Unlike its members, the Suicide Squad is a title that never seems to die. The premise is brilliant. In exchange for their release from prison, the supervillains who make up the Suicide Squad conduct missions for a secret branch of the United States government. If they fail, the government denies involvement. If they succeed, everyone wins and the villains can eventually earn their release.
Before I get into the meat of my review, I should point out up front that DC made a major editorial mistake with a scene at the end of this issue featuring the long-time government leader of the team, a brassy no-bullshit bureaucrat named Amanda Waller. Waller is that rarest of comic book characters in that she is African American. Even more rare, she is fat. Yes, Amanda Waller is a big woman, and her stature helps to back up her stand-offs against some of the toughest customers in the DC Universe. Waller has been one of the few constants throughout the various incarnations of the team, so you’d think fans would have been thrilled to see her again.
Except in the new DC Universe, Amanda Waller is a huge-boobed rail-thin bombshell that bears no physical resemblance (save that she is still black) to the original character. This was done, apparently, to have the character’s official incarnation look more like Angela Bassett, who apparently played Waller in that Green Lantern box office turkey no one saw, so as not to confuse new readers. But this Waller doesn’t even look like Angela Bassett. She looks younger, and hotter. The one panel we see her, she’s even got her blouse open enough to see just a hint of her bra. She is, like every single other woman in the entire DC Universe, sex-ay.
This change infuriated a lot of people when the book came out two weeks ago, and the controversy was drowned out only when two even more grossly offensive books came out last week. I’ll get to those in due time, but let’s just say that while DC deserves a lot of high marks for improving the racial diversity of their universe, they seem to be making a lot of casual blunders on the issue of gender and making their comics more accessible to women.
In the case of Suicide Squad, the editorial decision to change Amanda Waller puts a “NO FATTIES” sign above New 52 Party Central, and a lot of people are pissed off about it. Fair enough, says I, and I agree that it was a dumb, unnecessary, un-diversifying decision.
But from the point of view of a new reader, I’m frankly not sure this Amanda Waller business really matters, and I’m trying to come at these reviews with as little baggage from the “old” DCU as possible. And putting the Amanda Waller kerfuffle aside, Suicide Squad #1 is actually a pretty good comic.
The action begins with the team tied up in a dank basement. They’re being tortured by a bunch of creepy Leatherface guys wearing leather aprons and burlap sacks over their heads. First we see Deadshot, a master sniper and classic Batman villain, as his flesh is exposed to ravenous rats. His torturer wants to know who sent the villains, but Deadshot isn’t talking. Instead we get a nice retelling of the encounter with Batman that sent him to prison.
Next up is a fire manipulator with demonic-looking black tattoos all over his mustard-colored flesh. I think this guy is named El Diablo, and he’s a sort of hispanic gangster type of bad guy with fire manipulation abilities. We learn this via a flashback while he, too, is being tortured. But he won’t tell his tormentors who sent the team there, either.
Neither will Harley Quinn, the Joker’s girlfriend from the Batman comics. Here we have Harley dressed in a more realistic, sluttier version of her comic costume, very similar to her look in the Arkham Asylum video game. In one of the more graphic scenes in the comic, the torturers attach the clamped leads of jumper cables to Harley’s cheeks, and shock her. This leads to a gross flashback that shows Harley slow dancing with a man you at first think is the Joker, but who turns out to be one of the lawyers who put him away. Harley has carved a wide grin into the dead man’s face, and she promises the Joker that she won’t stop until she has danced with all the men responsible for his recent capture. Black Canary crashes into the scene to arrest Harley, and is more sad than angry at the pathetic villain.
The bad guys have another villain, King Shark (a guy with the head of a hammer-head shark), tied up under harsh ultraviolet lights, presumably drying him out. He hasn’t moved for a long time, and the torturers think he’s dead. When one checks on him, King Shark bites his arm, shredding it into a bloody mess. “HA HA!” King Shark declares, pumping his fist. “MEAT, MEAT, MEAT!” It’s pretty awesome.
Other victims include an electricity villain called Voltaic, some kind of masked dude called Savant, and an armored guy called Black Spider. Savant buckles, and reveals that they are called “Task Force X” on paper. He recounts how they all came together for a mission to extract a rogue agent, dead or alive, from a rural safehouse. The group breaks into the house, and Deadshot immediately shoots their target through the head, which doesn’t impress El Diablo. “What part of dead or alive don’t you understand, Jalapeno?” asks Deadshot. There’s a reason this character has been in almost every incarnation of the Suicide Squad.
But the murdered target is a dummy filled with dynamite. The place explodes, and the villains wake up here, in torture town. And instead of freeing Savant, as promised, one of the butcher torturers pulls him into darkness, and presumably murders him as the traitorous villain cries out “I’m sorry! Help! I’m sorry! Help me! Please! Help meeee-!” This is the best sequence in the comic, as we see a six-panel montage of the team’s reactions to what is going on. Deadshot says “Savant, you idiot. They were going to kill us no matter what.” El Diablo says something in Spanish. Black Spider says “Good riddance.” Voltaic, face down in a puddle, says “Cowards.” King shark screams “MEAT! MEAT! MEAT!” and Harley Quinn just grins evilly, clearly enjoying the sounds of Savant’s painful death.
“We’re done here,” says one of the torturers, and the bad guys knock out the villains with cattle prods. When the villains come to, they’re in full costume on a plane flying through the sky. Armed men give the team one more chance to sell out the leader of the squad, but none of them take up the offer.
Then, via radio, Amanda Waller herself congratulates the team on passing their tests, and tells them they are ready for their first mission. Waller tells them their first mission is at the Megadome, in Mississippi. “Which lucky fan gets the bullet?” Deadshot asks.
“Negative,” says Waller (looking rather hot). “Your mission is to wipe out the entire stadium. Sixty thousand people. You have six hours.”
And with that, the cabin doors open, and the Suicide Squad tumbles into the sky above the dome, plummeting to earth while still locked into their restraining chairs.
This comic featured supervillains being tortured like a scene in a graphic horror movie, which will be more than a lot of readers will want to handle. It’s also a clear set-up, and doesn’t feature much action from the main cast (unless you count bleeding). It does provide a lot of “character moments” that establish insight into who these guys are, even if we don’t yet know their full stories.
The flashbacks were a nice element to the story, but the fact that Black Spider, Voltaic, King Shark, and Savant didn’t get them kind of set the team into two tiers of importance, at least in this first issue.
Body count has traditionally been quite high in previous Suicide Squad books, and the teaser at the bottom of the last caption suggests that the first casualty will be coming next issue (I guess Savant, who didn’t make the team, doesn’t count. Is he really dead?)
Glass’s script shows a deft touch, and the book’s pencils match the mood nicely. While I would have preferred DC not lose its most interesting fat character this side of Bouncing Boy, I’m willing to forgive that sin in the spirit of the clean slate provided by the relaunch.
Consequently, I thought this was a fine start for what I hope and expect will be a fun incarnation of one of DC’s most interesting comic concepts.