One of the most exciting aspects of the digital comics revolution has been the opportunity to revisit old favorites as publishers comb their catalogs for overlooked gems to give a second life to on comixology. While many fans are understandably enthralled with the latest adventures of Batman, Superman or the X-Men, a certain type of comics reader is equally excited to see what forgotten treasures they will be unleash from the vaults for the digital age. Such discerning readers will be excited to learn that this week, DC Comics begins the relaunch of long-running cult favorite Suicide Squad (1987-1993).
Writer John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad subverted the conventions of the superhero genre by
take a group of b-list villains, a couple of minor superheroes and a few new heroes and crafting around them a story that, while certainly exciting, was also filled with depth. Ostrander focused as much on his characters’ backstories and inner lives as their high-stakes adventures, mixing pyrotechnics, gunplay and espionage with powerful
character-driven moments. Deadshot, originally a second tier Batman villain,
becomes a depressed, suicidal hitman. Lacking the motivation to kill
himself, he goes on these missions for a chance to die. Captain Boomerang, a member of the Flash’s Rogues, shines here as a self-serving coward, albeit a self-serving coward with some occasional flourishes of sincerity. Count Verigo, an occasional foe of Green Arrow, also struggles with depression and the will to live. Other villains given their moment in the Suicide Squad spotlight include Poison Ivy, Penguin, Captain Cold, Doctor Light, Chronus and Blockbuster.
These villainous characters are cleverly juxtaposed against their heroic counterparts. Two old-school heroines, Nightshade and Black Orchid, serve roles on the team at various times. Nightshade, initially a Charlton Comics character introduced to the DC Universe during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, is shown to be very human, not exactly fragile (this is a superhero comic, after all), but often victim to the side effects of her netherworldly powers. Black Orchid, a relatively obscure DC character from the 1970s, becomes an arcane
cipher, a force of mystery (her appearance her would no doubt play a role in the character’s revitalization at the hands of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean soon afterwards).
The series’ original characters are no less compelling. Rick Flagg, the leader of the group, a hard military man living up to his general father’s legacy, often plagued with doubts about his own abilities. The Bronze Tiger, a master martial artist, deals with overcoming the effects of a brainwashing that had previously turned him into an assassin, and the guilt that comes with that unchosen foray into their dark side. And, of course, Amanda Waller, the group’s tough-as-nails government liaison, a shrewd, often unlikable but always compelling authority figure with one directive- get the job done at any cost.
Were this all Suicide Squad had to offer, a supervillain soap opera with nuanced and thoughtfull portrayed characters, that might be enough, but Ostrander’s series doesn’t skimp on the high action storylines either. The Suicide Squad takes on terrorists and corrupt politicians, becomes involved in conspiracies and travels to other worlds and dimensions. Occasionally, they tangle with the likes of Batman, Justice League International, Oracle and Shade the Changing Man. For fans of superhero comics with a little something extra to offer, and perhaps to fans of comics and good stories in general, Suicide Squad is the complete package.
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