The Suicide Squad wasn’t built to last. Debuting in Legends #3 in 1986, they were a covert, government-led team of supervillains designed explicitly to deal with the missions with the worst odds of survival. Indeed, on their first time out, one of their own died in battle. The only reason all these villains kept signing up for the gig was the promise of having their sentences wiped, and once enlisted, they were fitted with bracelets that would explode if they tried any funny business.
For all that, the core Squad line-up remained fairly stable for the next couple of years. In addition to team leader Amanda “the Wall” Waller, a badass battleaxe if ever there was one, the Squad included Colonel Rick Flag, the team’s rather grim field leader; Bronze Tiger, a martial artist who could give Batman a run for his money; Nightshade, who could create portals and grew close to Flag (but not that close); Deadshot, a sharpshooter with a death wish; and Captain Boomerang, an obnoxious creep usually referred to as “Boomerbutt” by his exasperated teammates.
That all changed on November 8, 1988, as related in Suicide Squad #22.
The trouble began several issues earlier. A government sleaze named Tolliver decided to blackmail Waller and the Squad into helping his senator buddy get reelected; if she doesn’t, he’ll tell the world that the Squad exists. If you know anything about Amanda Waller, you are already cackling with glee at the fate she has in store for this fool. Unfortunately, she did not inform Flag about her plans. Flag, who had very little trust in Waller to begin with, decided to take matters into his own hands by assassinating both Tolliver and the senator before they could blab.
Up until now, Waller and Flag managed to ignore their mutual dislike and get the job done. But this was a rift from which they would never recover.
Waller sent the Squad out to stop Flag, but he always managed to stay one step ahead. First he killed Tolliver, and then he arranged to meet Senator Cray at the Lincoln Memorial. In the middle of the night. Alone. Not too bright, our senator — no wonder he couldn’t get himself reelected.
Only one member of the Squad was able to track Flag before the shooting began: Deadshot. Not who you want to see when you need to cool a situation down.
(Please excuse my blotting out part of Deadshot’s dialogue. Let’s just say that certain members of the Squad were not as respectful of their Black, female boss as they should have been. But I didn’t want to deprive you of the visual of Deadshot sitting on Lincoln’s lap like a kid visiting Santa Claus at the mall.)
Under orders from Waller to prevent Flag from killing Cray “by whatever means necessary,” Deadshot decided that meant he should shoot Cray himself. He’s fun like that. When the police arrived seconds later, Flag escaped, and Deadshot took several bullets. Even worse (from Waller’s perspective), the press got wind of the Squad’s existence anyway and splattered them all over the front page.
Waller, though unflappable as ever, knew instantly that things were about to change.
And indeed, this issue had massive ripple effects. Wracked with guilt, Flag left the team and set out on a mission of redemption from which he never returned. Deadshot, never the most stable fellow, went entirely over the edge and had to take time off to recover both physically and psychologically. Other Squad members and their support crew were furious with Waller and either quit or considered quitting. And Cray’s profligate son was so incensed by his father’s murder that he changed career tracks, became the new Atom, and joined the Squad; he, too, ended up dead before his time.
Though they continued fighting the good (?) fight for several more years, the Squad was besieged in a way they hadn’t been before, particularly by the government, which suddenly realized that maybe forcing a bunch of villains to fight for you was a dangerous idea after all. They made repeated attempts to remove Waller as leader and take over/reorganize the Squad. In the end, Waller decided to dissolve the team on her own terms.