character, could the reader relate? He was grim, he was gritty, that wasn’t the norm at the time. In fact, they told me at first, “well we’re gonna start him off in the back of another book, Starslayer” which was another book I was writing. “In two years maybe three, if there’s enough support we’ll spin him out into his own book.” Well, Grimjack went into his own book 8 months after he first appeared.
Yes, there is a level of violence and brutality again of the anti-hero. I had people who had problems with what they did and Grimjack said “well that wasn’t very heroic.” I said, “I never told you he was a role model.” I considered him to be a compelling character and he was in the hardboiled mode. I like hardboiled fiction a lot, I wanted to combine that again with science fiction, with sword and sorcery in a way. I came up with a hardboiled barbarian. It’s what I call narrative alloys, you take one thing from one genre and something from another genre and patch them together and I think that can be really interesting. One of the Star Wars books I did was at Dark Horse, I melded James Bond with Star Wars, which I think worked out rather well.
That was another question I had! You’re pretty well known for your extensive catalog of Star Wars work. A lot of it deals with concepts and characters very different from Star Wars as we know it. Did Dark Horse give you a lot of freedom for this or did you have to conform to certain ideas about what Star Wars was?
With anything that we did and that includes me and Jan and everybody at every stage, it had to be approved by Lucas licensing. So it not only had to go through our editor but also through Lucas licensing and then come back to us with any notes that they had. The thing is, first of all, I had a lot of reference books on Star Wars, I knew Star Wars pretty well. I was a fan before the first movie came out because I had read the first novelization and said “oh this is kinda cool, I’ll have a look at the movie.” And I was floored when I saw it and became a fan. Jan knows Star Wars even better than me. We would put our stuff together, Jan would put the plot together with me because it worked out better that way. Sometimes we would get notes back from Lucas licensing and they said well we would like to change this because of this, this, and this.
We said, “yes we can, we could do that and we can do that if you really want us to but something like this happened in this movie, in this book, in this comic.” So this we saw as just an extension of what had already been done. Lucas would almost always go and look back and go “you’re right go ahead.” Eventually, it got to the point where they really did trust us to know and love and know what to do for a real Star Wars story. For all, we did we were really running and gunning for the real Star Wars feel to the stories that we were doing. So they ended up trusting us a great deal.
You’re the creator of Amanda Waller. She’s appeared in so many comics, cartoons, and movies. What do you think the legacy of the character is?
Well first of all there was no like Amanda before and I don’t think there’s really been anyone like her since. We’re talking about the grey areas, Amanda has vast areas of grey *laughs* things. But also to head the Squad I wanted a woman, I wanted her to be black and I wanted her to be rough to middle age. Because again there is no one like that and there were very few characters of color at the time in comics. She also had to have no powers. Her power had to be her mind and her will, which proved to be more than enough. I think she’s stuck around because there’s not really been anyone like her since then. She has all the ruthlessness of Lex Luthor but she does have a certain moral sense as well. She’s perfectly willing to use these bad guys and send them to their dooms if need be. But she won’t do it gratuitously. Only if she felt it was really necessary.
If she finds some political hack is trying to use the Squad, as does happen, then she gets furious because these are her people. As bad as they are, these are her people and she’s not going to waste them. She’s a complex character because a lot of people thought she was the worst villain in the whole lot. You can love her, you can hate her and you can do both at the same time and that makes her compelling because we know people like that in our real lives. There are very few people who are just terrific all the time, everybody has their shadows. Letting you both love and hate Amanda lets you explore that within yourself.
You of course tend to write very flawed characters be it Rick Flag, Spectre, or Grimjack. What is it that draws you to such morally grey figures?
I think it’s truer to life. Everyone I know is a mixture there is no one who is all good and all evil. It’s certainly aspects of myself. I think even if you are writing fantasy you want at least one foot firmly planted in reality so people can identify with it. Again so people can use the dark aspects of it.The reader may go “yeah sure I felt that.” In doing that they can be more open to the character even if the character is pretty fantastic. I mean take a look at Grimjack, he’s working out of a multidimensional city, he has a pet lizard named Bob who drinks and Grimjack works out of a bar. I want people to identify not only in terms of their ideals but in how they live and who they are, by touching up our grey areas. Well, we all have our grey areas.
Hey readers, GateCrashers resident Task Force Xpert here! In my mind the Suicide Squad is one of the best ideas the comics industry has given us. A brilliant concept that can be incredible with the right creatives to capitalise on it properly. That concept has persisted in a few different forms over the years but a few factors always remain. One of which is in the name. Death and suicide. It’s a group that is known for its high body count and high-risk missions. Given that these stories usually feature obscure supervillains, the writers can churn through as many of these guys as they want to. So there’s a lot to cover here, in a lot of different ways. But there’s more to this than just morbid glee. Because I think the deaths of these characters gives an interesting peek into the creative style of each writer and artist that has tackled this concept. So in an effort to track the evolution or devolution of the Squad as well as cackling at the many violent deaths we will be discussing, I thought…why not?
First, some rules. What qualifies as a death? After all, no one really dies in comic books. Firstly it has to be main continuity books, so things like movie tie-ins don’t count. I think for a death to count it has to be an actual proper death. No getting sent to an alternate dimension, clones or death fakeouts. The character has to have had the soul escape from their body. However the character can be revealed to have survived the events of the story, but it must be from outside that run. As long as the character is dead in the context of the story’s narrative and the creative team intended for them to be dead, it counts. Everything else is fair game.
Blockbuster: Legends #3
First on the chopping block is Blockbuster, incinerated by Brimstone in the Squad’s very first appearance. Having the most powerful character on the team at the time die first, set the stakes perfectly. Nobody is safe.
Mindboggler: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #2
Mindboggler sets a tradition that will become evident throughout this runthrough. She’s the first to die in Ostrander’s run proper, but also the first Firestorm villain to die, she wouldn’t be the last. A brief, pathetic, and fairly predictable death but it effectively establishes Boomerang’s character.
Multiplex: Firestorm Annual Vol. 2 #5
Multiplex was yet another Firestorm villain who was drafted onto the Squad to actually apprehend Firestorm. Unfortunately fellow Squad mate Parasite was released prematurely as backup. He drains Multiplex of his energy and uses his powers through the rest of the issue. I’m unsure if he is actually dead here, the issue establishes that those he drains die but he’s never mentioned outside this panel again. He shows up later in continuity but within this run and story he appears to be dead.
Slipknot: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #9
Pretty much the same thing as Mindboggler, both a Firestorm villain and a character whose death was indirectly caused by Boomerang. Here Boomer let Slipknot know that the explosive bracelets (yes Bracelets. The bombs in the heads weren’t established yet) were a ruse. It’s brutal and again shows us how much Boomer just sucks.
Karin Grace: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #9
In the same issue, Karin Grace sacrifices herself to stop the Manhunters and save the Squad. This was a way to redeem herself for betraying the Squad to said Manhunters in the same issue. So it’s not a death that is entirely earned but it’s important for how it affects Flag’s character going forward.
Mr 104: The Doom Patrol and Suicide Squad Special #1
An obscure Doom Patrol villain, Mr 104 was destroyed in a battle with the Doom Patrol against the Rocket Reds. He’s got probably one of the quickest deaths in the team’s history, so it’s short and sweet but not terribly interesting.
Psi: The Doom Patrol and Suicide Squad Special #1
Psi was a Supergirl villain that was again killed by a Rocket Red. Psi is lucky in that she gets one of the few quiet deaths among the Squad. She dies in the arms of the Doom Patrol’s Negative Woman away from the battlefield. It’s a short and oddly touching death, an anomaly for the Squad.
Thinker: The Doom Patrol and Suicide Squad Special #1
The oldest character on this list, The Thinker was a golden age Flash villain. Unfortunately, his experience didn’t seem to help him much as his throat was slit by his teammate Weasel. It’s not especially exciting or unique but I just really like this panel.
Weasel: The Doom Patrol and Suicide Squad Special #1
Thinker gets some revenge when his helmet is used by Rick Flag to kill Weasel. A nice bit of poetic justice and also another Firestorm villain to tick off.
Shrike: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #25
Shrike is one of my personal favourite Squad deaths in Ostrander’s run. Ostrander puts in the work to make her sympathetic, as she works with the Squad’s resident priest to overcome the trauma of being sexually assaulted as a child. It was a footnote in the larger run but it made her death feel shocking and meaningful.
Rick Flag Jr: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #26
For me, this is the crown jewel of Suicide Squad deaths. Flag, perhaps the book’s closest thing to the main character, goes out in a blaze of glory. Flag decided to take out the superpowered terrorists, the Jihad at their base Jotunheim, entirely solo. This one main mission results in Jotunheim being destroyed along with Flag. This particular issue is one of my favourites of Ostrander’s run. Here Ostrander blows the doors wide open. Just when we were getting complacent with the idea that the core cast wouldn’t die, Flag bites it. It’s not just shocking but incredibly well staged and it marks a key turning point in the run. My favourite Squad death.
Briscoe: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #34
The first of several deaths in one of the Squad’s most disastrous missions. The Squad’s resident getaway pilot died in a fiery explosion on Apokalips in #34. Briscoe was a fun and enjoyable character, proving some levity with his enjoyable personality throughout Ostrander’s run. This death also meant the destruction of Briscoe’s beloved copter, Sheba. It’s a shocking death as Briscoe helped the Squad out in a jam many times, so his death made this one of the Squad’s darkest hours.
Doctor Light: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #36
Doctor Light, a classic joke villain was killed in a fittingly comedic fashion. During this story, Light was harassed and haunted by his dead buddy Jacob Finlay, the heroic Doctor Light. So in one final act Light chooses to be a hero and takes to the sky, only to be immediately killed. It’s hilarious and a great example of Ostrander’s subversion. These are deadly missions and the bad guys aren’t gonna wait for you to say your catchphrase. So yeah it’s one of my favourites, especially for how it sets up Light later in the book as he navigates his way through Hell.
Lashina/Duchess: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #36
Lashina had spent her time on the Suicide Squad disguised as a character called the Duchess, after she had been stranded on Earth following a failed attack on Belle Reve. She eventually managed to kidnap and lure the Squad to Apokalips where she aimed to take her place as leader of the Fatal Furies. However, she presumed Darkseid would want a bunch of mortals to kill. This oversight cost Lashina her life as she was destroyed by Darkseid’s omega beams. A quick death but oh so satisfying.
Flo Crawley: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #36
While not technically a part of the Squad’s field missions, Flo was a key part of Task Force X operations. She was a computer expert and one of the most well-developed of the Belle Reve staff. She was also Waller’s younger cousin and acted as a sort of innocent conscience for Waller throughout the series. However, she yearned for adventure and was killed on Apokalips. It’s probably the saddest death the Squad has ever had and affects Waller from here.
Ravan: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #47
Ravan is one of the great characters Ostrander introduced as part of the Jihad. A character who worshipped Kali, died in the least honorable way he could think of, poison from Kobra. Ravan was an enjoyable and interesting character with a fitting end.
Enforcer: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #58
Man these last few have been pretty serious, time for some cannon fodder, and who better to serve that purpose than a Firestorm villain! The Enforcer was one of several characters killed in the War of the Gods crossover event, though I don’t know how given his whole deal is a suit of armour and he was stabbed with a regular ol spear.
Karma: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #58
Karma was a member of the Doom Patrol, he sucked and deserved to die.
The Writer: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #58
Maybe the most hilarious and creative death in Suicide Squad history. The Writer is Grant Morrison. After writing themself into continuity with Animal Man, Ostrander decided to make them a member of the Suicide Squad. The Writer was promptly killed after suffering from writer’s block. So fun.
Adam Cray, Karma: Sucide Squad Vol. 1 #61
The Atom was a point of mystery for the back half of Ostrander’s run. Many believed this character to be Ray Palmer back from the dead, but instead, it was a whole new character, Adam Cray. Cray secretly worked for Waller in an espionage and surveillance capacity. Unfortunately, he was killed by Blacksnake who believed that Cray was Palmer. At this point, readers had grown to love Cray so his death was shocking and tragic. Someone, please bring this guy back
Sidearm: Superboy Vol. 4 #1
Following Ostrander’s run, the Squad appeared in crossovers like a story with Superboy. Sidearm was a Superboy villain killed by another Superboy villain and Suicide Squad mainstay, King Shark. Not an incredibly interesting death if you remove the giant humanoid Shark.
Big Sir: Suicide Squad Vol. 2 #1
Keith Giffen wrote a new Suicide Squad run in the 2000s and wasted no time in killing off his Squad. Big Sir was a kind-hearted if dim-witted character who was killed by a small kamikaze child. Sad.
Multi-Man: Suicide Squad Vol. 2 #1
Multi-Man was an incredibly underrated Challengers of the Unknown villain who was killed by genetic experiment Eve and her mindless children monsters. Pretty boring, just another one on the list.
Clock King: Suicide Squad Vol. 2 #1
Okay, this guy I actually care about. Clock King freaking rules, always has and he deserves better than this.
Eliza: Suicide Squad Vol. 2 #3
Eliza was a character introduced in this issue. Take note. If a character is introduced in an issue of Suicide Squad, they aren’t making it out alive. Anyway, she was swarmed by killer ants. Who cares? #
Putty: Suicide Squad Vol. 2 #3
Putty is the same, created for this one story. He’s not as bad as Eliza seeing as he gets a moment of panic before his death which is more characterisation than most characters get in this. But he also dies off-panel so that’s down a point again.
Bolt: Suicide Squad Vol. 2 #3
Bolt is a generic lightning villain, who acts as an assassin for hire. So that means he’s one of those characters that just shows up when you need a panel of just a bunch of D-list villains. He dies in an explosion caused by the killer ants. Yes, the ants caused a massive explosion, they had a proper lighter and everything. Anyway, this is surprisingly not the last we will hear from Bolt on this list.
Larvanaut: Suicide Squad Vol. 2 #3
Larvanaut was yet another character created for this issue who died in this issue. He managed to kill the queen ant but that only caused the rest of the ants to attack and kill him in a rage. This is yet another off-panel death. Lame.
Fun aside though: Killer Frost is the only Squad member to survive this mission. Killer Frost of course being the most prominent villain of Firestorm.
Reactron: Suicide Squad Vol 2 #7
Reactron, a nuclear powered Supergirl villain was “killed” by teammate Killer Frost. It happens off panel and we only hear it taking place over comms. Anyway they note that he may not be dead but may as well be and won’t survive being thawed out. It’s ambiguous but I think it still counts.
Modem: Suicide Squad Vol. 2 #11
As you may have guessed from the high body count, Giffen’s run wasn’t focused on characterizing the villains. Instead, the focus shifted to the guys behind the scenes. The first of these characters to die was Modem, the book’s hacker character. Anyway, his computer was hacked by Digital Djinn, resulting in his death. This one was actually somewhat shocking as Modem was a main character.
Havana: Suicide Squad Vol. 2 #12
Havana was Sergeant Rock’s second in command on this Squad. She was the most well-developed character of this run so her death felt meaningful and impactful, if not perfectly executed. She was killed by Rustam of the Jihad.
Punch: Checkmate Vol. 2 #6
Punch and Jewlee were two characters used throughout Ostrander’s run. They were brought back for Greg Rucka’s Checkmate where Punch saved his wife from an ambush. These two characters had up until now been incredibly wacky and comical so seeing such a serious moment of self-sacrifice and grief was jarring and shocking. Really well handled.
Javelin: Checkmate Vol. 2 #7
Javelin was another character who died heroically to save Jewlee. This particular Squad seemed to be a great bit deal more heroic than most. It’s worth noting that Javelin survived outside of this run.
Tattooed Man: Checkmate Vol. 2 #7
The revelation of this issue was that Squad member the Tattooed Man ratted the team out to the Society of Super-Villains. As revenge Icicle froze him, Mirror Master mirrored him?? And Jewelle finished him off by stomping on him. It gets extra points for being a death caused by 3 Squad members.
(It’s worth noting that these last three deaths are not from a team known officially as Task Force X, rather they were former Squad members allying together for revenge against Waller)
Persuader: 52 #34
Persuader is a Superman villain inspired by Persuader from the Legion of Superheroes villain group the Fatal Five. His death was at the hands of Osiris of the Black Marvel Family after Waller had called for them to be brought in. It was incredibly shocking given the efforts to remain non-lethal up till this point.
Blackguard: Suicide Squad Vol. 3 #7
Blackguard was the unlucky first death in a Suicide Squad coup lead by General Eilling. He’s a Booster Gold villain so he was about as obscure as you get but he got to die in a spectacular fashion. With his head popping off like a melon.
Windfall: Suicide Squad Vol. 3 #7
Windall was an interesting character in that she wasn’t all that villainous, often committing violent acts and crimes because of actions against her. She was even briefly a member of the Outsiders. So it’s pretty brutal that she died trying to protect her teammates only to be melted by Chemo.
Cliff Charmichael: Suicide Squad Vol. 3 #7
At long last! Another Firestorm villain! Cliff started out as Ronnie Raymond’s bully before graduating to a new version of The Thinker. Along with Eilling he betrayed Waller and the Squad and was promptly shot and killed by King Faraday.
Twister: Suicide Squad Vol. 3 #8
Twister was a Teen Titans character allied with Brother Blood who was eventually drafted into the Squad. Up until her death Twister had been controlling the powers of her rogue teammate White Dragon. Unfortunately, the surrounding battle broke her concentration enough for White Dragon to burn her alive. Peachy.
White Dragon: Suicide Squad Vol. 3 #8
Of course, this was paid in kind when Plastique killed White Dragon back, by blowing him up from the inside out, which is awesome. This White Dragon was a character created by Ostrander early in his run, as the vigilante William Hell. He’s a white supremacist. Good riddance I say.
Plus a fun one-liner.
Marauder: Suicide Squad Vol. 3 #8
Marauder is another Ostrander character brought over from his incredibly underrated Aquaman run. He got blown up by a bunch of explosive Boomerangs by…you guessed it, Captain Boomerang. The second one that is. Anyway, pretty boring death.
Yasemin Soze: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #67
In this Secret Six crossover, Deadshot’s loyalties were tested as he faced his old Squad. Unfortunately new Squad member Yasemin Soz let it go to her head that she was fighting a legend. Deadshot quickly killed her before she could keep monologuing. Hilarious.
Voltaic: Suicide Squad Vol. 4 #2
The first of MANY deaths from the New 52 era. Voltaic was a character created for this run, which as we know by now is practically a death sentence. Anyway, Voltaic was only brought along so he could be killed and framed for the Squad’s actions.
Lime: Suicide Squad Vol. 4 #7
Lime is one half of Lime and Light, twin sisters who turned to crime. I particularly like Lime’s death in that it answers the question of what if one of the Squad is caught. Well….their head gets blown off.
Light: Suicide Squad Vol. 4 #9
Look if you’re part of a duo and your other half dies, you got it coming sooner or later. I’m surprised Light was able to make it another 2 issues. She died as a human shield for Deadshot. Lovely
Yo-Yo: Suicide Squad Vol. 4 #18
Yo-Yo had it pretty bad. Earlier in this run, Yo-Yo was eaten by King Shark and presumed dead, only to be discovered clinging to life later. Yo-Yo served with the Squad again but died properly when Deadshot detonated his neck explosive in order to take out his sister, Red Orchid. He was practically the only relatively nice character in this Squad, so his death was more of a shame than others.
Crowbar: Justice League of America’s Vibe #5
I can hardly even remember this one. Crowbar is a villain that wields a magic crowbar that shoots lasers or something. He died in his one and only New 52 appearance because his crowbar overloaded fighting Vibe I think? I don’t know, I don’t think anyone even cares. MOVING ON.
Deadshot: Suicide Squad Vol. 4 #13
That’s right, arguably the Squad’s most iconic member Deadshot finally takes a bullet himself in #13 of the New 52 series. Lawton died shooting himself through the heart to get at Regulus, the leader of terrorist group Basilisk. One of many evil snake groups in comics. Anyway, it’s a pretty cool death. I kinda love this trope of characters injuring themselves to get to the bad guy. Although it gets points off for reasons you’re about to see.
Deadshot, again: Suicide Squad Vol. 4 #19
Whaattt? Deadshot? Didn’t he JUST die? Yeah, well, sometimes death just doesn’t stick. Turns out that the bullet only just grazed his heart and he was brought back up to full health in no itme. Only to be shot and killed by a new Squad member, the Unknown Soldier. Only plot twist. The next issue reveals him to be alive AGAIN! Turns out that Waller now has a serum that can bring people back to life. So some might argue these last two deaths don’t count. But Lawton was technically dead in both of them so it works in my book.
Voltaic, again: Suicide Squad Vol. 4 #20
Voltaic again as well!? Well, he just couldn’t stay dead. He’s just back inexplicably in #16 which we later find out was because of that little serum Waller has. Anyway, I guess being resurrected got to his head since he started to annoy the Unknown Soldier, resulting in a severe beating. That guy just is not a people person. Belle Reve’s handy medical staff tried bringing him back again but clearly, it didn’t go so well and Voltaic exploded on the operating table. I just find his death pretty funny in a black comedy sorta way. The writers just really tortured this dude.
Warrant: Suicide Squad Vol. 4 #27
So Warrant was, get this, a member of the Israeli Special Forces. He was eventually condemned by Israel (so you know he’s pretty bad) and joined up with the Suicide Squad. Although he was recruited secretly by The Thinker. He falls through some terrain, Deadshot refuses to help him and he drowns.
Reverse Flash: New Suicide Squad Annual #1
Yeah, this is that weird New 52 Reverse-Flash, Daniel West. West died from a massive time bomb after saving the children of a village. He pushes his body to the limit to do something heroic for once. It’s another rare heroic death in Squad and it’s given an appropriate amount of weight and gravitas. Not bad
Hunky Punk: New Suicide Squad #21
Yes, that’s really his name and he dies in a story called Double Teamed. He got shot through the eye by a character named Tattoo of a Rose. Yeah, it’s weird. He’s a delightful British gentleman who gets brutally murdered the instant he’s in the field. Bless him.
El Diablo: New Suicide Squad #21
This is one of those Squad deaths that happens to a main player. Diablo was one of the most developed Squad members of the New 52 era and usually, you can expect the main players to survive. But in the instances when these exclusive few do die, it’s in some glorious fashion. Not really so for El Diablo who just kinda gets really hot and goes to hell or something? It’s such a short unspectacular moment in this issue and it’s not even really clear what happened. It’s not really a death I think? Cause he just comes back in another Squad series soon after and it’s not really explained but in the context of this…I think it counts?
Battleaxe: Suicide Squad Most Wanted: Deadshot and Katanna Vol 1 #4
Battleaxe was a character created for this specific miniseries. She was pretty sassy but not much to write home about. She died when King Kobra used a sonic cannon that detonated the explosive in her neck. Uninteresting character but her death is creatively ruthless.
Deadshot (Will Evans): Suicide Squad Most Wanted: Deadshot and Katanna Vol 1 #6
In this story Lawton was replaced as Deadshot. His replacement Will Evans was introduced for this story. He was far more ruthless and careless than Lawton. Of course Lawton didn’t like that, so he tracked him down and shot him in the face. A pretty fun confrontation and a brutally cathartic death.
Zoomax: Suicide Squad Most Wanted: El Diablo and Amanda Waller #5
Zoomax was a character introduced for this story. He had animal morphing powers and got along well with El Diablo. Unfortunately he was drafted into the temporary Task Force Y and told to bring in El Diablo as he went on the run. Diablo fried him, causing his explosive to detonate. Kinda senseless given he is established to have a rapport with Diablo.
Captain Boomerang: Suicide Squad Vol. 5 #1
One of the more shocking deaths on this list. Boomerang is like a cockroach and somehow manages to survive every mission despite his skills being really good at throwing boomerangs. Anyway, he got melted by General Zod, leaving only his toasty boots behind. It sets the stakes well for William’s more bombastic Squad run but he was only dead for a few issues so it gets points knocked off for that.
Cyclotron: Suicide Squad Vol 5 #9
Cyclotron was a part of a one time Squad introduced in a Justice League crossover. This was a Squad with significantly more powerful members like Lobo and Emerald Empress. Cyclotron was a new character introduced and he tried to lead a revolt against Waller. Of course his being on this list should tell you he was unsuccessful. Waller doubled the reward for Lobo in exchange for killing him. What Lobo didn’t know was that he was a walking bomb. The Squad survived the blast but the little coup was stopped dead in its tracks.
Hack: Suicide Squad Vol. 5 #13
Hack was a character introduced in Rob Williams’ run. She had the ability to communicate with machines, hence the name. She was a pretty endearing character. Of course, you can’t be endearing and stick with the Squad for long as she was murdered by Captain Boomerang. She later returned as living code (you know how it is) but a death is a death.
Mad Dog: Suicide Squad: War Crimes Special #1
Mad Dog was a bounty hunter allied with organisations like Leviathan and the League of Assassins. Unfortunately, his career with the Suicide Squad wasn’t as prosperous. He died when he fell behind the rest of the Squad. But hey he got to take somebody down with him.
Master Jailer: Aquaman Vol. 8 #40
Rob Williams’ Suicide Squad didn’t really have all that many deaths. However a more touching death belongs to a minor Superman villain called the Master Jailer. He died in an Aquaman crossover containing a bomb planted by fellow Squad member Satanis. This story built him up as a pretty sympathetic character so it was a sad death.
Rag Doll: Suicide Squad Vol. 5 Annual #1
Okay, strap in cause this mission is a doozy. Waller has only a backup Squad as the main members are in Atlantis. She tasks this Squad with tracking down an escaped patient who is mysteriously fused with a man. The spirits of the people this man has killed come to haunt the Squad, brutally murdering Ragdoll. One of the more graphically disturbing deaths the title has ever seen. A shame too since I’ve always really loved Ragdoll.
Skorpio: Suicide Squad Vol. 5 Annual #1
Skorpio is the next casualty of these ghosts, as he’s dragged down into the water and killed. Skorpio is a Steel villain. Which is not something you can really say often. Good for him. But he still died quickly and off-screen.
Tao Jones: Suicide Squad Vol. 5 Annual #1
Tao Jones also died off-screen and this is her only New 52 appearance. She was a member of Helix, the group opposing Infinity Inc and she could make force fields or something. Meh.
Baby Boom: Suicide Squad Vol. 5 Annual #1
Another Helix pick is Baby Boom. She has the ability to blow stuff up with her mind, fairly self-explanatory. Anyway, these vague ghosts surrounded her and she exploded. It’s decent enough death. I enjoy that she’s cocky throughout but just before she dies she’s afraid. It’s something
Shimmer: Suicide Squad Vol. 5 Annual #1
Man if this is a weirdly NSFW panel if I’ve ever seen one. This is Shimmer, classic member of the Fearsome Five, the Teen Titans villains. She gets choked out and has her face torn up by more of these Scooby-Doo dudes.
Scream Queen: Suicide Squad Vol. 5 Annual #1
Eventually, Scream Queen and Merlyn are able to make it back to Waller intact. Of course, Waller isn’t happy and takes it out on Screamqueen by uhh blowing her head off her shoulders. I don’t like Waller being so flippant with killing the Squad. They’re expendable but this feels malicious and coldblooded, not calculated or powerful. It’s the goriest of the exploding head deaths though.
Snarlgoyle: Suicide Squad: Black Files #1
Suicide Squad Black was a Squad created specifically to take on magical threats. A few characters were created for this story in specific, one such character was Snarlgoyle who was apparently a cancer patient who moved her body into a gargoyle. Anyway she’s killed by some zombie dudes and is later resurrected by Sebastian Faust as Tiamat.
Alchemaster: Suicide Squad: Black Files #1
Another character created for this story is Alchemaster. He had a bunchy of weird goblin creatures hanging around him. Anyway he functioned as this stories cowardly character. You know the one, the one who screams about not wanting to die. He gets axed in the shoulder and bleeds out. he then gets his explosive detonator so his remains can’t be studied and used against them.
Wither: Suicide Squad: Black Files #6
Wither was another character introduced for this mini series. She was a succubus turned bad who was draining the squad of life. She had a relationship with a personal favourite of mine Gentleman Ghost. With her powers he was the only one who could take her out. It’s a well done moment but it’s undercut somewhat with Wither resurrecting at the end of the issue.
Lawman: The Flash Vol 5 #75
Lawman was killed off panel in a brief story from Williamson’s Flash run. He was introduced as a former partner to Deathstroke and a member of the League of Assassins’. Underwhelming death just there to set the stage for Captain Cold.
Snakebite: The Flash Vol 5 #75
Snakebite was a frequent partner of Lawman but at least had the dignity to die on screen trying to escape the chaos with a book that looks exactly like the Necronomicon from Evil Dead. I like cowardly Squad deaths so it’s fun enough.
Magpie: Suicide Squad Vol. 6 #1
Oh poor Magpie. Magpie was in a mission rigged against her. The Squad’s new director Lok, sent in the Squad to bring in a group of metahumans known as the Revolutionaries. Magpie wasn’t even meant to survive and she dies off-screen. It’s pretty lame but her begging for mercy since she’s way in over her head is pretty funny.
Cavalier: Suicide Squad Vol. 6 #1
Cavalier is another casualty of this deliberately suicidal mission. I love swashbuckling characters like him and this whole issue he has such a cocky Errol Flynn charm, only for him to complain that someone broke his nose, followed up by a metal fist through the back of his head. Contender for the funniest death in the Squad’s history.
The Shark: Suicide Squad Vol. 6 #3
No, not King Shark. This is another humanoid Shark character, a Green Lantern villain. He’s killed by one of the revolutionaries turned Squad member, Fin. In the first issue Fin’s brother, Scale was killed by the Shark. So fin got his payback by calling on some actual sharks to take him out. It’s a bit of poetic justice but also fairly cruel in that Shark watches his death telepathically through the eyes of Fin.
Lok: Suicide Squad Vol. 6 #5
Of course, Waller can’t be replaced for very long. In a standoff with the Squad, Lok uses his insurance, the force fields of Zebraman. This allows Deadshot to blow his brains out. It’s a really satisfying moment that pivots the run in a new direction. We finally get to see a Squad break out and start something new. It’s punctuated with the amazing touch of a riff on the comics code.
Jog: Suicide Squad Vol. 6 #5
Jog was one of the Revolutionaries drafted into the Squad. He had the ability to run at superspeed but only in smaller bursts. He died destroying all of the detonators for the Squads explosives. He manages to get all of them save one, causing the explosive to detonate. He gets one final goodbye to his leader before he goes. But it’s a good death that feels important and unique. Although it loses points for his resurrection later.
Deadshot: Suicide Squad Vol. 6 #9
Deadshot dies yet again and this time there’s no reviving him. Well not yet at least, this is comics after all. He’s killed by Black Mask after Floyd sees through his disguise. Black Mask promptly shoots him in the face, sending him hurtling out a window. It’s okay. I don’t particularly love this version of Deadshot and it wasn’t shocking going in, since we pretty much knew this was happening. Hey DC! Don’t spoil Squad deaths in your solicitations.
Bolt: Suicide Squad Vol. 7 #1
Poor Bolt. This is his second death in the pages of Suicide Squad. This time he is part of the team tasked with freeing Talon from Arkham Asylum. Unfortunately, Talon doesn’t take too well to being rescued and cuts Bolt’s throat. Hey, at least he died quickly.
Film Freak: Suicide Squad Vol. 7 #1
Film Freak is an incredibly obscure villain who speaks entirely in film references. Yeah, he’s as dumb as he sounds. So of course he was killed almost instantly when he got caught in Joker gas.
Shrike: Suicide Squad Vol. 7 #1
Shrike is a name given to several different DC characters, including a Hawkman villain and a character killed early on in this list. However, this version of the character was Boone, a Nightwing villain. He was also killed by Joker gas as Peacemaker rushed forward, leaving him behind. I love Squad deaths caused by other Squad members so this one’s great fun.
Exit: Suicide Squad Vol. 7 #2
Robbie Thompson continues the grand tradition of characters being created for a story and then dying in it. Exit is introduced as a low-level thief with the ability to great portals. He gets a little bit of character though as he tries to stay behind and save the Arkham guards before leaving with the Squad. He removes his gas mask to help a guard but it costs him his life. A surprisingly noble end.
Mindwarp: Suicide Squad Vol. 7 #2
Mindwarp follows the same tradition. He supposedly had telepathy but died because his mask cracked.
Keymaster: Suicide Squad Vol 7. #3
Waller sends the Squad to bring in Bolt for her new team. There are two characters first appearing in this issue, one of them Keymaster, who can make portals. Yep, another portal guy. He tries to make his escape through a portal with fellow newbie, Branch. Sadly for him, it sets off his explosive and he dies. Pretty standard fare.
Firefly: Suicide Squad: Get Joker #1
Firefly, DC’s resident arsonist ironically met his end burning alive. Waller replaced the neck explosives with a phosphorescent that burns whoever is unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end from the inside out. The Joker jumped Waller and stole the trigger, hence Firefly’s gruesome end.
That brings us to the end! Those are all of the deaths in the Suicide Squad’s history.
The following are deaths that I was unsure were able to fit the criteria. These first examples are Squad deaths that took place before the villainous iteration of the Squad now. They are only really included because of the name and because of Rick Flag as a throughline.
Manny, Arnie, and others: Star Spangled War Stories #128
During the 60s, Robert Kanigher wrote a bunch of fun stories of World War 2 soldiers fighting dinosaurs. These were often advertised as stories featuring the Suicide Squad. This was the Squad of Rick Flag Sr. I’ve lumped them together in this because it’s unsure if this Squad was a defined group or just a nifty tagline to hook readers. Not many characters died in the pages of these stories yet the Squad was well known for its high body count.
Rick Flag Sr: Secret Origins Vol. 2 #14
I suppose this technically counts as a first appearance death. Ostrander retconned the backstory of Rick Flag. When Flag was first created his origin was that of a World War 2 hero. However, as Ostrander started writing the character in the 80s the timeline didn’t line up. So he explained that was his father, Rick Flag Sr. That retcon was introduced in this issue and he died later in the issue while taking out the War Wheel.
Hugh Evans: Secret Origins Vol. 2 #14
Evans was one of the first Suicide Squad members, debuting in the Squad’s first appearance in Brave and the Bold #25. Evans died, however, between the Silver Age stories and Ostrander’s book. He was killed in a flashback detailing that Squads last mission. Evans and teammate Jess Bright fell. Bright was later revealed to have survived but poor Evans wasn’t so lucky.
Keith Giffen’s run introduced Sergeant Rock to the title. Through flashbacks Giffen established that following his service in Easy Company Rock led a version of the Squad. Two criminals were introduced for one mission, neither survived.
Spanner: Suicide Squad Vol 2 #4
Spanner was shot by Argentinian mobsters in an ambush. Unfortunately being a prisoner, Spanner was cuffed to his bed and couldn’t defend himself. He didn’t even have a line of dialogue.
Barnes: Suicide Squad Vol 2 #4
Barnes died off panel when the Squad infiltrated the home of former Nazi villain Iron Major. Off panel deaths are usually pretty lame but I think this one works. We don’t actually see the fight into the house so this helps sell how deadly the battle was.
Rick Flag Sr: Suicide Squad Vol 5 #31
In Rob Williams’ run it was revealed that Rick Flag Sr has been alive and secretly operating out of a satellite in orbit. The Squad is attacked by the Red Wave Monster, a modernised version of the first Suicide Squad monster. Flag Sr is sucked into orbit and dies in space.
The following are deaths that happened adjacent to main DC continuity, either on other Earths or through different events. Specifically with Future State and Convergence. The Convergence event was a way to revisit past events and characters and so we see a Suicide Squad akin to John Ostrander’s work.
Bane, Black Manta, Count Vertigo, Cyborg Superman, Deathstroke, Star Sapphire, Poison Ivy, Bronze Tiger, Deadshot: Convergence: Suicide Squad #2
Convergence is kinda confusing in its place in the multiverse. These are supposedly versions of the character from pre-Zero Hour. There were a massive amount of characters in this story and everyone died. All of these Squad members died when Star Sapphire and Cyborg Superman were fighting each other and caused an energy overload.
Amanda Waller and Captain Boomerang: Convergence: Suicide Squad #2
Waller managed to take out herself and Boomerang, who had turned out to be this story’s evil mastermind. She detonated explosives in the satellite headquarters of Kingdom Come Green Lantern, bringing an end to the Suicide Squad.
These next deaths are all from either the Justice Squad or an alternate reality Suicide Squad. Both teams are versions of characters who only appeared in these two issues, from parallel earth’s. The Justice Squad was made up of villains posing as heroes, while the Suicide Squad ventured to Earth 3 to bring back Waller. The reason these are honourable mentions is because none of these characters are the mainline counterparts, but I felt they still had to be included.
William Cobb: Future State: Suicide Squad #1
The first to die was Willaim Cobb, Talon. Waller blew his head off for disobeying orders. Nothing new.
Black Manta: Future State: Suicide Squad #1
There’s a ticking clock element to this story as well as the Squad start dying off the longer they are away from their own Earth. A version of Black Manta was the first to go. Not really anything of note other than this fun visual of the blood filling up his eyes.
Fisherman: Future State: Suicide Squad #2
A character called Fisherman was Waller’s version of Aquaman. The Fisherman was an old-school Aquaman villain and in Kurt Busiek’s run, it was revealed his helmet was a xenoform parasite. This version of the character was a person possessed by this parasite. He died getting his soul ripped out of his body by Lor-Zod or something?
Evil Star: Future State: Suicide Squad #2
Green Lantern villain Evil Star is dying surrounded by a version of Clayface disguised as Martian Manhunter. So he’s already dying and then PeaceMaker decides to just blow him up anyway. I guess to get to Clayface? Cool.
Cheetah and Clayface: Future State: Suicide Squad #2
In this story, it’s established that Clayface has explosives not in his head but in every piece of muck and dirt that forms him. So Waller exploits this to kill the surrounding Squad members, taking out not only Clayface but also Cheetah.
Lor Zod: Future State: Suicide Squad #2
Lor Zod, son of General Zod is a member of the Suicide Squad killed by a new version of the Flash created for Future State, although she was unaware it would kill him. He was injected with a lethal dose of Kryptonite.
Flash villain Mirror Master was used to kill himself and Hypnotic Woman (acting as Wonder Woman) when she used her powers to take over Mirror Master’s mind. Peacemaker detonated Mirror Master, taking out both of them and Bolt, this version of The Flash.
Parademon: Future State: Suicide Squad #2
Parademon was part of the Squad Peacemaker brought with him to retrieve Waller. He appeared to die in an explosion earlier. He survived however only to die immediately when he was next seen, because of his separation from his home universe.
Peacemaker and Amanda Waller: Future State: Suicide Squad #2
Peacemaker eventually also succumbed to the death of his fellow Squad members. However, just before his death, he was able to fatally wound this version of Waller, who died in the arms of Conner Kent who acted as leader of her Justice Squad.
Was this lunacy? Going through every Squad comic to discuss and showcase as many gruesomely graphic deaths as I can? Well not entirely. Because I think there is a lot to learn about the Squad here as to how it’s changed and evolved with each writer and creative team.
The original run by John Ostrander has a total of 19 deaths if we’re discounting the original Squad killed in Flashback from Secret Origins. But each death in Ostrander’s run has a real purpose and weight behind it. These characters stayed dead. If someone was killed in Ostrander’s run it wasn’t pretty or usually all that dramatic. In fact, most of the deaths in Ostrander’s work are rather unceremonious. Mindboggler is shot in the spine and Doctor Light is lasered on Apokalips. The deaths are supposed to highlight the fallibility of the characters. Ostrander has a real emphasis on the character’s flaws and growth. Each death highlights how a grisly demise may be right around the corner.
Keith Giffen changed up the formula quite drastically. He wasn’t concerned with the field members of the Squad at all. Instead, he focused on developing the characters behind the scenes. The ones helping the team from back home. So his run featured the deaths of many obscure or invented characters. They’re the most expendable of any of these runs.
The New 52 work on the characters was far more gruesome. Writers like Adam Glass and Ales Kot played up the horrible nature of the Squad’s lives. These are among the most brutal of the deaths in the Squad’s history. Teammates betray each other with gore aplenty. The torture is ramped up even further when Waller withholds the Squad from death. Characters die and return to life, seemingly die and reappear. For the New 52 Squad, working as part of Task Force X is grisly, a waking nightmare where criminals are mice in Waller’s great maze.
The death and rebirth aspect of the Squad is carried through to Rob Williams’ DC Rebirth run. There’s an almost meta-narrative to this stuff. Boomerang, Rick Flag, and Waller all die or seemingly die at some point only to heroically return later. For Williams, the Squad is the best of the best. An elite team that has endured hell and came out fighting. For such a long run there are only two permanent deaths. Wiliams plays with the fact that characters like Deadshot and Harley Quinn aren’t going to be killed. This is a Squad that can survive and will survive anything the DC Universe throws at them.
Tom Taylor’s run is quite different in that it functions less as a story on the Squad and more on a new group called the Revolutionaries. But there is still work done with the core members of Deadshot, Boomerang, and Harley. They’re quite friendly with each other here. Taylor intentionally or not builds off of Williams. Now the Squad are not only survivors but a small family, who celebrate together and mourn each other.
Robbie Thompson is only a few issues into his run so far so it’s harder to glean what his take on the Squad is. But so far these are characters who especially don’t get along. It takes the opposite approach of Taylor. Most deaths are caused by other teammates. Talon causes the death of Bolt and Film Freak, and Branch egging on Keymaster causes his death. Other characters are left behind or abandoned like Mindwarp and Shirke. So far Thompson’s Squad is a team that you have to struggle to keep up with. You have to work together or you die.
So where to from here? Well, we’re getting Task Force Z, a Squad made of zombified DC villains. It seems that even in death you aren’t safe in the Suicide Squad.
If there are any deaths I missed, feel free to let me know and I can add them to the list.