Suicide Squad, Vol 1: Trial by fire review

8 Jul

Writer: John Ostrander

Artists: Luke McDonnell, Bob Lewis, Karl Kesel, Dave Hunt

Collects: Secret Origins 14, Suicide Squad 1-8

I can confidently say this is “THE” series fans have been waiting the most to get collected. A SHOWCASE PRESENTS was solicited, but requests for a full colour publication were so overwhelming, the Showcase was cancelled. Chances are, this is probably the first you’re hearing of this title. If yes, let me tell you what the “hubbub” was all about; if no, a little patience,dear reader, we’ll soon get to the meat.

In 1987, shortly after Crisis on Infinite Earths, which remodelled the entire DC Universe (review here), it was decided to establish the status of the current heroes and villains of the DC Universe in a story of good against evil, called LEGENDS (review here) plotted by a then less known John Ostrander & scripted by prolific writer Len Wein. It was here that the new Suicide Squad, under Task Force X, headed by an unpleasant lady called Amanda Waller made it’s debut mission against a minion of Darkseid, Brimstone. They were successful at the cost of the life of one of their comrades, Blockbuster.

Fade to two new titles being announced in the wake of Legends, Justice League of America (now popularly called Justice League International, review of the first volume here) & Suicide Squad. The teaser image for the new title went somewhat like this.

The lead in to the monthly title was in a double sized issue of Secret Origins. The original Suicide Squad was comprised of four people and was a stereotypical adventure book with the squad facing giants, monsters and other myths and legends. These issues were featured in the magazine The Brave and the Bold & written by Robert Kanigher. In a nice move to incorporate obscure DC Continuity, Ostrander establishes that the original missions on Dinosaur Island (found in a magazine titled Star Spangled War Stories, under the feature The War that time Forgot) were carried out by a ragtag team of brawlers and toughs, led by Rick Flag Sr.

I don’t know if you remember the original “The War that Time Forgot” issues but they were nice ones with a stereotypic plot: Two people who cannot get along, maybe a lawman & a criminal, or warring soldiers of opposite factions are trapped on an island full of dinosaurs, and have to co-operate to save their skin. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. A few issues starred the original Squad. They were reprinted in single issues in the early 90s and a Showcase Presents is available.

After Rick Flag, Sr dies fighting the War Wheels, and his wife perishes in an accident, Rick Flag Jr gets inspired to continue his work. Now the Squad mainly carried out covert operations, until their last mission leads to the death of two members, leaving behind Rick & love interest Karin Grace. Amanda Waller grew up in the Cabrini Green projects, and going through a life of hardships, including the killing of her family members reaches where she is today. The President authorizes the Squad, as a back door for prisoners, if they survive the fatal missions given to them. Due to this there is a rotating cast, though Rick Flag & the Bronze Tiger stay on for most of the run. Karin Grace rejoins the team, sharing an uneasy relationship with Flag.

This provides an answer to the age old question: “Why is it that no jail ever holds these freaks?” They do, but as long as the dirty work is done, they find themselves back on the streets with a vengeance. Okay, so far, this was new territory for comics (aka The Dirty Dozen) What sets this title apart from the rest is the characterization. What most people see right now, colourful creeps with psychiatric issues, was first established, and used to the maximum by John, right here. If there is a voice to these characters today, John gave it to them way long ago.

Now for the cast. For the duration of this volume, we have:

Rick Flag Jr

Bronze Tiger (Ben Turner)

Deadshot (Floyd Lawton)

The Enchantress (June Moone)

Captain Boomerang (Digger Harkness)

Plastique

Mindboggler

Though there are a few members not part of the basic operations team, come out as pleasant surprises (not spoiling it here!)

The first mission involves the neutralization of a Quraci terrorist group called The Jihad. Subsequently, they fend off an attack by the Furies on G Gordon Godfrey (aka Glorious Godfrey), still in Belle Reve for his role in Legends; topple a Robin Hood with racial tones and try to rescue a Russian dissident. The story about the Russian mission, titled Firebird, though it may seem dated, is probably the best this book has to offer in terms of espionage. The final story sees a psychoanalysis of all the members, aptly titled “Personal Files”. Though the stories seem pretty basic, it is the interactions of characters that work – John keeps us on our toes – you never know when someone will die, or when a team member is to turn traitor, or when a mask is peeled off to reveal a familiar face. This is the first time I have been exposed to Luke McDonnell’s art and it’s pretty basic, wherein lies it’s charm.

This was the first of Ostrander’s lasting contributions to the DC Universe. He has gone on to do more work like HAWKWORLD, THE SPECTRE, and MARTIAN MANHUNTER to name a few. If this hasn’t really sold you on this title, check Gail Simone, famed writer of BIRDS OF PREY, WONDER WOMAN, THE ALL NEW ATOM, VILLAINS UNITED and currently SECRET SIX, in the near future FIRESTORM & BATGIRL, as she interviews John here, citing him as THE inspiration top game writers like herself, Greg Rucka, Geoff Johns and Christos Gage (while I am confident there are many more).

On a final note in the interview above is a link and detailed explanation of a project called Comix 4 Sight which endeavours to help comic creators who cannot cope with the medical bills for treatment (John is currently under treatment for glaucoma). I have donated through my friends in the US, and also asked them to spread the word. Will you? As publication of this and further volumes also sees that the creators continue to receive a royalty fee, I urge you to buy this volume, not only due to this, but depending upon the sales for the initial volume/s, DC will decide whether to publish more collections of this. Won’t a series of trades with Suicide Squad on the spine look good, a la Justice League International? You can check out the second volume here.

PRE ORDER! PRE ORDER! PRE ORDER!

My rating: 9 on 10 (The subsequent volumes seriously get better, this is just the set up)

Contains all covers, 19.95 US$ (for comics equivalent of 10 issues, that’s not bad at all!)

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