It Takes A Villain is TWC’s bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role; brought to by your favorite black ops bad-ass, Mick Martin.
What exactly is the point of a
work-release team of super-villains?
I’m saying you’ve got the Justice
League – often multiple squads of the Justice League- and you’ve
got the Teen Titans and the Outsiders and the Birds of Prey and the
Justice Society and the Green Lantern Corps; along with gobs of solo
heroes jumping rooftops and streaking across the sky. It’s a wonder
anyone in either the Marvel or DC universes can do so much as
jay-walk without some traumatized jerk in a mask ready to dropkick
them for it. So, in a world with this kind of super-hero surplus, why
does the United States government then say, “well, we need one more
team comprised of super powered murderers, thieves, and rapists; and
if they actually survive their missions, we let them out of jail for
good?” Or, you know, if not for good then at least until
Booster Gold or someone else kicks their ass.
The only obvious answer is that while,
sure, the world already has a ton of super teams, the government
doesn’t have much control over what they do. The government can’t
stop the Justice League from doing something it doesn’t want them to
do. And it certainly can’t deploy the Justice League on specific
missions. It can ask for help and in times of crisis (actual crisis,
not DC crisis), it will almost always get it. If the government needs
help fighting off invading aliens or stopping an incoming asteroid or
some other Michael Bay horseshit, sure, the Justice League will be
But sneaking into Soviet Russia,
liberating a political prisoner, and getting her to the States all
for the sake of global PR? Yeah, Superman and Batman probably aren’t
going to make time for that.
I wasn’t going to review Suicide
Squad, Vol. 1: Trial by Fire quite so soon. I ordered it around
the same time I started It Takes A Villain, but since I knew my first
review would be about the New 52 volume of Suicide Squad, I
figured I’d want more of a break between reviewing different
volumes of the same title. I thought it might even make more sense to
review it sometime late September or early August; close to the
release date of David Ayer’s film adaptation.
But once I broke down and read Trial
by Fire, I knew I didn’t want to wait to review it.
Suicide Squad is violent. Considering the name of the comic and the premise, that shouldn’t be surprising, but the way the violence is handled is different. That, I guess, shouldn’t be surprising either. The restraints DC Comics had to deal with in 1987 helped make the violence more artful and more interesting. One of the sequences I find the most memorable is in the beginning of the sixth chapter when Deadshot kills a Soviet soldier. Deadshot raises a rifle and says, “No sweat.” We see a panel showing the faces of three Soviet soldiers searching for something, with a BLAM! above them. In the next panel we see roughly the same shot with the flanking soldiers’ heads reacting to the gunshot and a simple red explosion erupting between the eyes of the center soldier and covering most of the top half of his face. The way it’s presented, the explosion could be blood, or it could just be a mark of impact. The page’s final panel has the soldier knocked backward and his comrades reacting to his killing. Most of the panel is colored the same as the previous panels, with the exception of the killed soldier’s head which is completely lost in shadow, with telltale inky spurts exploding from his forehead.
While I’m sure
it’s the gorier, more explosive, and direct style of today that
sells, this is so much more elegant and ingeniously subtle. It
reveals everything while showing almost nothing. I’d take this over
Harley Quinn and King Shark ripping their way through a stadium of
cyborg zombies any day.
Compared to more recent shots at the
franchise, Ostrander and McDonnell’s Suicide Squad was
politically charged and controversial. The team’s first mission in
this volume is to take down a Middle Eastern mercenary super-villain
group called Jihad. The aforementioned “Mission to Moscow”
storyline is the longest in the book – spanning three issues –
and follows the team’s incursion into Soviet Russia to attempt to
save a dissident Russian writer who, it turns out, doesn’t really
want to be saved.
story so bold I’m surprised to have not heard of it before reading
this volume is from Suicide Squad #4.
A crossbow-wielding vigilante calling himself William Hell is
fighting crime in Central City, but the only criminals he hands over
to the cops are the ones who aren’t white. White criminals he
recruits into his Aryan Empire. The Squad is sent to infiltrate
Hell’s organization and expose him for the racist he is.
than anything, what impresses me about this volume of Suicide
Squad and makes me desperately
hope DC keeps reprinting the original series, is that Waller’s Task
Force X doesn’t handle things the way they do now.
recent incarnations of Suicide Squad aren’t much different from
straight super-hero teams. Yes, they’re more violent, but
super-heroes in general are more violent than they used to be so that
doesn’t really mean a whole lot. Books like today’s New
Suicide Squad are really just
super-hero titles with a little gimmick twist.
with the original Suicide Squad.
They were different. They were exactly what they were supposed to be:
a super-villain answer to The Dirty Dozen.
The Suicide Squad is an elite secret task force that does not
accomplish all or most of its missions with big, loud, stupid
super-fights. Sure, they have their fisticuffs, but most of the time
they’re doing everything they can to operate under the radar. When
the team exposes William Hell in Suicide Squad #4,
no one has any idea they’re involved. Captain Boomerang is the only
team member Hell ever sees in costume. Deadshot, Nightshade, Rick
Flag, and Bronze Tiger are all disguised. Chronos – the squad
member arguably most instrumental in Hell’s downfall – is never
actually physically near the action. And Hell’s defeat has nothing to
do with a fight with the Squad. They just trick the stupid, racist
sonofabitch. Certain members like Nightshade and Black Orchid operate
almost completely from the shadows, never or rarely taking part in
any violence. In the “Mission to Moscow” story, squad members
like Penguin and Deadshot don’t appear in costume for so much as a
single panel in a three-issue long storyline. Because why would they
appear in costume? They’re trying to get in and out of the Soviet
Union in secret. They don’t want to spread bloody carnage all over
the place just for the fun of evil wicked evilness. They want to
finish their mission and go home. Compare that to New
Suicide Squad which opened in
Russia with a huge, explosive, city-rocking battle between the
Suicide Squad and Russia’s Rocket Reds.
it seems like over the years super-hero titles got more like Suicide
Squad while Suicide
Squad got more like everybody
else. Books like Ultimates and
Secret Avengers worked
hard to get that military black ops feels that Suicide
Squad had. Super hero team books
overall have a stronger military feel these days, using military
lingo and tactics. In the opening salvos of Avengers Vs.
X-Men, the assembled team of
Avengers about to invade the beaches of Utopia listened to the
military strategy/pep-talk of Red Hulk, even though the lousy
derivative bastard had tried to bring down the US government a few
seems unlikely that Suicide Squad will
ever get back to its less fight-y, black ops feel; at least judging
by the look of the film and the fact that Harley Quinn has become as
much a fixture on the team as Deadshot and Captain Boomerang. I like
Harley Quinn. I adore her solo comic. But she wouldn’t have lasted
five minutes on the old team. How do you get through a secret mission
in Soviet Russia with someone like Harley Quinn? How do you
incorporate the Joker face and giant cartoon mallet with a stolen
Soviet soldier uniform?
get me wrong. I enjoyed the New 52 Suicide Squad.
I’m a bit more on the fence with New Suicide Squad.
I’ll certainly be checking out the post-Rebirth series and I’m
precipitously guessing the film may be the best super-hero flick of
the year (or at least close to it). But this original volume is
something a bit more different. Something tougher to find in other
books, and it’s regrettable that aspect of the franchise is gone. I’m just happy that for now
DC looks set to reprint the rest of the original series, and if it’s
new to me, it’s new to me.
Suicide Squad, Vol. 1:Trial by Fire
is good. Read it.