Suicide Squad #33 review

Not only is this issue the start of a two-parter, it is also where a new creative team takes over from Williams & co, and so there is the opportunity for those looking to get into Suicide Squad to hop on board with a fresh start. The question is, of course: is this a good jumping-on point, or is it perhaps for the best if readers take a wait-and-see approach, checking out reviews before throwing their money at something they may end up disliking? Now, from the way that I’m setting up this introduction, maybe you can already tell what I think of this issue. No. I don’t like it very much. There were certain aspects that I enjoyed, but on the whole this issue was a chore to read; I kept constantly checking how many more pages I had to go through. While there are still some fun moments in the book, particularly in the art, I’m sorry to say that I find no joy in Spurrier’s narration, with all due respect.

The title of the arc is The Chosen Juan. Obviously this is a pun on the familiar phrase, “the chosen one.” Over the course of the issue’s story, we follow a character named Juan who, as chosen by Amanda Waller herself, gets dragged into the Suicide Squad for reasons that aren’t made exactly clear. And herein lies the first problem that I have with the issue’s narrative. On page 2, we see Amanda Waller looking menacingly through the bars of Juan’s cell, telling the guy that he’s in the Squad now, and then letting her men know that they have exactly two days to raise Juan to the high standards that she expects of the Suicide Squad. Now, seeing as the current arc is a two-parter, I’m wondering if perhaps this is in fact (a part of) Juan’s training. But this is never made explicit and therefore the focus of the story becomes somewhat blurry: is it indeed training or is it an actual mission after the training? However, I perceive an even bigger problem with the set up of the story. Namely, reading pages 1 and 2, I feel like the narration is written in such a way as if it is expected of us as readers that we feel sorry for Juan. But we have no context of who he is or where he comes from, and as we continue onto pages 3, 4, 5 and 6, we still know next to nothing. This is in part because an omniscient narrator is employed as opposed to a first person narration, which would’ve made it easier to see into Juan’s mind and follow his line of thinking. Moreover, the omniscient narrator also spends more time talking about the nature of the story itself than about establishing who our protagonist is. It is okay to have a more plot-driven narrative sometimes, but even then it is necessary to first establish who your main characters are. After all, without characters, there cannot be a plot.

Additionally, the narrative is attempting to set up the story as unpredictable, in which “the unlikeliest elements—things that don’t even fit the tale—get dragged onto center stage.” The narrator continues to suggest that we, as the audience, came to watch a story about a mysterious invasion, corporate interests, government assistance, etc, instead of Juan as main character. The narrative then throws us into a flashback. While this is exactly the part where Spurrier could have taken advantage and bring us closer to the protagonist, I never feel that the narration manages to do this. If anything, it almost looks like Spurrier has a strong dislike for Juan himself and doesn’t want his audience to care about him. Furthermore, the switch from the action-packed opening sequence to the flashback is very jarring, and it makes me wonder why we didn’t open the issue with some contextual background on the protagonist instead so at least it might have been a little easier to relate to the guy. In any case, for a story that sets itself up as unpredictable, I find everything that happens here incredibly predictable, and I’m disappointed. We follow a guy that dreams of becoming a superhero, and after a freak incident where nanobots nestled inside his hand and receiving the superpower to unlock all doors and locks, he is rejected by the Justice League, his heroes. He then turns to petty crime, for which he gets arrested. Because of his ability, he gets thrown into Belle Reve, in a special cage that he can’t escape from.

As the comic carries on, we are on almost every page reminded of how Juan isn’t supposed to be in this situation, and that he’s pretty much helpless. Even in the beginning of the issue, when he wants to open a lock with his power, he’s just pushed out of the way by Croc who then bashes through the door instead, thus taking away all agency of the character. This sort of stuff drags on from page to page—we see the real Suicide Squad wreaking havoc on the battlefield, punching aliens as they fight themselves a way through, and finally coming out unscathed—while our protagonist just helplessly runs after them not knowing what to do and never getting any heroic actions that makes us want to cheer for him. Even when he does seem to be getting his hero moment—finding himself and two other prisoners jetpacks to escape—he actually loses his nanobot hand (and thereby presumably his superpower), and at the end he’s left at the mercy of a nasty, hungry alien. In short, we’re wasting page after page seeing the protagonist fail over and over, and it’s not funny. He doesn’t get to use his powers once in the A plot, and even seems to lose them in the end. You know, there’s this phenomenon in literature known as “Chekov’s gun”. An example would be: if you give a character a gun in one scene, the gun has to go off in the next, because why else would you take the time to write about the character’s gun? That appears to hold true here: why is Spurrier taking the time to write about a dude with a power to unlock all doors, who’s then dragged into the Suicide Squad only to lose that power and possibly get eaten alive? I’m sad to say this, but I don’t care what happens to Juan next. In fact, I almost want him to get eaten just so we can close this story. It also has me wondering why Juan is picked at all to join the Squad, which should’ve been stated right at the start of the issue.

Moving on from Juan, the issue suffers from several other problems in the writing department as well. First of all, there is the lack of logic in the way that the threat is established and, by extension, in the way that Waller operates. The threat is an “unidentified extradimensional structure,” that’s appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and it’s infested with alien creatures. This structure is so huge that it towers over the surrounding buildings, absolutely dwarfing the city by comparison. The Squad is sent in to deal with the situation, and as they are running the gauntlet they are suddenly called up by Waller who is only then telling them that there’s no “useful intelligence on the enemy,” and that the Squad has to repel them fast and in secret. But honestly, how is it a secret that the ginormous structure is right there next to a funfair? If you ask me, the Justice League should’ve taken note immediately and gone to investigate, because that is what the Justice League does—they take on big threats from outer space that show up out of the blue. Therefore, there is no way that Suicide Squad should logically be able to do this in secret, as they’d be liable to encounter the League at some point. Additionally, you’d think that Waller would’ve briefed the Squad before sending them into the structure and not in the middle of the mission. This entire situation makes no sense to me, and seeing as Waller is supposed to be this strategic master mind, it just makes for a big facepalm-moment.

Besides that, the narrative incorporates some metafictional devices. The most obvious example is when the omniscient narrator is comparing the Suicide Squad to Juan. He’s talking about the Suicide Squad as A-list characters that will never die, and always win, as compared to a nobody like Juan who is likely to die because of his unimportance to the story. This can then be read as a commentary on the current nature of the comic book industry, and perhaps even the state of the Suicide Squad book. The name Suicide Squad implies that people on the team’s roster will die during the mission. However, there hasn’t been a sense of threat in a very long time with the book, as it’s obvious that the main characters will come out alive every time (because who is going to kill off Harley, for instance?). It’s not a question of: will they survive? But a question of: how will they survive? However, as the narrative is constantly forcing this commentary down our throats, spelling it out quite literally over and over again, I feel like it loses its strength and significance. Combine that with the boring protagonist and the illogical nature of the plot, and the commentary starts to drag out and doesn’t manage to leave much of an impression. It’s basically just stating the obvious without taking it a step further to make it interesting.

Then we have the cast. Most members of the Squad are left to the background, and several don’t even get any lines at all. While this doesn’t bother me in the slightest, as the focus is supposed to be on Juan and not on them, it does unfortunately underscore the fact that the characters are locked in the same behavioral patterns, like Juan is being very repetitive. Where Juan can’t stop whining, some of the Squad members have their own little gimmicks. For instance, Harley just wants to smash things with her hammer and isn’t shown to do anything interesting beyond that. More annoyingly, Croc is being hungry the entire issue and every single last one of his remarks has to do with him wanting to eat people. This is taken to the extreme when some extras in the background get completely butchered in gory fashion, and Croc, in the middle of a chaotic battle, just sits down and starts munching on their remains. It’s as if Spurrier doesn’t know what else to do with the character. Is this meant to be funny? Because I don’t see the joke in having characters stuck in the same rhythmical patterns the entire time. Boomerang is perhaps the most interesting character in the book, as he at least is responding to the situation at hand and trying to think his way through certain situations to save his own butt.

Aside from the Squad members, several Justice League members also make appearances. Firstly, we have Flash and Wonder Woman sitting at a desk, and there’s a large cue of would-be do-gooders that want to apply for hero-ship. Juan comes up to the desk and tells them of his power to open all locks. Flash is shown to be sleeping, and this I actually find somewhat funny considering he is the fastest man in the world, with the fastest brain in the world, and yet he nods off. But Diana cuts Juan off in mid-sentence and rudely rejects him, which doesn’t seem like something that Diana would say seeing as she’s always such a caring and sweet person. Perhaps if Hal Jordan had been sitting there, the scene would have worked better. What’s more, there is a flashback scene where Juan and some criminals are breaking into a bank and Superman, Green Lantern and Cyborg come in to stop the bank robbers. But if three Justice Leaguers take the time to stop a few bank robbers (which only one Justice Leaguer could’ve handled without even so much as breaking a sweat), then it seems to me all the more silly that the Justice League isn’t finding out what that big alien structure is suddenly doing there.

As for the artwork, I tend to really enjoy Pasarin’s work because he has the ability to convey dynamics in panels very well. Nearly every panel in this book is in motion, mostly because it almost entirely consists of battles and action sequences. For instance, on page 3 we see Boomerang messing with a closed door while Harley is squashing an alien with her hammer. Right behind Harley there’s an extra shooting at another alien. Beneath them, on a lower level, Croc is swarmed by aliens and tearing them apart while Enchantress is flying around and casting her green magic. All this while many more aliens are flying around the area. It’s really very detailed work, and something to be applauded. I have read criticism in the past that Pasarin’s faces often seem too similar, and they are therefore distracting. In this issue, I feel like it is not as bad as it has been in past work, but it is still there to a degree, as most faces seem to have the same sort of shapes. And yet Pasarin is an expert at showing facial expressions and emotions, which, despite the similar shapes, do set characters apart. From Juan’s shocked and terrified faces to Boomerang’s looks of sheer annoyance, and from Croc’s menacing glare to Waller’s authoritative and intimidating stares. Pasarin easily steals the show in the issue.

Albert is providing inks. I actually find the inking to be quite subtle in this issue. By that I mean that he draws very fine lines around characters and objects, separating them from each other without having to employ heavy blacks. He uses shadows sparingly as well, finding just the right balance between too much and not enough. I don’t have much else to say about it, to me it seems just right for the aforementioned reasons.

Lastly, we have Blond on colors. I enjoy his work in the book, as he’s using a wide palette with many different shades and hues. Compare for instance the flashback sequence, in which he uses a more muted filter, to the present day action scenes, where colors are vibrant and explosions pop right off the page. With so many different colors on each page, the overall aesthetic is a lot of fun to look at. Perhaps, at times, it’s even a little bit too much, as it does make for many impulses that have to be taken in all at once. Depending on your taste, this is either a good or a bad thing. Either way, it shows craftsmanship.

Recommended if…

  • You enjoy action-packed, colorful fight comics

  • A comic doesn’t need to make sense, it just needs to look nice

  • You’re looking for a jumping-on point, as this is the start of a new run

Overall: The issue suffers from illogical storytelling and a rather untactful Amanda Waller, who sends her troops into a mission only to tell them halfway through what they’re up against (but not really because she doesn’t know anything). The characters are locked in the same behavioral patterns, crack the same jokes over and over, and the comic fails to create any character-bonding with Juan, the protagonist. The artwork is very solid, however, and succeeds at telling an action-packed adventure, even if said adventure doesn’t seem to go anywhere. As such, it’s a very average comic, as the writing is bringing the quality down, unfortunately. If you are looking to jump onto Suicide Squad, I’d suggest waiting a while to see if the reviews become more positive in the future, because it seems like this is just an average, throwaway two-parter.

Score: 5/10