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Prior to Suicide Squad’s Rebirth, DC announced that each issue would contain a main story that would take up roughly 12 pages of the issue, followed by a back-up story to finish out the last 8 pages. They’re doing this to ensure Jim Lee is able to meet his deadlines, but I wasn’t too excited to hear the news. All I could think was, “How do I keep getting books that contain two stories within them?” They’re not the easiest thing to review because in my experience, the quality of both stories are often very different. But then I considered that both stories would be written by Williams, so that put me at ease. Then I began to grow concerned about this so-called “back-up” story. Would there be any relevance to this story? Would it ultimately feel like a waste? I had a lot of questions, and I legitimately put most of those questions to rest after reading Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1. I really enjoyed that issue, so all should be good, right? Right? Well, the best answer I can give a question like that is, “Always trust your gut.”

My fear that the quality of the two stories would be glaringly different appears to be on point. I honestly thought that this wouldn’t be the case considering Williams is behind both narratives, but boy are they different! If I didn’t know better, I would think that there were two separate writers featured in this book. And surprisingly, it isn’t the main story that I thought was really strong, it was actually the back-up story… go figure.

“The Black Vault” is the first of the two stories, and is considered the main, arcing story that will carry through the next several issues. The biggest callout I have about this story, is that almost everything feels regurgitated. There’s only 12 pages to kick off this arc, and nearly all of them are used to identify what we already know: Amanda Waller is working with the government to oversee a group of criminals that are being used to secretly carry out missions for the U.S. Following that, we get a rundown of Belle Reve, the neck bombs, and the key players… Other than some design elements implemented by Jim Lee, there’s nothing new during the first seven pages. Typically, I wouldn’t harp on the fact that they’re going through the motions of who and what the Suicide Squad is, but most of these details were already established between the Suicide Squad Special and Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1, so it feels like a waste. When you don’t have a full twenty pages to tell an arcing story, you need to use your “real-estate” more efficiently. I understand that this is the “first issue,” and I understand why they did it, but I question whether it was actually needed.

Shifting my focus to the tone of the story: I’m not completely sure what happened – perhaps it might have been an unexpected change of story structure due to Lee’s schedule – but this is a complete 180 from what we got in Suicide Squad: Rebirth. Overall, the tone of the story is much lighter and more fun than its lead-in, and reminded me of the film that’s currently in theaters. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it definitely doesn’t match what came before it, and I will admit I was a little jarred by the change. What was more shocking for me though, was how heavy handed the dialogue was. Considering how on-point Williams was with the previous issue, he completely missed the mark here. There were just too many attempts where Waller and/or Flag were made to look like a hard ass by saying things like, “The scum are ready to save America,” “Okay Katana, release the freaks,” or “Criminal filth. Be proud. Your country needs you…” It was just too much, and contradicted everything positive I said about William’s ability to write Waller in Suicide Squad: Rebirth. I’m a strong believer that we don’t need writers to remind us of how terrible Waller is by saying things like this. Her actions are more than capable of doing that for her. That’s where I want to see “The Wall” come through: in her actions.

The irony is, I really enjoyed the first page! It’s a great start, and toys with the concept of evil, and who people actually fear, Waller or her Squad. Then it jumps right into this melodramatic dialogue of her dissing the inmates – which I think she would due from time to time, but only to remind them of their place. Once all of the gang had shown up, I actually found myself looking forward to the mission starting. There’s something about the banter of all of these characters, that when done right, is highly entertaining. It’s the aspect that I loved about the film so much. These are some bad, dangerous people, but they’re hilarious! And as expected, Harley is going to be the one that serves as a catalyst for the banter. I kind of relate it to the class clown in high school. Once the class clown pops off, other people tend to feel bold enough to show that side of themselves as well. Which is what happens. Without missing a beat, Harley does what only Harley can do. What? She loves America!

The energy from these characters comes off the page quite well, and in a surprising improvement, Williams NAILED Harley this time! If you remember, I felt like he didn’t quite have Harley down in Rebirth, so this was a nice surprise. He also did some pretty humorous things with Killer Croc and Boomerang, so I’ll add both of those to the “win” column. My praise of the character work stops there, though. Enchantress was probably my least favorite character (matching my sentiments for the film), but that wasn’t my biggest disappointment. That mantle falls on Deadshot and Katana. I think this is largely due to the fact that there isn’t enough time to feature them. Deadshot didn’t do anything aside from sleep (or pretend to sleep… not completely sure which), and that’s about it. Looking at Katana, I’m beginning to feel that DC doesn’t know what to do with her. At this point, she’s had two solo runs that were terrible, and now she’s essentially been turned into a lacky… Hopefully this will turn around asap because she’s too good of a character to be thrown into the background. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I have some pretty awesome ideas for her if I ever get the opportunity to write her!

Aside from the few let-downs, I was actually enjoying myself… until they cut to space. Seriously? Ugh! I hate space stories with characters like this! Thankfully, the mission is actually sending the team to Russia, but after explaining why they can’t send them in by air or plane, they decide to drop them from space. I’m not joking. Why are they going to drop them from space? Because it’s cool, I guess. I don’t know. I’ve essentially classified myself as the “enemy of fun” when covering “grounded” characters doing anything in space. And yes, you can call me Joshua “Enemy of Fun” McDonald. I confess, my issue with this stems completely from bias, so I won’t hold it against the score, but it did deflate my excitement for what remained. All I could do was hope that something would click with me sooner rather than later, but unfortunately, it didn’t. Instead, the narrative turned into a rather predictable, paint-by-numbers narrative where the team runs into a risk before their mission even starts. It’s basically the start of the Sean Ryan formula, and that doesn’t excite me at all. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. I long for the day that a Suicide Squad story doesn’t have to rely on the plans falling apart to catch the reader’s attention, but can instead just recount a gripping, difficult mission.

Now, I know it sounds like I think this issue is terrible, but it really isn’t. Despite my qualms, there’s some fun found here, but “The Black Vault” is far from great and didn’t really have a chance to go anywhere… I think DC might need to rethink their strategy after this first arc. I love Jim Lee, but if this format is a sign of things to come, I’m not sure the creative team will be able to get enough meat out of each issue to keep readers invested.

 

The Art: As we all know, Jim Lee covers art duties for this story, and… it was a bit of a let-down. Look, I love Jim Lee! I think he’s one of the best artists out there, and I especially love his passion for what he does, as well as his commitment to his fans (the dude works all day doing his executive job for DC, then goes home and starts doing his art around nine or ten at night, and will draw until anywhere from two to four in the morning… that’s COMMITMENT!). That being said, Jim doesn’t have time to do art for this book. Yes, he’s managing (for now), but he’s rushing, and that means that we’re not going to get the quality of work we know and love from him. Which is unfortunately what happens here. His pencils aren’t as sharp as we’ve come to expect, and that “flare” doesn’t pop as often as it should. The end result looks rushed, or as if it were done while Jim was incredibly tired… Which with a schedule like his, is probably the case. I don’t mean this as an attack, and in no way am I saying “Jim Lee shouldn’t draw comics,” but maybe this title will serve better if another artist takes the lead. I’d rather have Jim’s art less frequently, but more polished than what we get here. And to be clear, Jim’s “unpolished” work is still miles ahead of a number of artists, I was just expecting more.

Looking at specific design details, Lee made some really interesting choices. I’ve already discussed my opinion of his new design for Deadshot’s costume in a previous review, so I won’t touch on that here. The idea that it was too busy and over complicated appears to be a theme though. The redesign of Belle Reve is something that I partially like, but also question a little. The prison cells are essentially a collection of pods that are stored away like boxes on a shelf. Whenever someone is going to leave their cell, a staff member (or in this case, Katana) has to select the cells and have it pulled to the main floor. It kind of reminds me of boxes that hold all of the monsters in Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods. Honestly, I think it’s a cool concept, but I’m not sure how practical it is. In general, I feel as though Lee over-designed a number of elements in this issue. Just wait until you see the space suits.

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Breakdowns can be found in the spoiler tag.

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The Good: Harley. I mentioned this earlier, but I think Williams nailed Harley in this issue! I actually laughed when I read her yell,”YAY! I love my country!” The fact that it cut off one of Waller’s heavy-handed disses towards the team only made it that much more delicious. But beyond this moment, she’s represented well throughout the entire story.

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The Humor. Between Harley, Boomerang, and some moments with Killer Croc, there’s a lot of humor here, and it works because it’s these characters. Well… While I’m sure we’re laughing with Harley and Boomerang, we were sadly laughing at Croc considering he vomited multiple times in his space/ underwater helmet. If only this moment had been left to that, and not turned into a “Oh no! He’s going to suffocate! We have to help!” which then resulted in their ship (?) malfunctioning…

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Ensemble Energy. This is basically a combination of the first two points, but if you can write these characters well, you’re going to win some fun/cool points. And that’s where those elements should lie. Add that to some kickass, brutal missions, and Williams will be winning on all fronts!

 

The Bad: The plot. Someone explain to me why the team has to be dropped from space again? I mean, I know they explain it in the narrative, but it just seems like it’s there to make things “cool.” And unfortunately, aside from the fact that the team ran into an issue during the drop, this essentially covers the extent of the plot. The story never gets a chance to stretch its legs, so I’m honestly not sure what to expect for issue 2.

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Stone Cold Amanda Waller. You want to know how you look tough and create a scary reputation? You do scary and evil things without hesitation. You know what prevents you from looking scary? Talking like a “big shot” who is trying to convince the other people around you that you’re scary. Waller does the latter, and she comes off as looking like a chump. I don’t get a “don’t mess with this woman vibe” here. Instead, I get a “she has a loud bark, but I bet she’d turn tail and run the moment something happens” type of demeanor.

The Shorter Format. I was open to giving this shorter format a try, even when a number of people expressed concern that 12 pages wouldn’t be enough pages to tell the story well… And it looks like those people were right, for now. So little happens in this story that it’s highly forgettable. That’s never what you want to hear when starting an arc.

As I tend to do with double-story issues, I’m going to grade each story, then provide a final score. So…

“The Black Vault” SCORE: 5.5/ 10 (serving as 2/3 of the final score)

 

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Turning my attention to the backup story, “Never Miss,” I’m going to completely change my tone! This story is a gem, and only makes the shortcomings of the first story even more blatantly obvious. The issue serves as a “personnel file” of Deadshot, and recalls a story from his past that led him to becoming a member of Waller’s Suicide Squad. The entire story is engaging from beginning to end, and hits all the right notes and such a short amount of time.

When discussing Deadshot, a good formula for success is to show his skill, present his “I don’t give a flying %#&$” attitude, and incorporate the emotional ties he has with his daughter. Not only does this short manage to do that, but it also manages to set up a great foundation for a story involving King Kobra that could be expanded on in the future. But wait, because it gets even better! A certain Dark Knight makes an appearance, and his cameo here is much better than his cameo in the Suicide Squad film!

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[caption id="attachment_32047" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]My sentiments exactly! My sentiments exactly![/caption]

BUT WAIT! It gets even BETTER! Did you see the art? Did you see who’s behind the art? Jason Fabok! In my opinion, Fabok is the best artists in the industry right now (rivaled only by Mikel Janin), and somehow manages to blow away Lee’s art from the first story! This short is so damn good, and it has me desperately wanting more profiles like this! This story alone is worth the $2.99 that this book costs!

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“Never Miss” SCORE: 9.5/10 (serving as 1/3 of the final score)

 

Recommended if:

  • You were a fan of the Suicide Squad movie.
  • You’ll read anything with art by Lee/ Fabok.
  • You enjoy short-form stories.

 

Overall: There are highs and lows throughout this issue, but Williams and Fabok’s short-form “Never Miss” only makes the shortcomings of Williams and Lee’s “The Black Vault” glaringly obvious. While I don’t find this issue to be terrible, I really hope the arcing story makes up some ground in issue number 2. With such a short number of pages to hook readers and bring them back each issue, the main creative team is going to need to deliver a hell of a punch of quality, and fast. The main narrative was lucky to have such a flawless supporting story to back it up!

SCORE: 6.5/10