A few months back, I raved about DEATHZONE, the Suicide Squad fan comic by the awesome Michel Fiffe. After reading that comic, there was nothing I wanted more than to see Fiffe take another crack at one of my favorite comics of all time. I still think that would've been fun, but now, Fiffe's done something even better.

At last weekend's Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival, Fiffe debuted COPRA #1, the first issue of a new series. It might not have the name (or those pesky trademarked characters), but believe me when I say that it's the best Suicide Squad comic since... well, since Fiffe's last Suicide Squad comic.That might seem a little dismissive, but it's pretty undeniable that this is exactly what Fiffe's doing here. It's the same setup, with super-powered "throwaways" being roped into suicide missions and black ops, and even the characters themselves are awfully familiar. Of the eight team members that Fiffe introduces in his first issue, seven are dead ringers for characters like Deadshot, Amanda Waller, Vixen, and even Duchess, the short-lived alias that Lashina took on when she hung out on earth for a few months blasting America's enemies with gigantic Jack Kirby laser rifles. Everybody's here but Captain Boomerang.

Without even coming to it as someone who's read DEATHZONE, COPRA (and I'm not sure if the caps are mandatory or not, but I'm rolling with it anyway) makes it pretty obvious that Fiffe is a huge fan of what John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Luke McDonnell and others were doing back in the '80s. And if he is, then he has to recognize that he's inviting a pretty harsh comparison. Suicide Squad remains one of the all-time greatest comics in DC history, with an incredible track record of taking one-note villains and developing them into characters that the readers genuinely cared about. Before Squad, Deadshot was just a dude with a one-note gimmick and a truly awesome Marshall Rogers costume, but after? He was one of the best villains the company had.

As a result, it would be very easy to hang a label along the lines of "Like Suicide Squad, but not as good" on what Fiffe's doing. And yet, with this first issue, the sheer amount of talent that he's bringing to the table lets him sidestep that initial negative comparison. It's not that he's as good in one issue as Ostrander & Co. are in 60, but it's solid enough that he manages to reach the status of "following in the footsteps" rather than just "a pale imitation."

A lot of that has to do with the fact that Fiffe is stepping out of straight-up fan-comics, filing off the serial numbers and moving into doing his own thing. As much as he's following the traditional structure of Suicide Squad -- right down to the wholesale slaughter of a pretty high percentage of the cast getting slaughtered in the opening issue -- the most impressive thing about this issue is how he's using that platform to launch into new ideas, and tell them in an engaging new way.

The first 24-page issue of COPRA is built around an unauthorized mission to an unnamed foreign country to pick up a skull with a fragment of some unknown Force From Beyond The Control of Man embedded into it. When we join the story, that mission is already done, and we get a chance to see how these characters interact under the narration of Sonia Stone, the ersatz Amanda Waller.

That bit -- which you can check out yourself in the six-page preview below -- is one of the real highlights of the book. Even beyond the continuity-nerd fun of matching up Fiffe's characters with their DC Universe counterparts, he has a gift for that kind of natural dialogue that helps to easily establish the characters. The conversation with the kid in the gigantic super-strong robot armor about making his mom a birthday card alone makes the book worth it.

And it makes it a lot more effective when he starts killing them off a few pages later.

What really makes the book great, though, is how Fiffe presents what he's doing. He's an incredibly versatile artist, and I love the way that he switches up his style to tell his story. There are different elements on the page that are actually drawn differently, from the heavy superheroic inks of the team to the scratchy, paintbrushed skull, to the way all of the figures are shaded in colored pencil. It's a visually striking book right from the start, and to a reader like me that's so focused on on superhero comics, seeing this very typically "indie comics" style applied to superhero action just feels fresh and new.

It only gets better as the book goes on and the styles continue to change. The high points all come from Vitas, the monochromatic villain whose spindly legs are held together by Fred Hembeck knees, who uses the weird shard to start throwing around all kinds of weird 3D effects and ink-washed explosions.

The end result is that it blends into some genuinely masterful storytelling that engages the reader on every level. In a note on the back cover, Fiffe says that he wanted his approach to comics to be "exuberant, direct, fun" and like the man said,, it ain't bragging if it's true. It's good stuff.

As for how he's selling it, I was actually a little surprised that Fiffe opted to go through the same platform that he used for DEATHZONE and ZEGAS, his "one-man anthology": Etsy. I wasn't sure how a comic where a guy who looks suspiciously like Dr. Light gets machete'd in the back of his head would do on a site that was primarily known for crafting, but when I asked, he mentioned that it brought him "lots of different types of customers."

Right now, Fiffe is planning on releasing a new issue of COPRA every month, which seems like a pretty Herculean task when you're talking about self-publishing a full-color 24-page print comic every four weeks, but I'm sincerely hoping he manages to make it work. If he does, I'll be there for every one of 'em.

Find out more and order a copy over at Fiffe's website!

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