Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Suicide Squad #20 review

One of the books I was most excited about with the dawn of DC's New 52 promotion was Suicide Squad. I was a big fan of John Ostrander and Kim Yale's original series, and hoped some of that flavour would be captured. As it happens, I was quite put off by the revamped book, and haven't been back since that first issue.

But a new creative team comes on board this month, and while I don't know writer Ales Kot, I've long been a fan of artist Patrick Zircher. And I so want to like a Suicide Squad series - I'm sentimental that way.

This second debut gets off to a good start, as a new point-of-view character is used to bring us up to speed with life at Belle Reve prison. And there's a mystery, with their identity kept a secret, until the reveal at issue's end. And it's certainly an attention grabber.

But my, said reveal doesn't half make me doubt the sanity of Squad chief Amanda Waller. I also doubt she has a soul, after scenes in which she casually oversees brutality and murder, her way of assessing the mental states of Squad members Deadshot, Harley Quinn, King Shark, Voltaic, Cheetah and David Graves. There's also the Unknown Soldier, of whose motivation she seems sure - insanity, but she's fine with that.

In concept, this is the kind of issue I love - a day in the life story, in which character is revealed and future plots are laid down. In execution ... well, 'execution' is the operative word, as Waller acts as dictator of Belle Reve prison, holding power of life and death over her serfs. Yes, she's dealing with super-criminals, but so far as a carrot and stick approach goes, it's all baseball bat and no vegetable.

This instalment sees emotionally stunted virgin King Shark prickteased by one of Waller's operatives; Deadshot told that his death wish counts for nothing, Waller's going to keep bringing him back with a magic formula; a lookalike sent in to mess with Harley Quinn's Joker fixation; and more. It's all very nasty, perhaps meant to emphasise that Waller is hard-ass enough to deal with the scum of the DC Universe. What it actually does is make her seem worse than any of them - King Shark, Harley and co are following their individual natures or psychoses; Waller, she's tailoring a hell for each of them in the name of the American public.

I'm OK with the Squad members being bad, what with them being villains and all, but there has to be someone in a book for me to root for. The Eighties Squad had a Waller who wasn't nice, but you could understand her, and treasure the rare moments of humanity. It had a few heroes mixed in with the baddies to wrangle them on missions. It had a support crew of civilians, all pretty decent despite their flaws. But this book? So far as I've seen, nada.

Perhaps Kot has plans to shake things up, bring in the odd sympathetic soul. But if his first addition to the cast - the biggest murdering loon to debut in DC over the past few years - is a sign of things to come, I doubt it - it looks like nasty will remain the order of the day.

None of which means this is a terrible comic. It just isn't for me. I can certainly appreciate the craft with which Kot's script has been assembled - look at the emotions it's evoking in me. The set-up works, the tension builds, the reveal is good, with the new character guessable by the end of the issue if you've been reading certain DC titles. The dialogue is believable, there are surprises, big beats ... just not the sort I enjoy when ladelled out in a relentless diet.
And the art, well, Zircher - currently drawing Shadowman for Valiant - never disappoints with his smart compositions and strong line (click on image to enlarge). There's excellent character work, with every drop of drama squeezed onto the page without the visuals ever going over the top. His Unknown Soldier and Voltaic are especially fine, and moving away from the earlier sleaziness, he puts Harley in a cute animal onesie (and when in her new corset costume, she's less 'cheesecakey' than previously). And the horror in Deadshot's eyes ... intense. Jason's Keith's colours add to the mood, reflecting location and situation. And Jared K Fletcher's lettering is top notch as ever.

Nope, there's nothing wrong with the craft of this book. Even the cover, by Jason Pearson, is a striking take on an old theme.

It's just that this issue isn't for me. But maybe it will be ... I'm going to give it a couple of months, to see if Kot, Zircher and co start tweaking the tone. But if not, like a suicide, I'm off.

9 comments:

  1. I expect great things from Harley, Deadshot and King Shark. Hell, I would argue your point and say King Shark is a perfectly fine character to root for in this book. And from what I read in interviews with Ales Kot, great things are coming.

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    1. I missed the interviews - consider me intrigued!

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  2. If the official product is getting you down, Martin, I hear nothing but good things about Michel Fiffe's COPRA, which is apparently such a shameless homage to 1980s Suicide Squad that it can't be published outside vanity/small press. The rough-edged art looks like Steve Parkhouse kicked Frank Millar's door down, slapped the stupid out of his head, then made him ink Steve's thumbnails. As a reviewing-type person, I think you may be bound by law to read it.

    SS doesn't sound like it would grab me very much, but I am intrigued by the Nu Harley Quinn and what looks like an attempt by DC to save the porn industry the effort of coming up with their own sexy variations of character costumes in much the same way they did with the Jeph Loeb version of Supergirl. There are a few sites that create content catering to this fetish and I note that none other than George Perez contributed to one of them by designing costumes, yet they were modest compared to the official Supergirl and Harley designs - actual pornographers show more modesty and restraint than the publishers of comics aimed at children, and they also clearly label their content as unsuitable for minors. There is something not quite right there.

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    1. 'Copra', Brigonos? The very title has me nervous ... but I shall see if it's on Comixology, or in the local comic shop.

      Proper porn is more tasteful than Harley Quinn? Blimey. Certainly some of the online images I've seen of the New 52 version have been head-scratchingly embarrassing in their clunky come-hitherness. Let's hope for continued improvement.

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  3. I also bought this issue. I am a sucker for 'Bold New Directions' (which basically seems like every other month in the New 52). And I like Zircher's art. So this seemed like the right time to try this.

    It was a brutal read ... but excellent. The idea that Waller thinks she can break these team members down to better control them seems insane. But she does seem to pull all the right strings here.

    I like how the scrabble tiles spell out the sound effect in the panel where Unknown Soldier smacks Voltaic. Zircher's are was great here.

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    1. Hi Anj, one of the things that will certainly bring me back for awhile is the certainty that Waller's arrogance and inhumanity will come back and bite her on the bum, and soon. These villains aren't all idiots, someone will make a move, I'm sure.

      Zircher is sorely underestimated.

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  4. I liked it quite a bit. I'm a fan of the Squad since Legends, so I'm glad there's finally another run that shows promise, as opposed to the dodgy stuff being served up initially.

    That said, I like my Amanda Waller with a bit more of a moral compass than she seems to have now... even when she ignores it for expediency's sake. This bit from today's CBR interview with Kot gives me hope:

    "The other side of James' introduction to the team is that Waller maybe feels she has more control over this group than she does. In more ways than one! We've spoken before about Amanda's tendency to do bad things for what she feels is good. Do you feel like you're putting the most pressure on her in this series to test that point of view?"

    "Yes.

    The thing is, Waller got into this scenario by her own choice. No one forced her to to create a black ops squad full of deeply disturbed people -- and a shark-man -- who would probably benefit from some therapy instead of what Waller uses them for. She can hardly be surprised when that backfires, and if she will be, then perhaps that is a sign that her mindset is closer to the team members than she would like to admit. Of course, given what we see in this issue alone, one could argue that she should be realizing that already. We live in a world where it's easy to be complicit in many daily evils without realizing it, without admitting it to oneself, both on microscopic and macroscopic scale. If one truly desires to be a good person, it begins with looking into a mirror and facing everything that is inside you. If Waller wants to be a good person, she will have to do that sooner or later."

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    1. Well that makes me happy, thank you Rob - it looks like we're getting what I hoped for.

      James? Who's James ;)

      Ah, Legends - those were the days!

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    2. I've just listened to Orbital Comics' Pop Culture Hound interview with John Ostrander and Ales Kot - it's great hearing the original, and newest, Suicide Squad writers talk about craft with the excellent interviewer Chris Thompson. There's one usage of 'very unique,' but still ...

      http://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/05/09/pop-culture-hounding-ales-kot-and-john-oatrander-on-suicide-squad-plus-the-hot-bearded-men-of-orbital/

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