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‘Suicide Squad’ #1 Dies By Its Own Hand [Review]

I’ll be honest with you: I’m probably about as far from the target audience DC’s going for with the new Suicide Squad #1 that came out this week. Not only am I the opposite of a new reader, I’m specifically a guy who has a lot of attachment to The Way Things Used To Be. John Ostrander’s 66-issue run on Suicide Squad from the ’80s is one of my all-time favorite comics, but there are an awful lot of problems in this book that have nothing to do with how I feel about the old series and everything to do with the fact that it’s an angsty mess.

I’m not sure whether this is going to be the book that hooks new readers into the DC Universe, but going purely by what we’re given in this issue, they’re doing a pretty good job of alienating the ones they already had. It all comes down to an aesthetic change that they’ve made with the relaunch, taking away something that made a character visually unique in favor of the same look we’ve seen over and over again in comics.I speak, of course, of Deadshot’s mustache.

Comic books are experiencing a dire lack of interesting facial hair as it is, and to have such a magnificent handlebar replaced with wispy stubble is, for me at least, extremely off-putting.

But I kid. As much as I love Floyd Lawton’s rockin’ handlebar, there was an even more legitimately mystifying, seemingly pointless change made in this issue: The last-page reveal that apparently, Suicide Squad mainstay Amanda Waller has been rebooted into a younger body, complete with the standard issue hourglass figure boasted by virtually every other female character in comics:

It’s a big change from the shorter, stockier, older version of Waller we’ve had for the past 20 years, and to a fan of that character, it’s incredibly frustrating. The appeal of the original version of Amanda Waller wasn’t just that she’d climbed to the top of a secret government agency through sheer, indomitable willpower and enforced her tough decisions with an uncompromising demand for respect, and it wasn’t even just that she was one of the DC Universe’s most prominent black characters, and certainly the most prominent black woman. Those are undeniable factors in what makes her so great, but there’s another big aspect to it that simply comes down to the fact that she didn’t look like everyone else.

That’s the thing about the change to her current look. There’s no argument whatsoever to be made that a woman can’t have a statuesque body and a tough-as-nails mentality, and from what we’ve seen in that first issue, Waller’s ruthlessness has certainly survived the relaunch intact. The problem is that if you give Waller that body, you take away something that makes her unique. There are a hundred women in comic books who look like the panel above, and very, very few who look like this:

It also has the side effect of removing a great visual signifier of her character. The original Waller looked like… well, like a wall. She looked like you could run full speed into her and break your neck before budging her an inch, which was a great metaphor for the stern, no-nonsense attitude she displayed as the director of the Suicide Squad. The cover above is a great example — Batman’s two feet taller than her and nothing but lean muscle, and she’s got him backed up against the wall like she’s about to shove him through it. And not only that, but she looks like she could do it, too.

It might be easy to argue that as long as core of the character stays the same, the appearance doesn’t matter. On one level, that’s true, but if you’re a company explicitly stating that you’re “committed to telling diverse stories with a diverse point of view” and that you “want these adventures to resonate in the real world, reflecting the experiences of our diverse readership,” then recasting one of the few characters that doesn’t have the same interchangeable body as everyone else into that same body feels like a pretty big step backwards.

That said, it’s also extremely important to remember that this is all based on exactly one panel from Suicide Squad‘s first issue. It’s entirely possible that right now, writer Adam Glass and artists Federico Dallocchio, Ransom Getty and Scott Hanna are laughing themselves silly over all the freakouts they’ve caused before the next issue comes out and reveals that the real Amanda Waller was, I don’t know, using a super-sexy hologram to disguise her actual identity. Or maybe that’s just a really, really flattering angle that Waller was using to take her Facebook profile picture while she ran Task Force X. In comics, all things are possible.

But the thing is, if you’re the New Reader that DC’s trying to hook, none of that is going to matter. If you’ve never read a comic with Amanda Waller in it — or seen her few animated appearances on Justice League Unlimited — then you have no idea that there’s been a change. All you’re going to see in that panel is a very well-drawn picture of a woman named Amanda Waller who runs the Suicide Squad. The only thing you’re going to care about is whether the rest of the issue is good enough to sell you on the book.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book is pretty problematic on that front.

The premise of a team of criminals being forced to go on suicide missions for the greater good pretty much sells itself, as evidenced by The Dirty Dozen, the previous iterations of Suicide Squad, and even the current, awesome run on Marvel’s Thunderbolts. With a cast of villains that, with the Reboot, you’re free to reinvent as you see fit, you can adapt it to almost any kind of action story that you want, mixing up powers and character dynamics to create the most exciting story possible. In this issue, all of that potential seems to be chucked aside in favor of cheap exploitation.

In order to introduce us to the concept and characters, Glass elected to spend 19 pages on characters being tortured while they had flashbacks that didn’t really explain anything. In the end, it turns out that — Spoiler Warning! — the torture is all a setup to see if they’ll break under pressure. It’s a plot twist that probably came as a pretty big surprise to everyone who hadn’t already seen it in, say, V For Vendetta.

Regardless, Glass spends an entire issue on stuff like shots of dudes in hoods torturing Harley Quinn by hooking up jumper cables to her face. It’s all very self-consciously edgy and dark, but I have to give them credit: Actually going so far as to torture the readers with a shot of King Shark’s thong?

That’s a pretty bold move.

In order to break up the Saw marathon, three of the characters get one-page flashbacks meant to fill you in on who they are and what they do, but they don’t really say anything. Deadshot, for instance, takes six panels to say “I fought Batman.”

Given her dead-center placement on the cover where she’s spilling right out of her Juggalo corset, I figured Harley Quinn would be the default main character of the book. Sure enough, her flashback goes into a little more detail, but it’s not the sort of detail that explains anything. Basically, she’s trying to attract the Joker’s attention by killing the lawyers that got him convicted by dancing with them (or maybe killing them and then dancing with them), until she was finally brought to justice by a close-up of Black Canary’s ass.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d always assumed that one of the things people liked about Harley Quinn — a character who’s made it pretty far into pop culture outside of the printed page, probably because she was created on a cartoon with an audience of millions — was that she was fun and manic and upbeat despite being a tragically lovestruck homicidal maniac. Here, she’s a mopey sad sack who dances with corpses to get noticed.

It’s not that these are new interpretations, but that they’re interpretations that lack what made the original stuff enjoyable to read. Another of this week’s new DC titles, Demon Knights, introduces some drastically different takes on some classic DC Comics characters like the Demon and Vandal Savage, and it works perfectly. We see them interacting with each other, setting up the dynamics of a team, and the different ways they respond to the things that are happening to them. It’s a great example of how fresh and new and enjoyable the DC Universe can feel.

In Suicide Squad, all we get is a bunch of mopey nonsense with characters who act in lockstep throughout the book, never really speaking to each other or setting up reasons for us to be interested in how this team’s going to function, all bundled with a lesson about how you shouldn’t burn down drug dealers’ houses. Unless, of course, you’re Superman, in which case that’s totally the thing to do.

On the bright side, the art’s actually pretty nice, especially when it’s compared to how rushed some of the other books have felt. In typical new 52 fashion, the costumes are terrible across the board and there are plenty of shots that are cheesecaked out to a distracting degree (see above), but the action scenes look good and there’s some really nice “acting” in the faces, particularly for Harley.

There is one panel that cracked me up, though:

Sure, Harley Quinn might be traipsing through the show in booty shorts and a corset, but at least they gave her that bomber jacket to keep her warm. Just like they did to the guy who is literally on fire.

In the end, the whole thing’s a fakeout with some flashbacks, and a last-page promise that next month, they’ll actually go on a mission and maybe even talk to each other. The mission they’re actually going on seems like a big high concept that could have a solid twist to it, but there’s no reason given to care about these characters, or to come back for more and find out.

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