Rob Williams wraps up “The Secret History of Task Force X” in this week’s chapter of Suicide Squad, and while I consider this issue to be a high-point for the arc, it’s still, unfortunately, quite mediocre overall.

I feel as though Rob Williams has lost his way. I’m not certain what’s to blame – perhaps it’s that he’s also writing for Trinity now, or that he’s no longer working with the likes of Jim Lee, or that editorial has dictated his scripts (which I have to assume they wouldn’t do while Jim Lee was tied to the book since he’s their boss), but something caused Suicide Squad to shift from “What an amazing to surprise! I can’t wait for the next issue!” to “Yeah, I guess I’ll read it at some point.”

After more than a year of tight scripts, great storytelling, strong character development, and a hyper-focus on cause, effect, and consequences, Suicide Squad has run off the rails. The elements that made this title so good early in its run can no longer be found. To say the past two arcs have been unfocused would be an understatement, but I wouldn’t go so far to say that they are a complete mess. They’re just falling short of the bar… Sometimes severely short.

The current story brought about a lot of interesting elements. Most importantly it harkened back to the history of Suicide Squad and introduced elements from Ostrander’s run like Rick Flag Sr., Karin Grace, and ARGENT. With so much history being infused into continuity, I found myself growing excited for the outcome, and became even more excited when King Faraday was introduced. In addition to this, we were introduced to the Red Wave monster – a beast that can infect people with its mere presence, control them, increase their rage, etc. The possibilities for what could go down in this story felt endless.

That’s where the positives end though. Despite its great potential, “The Secret History of Task Force X” never lives up to that potential. Focus and pacing are a major culprit. Each issue puts a focus on a different aspect, creating a misleading spotlight for a plot or character. This results in the narrative putting an emphasis on elements that aren’t really important in the end. To make matters worse, it becomes clear that the story also struggles due to Williams not knowing what to do with characters (*cough* Waller, Deadshot, Enchantress, and El Diablo *cough*). Their role in this arc is pointless when all is said and done. Unfortunately, this has left me wanting to just finish the arc and move on – a sentiment I’ve been feeling far too frequently with Suicide Squad.

Now, I mentioned that this chapter is a high point for the arc, and it is because something actually happens in this issue. Clearly, this isn’t high praise. After starting and ending two issues with practically no plot development though, getting an issue that actually makes some progress feels like a breath of fresh air. The energy of this issue is increased because of the stakes, and the focus is a little tighter as Williams works to wrap up certain plot threads. There are even some heroics and an interesting set-up for future stories. Despite that, the foundation of this arc is uneven and doesn’t allow the chapter to pack the punch that it could have.

Consistency also plays a role in my disappointment here. There are some convenient plot developments that contradict what occurred in previous chapters. You all know how much this annoys me. I see it as a sign of poor planning or rushed writing, and it’s something that the editors should have at least caught or commented on. In the end, it’s all about execution, and the execution just isn’t that great here…

The Art:

Scot Eaton handles the pencils for this issue, and I felt it was a vast improvement over the previous chapters. His work looks crisp here, and I like the clean lines he delivers. If I have one complaint about his work, it’s that the faces of his characters too often look void of emotion. It’s up to the artist to deliver the “performance” of these characters, and I didn’t really get much in this department.

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

Spoiler

The Good:

Flag. I know a number of people find Rick Flag pointless and boring, but I don’t feel that way. I may have agreed with you until he disappeared at the end of the General Zod arc. In his absence, we received too many moments of our villains acting overly heroic, to then need to remind readers they’re the bad guys… It didn’t work in the film, and it doesn’t work for the book. Flag, however, is heroic, so he creates that moral compass (along with Katana) to imbue the theme into the book so DC doesn’t have to feel too bad about letting their villains actually be villains.

In addition to this, we get to see the effects these people have on Flag (and Katana), as their morality is tested and potentially corrupted. Flag makes some hard calls in this issue – as any soldier would have to do during battle – and it’s viewed as being ruthless to some Squad members. In the end, though, his actions are quite heroic whether you agree with them or not.

Katana. Since day one, I’ve praised Katana, and she proves, yet again, why I love her so much! Flag may do some heroic things in this issue, but Katana is the real hero. Not only does she kill the Red Wave beast, but she also disobeys orders to save Killer Croc. I’ve enjoyed her in Suicide Squad, but I feel it’s time for her to ascend to a different team or solo book. That or Williams needs to finally put her front and center. Either way, she’s deserved a spotlight.

The infected. Waller gains new prisoners in King Faraday and Karin Grace. With both characters infected with the Red Wave virus, she considers them a risk to the world and locks them away. What Waller is unaware of, is that they both have abilities now. Faraday’s isn’t exactly known at the moment, but Karin uses hers to escape Belle Reve. The moment itself is just ok, but the potential of what could come from the conclusion of this book could bring some incredible stories in the future… You know, unless they bury the story, which might actually be the case… If that happens, it will only make this arc even more of a disappointment, so I’d advise the opposite.

 

The Bad:

Premonitions. Enchantress has a premonition that Croc is going to be killed, and we know that doesn’t happen so there are a number of things to consider: 1. This was a plot device to make people concerned about Croc that ultimately failed because nobody really believed DC would kill him. 2. The premonition referred the metaphorical death of Croc considering he’s hurt so bad that he loses his mind. 3. He really will die, it just hasn’t happened yet, and this moment is strictly here to make you think he’s safe (kind of like they did with Damian Wayne)… As interesting as the third option could be, I don’t think that’s realistically in the cards. So, we’re left with options one and two, and both are quite underwhelming when all is said and done.

What’s stopping the heart? Speaking of Enchantress’ premonition, it causes her to revert back to June Moon… If she’s June, then what’s protecting her, Waller, and the others from being infected by the Red Wave monster’s heart. The monster hasn’t been killed yet by this point, so all hell should’ve broken loose the moment Enchantress lost control. This feels like a missed opportunity.

Wrong Side of Love. One of the things Williams has done well while overseeing Suicide Squad is characterization and relationships. He drops the ball in this issue though. Harley and Rick have some incredibly awkward transitions here. Harley sticks up for him when he makes a demand that should inevitably lead to the death of characters, choosing to sacrifice herself rather than let him put himself in danger. Later, she gives him the cold shoulder because he orders for Croc to be sacrificed for the sake of the mission. If Flag calling for Croc’s sacrifice stifled Harley, then why didn’t his demand for the squad to sacrifice themselves earlier in the issue to save Karin also upset her? It doesn’t add up.  In addition, I’m sad to see the development of Croc and June’s relationship come to a screeching halt. It was a fun plot thread, and unfortunately, one that appears as if it’s being abandoned before it was ever fully realized.

Red Wave. When all is said and done, the Red Wave monster ends up being a complete yawn as far as threats go. What sucks, is that there was so much potential to tell some interesting stories with the Red Wave monster, but instead it was just a mess. The pacing for “The Secret History of Task Force X” is terrible, and the focus is all over the place. Moments that should have been accentuated were blown through or skipped over, and moments that weren’t critical or were uninteresting received a lot of time and attention. It appears as though Williams took so much effort to create mystery and suspense, that he inadvertently damaged his story. Unfortunately, “The Secret History of Task Force X” tries to do too much, but in the end didn’t really do anything at all. I can’t help but feel that most of this story should have been elements of another story, rather than exist as a stand-alone arc.

Recommended if:

  • You want to see how Harley reacts to Rick’s return.
  • You want to see how the Squad handles the Red Wave monster.
  • You’ve read the arc up to this point, so you might as well finish it.

Overall: If you’ve been reading “The Secret History of Task Force X,” then you might as well finish the arc. If you haven’t, I’d say this story is quite skippable. The narrative just isn’t cohesive enough or focused to allow for a strong execution. If there’s one thing this issue does do well, it’s that it sets up the title for a bit of a fresh starting point. And we all know it could use it!

SCORE: 6/10