This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics
Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, and Tom Hardy sign up for a movie, and everybody’s suddenly all, like, waitaminute… what’s this Suicide Squad thing? It’s a comic book? Why haven’t I heard about this before?
Or, if you’re like me, you just smile and say, “It’s about damn time.”
But let’s not get all exclusive about this. If you know about the Squad, then let’s celebrate that a pretty kickass idea is finally making it to the big screen.
If you’ve never heard of this title before? Read on and get ready to get excited.
The Suicide Squad actually originates in 1959, debuting in the pages of Brave and the Bold #25. It’s worth noting that THIS original version is NOT a super-hero comic. It’s a military/sci-fi comic that features Colonel Rick Flag leading a team comprised of a medic, and astronomer and a physicist, as they investigate and save the world from unearthly creatures.
That’s cool enough for a movie on its own, but… that’s not the Suicide Squad I’m going to be talking about.
In 1987, a new team calling itself the “Suicide Squad” debuted, first in the pages of the DC Comics event book, Legends, and then in their own title, written by John Ostrander (and later joined by his wife, Kim Yale) and illustrated by Luke McDonnell and a host of other artists. Rick Flag remains the mission commander (well, he’s Rick Flag, Jr. this time), but now he answers to Amanda “The Wall” Waller, a short, overweight African American woman with the temerity and will to make even the Batman stand down (Amanda is a subject well worth her own future article, by the way). Flag’s operatives are no longer physicists and astronomers — in this modern comics era his new recruits are super villains, shackled to explosive bracelets that could be detonated if they went off mission.
And that’s the hook: The Dirty Dozen with expendable Super Villains.
Ostrander’s 1987 series never quite caught on, lasting only 66 issues. Why? I’m not sure, exactly. Maybe it was because the rotating cast usually involved second and third rate villains mixed in with obscure heroes who were involved with the squad for various personal reasons. Maybe super-hero readers weren’t really taken by the realistic political aspect of the series (the first story arc sees the squad battle a group of super-powered Jihadists in a fictitious Middle Eastern country).
But the series also brought us some very unique and powerful stories. The squad tackled inner city racial violence. The squad infiltrated the Soviet Union to rescue a Russian revolutionary writer (aided by The Penguin!). The stories often had unclear moral complexities. Rick Flag tried to assassinate a politician who threatens to expose the squad. Amanda Waller went to prison. The status quo changed rapidly, and no one was safe from harm.
The series even re-introduced a crippled and sidelined former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, creating a new life for her as the mysterious Oracle, the hacker and information specialist who helps the squad.
Now, put all that into a movie. Done right, it could be a mash-up of Mission: Impossible, The Seven Samurai, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. And I would add to that mash-up our fascination with the many difficult, morally gray characters that populate the TV landscape, from shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad to Justified and Orange is the New Black.
We are so primed for this movie.
The ’87 series was filled with some great rogues, like the eternally unrepentant Captain Boomerang and the assassin with a death wish, Deadshot. Then you have the driven and conflicted characters like the Bronze Tiger, Nightshade, and Rick Flag. The Enchantress is a sorceress with a villainous entity inside of her; she remains with the squad in the hopes that they can help her.
The movie is already making some interesting changes. With Jared Leto cast as the Joker and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, two incredibly high profile DC villains have already turned our forgotten little unit into a bonafide all-star team. I’ll admit I’m a little cautious about that — part of the charm of the Squad was that no one was safe, they could be killed in action or maimed by Amanda Waller for not following orders. It’s hard to imagine that threat feeling real for The Joker or Harley.
On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine better drama than trying to force the Joker to do anything — an agent of chaos directed like a weapon by a secret government agency? That’s got delicious disaster written all over it.
There have been several incarnations of the Suicide Squad in the years after Ostrander’s, including one miniseries by Ostrander himself, but none have ever quite lived up to the execution of the original series.
Sadly, there’s been only one collection of the 1987 Suicide Squad series, and it’s out of print. I suspect, with this movie news, we’ll see new collections soon — perhaps even an omnibus. But in the meantime, if you want to get in on what I’m talking about, your best bet is ComiXology.com, which has all 66 issues available for only $1.99 each.
Here are a few favorite highlights (aside from those already mentioned):
Issue #10: Amanda Waller versus Batman!
Issue #11-12: A mission to take down a Colombian drug lord led by former addict Speedy (Roy Harper), and the addition of heroes Vixen and Black Orchid.
Issues #40-43: “The Phoenix Gambit”: Amanda Waller has been in prison for a year. But now it’s time for her to reassemble the squad…
Issue #48: How did Barbara Gordon go from Batgirl to Oracle? Find out!
Issues #59-62: “The Mystery of the Atom”: Ray Palmer, the Atom of the Justice League of America, is missing, and there’s a new Atom running around with the Squad. The JLA is concerned…
Those are some that stand out in my mind, but they’re all worth the read. And diving in now won’t spoil the upcoming movie for you, as it seems fairly clear they’re only using the basic concept of “expendable super-villains being put to work for the US government.”