SUICIDE (SQUAD) WILL KILL ‘YA

KC Carlson

KC Carlson


a KC Column by KC Carlson

Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1

Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1


With the new Suicide Squad film debuting later this summer (it’s scheduled for release on August 5) and with a new comic book series also debuting in August (proceeded by a Rebirth one-shot), it seems like a perfect time to look back at the history of the team.

Most folks figure the Suicide Squad began in 1986, when the concept first debuted in the DC Comics miniseries event Legends, which was plotted by John Ostrander, scripted by Len Wein, pencilled by John Byrne, and inked by Karl Kesel. Sort-of a creation of the Ronald Reagan White House, the Suicide Squad forms when Amanda Waller (in her first appearance anywhere) suggests to several members of Reagan’s department of defense that Task Force X (aka the Suicide Squad) be activated. This Suicide Squad consists of several imprisoned super-villains including Blockbuster, Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, Enchantress, and sometime hero Bronze Tiger. Waller assigns Rick Flag, Jr. to be the leader of the team. (Hmm… Rick Flag, Jr. … Where have I heard that name before?)

Legends

Legends


Their first mission is to take down the rampaging Apokolips fire elemental Brimstone. They are successful, although Blockbuster is killed during the battle (setting up the core idea that some of the characters going forward in this new series are extremely expendable). At that point Waller dismisses the group, but they reconvene shortly after Boomerang is taken captive.

Besides launching the Suicide Squad, Legends also presented the formation of the new Justice League, soon to start (in 1987) their new regular series which quickly became Justice League International by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatties, Kevin Maguire, and Terry Austin (and later Al Gordon). Additionally, a new Flash series (starring Wally West) also spun out, along with fresh starts for rebooted characters Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel (in Shazam!: The New Beginning).

It’s really a great little DC “event” that moved a lot of things forward historically. It was also greatly entertaining. (I just re-read it for the first time in over a decade, and all the key elements still hold up.) As a complete coïncidence, DC is releasing a new TPB edition of the series as Legends: 30th Anniversary Edition this week. (Ask for it at your LCS or subscription service! Or, you know — Westfield!)

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Secret Origins #14

Secret Origins #14


In a Legends tie-in story (Chapter 22) in Secret Origins #14 (1986), we discover that this Suicide Squad is not DC Comics’ first Suicide Squad. That title was first coined way back in 1959 and presented as a three issue try-out story in The Brave and the Bold #25-27. (Technically, it was called “Suicide Squadron”, then shortened to Suicide Squad.) This original Suicide Squad team included Rick Flag, Jr., (so that’s where I heard that name before), doctor Karin Grace (also Flag’s girlfriend), astronomer Dr. Hugh Evans, and physicist Jess Bright. All four were also pilots.

The new Secret Origins story lays out the never-before-told story of how the original post-WWII Suicide Squad came together and revealed their ultimate fate. I won’t reveal that here, but suffice to say this new story was important as a link between those 45 year-old war stories and the original (re-)launch of the Suicide Squad in 1986. The Secret Origins story presents important background info about Amanda Waller as well, functionally making this story two Secret Origins for the price of one! The story was important enough to lead off the first Suicide Squad trade paperback published last year. Trial by Fire also collects the first eight issues of the 1987 Suicide Squad series by John Ostrander, Luke McDonnell, Bob Lewis, Karl Kesel, and Dave Hunt.

The Brave and the Bold #25

The Brave and the Bold #25


Incidentally, those original 1959-1960 The Brave and the Bold Suicide Squad stories are being collected in a new 336-page deluxe hardcover featuring all six stories of the original incarnation of the Squad from The Brave and the Bold #25-27 and #37-39. (To put those issues in historical context, remember that the Justice League of America debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28-30. So, (this) Suicide Squad predates JLA. Consider your mind blown…) Written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, those six Suicide Squad stories have never been reprinted, other than one story appearing in a 1979 digest. Also included in this collection are stories from Star Spangled War Stories #110-111, 116-121, 125, 127, and 128 (the content of which will be fully explained in the next paragraph). The stunning cover is by Michael Cho, and the book is scheduled to be available in July.

Getting back to Legends, the 1986 Secret Origins story was a decades-spanning flashback story, dating back to WWII and attempting to tidy up a number of different DC loose ends. These included the DC War series The War That Time Forgot, which started in 1960 and ran for eight more years in the pages of DC’s Star-Spangled War Stories. (Man, I miss these great old comics titles!) This is the infamous series where soldiers fought dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts. (You may remember seeing it briefly in Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier in 2003.) They are also frequently referred to as DC’s Dinosaur Island war stories.

GOOD PEOPLE PRODUCE GOOD STORIES

Suicide Squad: Trial by Fire

Suicide Squad: Trial by Fire


It’s easy to get caught up in the often complicated/convoluted publishing history of the Suicide Squad (and I’m not even done yet…), so maybe this is a good place to stop, take a breath, and explain exactly why the this title and continuity is so important to DC’s publishing history. First of all, the writing by John Ostrander (later with Kim Yale) is excellent. He took a bunch of one-dimensional villains and figured out new and oft-complex characterization. Several one-note villains became real players in the DCU because of the motivations he developed. Especially popular were Deadshot and Captain Boomerang, who both (along with the equally formidable Amanda Waller) have been staples of virtually all the Suicide Squads and teams which followed (at least the successful ones). And because it’s not easily compartmentalized (and thus not easy to collect on its own), Yale and Ostrander’s work developing the at-first mysterious Oracle character over many issues was simultaneously brilliant and pure fannish fun. (I won’t reveal the secret here, although I assume most of you probably already know who she really is.)

I was working at DC when Suicide Squad was developed, and I would often bug editor Bob (now Robert) Greenberger to find out what was happening in the book. I remember him telling me that inker Karl Kesel occasionally pitched and provided story elements for the series. By all appearances, it seemed that everybody working on the book loved doing it, and it showed in the actual published work. While I wasn’t always a fan of artist Luke McDonnell’s art style, the grittiness (and how much it influenced the overall storytelling) eventually grew on me as well. Karl inked him expertly.

SUICIDE IS PAINLESS* (EXCEPT MAYBE EXPLAINING SUICIDE SQUAD PUBLISHING HISTORY)

Suicide Squad #1

Suicide Squad #1


As noted above, the modern-day Suicide Squad first appeared in the pages of Legends. It quickly spun out into its own series beginning with cover date May 1987 and lasting 66 regular issues, an Annual, and a Special (Doom Patrol and Suicide Special #1). Following this, the team made appearances in Superboy, Hawk & Dove, Chase, and Adventures of Superman over the next few years.

The series was then rebooted by writer Keith Giffen and artist Paco Madina in 2001. This version was mostly notable for the inclusion of a Sgt. Rock and Bulldozer from WWII (which, as far as I can remember, was never explained or properly resolved, although it was strongly implied that this Rock was an imposter). See my sign-off below for a postscript.

Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #1

Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #1


Writer John Ostrander returned for Suicide Squad Volume 3 (called “Raise The Flag” in solicitations, but nowhere in the book itself) in 2007, featuring the return of Rick Flag and the formation of a new(-ish) squad. As you’d expect, given that they had the same writer, this eight-issue miniseries fits into the continuity of the original 1987 series.

Suicide Squad Vol. 1: Kicked in the Teeth

Suicide Squad Vol. 1: Kicked in the Teeth


After that comes the two New 52 series of Suicide Squad, prominently featuring Harley Quinn. Maybe someday I’ll talk about those, if I ever decide to read them. (I guess I really should, as it looks like the movie is going to be influenced by them.) I am, however, curious to see what happens to the Suicide Squad in the Suicide Squad: Rebirth one-shot in August by writer Rob Williams and artist Phillip Tan. It’s reported that DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee is hoping to draw the occasional Suicide Squad story arc, alternating with Tan on the new ongoing series, also debuting in August.

So, that’s the Suicide Squad. Love them — or they’ll kill you.

Or maybe they’ll just kill you anyway.

Suicide Squad #1

Suicide Squad #1


* The actual name of the M*A*S*H theme song (for both the film and TV series), written by Johnny Mandel (music) and Mike Altman (lyrics). Incidentally, Mike Altman is the son of M*A*S*H movie director Robert Altman. 15 years old at the time, Mike Altman eventually made vastly more royalty money from co-writing the song than his father earned directing the film, according to Wikipedia. And I thought comics were weird…

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KC CARLSON SAYS: Eventually (in flashback) in a 2010 story by Len Wein and Joe Kubert that was published in issue #4 of the apparently now-forgotten series DC Universe: Legacies (a series that has never been reprinted), Sgt. Rock (and all of Easy Company) died in battle on the last day of WWII. Which is how Sgt. Rock co-creator and loooong-time writer Robert Kanigher always insisted in interviews Rock would die — killed by the last bullets fired in World War II. Kanigher died in 2002 before writing that final Easy Company story.

WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. I miss Blockbuster. (Shakes head sarcastically…)

Classic covers from the Grand Comics Database.

 

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