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Sunday, 17 April 2011

Suicide Squad – Trial by Fire

Writer: John Ostrander
Artists: Luke McDonnell, Bob Lewis, Karl Kesel, Dave Hunt
Colourist: Carl Gifford
Letterers: Todd Klein, Albert Deguzman
Publisher: DC

What’s it about?
The Suicide Squad are a motley bunch of (mostly) supervillains looking for a chance to get a government pardon by joining a secret government group, more formally named Task Force X.  Task Force X was first established in World War 2, the members names themselves Suicide Squad once they realised the sort of work they were being asked to do.  It’s not pretty, it’s not glamorous and it sure as hell isn’t safe.
Now, with a brand new roster, the Squad is sent on dangerous, politically sensitive and unpopular missions to deal with superpowered threats.  Members are utterly disposable and utterly deniable.  The formidable Amanda Waller, otherwise known as ‘The Wall’, controls the group, and she makes sure people do what she wants, when she wants, as she wants.

This book collects the first nine issues of the 1980s run of the Suicide Squad comic.  It contains the story of the original Squad as well as the reformation into (this comic’s) current incarnation.  Some stories delve into social issues, such as those dealing with the white supremacist movement and the east/west divide of the cold war.  Others are more fantastical in nature and visit characters from the nightmare world of Apokolips, as seen in Jack Kirby’s Mr Miracle.

If you’ve been watching Smallville season 9 you’ll have been introduced to the Squad and Amanda Waller, very well portrayed by Pam Grier.

What’s good about it?
This collection is long overdue.  These issues have been a fan favourite since they were first published and it’s a crying shame they were reproduced and brought to a bigger market earlier.  It’s an excellent introduction to the Squad and showcases a range of characters that tend to be ignored elsewhere.
As much as this is an action story it’s also character driven.  This emphasis on characters is missing from a lot of modern comics’ ongoing titles, but back in the 1980s issues were produced somewhat differently, and dare I say it, often better.  This book is certainly a fine example of that.  John Ostrander writes the book and he creates a distinct, believable group of characters, each with their own idiosyncrasies and foibles.  None of the characters are exactly likeable, but neither are they downright offensive.  Many are admirable.

Ostrander has put together a reasonably diverse group with a characters from a range of ethnicities and a decent amount of women featuring in the book.  Then of course there’s Amanda Waller.

Her nickname is The Wall, and she won’t back down.  She’s so tough she even stared down Batman.  Now most writers tend to make Batman a sort of alpha male type, and no one, ever, manages to beat or scare him.  Except for Amanda Waller, so that means something and makes her a hero to many.  She’s also unique in being black and fat and never sexed up - that is, she’s not objectified.  In fact, she’s so tough that when I was reading this book it attacked me in the face.  As this particular tumblr post put it “Somebody is cowering off-panel. When Amanda Waller is angry with you, it’s the safest place to be”.

Other choice quotes from the same tumblr are as follows:
Amanda Waller: still not intimidated by you.
Amanda Waller listens to her conscience. As long as it has something interesting to say.
No organization with the word “League” in its title can stand long against Amanda Waller’s knowledge of interdepartmental bureaucracy. 

And then there’s, well this.  Yeah, Amanda Waller is more than reason enough to buy this book.
What’s bad about it?
There’s one character called Captain Boomerang, aka Digger Harkness.  He has no superpowers, he’s just an ace with boomerangs.  He’s also an enemy of the Flash, and Australian.  The only problem with him in this book is Ostrander’s insistence on giving him Australian slang in practically every scene.  It’s somewhat offputting.   For example:

Beauty, I’ll lob in with your mob this arvo.
Half a mo’, what do I care? Bloody bike made me a laffing stock in front of the others!

Quite.  When everyone else is speaking in standard English this can get a bit grating.  On the other hand, Harkness is such an intriguing and interesting character I can get past the dialogue.  Just.

What’s the art like?
Thankfully, the colours were touched up and improved for this publication, so they are bright and distinct.

As for the art style, well it’s certainly not modern looking but that’s no bad thing.  The women tend to stay clothed, they look muscular and like they eat three square meals a day, and their body types are realistic (and varied!).  The men tend to be musclebound types but are all easily distinguished from each other by virtue of being given different faces and builds.
In regards to layout and action flow, well it’s never dull.  There’s a lot of artistic tricks used to focus your gaze, emphasise key elements and guide you through the story.  All in all, it’s a well put together book, easily deserving of it’s fan favourite status.
Other information
Price:  Currently Amazon has this listed at full price for £16.99 (eeek!) but is selling it discounted for £11.89 (whew!)
ISBN: 9780857681980
At 229 pages this is pretty good value, if you can get it at the cheaper price.  At nearly £17 full price, it's still a good read, but 17 quid can make quite a dent in your wallet..

If you enjoy this try a more recent Suicide Squad story, named From the Ashes.  Also written by Ostrander this collects a miniseries which signals the return of the Squad.

If you liked the Apokolips elements within the book try reading Jack Kirby’s Mr Miracle.

1 comment:

  1. and if you like what you read here and want to know and see more Suicide Squad related fandom go to: http://suicidesquadtaskforcex.blogspot.com/