Comic Picks By The Glick

Suicide Squad vol. 1: Trial By Fire

February 22, 2011

If you’ve been hanging around comics news sites on the internet as long as I have, then you’ve probably heard a lot about this series.  Specifically, how good it is, how it influenced a lot of other series, and how it has yet to be collected. Over a year ago I picked up the miniseries from original writer John Ostrander and found it to be pretty entertaining.  I also remarked that I’d like to read the original series run at some point and DC has kindly obliged me of this request.  Though this series may be dated in some ways, its core appeal hasn’t been diminished.

“Suicide Squad” is the unofficial nickname of Task Force X, a secret government organization that utilizes the least desirable individuals in carrying out the most impossible operations.  Originally conceived during World War II it now serves as kind of a work-release program for imprisoned supervillains.  Successfully complete a mission and your sentence is reduced.  If you fail... that’s because you’ve already died on the mission.

Make no mistake, people do die on these missions.  Though they may be new characters or fourth-stringers you don’t care about, the series doesn’t play this card often enough in these first eight issues for it to wear out its welcome.  It’s not even the main selling point of the series.  That would be the fun of seeing a group of misanthropes, crazies, and outright psychopaths try to work together for the good of our nation.  Putting the self-destructive Deadshot, the self-interested Captain Boomerang, and the unstable Enchantress on the same team would be a recipe for disaster in the best of times.  Trying to hold it all together in the field is Col. Rick Flag, an honorable man who has issues of his own to deal with.  These issues include the orders of his superior Amanda Waller, the head of Task Force X and an individual who is willing to take whatever steps are needed to ensure a mission’s success.

What makes this series work is in seeing how each of these personalities react once a mission begins.  Some will follow the mission to the letter.  Others might run off to the side and hide.  One or two might raise moral objections regarding what they have to do.  Then you have the few who will turn traitor and turn on the team or try to cut a deal with the opposition.  You get to see a lot of these things in the first two issues including a great twist where the traitor attacks one of their team members in front of the group’s target.  The problem is that said team member had been working undercover, so the target thinks that she has actually come to kill him.  This trend continues in the later issues when the team is sent to Russia in order to rescue a writer imprisoned for her anti-communist views.  It sounds simple enough, but things get complicated when they find out that she wants to remain in prison and thus be a martyr for her cause.

That last storyline highlights the datedness of the material as it trades in a lot of the “Evil Commie” schtick that was so prevalent in the decade.  The same goes for a lot of Ostrander’s dialogue.  While that’s never been the man’s strong suit, he’s always been a better plotter, a lot of it is just functional and clunky.  I’d also add needlessly expositional to the list, but that’s true of EVERY superhero comic from the 80’s.  Some may also find artist Luke McDonnel’s art to be a bit simplistic, but I liked the Kirby-esque energy he brings to the proceedings.

So if you can look past the 80’s-ness of the material, you’ll find a series that has aged a lot better than its contemporaries from the same era.  I wouldn’t put it on the same pedastal that other people have, but I’m certainly looking forward to checking out vol. 2 when it arrives.  I hear Batman makes an appearance in those issues!

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