Suicide Squad: Trial By Fire

Writing about the origin of the Suicide Squad feels rather fitting, given how much attention the movie has been receiving lately.  I’ll admit I knew absolutely nothing about this group, and although I was intrigued by the movie, I wasn’t as excited as I could have been, simply because I didn’t know all that much about the characters or storylines.

After reading this trade, that’s all changed.

The concept for Suicide Squad is pretty straightforward:  imprisoned criminals are given a chance at freedom if they follow orders and fight for the good guys for a change.

While I could certainly talk about the storylines featured in this trade and elaborate on exactly what sort of missions the Suicide Squad is ordered to complete, I’m choosing instead to focus on the comic series as a whole, particularly the crucial role it plays in the post-Crisis DC universe.

The first aspect that really struck me with this comic was the reappearance of Darkseid as a major villain.

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(Also, bonus: Female furies!)

This was the third trade in a row on “the shelf” in which Darkseid plays a major role, and what’s more, these appearances all follow the same storyline.

It really makes perfect sense that Darkseid would emerge as a major villain in the post-Crisis universe.  With such a major upheaval, the writers were likely still trying to find their footing in this new continuity, and trying to work out how all of the major players would fit together.  Darkseid (and all of Kirby’s Fourth World characters, for that matter) was a bit of an anomaly, fairly self-contained and for the most part, unaffected by the recent events of Crisis.  This made him the perfect baddie for DC to unleash on the world.  He’s powerful enough that he could easily carry multiple storylines, and would likely require a major battle involving any number of heroes to defeat him.

Although Darkseid isn’t the main focus of this entire collection, he makes a marked appearance, reminding readers that he exists and that he’s still enacting plans to destroy Earth.  With his constant appearances, I can only guess that the comics are leading up to a major battle  at some point between Earth and Apokolips.

Another ingenious concept in this comic is the basic setup of the Suicide Squad itself.  While it seems there are a handful of staple characters appearing in each issue, the story allows for “special guest appearances” by just about any villain the writers can imagine, all popping up with a perfectly logical explanation:

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The story is always the same, and so doesn’t need lengthy explanation in the comic.  In exchange for helping the Suicide Squad, Penguin will regain his freedom.

This is a rather brilliant ploy on the part of the writers.  Let’s think about it for a second:

How many times have I read in a comic that one supervillain or another has escaped prison for the umpteenth time?   I know these people are often geniuses but come on, shouldn’t they be in a maximum security prison under constant surveillance?  Escape should be damn near impossible, and certainly shouldn’t be occurring as much as it did in earlier comics.

Most of the crimes these people have committed are truly heinous and often violent, so it’s not likely they’ll be out on parole anytime soon.

Therefore, barring a major failing in the criminal justice system or a highly implausible escape, once these villains are captured they’re pretty much down for the count.

Well, that’s just not how these comics work. Readers like to see superheroes square off against the same characters time and time again, yet don’t want to see the villains escape every time. We want justice occasionally.  How then do you keep the stories realistic while still allowing these villains to go free?

Answer: The Suicide Squad.

Now, justice can be meted out to these villains, and yet whenever needed they can earn their freedom by a little public service and be up to their old tricks again in the next issue.  With an ever-rotating arsenal of villains to choose from, Suicide Squad can continue indefinitely as a key feature in the DC Universe, giving us entertaining stories while providing a nice loophole from the shackles of realism.

Lastly, I can’t write about this trade without an honerable mention for one very astute character: Amanda Waller.

I was familiar with her character because of DC Comics Bombshells, but didn’t know anything about her origin until reading this trade. (And there’s no way I would have, since this is the first time her origin is introduced.   Yes, I researched it.  Thank you, internet.)

Waller is tough, no-nonsense, and gets her job done without complaining or mincing words.

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Did I mention that she’s a badass?

Waller is a middle-aged woman with no superpowers to speak of, yet she’s still portrayed as a powerful woman.  I love that.

The issues in this collection were certainly a lot of fun to read, but the overall story’s purpose is the real star.   Suicide Squad serves a much-needed role of filling in a gap in the DC continuity, and does so without forcing readers to completely suspend disbelief. Each story feels fresh and exciting, creating a sort of anti-Justice League for us to revel in:  all of the arguing without one inkling of what’s right.   What could go wrong?

That list would be far too lengthy, but I’m sure the comics will provide me with answers soon enough.

-Jess

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