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The Belle Reve Files – Suicide Squad/Doom Patrol Special

Welcome back convicts! Today we’re taking yet another detour. This time to a crossover with the Doom Patrol. Now a bit of context here. Doom Patrol and Suicide Squad are my two favourite teams in DC Comics. My favourite era for both teams by Ostrander and Grant Morrison respectively are my two favourite comic runs of all time.

Unfortunately this isn’t a crossover between those two creators and their iterations of the teams. Morrison’s Doom Patrol wouldn’t start for another year or so. Instead, the Suicide Squad cross paths with Paul Kupperberg’s Doom Patrol, a run of which I am not a fan of. It’s really not all that great and Kupperberg didn’t really have a good handle on what the team should be. They’re more traditional superheroes rather than oddballs on the fringes of the DC universe. Regardless Kuperberg and Ostrander were frequent collaborators in this period with Kupperberg penning another branch of Task Force X 2 months after this issue. So this issue is a direct collaboration between John Ostrander and Kupperberg with pencils by a young, up and coming Erik Larsen. So how is the actual issue? 

Well it opens with some military guys flying into Nicaragua with some mysterious cloaked figure. The plane is attacked and the figure falls out of the sky. Turns out it’s Hank Hall, the superhero known as Hawk. This was during a period where his partner, Dove was killed during Crisis of Infinite Earths. So he’s flying solo with the US government doing all sorts of shady things. Anyway Hawk is captured and since Nicaragua is a place of national interest for both the US and Soviet Union it becomes a hot spot for super powered individuals. 

We get a brief scene with Ronald Reagan as he sends out the Squad to bring back Hawk. What was Hawk doing? Well he was supplying weapons to the Nicaraguan Contras. Hawk,  a superhero, was doing the government’s dirty work. Which I honestly think is a good angle. Hawk and Dove have always kinda represented superheroic centrism. Hawk is the rageful conservative and Dove is the passive liberal. So when Dove dies all that’s left is a really conservative superhero, so of course he’d be working with Reagan.

I think Hawk and Dove are really stupid charcters and I’m not a fan of them at all but this is a decent enough take on the character, just a disgusting alt righter storming into foreign countries guns blazing. This also plays into more of Ostrander openly mocking Reagan in his comics which he does a lot. Anyone who complains about comics being political today clearly hasn’t read any of this stuff. This story is Ostrander and Kupperberg openly criticising the actions of the US government in foreign affairs. 

Essentially Reagan just wants to cover up his dirty work and either rescue or kill Hawk so that he doesn’t look bad. Waller gets her assignment and leaves to build her team. But we don’t follow her to that, instead, we stick with two government dudes named Jack and Matt. As far as I can tell this is their only appearance and I have no idea who they are. They’re distinctive enough that I feel like they’re a reference to something that just hasn’t stayed in the culture. Regardless they have the idea of taking away some of the glory from Amanda Waller. Again Ostrander is playing with the idea of the government being a big pissing contest, with different organizations competing with each other. These two don’t have their own team though so they decide to contact the Doom Patrol.

Then we cut to two contrasting perspectives with Waller telling Flag to assemble a Squad and Moscow decides to send in the Rocket Red Brigade. The Rocket Reds if you don’t know are a bunch of Russian military guys in some awesome retro armor. They were all over early post Crisis DC books and they totally rule. But along with them Zastrow who we’ve seen a few times now decides to derail the mission of the Rocket Reds and sends in his own guy. So that’s the conceit of this issue, contrasting global powers and interests coming together to either rescue or kill Hawk. 

We cut to the Doom Patrol wandering through Nicaragua incognito despite one of them being a robot person and another being wrapped head to toe in bandages. This roster includes the team’s constant, Robotman but also residents of Kupperberg’s run. He brings along Negative Woman, Tempest (not the Aqualad kind. The Joshua Clay kind), and Celsius. They head to Nicaragua following the tip in order to find and rescue Hawk. I think an issue with this crossover is just this set of characters, they just aren’t particularly interesting and when they eventually meet the Squad there aren’t really any interesting character dynamics. But hey at least we get Cliff in a big sombrero.

I think one thing Kupperberg and Ostrander do really well here is have the characters reflect on America’s place in this country. They walk by starving children and lament that they’re doing the work of the government. There’s a great panel where they walk past a sick woman and Arani asks where all the money the US is sending is going. Cliff replies “That ain’t for food Rani. It’s for guns.” This whole issue takes a very anti-interventionist stance. It’s incredibly critical of the role that America plays in foreign affairs and that’s incredibly political, especially back in 1988 when this wasn’t exactly common in comic books. 

Following this scene with the Doom Patrol we are introduced to our Squad for this issue who are already in Nicaragua. The only carryover is Rick Flag who’s kind of a goof in this issue. He’s leading various obscure and forgotten villains. Chief among these is the Squad’s first-ever iteration of the Thinker. The Thinker is a character with a long history in the Squad with three different versions of the character being on the team and this is the start of that legacy. This is Clifford Devoe, the version of Thinker that was a Flash rogue.

We also get one of the Squad’s resident red shirts, a Firestorm villain with Weasel. This Weasel is very different from the one you may know from James Gunn’s Suicide Squad. Here he’s just a man in a suit and not an actual weasel creature. We also get Psi, a Supergirl villain with psychic powers and finally we have Mr 104, a Doom Patrol villain who can manipulate matter. Because you gotta have at least one Doom Patrol villain in this crossover.

I mentioned that Flag is a bit of a goof and that’s cause the Squad free themselves of the explosive bracelets immediately and Flag is kinda dumbfounded. He acts confused and aloof for most of this issue, it’s a bit strange. Thankfully Thinker stops his teammates from harming Flag and threatens to kill them anyway. He wants his freedom after this mission and he’s going to see it through to the end to get it. I’ve said it before but this is something I love about Ostrander’s Squad. Unlike a lot of runs with this team that has followed each member has their own goals and motivations and those often clash in really fun ways.  

The two teams eventually run into each other as they infiltrate a militarised castle to break out Hawk. The two teams come to blows pretty much instantly as Mr 104 leaps at the chance to kill Robotman. Thinker tries to rein in the team but in the confusion, Weasel manages to cut his throat and joins the fight. Pretty much from here till the end of the issue, it’s just the two teams in various scuffles. But the issue is that they just aren’t that interesting playing off of each other. There are only two pairs of characters who have any history. Negative Woman knows Flag and Mr 104 and Robotman are old foes. But everyone else is unknown to each other and probably unknown to most people who read this.

So there are no real interesting pair ups or showdowns, it’s just a lot of noise rather than an entertaining showdown between characters you care about. It’s a good-looking noise at least, as Larsen demonstrates his mastery of the craft with dynamic action and incredible destruction. The characters’ blows feel powerful and dangerous and that comes entirely from Larsen’s art. In all of this chaos though Flag manages to find and put on Thinkers helmet. He tries to reign in both teams before they’re promptly interrupted by the Rocket Reds. It’s the classic team-up after a fight scenario. But I don’t think it fully lands here. Those usually work well when it’s two characters with actual beef who have to put aside their differences. These are just two teams fighting because a few people recognized each other and punched a bit and then robots show up and they decide to punch them instead.

The Squad and Doom Patrol split up to escape the Rocket Reds and the rest of the issue is just fairly random interactions and conflicts. There isn’t a real clear direction or specific goal, it’s all a little haphazard. This is intercut with Stalnoivolk making the most of the situation breaking in and breaking out Hawk. This character is Zastrow’s representative from Russia and he showed up in Firestorm previously. He would eventually be a major player in this Squad run but not for a couple dozen issues at this point. However, at this point, he’s merely here to ruin the mission of the Rocket Reds. He releases Hawk but doesn’t take him with him, he’s only there to screw with Zastrow’s competitor. Which is another great way to play into the idea that these governments and organizations are all competing over a small country they have no place in.

There are also at least two interesting things happening through all the mindless actions. Rick, wearing Thinkers helmet, becomes more erratic and cruel before eventually killing Weasel. It seems Thinker transported his final wish into his helmet causing whoever wore it to avenge his death. It’s a fun enough concept. We also get pretty much the only fulfillment of the team-up  I think with Mr 104 and Tempest teaming up. They bicker and fight but decide to work together to pull through and fight the Rocket Reds. Of course one of them is a member of the Suicide Squad and one of them isn’t. So Mr 104 is promptly disintegrated by a Rocket Red. It’s a brief but compelling team-up that plays off the contentious personalities of the two characters. Psi is also killed by a Rocket Red and dies in the arms of Negative Woman. That leaves Flag the only surviving Squad member. 

The two teams finally manage to escape and Hawk just kinda shows up and the two teams escape together. The issue ends with two great character moments that play directly into the Squad side of this story. Waller confronts Flag and says she wouldn’t have sent him on the mission had she known how it would have gone. Flag laments that it doesn’t matter and that he’s committed to the job regardless. This issue might feel very standalone and separate from Ostrander’s main run but in a lot of ways but this is a direct tie-in. Building off the last issue this is a Flag out of touch with his emotions, throwing himself into blind service. We also get a scene with Zastrow as he confronts his humiliated rival who he murders. This scene ends with a great final line that totally sums up the political message of this story. “I am the far better politician of the two of us.”

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Comics

The Belle Reve Files – Suicide Squad #10

Welcome back convicts. Today we’re discussing a landmark issue of John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, #10. You might’ve encountered this cover before. It’s incredibly iconic and might be the single most recognisable image associated with this run. Obviously, that’s because of a certain vigilante taking up much of the page. Batman sells books and bumps those numbers up.

But outside of Batman, it’s an incredible cover. It’s a powerful statement and in my mind, the greatest image of Amanda Waller ever drawn. Here we see Batman with his back to the wall, a much shorter and obviously less physically powerful character barking at him. It boldly throws Waller into the wider universe and having freaking BATMAN as the one she’s backing into a corner sends a powerful message. It’s one of those covers that says a lot with a little and leaps off the stands. So what about the story behind the cover? Well let’s dive in, shall we? 

The issue starts with the introduction of Father Craemer, a priest who is setting up shop in Belle Reve. Craemer is one of my favourite supporting characters in this run, it’s clear that Ostrander loves him since he’s used later in his Spectre run. Craemer has decided to move here to help these criminals and minister to them. The good word and all that jazz. He’s a great character that has a really unique and interesting relationship with the Squad. We have psychologists to get into their heads, but Craemer gets to their hearts. He’s someone who actively tries to empathise with the Squad and that’s something Ostrander uses to great effect later.

Craemer is introduced alongside another member of the Bell Reve staff, Murph. Murph is a prison guard, who helps to fill out the Bell Reve supporting cast. I particularly like his conversation with Craemer in this opening scene. We get to understand why he’s working here and that he doesn’t like it all that much. It helps to ground the series and shows that these are real people, not background extras. This conversation is only on the third page and we already know everything we need to know about these characters. We understand who they are, what their role is, and what their perspective is on working here. 

The two of them then encounter Duchess, who we met in the last issue. She seems to have linked up with Belle Reve between issues after hauling in Slipknot. We get this really great panel of her with this massive sci-fi gun like something out of Aliens. It’s apt since Duchess is basically a female version of Dutch from Predator. A muscle-bound commando with a bandana firing massive machine guns from the hip. Ostrander, McDonnell, and the team then move from her introduction into a scene with Flo, Waller, and John Economos.

I love the way that the scene changes here as Waller sees the Duchess on a TV screen from the last panel. There are a lot of characters in this series and it could feel all over the place shifting between them all. Thankfully Ostrander manages to tie it all together seamlessly. When you read these issues you’ll notice that he only shifts perspective through action and reaction. We start with Cramer and Murph but switch to an introduction of Duchess when Murph gets a call about her. That then moves us to Waller as she watches her on a screen. It’s just really damn good writing and it feels totally seamless. Everything just flows really well and the momentum is never slowed for a second.

Now comics are often spoken of as condensed storytelling. Comics are a medium that has to do a lot in a small number of pages, especially back in the day when long-running stories weren’t as common. I want to point to this specific page as an example of Ostrander doing this condensed storytelling perfectly. It’s a conversation between Flo, Waller, and Economos and it tells you vital information about the characters while setting up plot points for future stories. In a single page, we learn that Flo has a crush on Bronze Tiger and that Waller knows about it. We know that Waller feels she’s saddled with Flag and believes he’s inevitably going to crack and we understand that Flo yearns to be in the field but that Waller cares too much about her.

That’s a lot for a single page but it never feels exhausting or forced. Flo never outright says she has a crush on Tiger but Waller joking about it tells us all we need to. Waller telling Flo that she’s not expendable tells us all we need to know about their relationship. Nothing is explicitly said but the implication is enough for us to immediately understand. It’s all done so efficiently and smoothly. If someone is wanting to make comics they should look at this page and study why and how it works. 

Following this, we get a brief but important scene with Rick Flag and Mark Shaw. Shaw announces that he’s leaving to do his own thing as Manhunter and invites Flag to come with him. Flag just ignores him, locked in his grief for Karin. It’s a brief moment that mostly acts to set up Manhunter’s own series which was also written by Ostrander and his wife Kim Yale. But it also helps to establish just how grief-stricken and disillusioned Flag is. It also goes back to my point about transitions. Waller spoke about Flag going off the deep end and in the next scene, he barely talks. 

Shaw heads out and the issue cuts to midnight. A lone figure sits in their cell, shrouded by shadow. The figure blocks the security camera and escapes his cell. The guards note that the man is Matches Malone, thrown in Belle Reve as a favour from Commissioner Gordon. We get these great pages by McDonell with lots of small panels showing glimpses of this figure breaking out and heading to storage revealing a package from Gordon. Inside of course is Batman’s costume, revealing that this figure is our very own Caped Crusader. Batman breaks into the office of John Economos and does some snooping around as Batman tends to do. He is eventually found out by Waller and she calls in Flag, Duchess, and Deadshot. Only Waller is interrupted by something on the monitor, Batman.

Here we finally get the reveal. This whole breakout sequence is so incredibly well done. See what needs to be understood is that here, Batman’s a horror movie monster. He’s like Jaws or the Xenomorph. He’s revealed in brief glimpses only to come out in this amazing big panel, as a dark vengeful creature of the night. It makes perfect sense as well given that this is a Squad book, not a Batman book, so we get to see him in a new light and from a different perspective. I’m also just always gonna love anytime Matches Malone is used, such a fun part of the Batman mythos. 

Of course, the Squad aren’t just gonna let Batman collect his things and leave. We get to see Duchess in action first, McDonnell draws her as a massive imposing figure that towers over Batman. It’s here where we get a lot of our understanding of the character. She’s someone who revels in a good fight and yearns for a worthy opponent. Introducing a character by essentially having her hold her own against Batman is a smart way for the creative team to set up how powerful she is. Of course, being Batman, Duchess is taken out as he moves on to Deadshot. There’s a great little page of Batman ducking under Lawton’s line of sight and knocking him out.

Batman seems to be home free before Flag comes in and tackles him. We get a great action sequence of these two stern heroes coming to blows. It’s depicted in another one of those full-action pages that McDonnell does a lot in this run. We don’t really get to see who wins though as Waller interrupts with the entire staff of Belle Reve. 

Here we get just some of the coolest stuff ever in a comic as Batman negotiates with Waller. Millennium as an event wasn’t amazing but it’s important for how it thrust the Suicide Squad into the wider universe. The Squad is supposed to be a secret so what happens when they take part in a line-wide crossover event? This is the fallout of that event as Batman notes that he had heard rumours of the Squad and became curious during the crossover.

This issue really functions as a way for Ostrander to address how the Squad can even function in a world of superheroes. So Ostrander throws in a character to effectively tackle this head-on, and what better character for it than the world’s greatest detective. Only Batman doesn’t get out with the evidence, Waller threatens to find out who he is and blow his cover if Batman blows theirs.

The whole issue effectively ends in a stalemate which is hardly the most dramatic end for a crossover comic book. But it’s important to remember just who these characters were at this point. Batman had just broken into and out of a prison and torn through the Squad with little effort. He went through all of this and in the end, was only stopped by Waller. It’s the defining moment for this character. She’s tough as nails, will do anything to get what she wants, and won’t let anyone jeopardize the Squad, no matter who it is. Not many characters can say that they blackmailed Batman. It’s such an important moment because it solidifies her place within the wider DC Universe. She’s not just someone who commands a Squad of criminals, she’s someone who made Batman think twice. 

Also as a side note, we get one single panel of Deadshot talking to Batman that just reveals so much about Lawton. Deadshot remarks how he’d take out Batman just for fun. Only Batman points out that if Deadshot could’ve he would’ve, instead, he was holding back. It completely shatters everything we know about the two characters’ rivalry. It’s not explained or elaborated on and it doesn’t need to be. The implication is interesting enough and forces us to think more deeply about the characters.

This whole issue is just damn good writing with a killer premise and fun action but it’s all in service of character. Like how Batman’s presence causes Flag to yell at the Squad and complain that he deserves better than to be working with this scum. It’s here where Waller reinstates Flag as leader since he’s just proven himself. Despite the story ending in a stalemate so much happens in this issue. New characters are introduced, old characters are given new motivations and interesting new elements of characters are revealed. This was all done in a brief 22 pages. 

It’s also just a stellar Batman story. Ostrander is one of my favourite writers to work on the character despite not having a proper long run with him. He just gets Batman and the unique presence he brings to a story. This entire issue is an absolute masterclass of comic book storytelling, it might just be the greatest single issue of the entire story. Just really highlights how good this medium can be when everyone is working at the top of their game. 

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Comics

The Belle Reve Files – Suicide Squad #9

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.

Yeah…

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.

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Comics Interviews

John Ostrander: An Interview with the Man Behind the Suicide Squad

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. 

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Comics

The Belle Reve Files – Firestorm Crossover

Heya! Welcome back to the Belle Reve Files, the series where I dissect John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad issue by issue. Although you may have figured from the title that today we’re taking a detour. Today we are looking at Firestorm Vol. 2 #64 and Annual #5. Ostrander worked on these two stories alongside artist Joe Brozowski, Inker Sam De La Rosa, colourist Nansi Hoolahan, letterer Duncan Andrews and editor Denny O’Neil.

Ostrander was writing Firestorm alongside Suicide Squad so it was only a matter of time for the two titles to collide. But one is a high flying nuclear superhero and the other is a secretive black-ops group of supervillains. Those are very different concepts, so how did he do it? Well, let’s have a look.

Our issue starts in a pretty interesting space, the home of Ronnie Raymond’s family. In case you didn’t know Ronnie is one half of Firestorm. Firestorm is a unique character in that he is two people fused into one being. His other half being nuclear physicist Doctor Martin Stein. Anway the two of them as Firestorm recently caused a major upset in the previous issues. Ronnie got sick of this planet’s stupid nuclear weapons and decided it would be better to dispose of all of them. Yeah, it’s pretty much the conceit of Supermans goal in Superman IV The Quest For Peace. You’ll be relieved to know that this story fares a lot better than that one. 

Unlike that movie, the world isn’t particularly happy with Ronnie’s threat. So Firestorm at the start of this issue is a rogue fugitive, on the run from pretty much everybody. This causes him to make his way home where his identity is reluctantly revealed to his father, who just so happens to hate Firestorm. We also learn here that Professor Stein is suffering from a brain tumor that comes into play later. Following this, we get a scene with Major Zastrow, who you may remember from the Squad’s mission in Russia. Ostrander tends to crossover characters through his different books and Zastrow is a great example. He first appeared a few issues before this in Firestorm and then becomes more prominent in Suicide Squad.

This sequence we get with him here is a great display of his cold and calculating demeanour. He’s totally unbothered in the face of danger as a Rocket Red blows a wall out behind him. Joe Brozowski’s pencils here do a really good job at displaying this in his character. Though I will be honest, the art is not a standout to me. It’s expressive and Brozowki does well in close-ups with character’s faces but I think his action could be a lot more dynamic. 

Eventually, we get to finally see the Suicide Squad. Flag has just received orders to go and apprehend Firestorm because a crossover needs to happen. For this mission, he’s assembled a Squad just for the task. We got the familiars with Deadshot and Boomerang but everyone else is a new addition and a Firestorm villain. We have Slipknot, the man who can climb anything, and the first Suicide Squad film’s great punching bag. We have Killer Frost who would become associated with the Squad, even more, this is her first outing with the team and her only time with Ostrander at the helm.

Then we have Multiplex who can make copies of himself, and finally, we have Parasite. Yes, Parasite is a Firestorm villain. In the Silver Age, he was a Superman villain but for this new post Crisis universe, this new Parasite was introduced as a foe of ol’ flame head. Anyway, the Squad is headed this time by Derek Tolliver who we talked about last time. This is his first appearance and he’s another character created for Firestorm that will eventually move to Suicide Squad. He opts to release Parasite into the field but Flag shows his rank as field leader and tells him that he’s too dangerous, and should only be used as a last resort. 

Firestorm heads to Times Square to talk to the press about his goals and the Squad decides that’s the perfect time to jump him. I think it’s just a really odd setup. The Squad is a black ops group, unknown to the rest of the world. They operate entirely in secret, so seeing them in such a massively populated area is strange. Ostrander explains it away in a really fun way by having all the characters assume that all of these villains are just here to bring him in since he’s a wanted man. It’s also why it makes for these Firestorm villains to be here since they just want to get revenge. We get panels where Deadshot is just firing wildly into a pretty massive crowd, Firestorm pleads for them to stop which makes sense. But it’s odd to me that Flag is seemingly fine with this. We’ve been shown he’s the moral center of the group so him standing by feels a bit out of character. 

Regardless the fight rages on with Firehawk helping out Firestorm. There are these not-so-subtle moments between Killer Frost and Firehawk, where Frost remarks on her body heat. It’s so explicitly sexual but of course, it’s the 80s so DC isn’t gonna have 2 women kissing in a comic book. Tolliver, being the total tool he is, decides to let Parasite loose just as the Justice League International arrives. This ends #64, the story picks up in Annual #5.

I greatly enjoy all the character interactions in this battle. JLI and Suicide Squad were some of the great books of DC’s stellar 80s lineup. They play off each other again later but this is the first time. We get some really fun fight pairings here. Of particular note are Boomerang and Batman. I say this a lot but Ostrander is one of the best Batman writers of all time. Despite not writing a long run with him, he’s done so many exceptional stories with him that he is more than worthy of the title. He has such a great voice for the character and he just knows how to play him off every single character he writes him alongside.

We also get Slipknot taking on Mister Miracle, which is just not a matchup that works in his favor. I don’t think I have ever seen a fight where it has been in his favor, to be honest. But he’s fun to point and laugh at as Scott also discovers. 

Parasite breaks out and Flag goes after him, but not before Parasite sucks the life out of Multiplex. Yep, that’s another Firestorm villain biting the dust. Ostrander just really did not like these guys huh?

He begins siphoning off of the powers of the League becoming more and more powerful. So of course, Flag decides it would be a good idea to send in Slipknot. Slipknot smartly realizes he would be totally useless and tries to take out Flag only for Batman to clock him.

We get this great interaction between Flag and Batman which really sells this entire crossover for me. Batman knows of Flag because of his time with the Forgotten Heroes (a team of obscure and unused characters in the early 80s). Batman assumes that Flag is working to apprehend the villains the same as him. So we get this great bit where the two of them team up to take out Deadshot. It’s such a fun setup, and perfectly uses the secretive nature of the Squad and Flag’s previous publication history.

Of course, it seems that Batman may very well be playing along, keeping his suspicions to himself. The parasite takes off with Firestorm in toe, so Batman, Blue Beetle, and Flag chase after them. They’re eventually forced to pull back however as Firestorm takes out Parasite and flies off. The rest of the issue deals with Zastrow and that Rocket Red from earlier, but the Squad drops out of the story as Firestorm flies away. Our last moment with Flag has him noting his respect for Batman and how he wishes he worked for heroes like him. He also hopes he never comes to blows with the Caped Crusader, which is a bit of foreshadowing for later.

So that’s our story. It’s one where the Squad is very much not the focus. It is Firestorm’s story after all and he gets the spotlight. But there are still fun moments for the Squad in here, particularly Flag who gets great interplay with Batman as he tries to keep his cover. That’s a really fun conceit for a Suicide Squad crossover and it is easily the greatest part of these two issues. But the bulk of this story isn’t about that. What we get here is more just classic fun crossover matchups. The only downside really is that most of these matchups aren’t Squad related. Killer Frost and Multiplex aren’t on Ostrander’s Squad again.

So really the Squad is here in part to justify matchups between the JLI and Firestorms rogues gallery. It’s a fun story and Ostrander and co do a good job creating a fun action comic. Just don’t expect the same level of quality as the other Squad stories. 

Categories
Comics Film

The Suicide Squad: Reading Guide

So you saw The Suicide Squad and you wanna know what now?

Well, James Gunn’s latest pulls a lot of different elements from DC’s extensive comic history, including story elements and obscure characters. So this article aims to give you some recommendations based on the film.

It should be noted that recommending comics for Suicide Squad members is a bit of a foolish exercise. The entire premise is built on the idea of developing obscure characters nobody cares about. So most of these characters don’t have dozens of stories to choose from. Director James Gunn has also shown that he isn’t afraid of making changes to characters. Characters like Star Lord might not be a massive departure but characters like Yondu are basically new characters. The same is true for The Suicide Squad. So don’t expect to get the further adventures of these characters. That being said, there are still stories retaining similar elements or aesthetics to that of the movie.  

The Squad Itself: 

The first recommendation is of course John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad run. Gunn has said repeatedly that he thinks of The Suicide Suad as a continuation of this run. It’s the defining run of the team. It established almost everything we know about the Squad today, Amanda Waller, Belle Reve, top-secret shady government missions, and a real scummy Australian. If you enjoyed the dynamic of the Squad and the aesthetic of the film and location then you’ll surely appreciate this run. Also feel free to follow along with my series The Belle Reve Files, which analyses each story in Ostrander’s opus. 

Although this is a large 66-issue plus run and not everyone is going to want to read all that. So here are a few stories that have elements similar to the film. Although to get the most out of these stories I would recommend reading the entire run, but the stories in isolation are still great themselves. 

Suicide Squad Vol 1 #1-2:

This story is the first of Ostrander’s main run and establishes a lot of iconography and themes that are present in Gunn’s film. However, the real reason it’s here is that it concerns the Squad sieging Jotunheim. It’s a very different base to that of the film but I think if you liked the Squad’s mission in the movie you’ll like this one. 

Suicide Squad Vol 1 #63-66:

The series’ final story features a similar setting and backdrop to that of Corto Maltese. In this story the Squad head to the island nation of Diabloverde. If you wanted an adventure similar in aesthetic and style to the movie this is your best bet. 

New Suicide Squad #18-22:

The Suicide Squad ends with the surviving members earning their freedom. What they do with that freedom is left ambiguous and we’ll have to wait a while to see what becomes of them. In the meantime, you can read a story with a similar set-up in New Suicide Squad. The Squad gain their freedom but what do they do with it? Read on to find out. 

Amanda Waller: 

Suicide Squad Vol 1 #10

An iconic cover for a great issue. Batman breaks into Belle Reve to learn more about Task Force X only for Waller to put him in his place. Waller was characterized before this but this is really the story where she became a force to be reckoned with in the wider DC Universe. 

Suicide Squad Vol 1 #19:

This issue is focused purely on Waller as we follow a day in the life of Task Force X. If you wanted to see more of Waller’s tenacity and commitment to her job this right here is a great read. 

Suicide Squad Vol 1 #39: 

The film dealt with the notion of Task Force X being shut down because of leaked information. In the comics, it eventually did come crashing down, as the Squad was revealed to the world. This didn’t stop Waller however as she set out on one final mission before being locked up. This issue follows her last mission before accepting her punishment. 

Suicide Squad Vol 4 #20-23

If you liked how controlling and manipulative Waller was in the film, then the brief stint Ales Kot had in the New 52 might be up your alley. Here the Squad tries to break out only for Waller to turn the tables. A great little story that reveals just how Waller is able to keep a stranglehold on them. 

Rick Flag: 

Suicide Squad Vol 1 #5-7:

The Squad goes to Russia. Not a story that is related to the events of the film but it does a lot to show Flag’s character. Much like the movie, it’s a desperate situation and Flag tries desperately to keep the Squad together. Read this if you want to see more of Flag in a leadership role. 

Suicide Squad Vol 1 #21-22:

Flag goes rouge. The circumstances of this are practically the opposite of the film, however. In this story, he does so to take down a senator who threatens to reveal the Suicide Squad. Flag at this point was in a lot of mental distress and saw the Squad as the only true purpose in his life. A very different story but it’s perhaps the best of the Ostrander run. 

Suicide Squad Vol 1 #26:

The death of Flag. The movie, intentional or not, pulls from Flag’s final appearance in Ostrander’s run. Here an AWOL Flag infiltrates Joutenheim again to take down the Jihad once and for all. A really strong, impactful, and tense issue. 

Suicide Squad Vol 3 #1-8:

Look, I’m really sad that Flag’s dead. It seems like we’re not getting more of Kinnaman’s excellent turn as Rick Flag. However, we can indulge ourselves a little with Flag’s return in the comics following his death at Jotunheim. This mini-series was the return of Ostrander and Flag along with him. 

Suicide Squad Rebirth #1:

The first appearance of Flag in Rebirth/ New 52 continuity. Waller attempts to recruit Flag into her little group of psychopaths. If you want to see why Flag was born to be the leader of this team then read this short and sweet story. 

Harley Quinn:

New Suicide Squad #17-22:

Tim Seeley had a brief but very enjoyable stint on New Suicide Squad between issues 17 and 22. I think Seeley has gotten Harley more than most other Squad writers have so far. She’s fun, crazy, and unpredictable. If you want more of Harley in a Squad dynamic this is it. 

(Issue #22 is also a story entirely focused on Harley and her psychology) 

Suicide Squad Vol 5 #16-19:

For more of Harley’s relationship with Flag, you can read Rob William’s Rebirth run. They start up a proper romantic relationship in this story, which is obviously more than the movie but hey if you wanted more of them together this is one to read. 

Suicide Squad Vol 6 #1-11

Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo’s Suicide Squad run as a whole is incredibly enjoyable, however, it does feel less and less like a Squad comic as it pivots to focus on Taylor’s new characters. Harley however, is a constant presence in the book. Taylor writes a great Quinn and this is one of the best displays of that. 

Let Them Live: Unpublished Tales From the DC Vault #1:

This is a wonderful issue designed as a fill-in that was never released. Jim Zub and Tradd Moore do an exceptional job and it’s a shame since what we got here was terrific. If you wanted to see more of Harley kicking ass in particularly malicious ways then this is a great choice. 

Bloodsport:

Superman Vol 2 #4:

It’s worth noting that Bloodsport is entirely different in the comics than he is in the movie. Comic Bloodsport had the ability to grab weapons out of different interdimensional portals, as opposed to the movie’s more grounded DIY modular weaponry. This story however is Bloodsports biggest and it’s the one where DuBois shot Superman with the Kryptonite bullet. So if you want to have an idea of how the DCEU version of that played out here you go.  

Adventures of Superman #526:

Bloodsport in the comics was eventually replaced by another dude, Alexander Trent. This new Bloodsport is a straight-up white supremacist so of course, DuBois challenges him to a fight. This here is that issue. 

Suicide Squad vol. 7 #5:

Clearly taking notes from the movie, Bloodsport is back in the fray with the current Suicide Squad run by Robbie Thompson. DuBois is reintroduced with his new look in #5 as he is given a mission on Earth 3. Read on from here for more Bloodsport stuff. 

Ratcatcher: 

Detective Comics Vol 1  #585-586:

Ratcatcher is probably the hardest to make recommendations for given how the character isn’t even really in the movie. The original Ratcatcher from the comics is a well-meaning drug addict played by Taika Waititi, and Ratcatcher 2 doesn’t even exist in the comics. It’s a far cry from the source material. But hey if you wanna see what else you can do with rats here you go. 

Detective Comics Vol 1 #679:

Chuck Dixon sucks, but he wrote a pretty decent Ratcatcher story with Detective Comics #679. Again another simple story of Ratcatcher doing sewer shenanigans and Batman punching him a lot. But this story actually features Dick Grayson as Batman in his brief trial period. 

Batman: Shadow of the Bat #43-44:

Alan Grant returns to the character in Shadow of the Bat. Not as substantial a role but there’s still some rat controlling mayhem. 

Peacemaker: 

(I’m working on a separate article just for ol’ Peacemaker. The dude is one of my favorite characters and brings a lot of great stories with him.)

Peacemaker #1-4:

The musclebound ‘hero’ of the film takes his cues mainly from Paul Kupperbergs iteration. He spun him out of the pages of Vigilante into his own spin-off mini-series. This Peacemaker is largely the same personality-wise but has some extra eccentricities you’ll have to read to find out.

The Janus Directive:

Peacemaker was then drafted into Kupperberg’s Checkmate. This was the sister series to Suicide Squad, following Waller and another branch of Task Force X. The crossover with the Squad and other books, Janus Directive is a great way to go to see more Peacemaker in group settings.

Here is the reading list for that story: Checkmate Vol 1 #15, Suicide Squad Vol 1 #127, Checkmate Vol 1 #16, Suicide Squad #28, Checkmate Vol 1 #17, Manhunter #14, Firestorm Vol 2 #86, Suicide Squad Vol 1 #29, Checkmate Vol 1 #18, Suicide Squad Vol 1 #30, Captain Atom Vol 2 #30

Suicide Squad vol 7 by Robbie Thompson:

For the first time in a long time Peacemaker is starring in a comic again. This time he’s on the Squad proper. This is Robbie Thompson’s run once again. Getting that brand synergy. Thankfully it’s pretty good so far and Thompson has a great voice for the character.

King Shark: 

Superboy Vol 4 #13-15:

King Shark is a character that tends to vary from story to story. The version seen in the film is a fair bit dumber than most iterations but there is still plenty worth reading. Kar Kesel introduced the character in his run on Superboy. These issues cover his first mission with the Squad. 

Secret Six Vol 1 #21,25-28 and 30-36:

For a King Shark more in line with the film, you can’t do any better than Gail Simone’s Secret Six run. Again, he’s more intelligent than most iterations but he’s more of a loveable moron who just loves eating people. He’s not the star of these stories but he is a clear favorite. 

Suicide Squad Vol 4 #20-23:

King Shark was a core member of the Squad during the New 52 series. Most of these stories were written by Adam Glass. His Shark is incredibly vicious, so if you wanna see more of Shark just eating people that’s a good bet. But I’m not a huge fan of those stories so instead, I’m going to again recommend the few issues done by Ales Kot, much the same but just more enjoyable I think.  

Suicide Squad: King Shark #1: 

This only came out a few days ago to tie into the movie, so it’s a pretty safe bet. If you want a whole lot more of Nanaue make sure to follow this series. It had a pretty enjoyable first issue and is doing more to flesh out the character. 

Polka Dot Man: 

Detective Comics Vol 1 #300:

Polka Dot Man has a single appearance of note. Detective Comics #300 is a classic Bill Finger story from the Silver Age. It’s an era near and dear to my heart where they would create characters like Zebra Man, the Rainbow Creature, and the Eraser. Here though the character went by Mr. Polka Dot and committed several polka dot-themed robberies. It’s a lot of silly fun.

Savant: 

Birds of Prey #56-60:

The film’s Red Herring is the newest character on this list, despite presumably being the oldest in the movie (we have no way of knowing how old King Shark is supposed to be). Anyway, this is Savant’s introductory story in which he kidnaps Black Canary. The character’s hacking ability and strategic mind are more at play here. 

Birds of Prey #81-83:

For more of Savant in combat then you can move on to this story, again written by Gail Simone. He didn’t really do anything of value in the film but if you wanna see what he has to offer, this is a good one to read. 

Suicide Squad Vol 4: #1, 6-8:

A very different version of Savant appears in Adam Glass’s Suicide Squad run. He’s in the first issue as the group is being tortured but gives up information and is dragged off to be killed. Turns out it was only a test and Savant is later deployed in the field. Read this if you want more of Savant being a coward.

Captain Boomerang: 

The Flash Vol 1 #117, 124 and 148:

I’m a big fan of the Silver Age Flash stuff by Broome and Carmine Infantino, in large part because of the cooky and colorful rogues gallery. Captain Boomerang being one of the best. He had a few great solo stories and also teamed up with other villains as part of the Rogues. If you want more of Boomerang as a villain this is a good bet. 

Suicide Squad Vol 1 #20:

Much like Flag and Waller I just recommend the whole of Ostrander’s run for Boomerang stuff. He’s in almost every issue and he’s wonderful in all of them. However, there are a few standouts. This issue is one of them. Throughout the series, Boomer disguised himself as Mirror Master so he could still commit crimes without being arrested again (Squad members in this run could have a life outside of Belle Reve. Though in limited ways). Anyway, Waller caught on to this and this issue is basically just her screwing with him.   

Suicide Squad Vol 1 #44:

Boomerang was the comic relief of these stories, with very little depth and no ounce of a tragic backstory. This was perfectly fine but in #44 Ostrander decided to reveal his past in Australia and gave him more of a tragic story that let us know a bit more of why he is the way he is. 

Suicide Squad Vol 6 #4-5:

One of the sweeter parts of the film’s opening scenes is Harley and Boomerang having a bond. Boomerang showed up in Tom Taylor’s brief series for two issues. He didn’t stick around for long but we got to see his friendship with the rest of the Squad. 

The Thinker: 

Suicide Squad Vol 4 #24-29:

The Thinker in the film is based on the New 52 iteration. The Thinker as a title has a history with the Squad, usually with characters with little to no connection. Cliff Charmichael and Clifford Devoe have both been Thinkers for the Squad. Anyway, this Thinker was more villainous, putting together his own Squad for his own purposes. He’s not as fun as Peter Capaldi’s version but it’s there if you want more of him. 

Milton: 

RIP to a king and a hero. Unfortunately, no comics to speak of. 

Blackguard: 

Booster Gold Vol 1 #1:

Blackguard in the film has nothing in common with the Blackguard from the comics. He was initially a Booster Gold villain, so he’s about as obscure as you can get. The Blackguard of the movie clearly lacks the durability of this version but he seemed to have the characters whip. So that’s A connection I guess. 

Suicide Squad Vol 3 #1-8:

If you want Blackguard on the Squad and you want to see him brutally murdered again then you can read Ostrander’s mini-series. 

Weasel:

Firestorm Vol 2 #38-39:

Weasel is another character who really doesn’t resemble his comic counterpart at all. In the comics, Weasel is John Monroe. He’s just a dude in a suit. He was initially a Firestorm villain so read this if you wanna see him take on someone way more powerful than he is. 

Doom Patrol and Suicide Squad Special #1:

Weasel’s only outing with the Squad in the comics was in a crossover with the Doom Patrol. Here he’s pretty animalistic and vicious so a bit closer to the movie but not by much. 

Mongal: 

Green Lantern Vol 4 #7-8:

In the film the staff of Belle Reve question what Mongal even is, is she an alien? Turns out she is. Mongal is the daughter of the original Mongul. She first appeared alongside her brother, the new Mongul in Green Lantern. She’s pretty much just a generic big smashy character. She’s far more competent here than in the movie though. 

Superman Vol 2 #170:

Pretty much more of the same but check it out if you want to how she fares against Superman and Krypto. 

Javelin:

Green Lantern Vol 2 #173-174:

Javelin’s Javelin does more in the movie than the character himself does. In the comics, he was initially a Green Lantern villain introduced in Len Wein and Dave Gibbons’ awesome run on the title. He had more than one Javelin and could fly. I’m not sure why but I guess if you’re fighting Green Lantern you gotta have some power in the air.

Justice League International #13 and Suicide Squad Vol 1 #13:

Honestly, Javelin is pretty close to his comics iteration. Flula Borg plays him like a really cocky smarmy loser who thinks he’s way cooler than he is. That’s pretty much what he is in his Squad appearances. Javelin served with the Squad briefly in a crossover with Justice League International. He was mostly the butt of the jokes. 

Checkmate Vol 2 #6-7:

Javelin was later used in Checkmate on an unofficial Suicide Squad. He’s a lot more heroic here, so that’s something. 

T.D.K:

Secret Origins Vol 2 #46: 

T.D.K is an interesting example of Gunn’s changes from the source material. He’s a clear adaptation of Arm Fall Off Boy. A joke character who appeared when trying out for the Legion of Superheroes. His name seems to be changed for comedic purposes but his ridiculous ability remains the same.

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen Vol 2 #9 and 11:

Arm Fall Off Boy appears again in a more extensive comedic fashion for Matt Fraction and Steve Lebier’s hilarious Jimmy Olsen series. His appearances are brief but read these comics anyway, they’re incredible. 

Starro: 

Justice League of America Vol 1 190-191:

The concept of Starro shooting out smaller mind-controlling versions of himself came from this two-parter. In my mind, this is the gold standard of Starro stories everything else is compared to. Starro takes over an entire city much the same as the film, it’s a lot of fun.  

JLA Vol 1 #22-23:

Grant Morrison’s JLA is the definitive work on the Justice League. Of course, this meant they had to put their own spin on Starro eventually. They finally did so with #22 and #23 which saw the JLA save a Starro’d town despite having no powers. High concept, high stakes, and a particularly big Starro. 

R.E.B.E.L.S Vol 2 #1-28:

If you want to see Starro in a long-form story look no further than R.E.B.E.L.S. Basically a DC cosmic team-up book that featured the great extraterrestrial conqueror as its big bad. 

Justice League Vol 4 #29:

I just had to recommend a story with Lil Jarro. Recently some of Starro’s cells were grown into a small clone kept in a small jar. This little guy eventually came to be affectionately known as Jarro. He’s a very good boy, he’s the best Robin and he’s just the best okay?! 

Belle Reve Staff: 

Suicide Squad Vol 1 #1:

If you enjoyed the characters of Belle Reve working with Waller then I recommend the whole of Ostrander’s run. They aren’t the focus but they get some real development and character over the course of the series. Steve Agee’s character John Economos introduces us to Belle Reve in #1. 

Suicide Squad Vol 1 #8, 19 and 31: 

Ostrander wrote a few issues in between missions detailing the different characters. These were ‘Personnel Files’ issues and focused on a different Belle Reve character each time. We got one for the psychiatrist Doctor LaGrieve, one for Waller, and one for the priest Father Craemer. They do a great job fleshing out Belle Reve as an actual place with real people working there. 

Suicide Squad Vol 1 #33-36:

Flo Crawley was also used in the film. In the comics, she’s a relative of Waller but given her actions in the film that doesn’t seem to be the case in the DCEU. In the comics, she came to fall in love with Bronze Tiger and yearned to be deployed in the field in a misguided attempt to gain his attention. She got her wish when the Squad were taken against their will to Apokolips.  

Suicide Squad Vol 2 #2: 

Keith Giffen’s short run on the title was mostly focused on these characters behind the scenes. It doesn’t feature any of the characters from the movie but you get to see characters choosing Squads and trying to maintain the various chaotic groups they assemble. 

Suicide Squad Vol 5 #2-6 #11-17

Jenniffer Holland’s character, Emilia Harcourt is a new character who debuted in Rob William’s Rebirth run. She was very different however, operating alongside Waller for the NSA instead of underneath her like Gunn’s film. Harcourt is also different in that she (SPOILERS) betrays Waller in ‘Earthlings on Fire’ and subsequently dies. So really not the same character, just a name for James Gunn to use. 

Sebastian: 

Nothing!! Sebastian has nothing dammit! I demand Sebastian enter the comics! He’s too pure to just be in the movie. 


And that’s all of my recommendations. Hope you enjoy what you read, if you don’t feel free to complain to me about it at @IamJordanZoned on Twitter. Or alternatively, you could ask any questions about any of my suggestions here or ask for any further reading. 

So long. 

Categories
Comics

Suicide Squad: Many a Eulogy – Every Squad Member Death, Ranked and Rated

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.

7/10

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.

6/10

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.

6/10

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. 

9/10

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. 

6/10

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.

3/10

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. 

7/10

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. 

7/10

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. 

6/10

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.

8/10

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. 

10/10

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. 

7/10 

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.

10/10

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.

8/10 

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. 

10/10 

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.

9/10 

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. 

2/10

Karma: Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #58

Karma was a member of the Doom Patrol, he sucked and deserved to die. 

2/10

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. 

10/10

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

8/10

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. 

5/10

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.

5/10 

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. 

2/10

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.

3/10

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? #

1/10 

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. 

2/10

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. 

4/10 

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. 

2/10

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. 

5/10

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. 

6/10

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.

7/10  

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. 

9/10 

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. 

7/10

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) 

7/10

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. 

7/10

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. 

7/10

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. 

7/10

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. 

5/10

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.

4/10

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.

9/10

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. 

4/10

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.

9/10 

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.

6/10

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.

7/10

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

4/10

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.

7/10 

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.

1/10

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. 

6/10 

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. 

4/10

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. 

8/10

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.

10/10

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

7/10

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.  

8/10 

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? 

?/10 

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. 

6/10

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. 

7/10

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.

5/10

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.  

7/10

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.  

8/10 

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. 

7/10

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.

6/10

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. 

7/10

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.

8/10

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.

3/10

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. 

1/10 

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

5/10

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. 

4/10 

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. 

6/10 

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.

1/10

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.

5/10

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.

7/10

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.

1/10

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.

7/10

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.

7/10

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. 

9/10

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. 

7/10

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. 

10/10

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. 

8/10

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.

7/10

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. 

4/10

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. 

6/10

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. 

8/10

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.  

6/10

Mindwarp: Suicide Squad Vol. 7 #2

Mindwarp follows the same tradition. He supposedly had telepathy but died because his mask cracked.

3/10

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. 

6/10

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. 

7/10

That brings us to the end! Those are all of the deaths in the Suicide Squad’s history. 


Honourable Mentions: 

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.

Mirror Master, Hypnotic Woman, Bolt: Future State: Suicide Squad #2

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. 


Conclusion: 

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. 

Categories
Film

The Suicide Squad Review

Whew, okay, what a wild weekend I’ve been having. Watching The Suicide Squad three times over was one of the most exciting things I managed to get up to. Let’s break it down, spoiler-free, of course!

The opening to this movie is informative and intense. You’re all settled down nicely, popcorn in hand, the cast is sharing familiarities, you’re thinking: “How sweet, this is gonna be cozy campfire time” …then BAM, it throws you into the explosive tone of the movie and you haven’t even swallowed the salty goodness. Comic book fans will enjoy the banter had between the characters throughout as they all gel together well. 

This is especially true with Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Margot Robbie, and Joel Kinnaman, all reprising their roles from David Ayer’s 2016 movie. They already have established relationships that are really enjoyable to watch, and it felt good having them all back together.

The camera shots and technology utilized throughout are revolutionary. James Gunn partnered with RED to create camera shots so breathtaking and realistic that they submerge you directly into the scene, right alongside the characters. Fast-tracked angles, practical effects, one-take shots, it’s truly something you have to see on the big screen to fully appreciate. 

The upbeat soundtrack has a brilliant way of getting you to enjoy the gore and violence taking place in front of you and almost helps you forget your attachment to the characters who are falling victim to Gunn’s knife. Not to mention, the score increases this to a whole new level. I found myself psychically getting lost in the emotions and genuine feeling of the scene rather than just watching it. Cataclysmic, catastrophic, catastrophes cushioned with calming, soothing notes are oddly comforting, and yet not all at the same time. It’s like being lulled into a false sense of security before being scolded by your parents.

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is simply brilliant. Pulled straight from all of our favorite, most memorable comic books. She manages to capture the essence and different styles of the character’s past writers and combine them fluidly into one another, giving us this loveable adaptation we can’t take our eyes off. She’s cold, calculated, unapologetic, and absolutely bonkers in all of the right ways. Her portrayal gave a perfect balance of her morals and mindset throughout her scenes. And the woman does all of her own stunts?! She is THE Harley Quinn.

Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2 will surprise many. She’s truly the heart of the movie. Her organic acting and mesmerizing lines will have you clutching your heart – just as she clutches her rat Sebastian (who is also incredibly adorable may I add.) Daniela gave her all and had me sobbing at the screen more than once. She’s a natural-born star, and I look forward to seeing where her career takes her. 

There are surprisingly several heartwarming moments within the story, having the characters develop strong relationships and become more accepting of each other and their differences, and realize they’re not all that different from one another. 

The bad guys tug your heartstrings in this one, and not just the Task-Force-X ensemble. Starro the Conqueror has a more tragic story than we all expected, but I’ll let you all figure that one out, and we can discuss it at a later date.

There are unimaginable turns. James Gunn cannot stress “don’t get too attached” enough. My hand was up to my mouth in shock more than once, with certain scenes quite literally making me angry with the outcome, but hey, that’s show business. I have to praise John Cena and his role as Peacemaker. The “douchey Captain America” sold it for me and he absolutely sent it. You can tell he really enjoyed every second of his role. There’s a depth to this character, and I will be tuning into the Peacemaker show coming out next January.

Honorable mention to King Shark, Nanaue, a total sweetheart who would eat your face off simply because he’s hungry. Honestly, he is some great comic relief while also being terrifying! Same with Idris Elba, he really stole a bunch of scenes throughout, giving a powerful performance as the squad leader. He demands your attention towards the screen whenever he appears. His daughter, Tyla (Storm Reid), needs a mention simply because, for me personally, she had one of the rawest, heart-wrenching scenes of all. Storm is insanely talented and played her role incredibly well. 

That’s all I can say for now, but I cannot wait for everyone to get a look at this action-packed, thrill-filled comic book movie. Comic fans won’t be disappointed.

Categories
Comics

The Belle Reve Files – Suicide Squad #8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Comics

The Belle Reve Files – Suicide Squad #5-7

Hi there! I’m Jordan Edwards, GateCrashers resident Task Force Xpert. This may appear confusing seeing as I am discussing issues five through seven of a run. Where are the first issues? Well dear reader you can find my work at Comfort Food Comics, a site that has effectively closed. Thankfully Dan, Ethan, and the wonderful folks at GateCrashers have allowed me to continue my series here. So if you haven’t read this series or my previous articles feel free to go see those at CFC, and read along as these articles are published.

Today we’re discussing what is at this point the biggest arc of the run, The Flight of the Firebird which goes from issue 5 to issue 7. There’s a lot of ground to cover so let’s get started. 

This arc opens with a gorgeous first page by Luke Mcdonnell that wonderfully establishes the tone and style of this story. It’s an 80s action movie. One of the beefy Shwarchenegger films with guns blazing and those classic evil Russian bad guys. There is more nuance there but it very much feels like an action movie of the time. 

The story opens with Mikhail Gorbachev discussing what to do with a political prisoner. A writer named Zoya Trigorin who goes by the moniker of Firebird. This opening scene also establishes the character of Zastrow who is responsible for the Soviet Union’s superpowered characters. Ostrander in this series loves to play with ideas of enemy versions of the Squad, first seen with Jihad in the run’s first story. Suicide Squad is a comic often concerned with global conflict, international relations, and the growing tensions between nations. But of course, it’s also a superhero comic so having different countries the Squad infiltrate have their own super teams effectively carries on those ideas and concepts. Most of the Russian superpowered characters don’t show up till much later in this run but it is still effectively set up in this story.

Anyway, this scene sets up the stakes of this arc and establishes the political prisoner who the Squad is freeing. There’s some interesting discussion here about martyrdom and that killing Zoya would just give her what she wants, a statement and a following. It demonstrates a more thorough understanding of political conflict than most writers, especially at the time when most books would characterize other government leaders as evil, maniacal dictators. The Soviet Union is still presented as the baddies here, make no mistake. But there is more nuance here than a lot of other stuff.

Following this, we head back to Belle Reve for some time to establish the cast for this story. There’s a new addition for one time only with The Penguin. Ostrander up until this point has been utilizing largely obscure characters, so it’s an interesting change but one that opens some really fun avenues. He has a great dynamic throughout the story that works in an almost meta way. Cobbelopt spends most of his time whining and complaining about being dragged along for the mission. He’s got a high and mighty sensibility because of course, he’s a much more popular character, he’s above all this, he doesn’t need to get his hands dirty. It works with his characterization and it’s a fun way for Ostrander to acknowledge that this character isn’t obscure like the others. Clever stuff.

This groundwork at Belle Reve also sets up the Enchantress a bit more as Flag raises concerns surrounding June Moone being too much of a risk for future missions, which takes us to June’s session with Belle Reve’s therapist, Simon LaGrieve. I’ve said before that I love how Ostrander uses LaGrieve to get us closer to these characters and this is our first real instance of that being shown. The session doesn’t go well as June starts to freak out as she starts to become the Enchantress. McDonnell does an excellent job here of visually showing a difference in June’s physical state. The way her face twists and distorts in that second panel works so well and helps sell the torment that June is put through. It’s effective character work and will come back up later.

A little inconsequential thing that I wanna dip into quickly is a fun aside where Boomerang and Lawton are chilling at Boomers’ place that Waller has set up for him. Unlike most modern versions of the Squad, the original stories had the prisoners retain more autonomy and an actual life, rather than just brooding in their cells between missions. Lawton is visibly sick of Boomer’s crap and bails but not before one of my favorite instances of Boomer’s signature “Aussie” slang. “It’s the view myte. Have a dekko.” Just such wondrous nonsense.

The Squad heads off to Russia but this time they’re going undercover with various disguises. Penguin has the best since he’s dressed as this adorable little chef. Look at him! It’s beautiful.

The Squad head out onto a Russian train as they try to blend in. I think the build-up of this issue is really effective. All of this undercover work is given a great deal of tension which builds and builds as they get closer to their destination. It really feels like they’re wading deep into enemy territory. I think what sells this especially well is these brilliant panels with the train rolling through a starkly white backdrop. It feels cold and isolated, with no way out.

Eventually, the Squad makes it to the psychiatric hospital where Zoya is being held. Flag sends in a reluctant June and Nightshade to get her out. I think one great detail here is Flag’s total disregard for June’s mental wellbeing. It was clear that he cared earlier but that was about the possibility of things going wrong, when it comes to actually helping June he’s entirely focused on the mission.

June and Nightshade head inside only to learn that Zoya doesn’t actually want to leave. I’ll admit this is a little odd to me. Not because I don’t buy that she wouldn’t want to leave, more so that the implementation of that isn’t entirely well handled. The issue’s first scene establishes she loves her country, wants to free it from its communist government, and is willing to die for her cause. So of course she isn’t going to like being dragged to America. It makes sense that it’s surprising to the characters since they don’t have the context of that first scene. For us as readers, however, it’s not at all surprising and I think that’s just due to an issue of perspective.

Anyway as Enchantress and Nightshade are trying to make their way out, they’re discovered and the issue ends.

Issue two I think is my favorite of the three and it opens like all good comics do, with a massive explosion.

It largely deals with the fallout of the end of the last issue as the Squad tries to make good on their escape. It’s a lot more chaotic and desperate as everything goes wrong and the Squad scramble to make it out with their lives. This chaos begins fittingly with the uncontrollable Enchantress. She’s wreaking havoc on everyone and anyone and what follows is one of my favorite Deadshot moments of all time.

So damn cool. These characters are often slimy creeps and weaselly murderers but Ostrander gives them their time to shine. Although this moment of victory doesn’t last as Deadshot gives away the team’s position forcing them to retreat. I think McDonnell at this moment does an excellent job of conveying the frantic and confused nature of the firefight. This page in particular is split into smaller increments connecting us to the characters as they scramble and try to work out what is going on.

The Squad manages to escape, despite the protests of Firebird. Deadshot again gets to shine here with a great exchange with Penguin wherein he claims he missed intentionally to keep things interesting. Just such fun character work wonderfully infused into the action. Anyway, the Squad manages to escape via train but not without a wonderful and understated moment between Nightshade and Nemesis. The series had established prior that Eve/Nightshade has feelings for Flag. Nemesis acknowledges that he’s jealous but doesn’t hold anything against either of them. A lesser writer would string this along for a soap opera love triangle where Nemesis and Flag had a feud that drove a wedge in the Squad. But that’s boring and overdone. Ostrander chooses to instead give these characters the room to act like adults. It’s such a small moment but I think it goes to show the maturity and nuance this series had that little else had at the time.

An exhausted Squad manages to barely scramble their way back to the embassy. They’ve made it, they can rest and recover, crisis averted. Except Ostrander pulls the rug out from under them, telling them they’ve botched the mission so bad that they need to surrender themselves to the Russian authorities. The Squad isn’t allowed a second to breathe before they’re presented with another massive obstacle. It’s what I love about this run, they always feel way over their head.

This brings us to issue 3 which begins with 4 gloriously 80s Russians. Remember how I said this felt like a beefcake action movie? Yeah, these guys are prime examples. These are The People’s Heroes, Russia’s premiere hero team. These guys aren’t as fun as some of the other groups the Squad comes across, they’re just not incredibly interesting but they serve the story well. In this first scene with them though we get a barrage of references to other characters, namely The Outsiders, Firestorm, and the Rocket Reds. It’s a great example of why I love this post-crisis DC era so much, everything felt so connected. It felt like a living breathing world.

Anyway, we head back to the Squad as they try to figure out just what they’re going to be doing. With June/ Enchantress out of commission, the group opts to take a secret route over the frozen Black Sea. It’s a long journey but they decide to risk it. Before the Squad gets into gear there’s this nice panel where Flag tells Bronze Tiger that if he goes down to take over and not leave anyone behind. It’s why I love Flag as a character. He may not love working with these criminals but he always does his best to see the mission through with everyone’s heads still attached to their bodies. The Squad manages to obtain disguises but not without Lawton trying to pull a fast one on Flag. Nemesis manages to take him out but without promptly quitting the team as he chooses to stay behind. It’s a real rapid-fire series of events. It helps make this issue feel truly desperate, nothing is really going Flag’s way.

To alleviate this tension, however, Ostrander takes us back to ol’ Boomerbutt who like the sleaze he is tries to hit on a woman he found in New Orleans. Of course, this turns out to be Black Orchid once again in disguise and she flies him off by his ankle. It’s a nice breather from a, particularly exhausting mission.

We also get this funny little bit where Lawton, Cobblepot, and Flag disguise communism. I just find it amusing because yes that’s exactly who I want to be talking about the merits of communism, a character who uses trick umbrellas as his main weapon. This is followed by another comparison Lawton makes between himself and Flag, noting that they’re both lone wolves and don’t fit into a group. It’s an interesting comparison and I think foreshadows the journey that Flag takes over the course of this series. We’re starting to see more of the seeds of his disillusionment with Waller and the government.

The Squad makes it to the ice but unfortunately so do the People’s Heroes with an unconscious Nemesis. Fortunately, though our comedic jaunt with Boomerang and Orchid pays off as they arrive on the scene with Bronze Tiger in tow. From here it’s a big old-fashioned punch up. Ostrander manages to pepper some fun character moments throughout like Orchid tossing Hammer after he refuses to fight a woman and Boomerang saving Deadshot and playing it off. The rest of the Russian military begins to arrive but thankfully Briscoe and Sheba manage to make it in the nick of time. This page here is one of my favorites in the entire run. McDonnell gives the arrival of Sheba such weight and gravitas. It’s a real “the cavalry’s here.” After a whole arc of the Squad on the backfoot, having such a triumphant moment feels oh so satisfying.

Sadly Zoya gets caught in the crossfire and Nemesis is arrested, while the rest of the Squad make their escape. The issue closes as it opens with Gorbachev and Zastrow as they ponder the fact that her martyrdom has made the Firebird immortal.

And that’s our story. It’s easily the biggest in scope up to this point, with so many different characters and dynamics, double-crosses, and uneasy alliances. But Ostrander and McDonnell manage to give it a clear focus and drive. It’s one of my favorite Squad stories because it perfectly exemplifies what makes this teamwork. Just throw them into a meatgrinder and see them try to scramble their way out. Such a simple premise brings out the inherent drama in the characters and Ostrander plays it up wonderfully. Flag in particular gets a lot to do in this story as he has pinballs between yelling at Nemesis and yelling at Deadshot. June Moone also gets a fair bit of play as we learn more about her relationship with Enchantress and her fears around losing control. It’s all wrapped up in fun action movie visuals and iconography, with McDonnell bringing his A-game. Colorist Carl Gafford especially deserves credit for selling the isolated and cold atmosphere of the arc. It’s the Suicide Squad firing on all cylinders and I think it’s particularly evident of the quality of work that stays consistent from here till the end.

That’s been me, folks! Thanks for reading along, especially those of you who followed me from CFC. Welcome to the new readers at GateCrashers as well, I hope you enjoy the nonsense I do! I look forward to talking Squad with you guys. If they keep letting me write about it, I’ll keep being here.

So long.