Sunday, August 07, 2016

Suicide Squad: Who Created What, and What One Should (and Shouldn't) Read Next

This week Warner Bros released Suicide Squad, the second film in their troubled but ongoing efforts to construct a shared, "cinematic universe" based on DC comics, akin to what Marvel Studios has accomplished. Reviews so far seem pretty mixed, but then, decent quality films based on DC comics characters tend to be exceptions that prove the rule.

Regardless of its ultimate box office, Rotten Tomatoes rating and whether or not it's able to generate a sequel and Captain Boomerang spin-off, I think it's safe to say that a lot of people made a lot of money for their work on this film, and a lot of people are going to be credited (or blamed) with their contributions to the film. And, I think it's just as safe to say, few of those people will be comic book people.

Comic book supehero movies of this nature--big, ensemble efforts, including the Avengers movies and Guardians of The Galaxy--are of particular interest to me on this front because the studios assemble them from characters owned by a single publisher, but created by many different writers and artists, in many different contexts, often across decades. So I personally think it's valuable to stop and take stock of where all this stuff comes from, exactly. The characters that appear in this film were created between 1940 and 2008, and the particular concepts span a good sixty years, from the mid-twentieth century first appearance of a "Suicide Squad" to the late 1980s conception of the team as a super-villain Dirty Dozen to the 2011 incorporation of some of the characters on this line-up.


Suicide Squad was originally created in a 1959 issue of The Brave and The Bold by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru, and the Squad's handful of Silver Age adventures revolved around a quartet of non-super-powered specialists encountering bizarre, Silver Age threats. It was seemingly only the name that survived to influence future iterations and comic books (not to mention the movie), but the Kanigher/Andru stories did introduce a few characters and would later be used to provide backstory for the 1980s iteration of the team (Additionally, this version makes a brief appearance in the late, great Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier, which imagined various non-powered comics teams filling-in for superheroes in the years between the Golden Age and Silver Age of superheroes).

The concept of super-villains released from jail in order to serve as a black-ops team on suicide missions was John Ostrander's, who wrote the Suicide Squad monthly, ongoing series from 1987-1992 (occasionally with his wife, the late Kim Yale).

The Joker was created in 1940 by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson.

Deadshot first appeared in a 1950 issue of Batman, and was created by Bob Kane,David Vern Reed and Lew Schwartz, but you woudn't recognize him in his top hat, tuxedo and domino mask. His most familiar costume, including a full face mask, a scope over one-eye and wrist-mounted machine guns, was designed by artist Marshall Rogers during he and writer Steve Englehart's influential run on the Bat-books in the 1970s.

Rick Flag was created in 1959 by Kanigher/Andru as part of the original Suicide Squad. Ostrander and company used his son for their Suicide Squad revival, adding a "Jr." and a more late 1980s characterization.

Captain Boomerang was a Flash villain created in 1960 by John Broome by Carmine Infantino.

Enchantress was created by Bob Haney and Howard Purcell in 1966; rather than a villain, she was the star of a strip in Strange Adventures #187, in which she was the hero.

The original El Diablo was created in 1970 by Robert Kanigher and Gray Morrow, although the version that appears in the film, El Diablo III, has little in common with the original save the name. The third iteration was created by Jai Nitz, Phil Hester and Ande Parks for a 2008 miniseries of the same name, in which their El Diablo was haunted by the ghost of the original.

Killer Croc was created by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan in 1983, when he began is long and successful career as a Batman villain.

Katana was created by Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo in 1983 and first appeared in an issue of The Brave and The Bold. She was a hero rather than a villain, and spent most of her career as a member of Batman's team The Outsiders, which she was involved with most incarnations of (In The New 52, she was briefly a member of both The Birds of Prey and the short-lived, government-sponsored Justice League of America. She also had her own short-lived ongoing).

Slipknot was a minor villain created by Gerry Conway, Joey Cavalieri and Rafael Kayanan for The Fury of Firestorm in 1984.

Amanda Waller first appeared in 1986's Legends #1, the crossover miniseries that first introduced the new, Ostrander conception of the Suicide Squad. She was created by Ostrander, Len Wein and John Byrne.

Harley Quinn is a particularly unusual character, being of both relatively recent vintage and originating not in the comic books, but another adaptation of the comics. She was created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm (and I don't know, should original voice actress Arleen Sorkin receive some credit for her creation?) for a 1992 episode of the television cartoon Batman: The Animated Series ("Joker's Favor").


That is the right half of the a two-page ad that has been running in DC Comics lately (the other half is an ad for the film itself). The suggestions for what to read are...interesting.

First, based on the ad, this would seem to be as much a Joker movie as a Suicide Squad movie. Second, it appears as if DC wasn't quite ready, as there are books one might expect, including the entirety of the Ostrander run of Suicide Squad which aren't yet collected, and solo titles featuring Katana and El Diablo that either weren't collected, or fell out of print, or DC just didn't want to publicize.

I also found the credits a little curious, as in a few cases they list both writer and primary artist, but in others they only list the writer, perhaps because there were so many artists involved that none could even really be called "primary."

If you liked the movie and wanted to read more about these characters, this ad seems like a good place to start. But as someone who has read most of these, I should warn you that DC seems to have chosen books based on their availability, rather than their quality. So maybe I can help you out, if you need it.

Let's walk through the books they have listed as suggestions, in the order they appear, together.

Suicide Squad Vol. 1: Kicked in the Teeth This is the first collection of the New 52 Suicide Squad series, and the third ongoing monthly series, following the original and the short-lived 2001revival attempt. It is, to put it kindly, garbage.

Suicide Squad Vol.1: Trial By Fire This collection includes the first eight issues of the 1987-launched Ostrander series. It definitely reads like a product of the 1980s, but is infinitely more readable than any post-Ostrander Suicide Squad monthlies.

Joker This was an original graphic novel by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, released around the time Dark Knight was in theaters, and it sold pretty well. This was Azzarello back when he was probably still best known as the guy who wrote 100 Bullets, and not the guy who wrote some Before Watchmen stuff against the wishes and over the objections of Watchmen writer and co-creator Alan Moore, had a controversial (and boring!) run on Wonder Woman, either wrote or co-wrote Dark Knight III: The Master Race (depending on who you ask), helped script the Batman: The Killing Joke direct-to-DVD cartoon and called someone a "pussy" at a San Diego Comic-Con panel about that cartoon. It was an attempt to turn the homicidal clown character into a grittier, more "realistic" character and I hate, hate, hated it. Killer Croc and Harley both have minor roles in it, neither particularly flattering (Harley's a stripper).

Batman: The Killing Joke Speaking of! This is the classic 1988 Alan Moore/Brian Bolland original graphic novel intended as both an origin of The Joker and a "last" Batman/Joker story...although since the ending was sublte and superhero comics aren't known for their subtlety, no one got it back in the day. It's a weird book, in that I think it's only grown more controversial the farther away we get from its original release, due to what happens to retired Batgirl Barbara Gordon in it, in a sort of classic example of fridging–decades before the phrase "Women In Refrigerators" and the verb "fridge" were coined. It's also the only story DC seems to think is so sacrosanct that they exempt it from their reboots, like The New 52-boot. Interestingly, this story sees Barbara Gordon paralyzed from the waist down, making it impossible for her to ever return to being Batgirl, so she turns to fighting crime a different way by becoming Oracle. Eventually. In the pages of...wait for it...Suicide Squad.

Batman: Arkham Asylum 25th Anniversarry Another late 1980s classic. This original graphic novel was Grant Morrison's first big hit, and a rare example of interior art from Dave McKean, probably still best known for his Sandman covers. It really helped popularize Arkham Asylum, and you can trace countless Batman comics stories and multi-media adaptations back to it. Again, not sure what it could have to do with the movie, but it does prominently feature The Joker, Batman (obviously) and Killer Croc is in there too. I've read rumors that Ben Affleck would like his Batman movie to revolve around Arkham, and I wouldn't be surprised if the next Batman movie did. Those Arkham videogames sure seemed popular and, as I've said before, the filmmakers should attempt a narrative that gets all of Batman's enemies in, given that cycles of the film tend to top out at around three or four.

Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Hot In The City The first collection of Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti and friends' Harley Quinn monthly series, launched a few years into the New 52, but prior to the "DCYou" initiative. It's very popular, although I don't really care for it. This collection features a few of the issues that were illustrated via artists jams though, so there's a lot of interesting stuff to look at.

Deadshot: Bulletproof This collects the six-part, 2005 minseries written by Chritos Gage and drawn by Steven Cummings and Jimmy Palmiotti. I've never read it! I like the sound of the premise though, which seems like it would be the basis for a Deadshot spin-off movie if they ever did such a thing, although i don't know why they would, as by himself he's just a guy with guns and a cool mustache, so not that different from any other action movie chracter, really. They give Deadshot a makeover here, and his costume is pretty good; much better than his terrible New 52 one, anyway.

New Suicide Squad Vol. 1: Pure Insanity I read the first few issues of this, DC's second attempt at a Suicide Squad ongoing. It's a step up from Kicked In The Teeth, but still a long way from good. I reviewed the first issue here on the week of its release, if you're interested (scroll down; it's the third book covered).

Batman Vol. 7: Endgame The seventh volume of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman run, this is the big Joker/Batman rematch following the events "Death of The Family" (and a pretty good argument for limiting The Joker's appearances, giving them a sense of occasion in the process). I liked it.

Batman: Harley Quinn This 200-page collection features canonical DCU Harley Quinn stories, including her introduction into the DCU. If I'm reading the contents right, there's only one New 52 comic herein--the Forever Evil tie-in in which she blows up scores of Gotham City children in a massive terrorist attack--that was immediately at odds with her portrayal in her own series, which launched shortly after that story. There are also a few "continuity-lite" stories that may or may not fit in to a particularly version of the character, if you care about such things. I'm pretty sure I've read almost all of these, but I haven't re-read some in a while, and would be interested in seeing how the collection reads. Maybe I'll hunt this down. Anyway, I'll go ahead and recommend it, as it should provide a nice cross-section of Harley stories, including one from her co-creator. Be warned that these will mostly be "original" Harley, rather than the decidedly more mask-less and pants-less version of the film.

What would I add? Well, DC has been very, very slowly collecting the original Suicide Squad monthly (i.e. the good one). So far you can find not only Vol. 1: Trial By Fire, included above, but also Vol. 2: The Nightshade Odyssey, Vol.3: Rogues and Vol. 4: The Janus Directive. DC recently released a 30th Anniversary edition of Legends, in which the Squad plays a small role...although it is their first appearance. It looks like DC is planning a release of the Silver Age iteration, in a hardcover entitled Suicide Squad: The Silver Age Omnibus; it looks pricey, but I'd be interested in reading it.

For more Deadshot, I'd recommend not only Deadshot: Bulletproof, but also Deadshot: Beginnings by John Ostrander, Kim Yale and Luke McDonnel, which features a spin-off miniseries from Suicide Squad and early battles with Batman. Also, you might want to check Gail Simone's run on Secret Six (pre-New 52), which prominently featured Deadshot. The book, featuring a team of six villains who had a habit of losing their sixth on a regular basis fighting worse villains, was something of a spiritual successor to Ostander's Suicide Squad.

For more Joker and Harley, there are so many comics and collections featuring each that its hard to know where to begin. Suffice it to say that if you walk into any comic shop you won't have too hard a time tracking down comics featuring them. For The Joker, I'd recommend 2014's The Joker: A Celebration of 75 Years, if only because it offers such a good overview of the character's various interpretations over the decades; for Harley Quinn, I'd recommend the Paul Dini/Bruce Timm "Mad Love," most recently collected as The Batman Adventures: Mad Love Deluxe Edition, but if you can find it, 2011's Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories is a better bet, as it collects a bunch of other, similar Harley stories.

For more Killer Croc, there's Batman Arkham: Killer Croc which is a greatest hits kind of collection. I haven't read it, but I've read many of the stories within, and I see it contains my two favorite Croc stories by my two favorite Batman artists, Norm Breyfogle and Kelley Jones.

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