Oh crap… It’s the “Hero Harley Show” this week in Suicide Squad… Also, the last issue featured the Red Wave monster going after Karin Grace to regain half of its heart. This issue features the exact same thing, and not much else.

“The Secret History of Task Force X” has been a mixed bag for me. There are elements that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed about this story, and then there are elements that I’ve greatly disliked. To keep this review a little more positive, I’ll focus on what I like: the actual history of Task Force X. I love what Rob Williams is doing with Rick Flag Sr., Karin Grace, and King Faraday. He’s touching on things that were introduced during Ostrander’s Suicide Squad run – one of the greatest runs in comic book history. That nostalgia is key, and it plays really well into the story that Williams crafted previously concerning Rick Flag Jr.

There are also some solid character moments – especially in the backup story, “King For A Day.” This is where the problems begin though. The most interesting aspect of the current arc is, in fact, the backup story. So, the portion of each issue that really is worth your time and attention is only two – maybe three – pages. This forces the characterization for these flashbacks to feel rushed, and it leaves the story feeling as if it isn’t fully realized. Williams managed to make the back-ups work in earlier issues while Jim Lee was handling art duties, but now they’re serving as more of a hindrance because the page count appears to be dictating the narrative, rather than letting the story breathe, develop, and unfold naturally… Which leads me to pace.

When the story should be racing, it’s as slow as Christmas. When the narrative should be slowing down to embrace set-up, characterization, and emotional moments, it races at the speed of light. I can’t help but feel that Williams is missing/wasting opportunities to take full advantage of the characters, the plot, and the fact that this is his last story. Honestly, it’s a shame, because the one thing Williams did so well early in his run, was play into consequences… And consequences appear to be a neglected theme at the moment. I mean, you have Rick Flag Sr. crossing paths with Harley Quinn and the Squad following Rick Flag Jr.’s death, and you have the history of the Suicide Squad coming into play… Yet with all of the opportunities, Williams is barely acknowledging anything that could make these elements interesting.

If you haven’t been picking up Suicide Squad every other week, an assassination attempt was made on Amanda Waller. This forced her to split the squad into two teams so they can investigate the attack. One team is sent into space while another team is sent to an abandoned airfield. The space squad boards a space station and finds Rick Flag Sr., Karin Grace, and Argent. They learn of the history of Task Force X and ARGENT before Flag reveals the threat of the Red Wave monster. Eventually – in an obvious and predictable “twist” – we learn that Flag is being controlled by the Red Wave monster, and is actually trying to free it rather than destroy it.

Now, I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of space/ cosmic stories that involve street-level characters, so the decision to send Katana, Harley, Boomerang, and Croc to space already rubs me the wrong way. There have been some semi-interesting character moments to come forward, and even some great humor from Boomerang, but that’s about the only positives I can give the space plot.

Meanwhile, the team investigating the abandoned airfield serves no purpose other than to give this book some booms, bangs, and bullets. In other words, it’s been pointless. I’d hoped that it would lead somewhere interesting, but this issue solidifies that it won’t. How do I know this? Because the entire build of the B-team’s plot feels like it skips an issue and rushes to the resolve.

Spoiler

King Faraday magically appears with no explanation as to where he’s been for the past few decades, how he remained hidden, what he’s been up to, or how the Squad found him… Are you freaking kidding me? We literally left off in the last issue with Waller pulling a Jack from Lost and yelling “We  have to go back (to the airfield)!” and the next time we see them, they’re standing with Faraday in the airfield. What the hell!?!

The biggest problem with this issue is that the plot begins to implode in on itself with every new plot development. The Red Wave monster is free, and the Squad is fighting to stop it, while Harley sees Rick Flag Jr. in the Phantom Zone and tries to save him… Ultimately, the narrative of this issue is all over the place and does nothing but damage a story that was already mediocre at best. We get a whole lot of development, but no actual payoff. Even the moments that should be highly emotional, come off flat. I really wanted Williams to stick the landing for his final story, but in my opinion, he completely misses the mark.

The Art:

Tony Daniel, Danny Miki, and Tomeu Morey delivered the cover for this issue, and it is quite creepy. I mean, let’s be honest, a mass of corpses floating through space is unsettling, but could accurately represent the outcome of this issue (though we know that’s not the case). I also enjoyed the detailing of the space suits, and how each suit has a special design for each character… One does have to question how much these custom suits cost though because we know they were paid for by the people!

The variant cover by Whilce Portacio and Alex Sinclair is a much more accurate portrayal of what to expect in this chapter. The cover features Katana, Boomerang, and Killer Croc – all of whom are infected by the Red Wave monster – attacking Harley; a scene that actually unfolds in this issue.  It’s a decent cover, and while more accurate, I do prefer Daniel’s main cover.

Unfortunately, concerning the internal art… I’m not a fan. Barnaby Bagenda delivers the pencils for this issue, but his work is extremely inconsistent. I know I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about his work previously, but it looks even worse here. In fact, some of the inconsistencies from various pages and panels are so drastic, that I actually thought multiple artists worked on the main story. That’s not good. Thankfully, Wilfredo Torres continues his stellar work on “King For a Day,” and helped close the book out on a high note as far as the art is concerned.

Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.

Spoiler

The Good:

Flag. Hey! Look at that! It’s Flag! Yay!… Ok, that’s about the only positive I can give his return.

Sacrifice. Argent shapeshifts to look like Karin, then sacrifices himself to save the real Karin. It’s a nice moment, but it was too brief to actually enjoy. Plus, I can’t help but feel that Argent deserved better considering he was the one creature that wasn’t completely corrupt – even if it was the Red Wave monster that was making people act out.

The Bad:

Super Hero Harley. Of course, all of the Squad members would get infected by the Red Wave monster, and it would be up to Harley to save the day… DC has only shoved that story down our throat every chance they’ve had. It’s old. Move on. And make the villains feel like villains again while you’re at it.

Reflections. Ok… You have Rick Flag Jr meeting his grandfather. A man he literally followed the footsteps of, and when they meet, all we get is a, “You look familiar.” “Quick, we have no time!” exchange… Are you freaking kidding me? You’re in a place that is timeless! You have all of the time in the world. Give us a freaking moment we can enjoy! What a waste! (And while we’re talking about the Phantom Zone being timeless, even if the Red Wave infection leaves Flag Sr., he wouldn’t age in the Phantom Zone… Just saying…).

Faraday & Radio Communication. First off, where in the hell did Faraday come from? I really want to know because he’s a huge part of the plot and the history of the Suicide Squad’s involvement with the Red Wave monster… He disappears for decades, then magically reappears because it’s convenient for the plot? No.

Also, how in the hell does his radio transmission get through to Karen? The entire narrative is built on the fact that Flag Sr. and Karin can’t send or receive radio signals. It’s why an android was sent down to “assassinate” Amanda Waller. It was apparently the only way they could get a message out… But even then, it makes you wonder why they didn’t just send an android down with a note. Regardless, the plot kind of collapses in on itself with this moment.

Into the Sun. And here’s another moment that essentially makes you question everything. If they can fly the shuttle, why didn’t Flag just fly the shuttle down to earth to get the other piece of the heart? Flag has been infected by the Red Wave monster this entire time, right? So, why take this roundabout way to free the monster. Or, on the other hand, why didn’t they just send the Red Wave monster’s heart into the sun prior to this?

Recommended if:

  • You want to see the Squad fight a space monster.
  • Space Commander Harley.
  • “King For a Day”

Overall: Part 5 of “The Secret History of Task Force X” fumbles hard! With major pacing issues already plaguing the story, the narrative becomes even worse when new plot developments completely undermine a large reason this story even exists. I’m not sure what happened with Williams following the General Zod arc, but his work just hasn’t been the same since. It’s too bad because Suicide Squad was one of the most engaging stories to come out of Rebirth.

SCORE: 5.5/10