Today, Michael and Ryan D. are discussing New Suicide Squad 20, originally released May 4th, 2016.
Michael: One of the big draws to New Suicide Squad 20 was the writer Tim Seeley and artist Juan E. Ferreyra – the team who worked on the short-lived, but inspired Gotham By Midnight. While that series was firmly steeped in questions of faith and spirituality from the get-go, it’s interesting that Seeley and Ferreyra seem to be tackling those very same themes in a comic about (mostly) unrepentant killers. Nevertheless, New Suicide Squad 20 gives us a standard shoot ‘em up story framed by the beliefs and personal philosophies of its characters.
New Suicide Squad 20 is the latest chapter in Seeley and Ferreyra’s run on the book – where the team finds themselves “trapped in an ancient German dungeon, surrounded by a murder cult intent on killing us for points in a game” – as Deadshot exposits on the first page. Mr. Lawton reluctantly takes on the role of de facto leader and implores his fellow squad-ers to set aside any disdain for Amanda Waller and embrace the idea of the Suicide Squad. Waller herself enlists the Squad’s favorite wild card Captain Boomerang and D-lister “The Hunky Punk” to come to the squad’s aid. What follows is a blend of escape plan and manhunt with bullets and magicks being tossed from both sides of the battle. And Deadshot gets killed at the end…but probably not.
The unavoidable truth to the success of an “unlikelyrag-tag team of misfits” story is that at some point they have to get over their differences and work together. Deadshot’s reluctant-but-impassioned speech is a great culmination of the rising action that very well sums up the purpose of the Suicide Squad as a whole. No one likes being labeled and each of us wants to maintain autonomy over our destinies I.E. the Suicide Squad’s reluctance of being the Suicide Squad. The members of the squad are shitty children and Amanda Waller is their equally shitty mother. Even if she was an amazing mom, the last thing that rebellious children want to be is what their parents want them to be.
Deadshot’s speech really hit me in a couple of ways. Not only did it function as an epic rallying cry, it zeroed in on the motivations of the key players in this issue. It might sound obvious but Seeley realizes how important it is to give each character of the book a “want.” Diablo wants his sins forgiven, Deadshot wants an honorable death and Cheetah – and all of the squad – are caged animals that want to be free. Even Seeley’s Deadpool/Deathstroke ripoff Deathtrap has the defining desire to be the one that kills Deadshot. Like I said, explicitly stating what the characters want seems like a silly/obvious thing to do, but it makes the overall story that much more believable.
Even characters like Waller and The Hunky Punk get their moment to shine here. Hunky Punk talks about the dream of becoming a hero – which he achieves before getting shot in the eye. Waller seems to actually be enjoying herself, as she come in and saves Deadshot’s ass – quipping all the while. There’s a general competitive comradery present here that makes the whole thing a lot more entertaining than Suicide Squad books of the past.
I referenced how Deadshot did a quick bit of expositional catch up in the beginning of the book. Juan Ferrerya continues this way of storytelling in a way that is accessible without feeling forced. Ferrerya opens the book with a series of talking my head circular panels – akin to a sniper scope. These moments consist of Deadshot planning their method of attack against the people trying to kill them. Ferrerya uses it as a storytelling technique that carries throughout the majority of the book – the action scenes are interspersed with those little circles, showing us the plan and the plan in action concurrently. A lesser artist wouldn’t make the clear distinction in panel styles and time cuts.
Ryan! How did you feel about this issue? I’m always a fan of Harley using her psychiatric past in her criminal present – do you think that’s overused? Did you enjoy the bargain bin mercs like Deathrap or no? Most importantly, do you think that DC has too many cults built around Cain?
Ryan D: I am pretty down with Cain, Michael, though I tune out a little bit when cults are used in superhero comics, or specifically when the occult is squeezed into narratives which do not really need, unless it’s handled in a fitting way as in Hellblazer or The Books of Magic, not so much like any Ghost Rider cross-over I’ve read. I do not think that this title has abused anything mystical as of yet, but I remain on guard!
Regarding the use of Harley’s medical degree, I am for it as long as it functions as a means of informing a character like Quinn- who can be written as a two-dimensional, quip-spewing, hyper-sexualized victim of intimate partner violence. In this case, however, Seeley utilizes her doctorate of medicine moreso as a plot device for exposition and to give a reason for including her on the team. Realistically, as charming as her character can be, I think it is difficult to use her outside of Gotham due to the fact that she has no powers- just a talent for hitting people in the head with heavy things.
As far as “the bargain bin mercs” go, my ultimate question is: Does their inclusion into this comic make the dynamic more entertaining, or just more…bantery? An excellent example of this is the new, cool anti-hero just begging to be turned into a collector action figure: Seamus “Deathtrap” O’Brienn. While I enjoyed his reaction to Rose Tattoo, the Spirit of Murder and his advancement of that plot, I can hardly stomach his cringe-inducing, stereotypical quip about “running out of Guinness before [he] runs out of guns. And [he’s] Irish, so [he] never runs out of Guinness.” There actually are other cultural notes one can mine from the Irish aside from booze and alcoholism, I think; it would be nice to see those used a bit instead of the old standbys. Keep in mind that, for me, the gold standard for hodgepodge teams synergizing to fight a common foe will always be the Ellis/Deodato run of Thunderbolts from 2006. It amazes me still how quickly that run solidified and played with the dynamics of the “villains” and developed their characters as a unit, and not just individuals who each get their momentary spotlight, as I feel is the case in this New Suicide Squad. DC is known for having some of the densest canon in the comic industry- even despite all of its retconning and reboots- and I wish this came through more in the characterization of this squad’s players’ actions and not just their dialogue.
I do appreciate Deadshot’s speech as you did, Michael, for establishing a long-term need for the characters. If we’re looking at this through a Stanislavskian lense of character analysis, these characters are given super-objectives, life goals. For a story to be fundamentally be interesting we require the conflict between the characters and their objectives, necessitating a change of their actions to overcome their obstacles, a conflict that is somewhat lacking here. Without the conflict there is no drama. Take this scene for example:
Here, we see Hunky Punk reliving his dream- his super-objective- about being a hero to Capt. Boomerang and Waller; yet his actions until now, when faced with obstacles such as the low salary earned by history teachers (which he was, apparently), have not served his life goals. By the end of this issue, we see his actions change and the fulfillment of his goal, right before being fatally shot by Seraphine. I worry that characters like Cheetah, whose super-objective is to find freedom, will, hypothetically, attain it after completing this mission and, in so doing, complete their life goals. She has no qualms about murdering people to attain this goal, leaving no conflict for us to bear witness to and this, to me, makes her not nearly so interesting a character. I fear that much of the team might fall into the same trap.
I’m not saying New Suicide Squad 20 is bad. It has some interesting things going for it, such as attention to detail in the differentiated caption boxes to reflect the difference in characters’ voices, the odd but interesting use of perspective from artist Ferreyra, and a cliff-hanger ending which might have some long-term consequences. That being said, I feel that the use of character motivation and development still has a ways to go before it is anything other than a popcorn read. Let’s see whether or not the next issue’s inclusion of an anti-messiah coupled with a loosed spirit of murder who wears the Tudor rose as an insignia can offer more obstacles to further the story.
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There are two types of ‘traditional’ Suicide Squad stories. Ones that use the premise to explore what happens when Bad Guys find themselves in a position to do some good (the sort of stuff that I discussed in the Marvel Round Up with respect to Thunderbolts) and the ones that use the premise for gratuitous vileness, and Seeley has quite obviously embraced the second one.
This isn’t a bad thing, as it can be fun reading a well written gorefest. And that’s what this is. I’ll always be a bit disappointed that a lot of this has just been shooting Cains, but it works really well. Seeley knows how to write this, and Ferreyra knows how to draw this. All of the Squad may have reasons that they wish to survive, by the motivations exist solely to make you care enough about them to want to see them succeed. Only the Hunky Punk gets a chance at the second type of story (wonderfully undercutting the pretensions of heroism he had with Captain Boomerang, before having his hero moment act also as the perfect conclusion to that).
But as Ryan says, with only Hunky Punk doing proper soul searching, it gets very bantery. Which makes it fun, but ultimately very lightweight. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in that Seeley is perfectly executing the type of story he wants to tell, but I really wish he was given the chance to tell the other story. The one with real meat. As Seeley has proven himself to be a secret weapon in DC, someone who always comes in and does great work. And when Suicide Squad has such a good team right now for a single arc, it is tragic that it is going to end so quickly. I really wanted to see what Seeley did when given actual time.