One of my difficulties in getting into DC Comics (and when I worked at a comic shop and had free reign with my pull list, believe me, I tried) is that the collection of villains faced by guys like the Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow are often, well, boring. Even Batman has some rogues that were just impossible for me to get into, as they had, in my estimation, no real purpose. A guy like the Penguin, for example. Great in the old TV show. Great in Batman Returns. Terrible in the comics, where he was a nightclub owner who may or may not have been running guns, who may or may not have been a good source of wisdom. Too often, a member of the Bat Family would drop in on his club, beat up Penguin until he squawked, and that’d be it. Deadshot, one of the main characters of Suicide Squad has kind of the same problem. He’s an assassin, and that’s it. You pay him, he shoots people, he moves on. Oh sure, he’s a talented assassin, and he only misses if Batman screws up his shot, but if you think about the number of superheroes and supervillains in the DC universe…there’ve got to be HUNDREDS of guys just like Deadshot out there, making a pretty good living despite the fact that they’re not dressed in some snazzy armor or carrying a wrist gauntlet gun. What’s so exciting about that?
The Suicide Squad, as created by John Ostrander, has a way of re-contextualizing these villains. Taken from their cells by a secret government agency and fitted with a tiny bomb that will blow up if they disobey orders or drop off the grid, the men and women who make up the team of ex-cons are sent to do some of the DCU’s more ruthless tasks–at the end of this issue, for instance, they’re sent on a mission to attack an NFL-sized stadium with some 60,000 people inside. Not only does it give a nobody like King Shark something to do with his life beyond biting the arms off of passers-by, it gives dudes like Deadshot something to fight for–not only will the agency kill him if he screws up, but they know his secrets and can hurt him that way, too.
The Suicide Squad format remains unchanged from the 80s, which is a good thing. What’s left to writer Adam Glass is picking a team and setting them up. The first issue does a pretty good job of that, though it’s fairly obvious that we’ll be focusing on Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Poor King Shark doesn’t even get a one-page flashback telling us how he got to be where he’s at. This is a shame, because midway through the book, he’s probably one of my favorite characters in the thing, a Cookie Monster of human flesh.
As far as first issues, go, I’m not quite sure this is a successful one. For two thirds of it, the various members of the Suicide Squad are being tortured in ways barbaric and barbarous, and we get quick flashbacks telling us how some people got there and how the team got captured. When I was reading comics like I breathed air, it might have taken six issues to get to the underground torture bunker, but even though the torture is said and done in issue one, it still feels oddly decompressed. Deadshot, for example, takes a whole page to say “I got beat up by Batman,” and Harley Quinn’s flashback is a barely disguised excuse for a close-up shot of Black Canary’s ass.
Quinn, the focus of much derision due to her radically revamped look (the switch from spandex and greasepaint to booty shorts and corset is rather drastic, but not unexpected), strikes me as a missed opportunity. Because she was created as the Joker’s moll for a cartoon that was Batman 101 for kids of my generation, she’s never really made her own mark in the DC Universe. She’s always the ditzy, hopelessly romantic airhead willing to do anything for the attention of her puddin’, even when she swears she’s done with the Joker, that she’s going to go it alone. The question here is why they don’t actually have her DO that, ditch the Joker and do stuff on her own, without pining after him? It almost seems like that’s what’s going to happen, as Quinn recounts that no amount of torture could hurt her as much as the Joker did, but that path remains the one lesser traveled, as Quinn finds herself in her situation because she’s killing the lawyers who’ve put the Joker away over the years, hoping to get his attention. Harley Quinn’s the kind of character capable of supporting her own book (and she did, once), but not like this.
Harley Quinn’s costume (which was probably inspired by the quite-successful Batman: Arkham Asylum video game) has taken some of the spotlight off of the issue’s other radical transformation: That of Amanda Waller. As seen to the left, Waller’s an ultra skinny, pouty-lipped woman who, while well-drawn, is pretty much exactly like every other female character in comics history. Not that the new folks DC is hoping to draw with this New 52 stunt are going to be aware of Amanda Waller to be upset with the change, but she used to be big. Big. Like, backing Batman into a corner and intimidating him big. She was a character with no superpowers beyond her government hook-ups, but she looked like she was able and willing to go toe to toe with DC’s biggest, hero and villain alike.
The woman to my left (apparently based on the version of her that appeared in Green Lantern, which, unlike Arkham Asylum, was not successful), who is, for some reason, pushing out her breasts while she stands in an otherwise empty room, looks like she couldn’t throw a punch, let alone take one.
But maybe that’s the point, or maybe that’s Michelle Obama, and the Suicide Squad are being deployed on 60,000 NFL fans in an effort to get them to stop eating nachos and drinking beer. I mean, I hate basing my opinions of characters based on how they look, but Waller not only looks generic, but she’s chosen a fairly generic way of putting her team together and the teaser for the next issue promises, in a fairly generic way, that the squad will suffer their first casualty (my money is on the dude who didn’t have his name mentioned once). So far, Suicide Squad is very “been there, done that,” with the biggest surprises coming not from how different the characters are, but how different they look (spoiler: Deadshot doesn’t have his mustache anymore).
If you’re a fan of the set-up or like any of the characters involved, Suicide Squad #1 will probably do fine by you. It’s got some nice art (provided by Marco Rudy) and a few good moments here and there, but it all feels so…expected. Time will tell, but right now, the Squad is falling a little flat.