Suicide Squad: The Nightshade Odyssey

I’ve reached the point on “the shelf” where I’m reading “volume ___” of any given comic publication.  There aren’t as many new trades popping up; instead, they are all continuations of the same storylines, following the same set of characters.

I have to admit, I rather enjoy all the continuity between comics.

What I don’t like is the fact that due to so many stories overlapping, you never truly get a complete story in any of these collections.

I was really looking forward to reading this second collection of Suicide Squad issues, having greatly enjoyed the first batch.  That excitement quickly turned to annoyance as I turned page after page only to see these obnoxious little blurbs from the editor, telling me to see “such and such publication, on sale now!” for the full story:

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Here, editor Bob even comes right out and says what we’re all thinking: yep, give them all your money if you want the full story.

Don’t get me wrong.  At this point I’m not really a comic novice.  I get how these things work.  With so many characters jumping between publications, there are bound to be numerous tie-ins that expand on a story.  What I don’t understand is the need to tease the reader with a single-panel set up, only to say, “Nuh-uh, if you want to know how this plays out you have to go out and spend more money on a separate comic.”

I like picking up a comic and reading about how it ties into something else that I’ve read.  What I don’t like is being coerced into buying additional comics in order to get a complete story.  Why can’t the comic just omit this single panel, and if the reader happens to pick up the tie-in comic, they’ll understand the larger context of the story, but won’t feel like they’re missing out if they stick to reading a single series?

It may seem like a moot point since these comics were released over 25 years ago, so obviously the editors aren’t looking to get my money, but I’m sure it’s a cheap ploy that’s still used today, and it just irks me to have to wade my way through such blatant cross-promotion.

But anyway. Back to the comic at hand.

Prior rant aside, I actually really enjoyed this comic.  It follows the same formula set up by the first volume, collecting a rag tag group of criminals (and a few morally ambiguous anti-heroes) who have been sent off on missions that are too messy or controversial for morally upright groups to handle.

This comic employs a variety of graphics to create an enjoyable reading experience.

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This is just a very cool series of panels, plain and simple.  It may not be as elegantly designed as some others (the recent Green Arrow trades come to mind) but it’s still a great layout, and one that keeps the reader engaged.

What I liked most about this comic, however, was how it expanded on the Squad’s overall setup and gave us more details about how certain people came to join up.

Some, like Captain Boomerang, didn’t really have a choice.  It was either this or rot in prison.  Others, like Vixen, volunteered for the project, out of their own personal desires for justice or, sometimes, vengeance.

The most intriguing origin story presented in this trade is the one given the most attention: that of Nightshade.

Nightshade’s story is detailed in a Secret Origins issue that is also collected here, as the reader learns that Nightshade joined the Suicide Squad in the hope that the group would help rescue her brother from her home world.

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Her entire backstory is too well-told in the comic for me to summarize here, but suffice it to say, her character is well developed and her motives are clear.  Considering there are many characters across the entire DC universe for whom this does not hold true, Nightshade is a surprise.

My only gripe is that her story is not completed in this trade, and I can only hope and pray that Mistah J has the continuation of this storyline somewhere on “the shelf.”

If not, I may have to take up drinking.

Also, I may be getting too attached to the comics again.

Like so many other recent collections on “the shelf”, The Nightshade Odyssey is not a self-contained story.  This collection is loosely centered on one or two main storylines, but its beginning and end extend far past the pages of this book.  I’m finally beginning to adjust to this type of prolonged storytelling (yes, it takes some adjusting. I’m a girl who would generally sit and read an entire novel in one sitting.  Having to wait god-knows how long to get a complete story? It’s torturous, let me tell you.)  Not only that, but I’m finally starting to really appreciate the slow, gradual style.  New bits of information are given out piece by piece, ever so slowly, but when a connection can be made between something you’re reading now and something that you read about in the past, it makes the story feel so much more engaging, as though it’s all happening right now.

It’s possible that, once again, I’m reading too much into it.  It doesn’t really matter though.  These stories are enjoyable to so many people for any variety of reasons.  It doesn’t really matter why a person likes them; it just matters that they keep wanting to read more.

Now somebody get me the next volume of Suicide Squad before I have a meltdown.

-Jess

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