Suicide Squad #34 review

Suicide Squad #34 is part two of The Chosen One, an arc written by Si Spurrier and illustrated by Fernando Pasarin (pencils), Sean Parsons (inks) and Blond (colors). It picks up right where the previous issue left off, with the main character—a nobody named Juan—in great peril as he is about to be eaten by an alien. Before I get into the review proper, I will just be up front about this issue. Personally, I did not enjoy any of the jokes. I did not enjoy the main character. I did not enjoy the ending. I did not enjoy this issue. The artwork is good, however, but unfortunately this is just a prime example of how even good artwork cannot save a bad script. As such I’ll tell you right here in the introduction: you are best off skipping this issue and coming back next time when Rob Williams returns to scripting duties. (Yes, it so turns out that the creative team on this two-parter is a guest team and that Williams’s run has not ended yet.)

This issue largely suffers from the exact same problems as the previous one, and so I’m likely to just repeat myself. First of all, the same jokes are being made over and over again, starting right off the bat with the opening sentence: “Juan Soria still doesn’t belong in this story.” Now, this opening page serves as a recap of sorts, of course, and so it’s somewhat understandable that it echoes the preceding issue. It is also helpful for readers who have missed out on last issue to get up to speed and tune in. However, since I did not like the story from last issue one bit and this is the continuation of that same story, it is hard to approach this issue with an open mind. Reading the opening line I immediately thought to myself: “Okay great. But I got that. It’s been said over and over and over in the previous issue until I got sick of it.” Herein also lies a big plot hole, which I will get into when I discuss the issue’s ending in the spoiler down below, but I’ll give a hint: it has to do with the aliens feeding on the inmates and in particular the one wanting to feed on Juan. Besides that plot hole, I am also wondering why the alien that’s coming for Juan is not just grabbing him and feeding on him immediately, just like its alien brethren are immediately feeding on the other inmates. I’m not just wondering about that because of the plot hole, I’m also wondering about that because these aliens act very much like predators and it just doesn’t make sense to me, considering their behavioral patterns, to have one of them wait to attack Juan. Lastly, of course Juan is saved by Croc just because Croc is hungry and sees Juan as food and doesn’t want some other predator to eat Juan, which is the recurring joke that I am absolutely sick and tired of after it being forced down my throat over and over in the previous issue.

Next we get glimpses of Juan’s training period. We see him struggling to keep up, getting his ass kicked while sparring, being outright ignored while trying to make conversation, and spotting Enchantress hovering over them as they’re training and being spooked by her appearance. I suppose these moments are chucked in here to at least allow for us readers to connect with Juan at some level or another, but seeing as the previous issue has already done enough to make me dislike Juan at a fundamental level, I ended up being rather bored by these scenes. One positive thing I can say about them, however, (besides the art being really nice) is that some hints to the issue’s conclusion are sprinkled throughout the scene. If the issue is reread, the reader is likely to pick up on these hints, whereas they will probably go completely unnoticed on a first read-through. I think it’s an okay attempt at adding an extra dimension to the story, even though I do feel like it’s not enough. This story could have gone further with creating layers like that. Just like in the previous issue where the metafictional components to the stories were merely stating the obvious and not taking it a step further to make it interesting, so too do the hints at the conclusion here lack some substance to really enhance the reading. Lastly, the narrative voice says this: “We’ve already established Juan’s not stupid, right?” On first reading this second part of the story I wasn’t sure whether the narrator was being sarcastic or sincere, especially since I got the sense in last issue that Spurrier actually hates the main protagonist. On rereading this issue, though, I am almost 100 percent certain that yes, this is full on sarcasm. In the context of this arc, this is not a good thing. More on this in the spoiler section as it, once again, is connected to the story’s ending.

On the topic of questionable characterization—in keeping with the rather boring “I’m so hungry” Killer Croc and the constant “Yay I’m so happy to be smashing things” Harley Quinn—there’s a very odd moment in the book where Juan punches an alien right in the kisser, out of sheer desperation. There are two things happening here. First, before I get into the characterization issue, I want to quickly point out that on first reading, I was very confused about Juan just outright one-shotting an alien with a single punch, because why is this suddenly so easy? Knowing how the story ends, this makes a little bit more sense, but seeing as the ending itself is rather nonsensical the scene falls flat anyway. Secondly, with regards to Katana’s characterization, after Juan punches the alien another creature bites his left hand (his right already got severed in last issue). Katana then leaps out of nowhere to save Juan. I suppose I can accept her coming out of nowhere as, taking into account the issue’s ending, it seems logical that Katana would have been keeping an eye on Juan. However, when she saves him, she does so by cutting off not only the alien’s head but also Juan’s left hand. I had a moment here where I first stared at the page for a few seconds, because I don’t like that Katana is so ruthless in this. She just sheathes her sword and walks away like nothing happened. I don’t like Katana being utterly heartless like that. But the following moment I burst out laughing because this is where it was hammered home to me that Spurrier is purposefully destroying his main character. The caption even says: “The story itself has been conspiring against him.”

After another flashback scene where Juan is first introduced to the Squad (which really isn’t very interesting as, yet again, the same jokes are rehashed during the interaction between Juan and Squad members), we find him waking up in the alien complex. The Squad is preparing to attack the alien queen, but Flag says that they need bait to distract the queen. Juan gets up while the Squad is arguing and decides to do the ultimate sacrifice. A problem that I have here is that I’m not sure how Juan is able to get up, walk to the queen, and confront her at all due to the blood he must’ve lost after his hand got severed. Shouldn’t this dude be in total shock after that? Granted, he doesn’t suddenly go into full on fight mode, and actually rather passively manages to beat the queen, but still I think it’s too much of a stretch that Juan’s able to move around at all. Especially considering the fact that he’s portrayed as such a meek character throughout the arc. This guy should be rushed off to intensive care—I’m in no way going to buy that he can handle the severing of both of his hands, not even in a superhero comic.

My biggest complaint about the story, though, is the twist ending. Before I get into details, which will be described inside the spoiler section below for those who wish to find out for themselves, I will say this: The ending of the story, for me at least, has underscored that this arc is not worth your time. I might dislike it so much because it really is not my kind of humor, but for the most part I genuinely think that the problem lies in the execution and not so much the type of humor. After all, in my opinion anything can be funny so long as it’s done well. The punchline in this issue, however, comes up short.

So it turns out that Waller has set everything up. The alien queen and her minions apparently feed on positivity and this is why they were so close to a funfair. To defeat the aliens, Juan needed to be broken down to a point that he turned into “the ultimate sad sack.” Since there is so much negativity in him, this emotional energy apparently was so toxic to the queen that she just straight-up died when she tried to eat him. The other inmates apparently were already dead and Enchantress just brought them back to life to train and fight on the battlefield, to give Juan the idea that he was surrounded by fellow prisoners. Also, I find it still so hard to believe that the Justice League did not come to investigate this enormous complex that popped up out of nowhere—this entire story could have gone differently and I feel that this is a major oversight. Now, let’s cycle back a little bit and tackle three of these things one by one and see how they hold up, now that we know how the story comes out.

  1. Let’s consider the plot hole I’ve mentioned at the top of this review, which is set at the beginning of the story. The aliens are eating the other inmates. If these aliens would’ve tried eating Juan right away, they would have died just like the queen. The story’s ending could have been given away right then, and being able to kill the aliens might have given Juan a boost in confidence, which I would see as a positive trait. That would’ve meant that there was some positivity in him that the aliens could feed on. In other words, it seems to me that the only reason the alien didn’t eat Juan immediately, but hesitated, was because the creative team didn’t want to give the ending away. But then why use that as a cliffhanger in the previous issue? It completely falls flat like this.

  2. Building on the previous point, because he’s such a sad sack, Juan can one-shot aliens with a well-aimed punch. This potentially means that he could’ve power-housed his way through the complex. Losing his hand should then immediately impact his emotions, making him even more of a sad sack. This probably is the ultimate tipping point for him, launching him into a true depression. Katana literally cuts off the possibility for him to gain confidence through one-shotting aliens left and right, and thereby becoming more positive. But it really rubs me the wrong way that Katana is so cruel about it. Maybe if Boomerang had done it, it would have made a little more sense.

  3. How is Enchantress able to keep the undead inmates going, while also spamming her magic powers all across the battlefield? Is she able to divide her focus so much, that she can use all these powerful spells simultaneously? If she is that powerful, could she then not just destroy the queen by herself? Was all this set up with Juan really necessary? Isn’t Enchantress this very evil being that’s all about negative energy anyways? See where I’m going with this?

The story ends with Juan being thrown into Croc’s cell. Croc, drooling, gets up and hisses something about a tasty cellmate, implying that at the end of the story Juan gets eaten alive. First of all, I’ve grown so tired of Croc’s one-dimensional behavior that I’m just deeply annoyed that the story is ending with this. I’ve really seen enough of it and can’t take much more of the same. Secondly, and more pressingly, here is the reason why I think this story isn’t worth anyone’s time: The only way for me to enjoy a story is if I have sympathy for the main character and like him/her enough to want to follow them through the entire narrative. The main character in that sense almost becomes like a guide. It’s okay for a character to have flaws, or elements to their personality that I really dislike, but to completely and utterly tear down a character to a point that there is absolutely nothing likable about them? I don’t see the point in reading their story. For me, I don’t like casting a negative light on anyone just for the sake of it, or just because it’s “fun.” And I certainly don’t enjoy taking the piss out of someone to a point where it becomes fatal. Not even with fictional characters. If you think about it, this is exactly what bullying is, so what kind of message is this comic spreading then, if you really get down to it? In any case, this can work for certain supporting characters as a way of black humor, but for a main character it seems like an incredibly bad idea to me. If at least Juan was likable and I was able to root for him, I would’ve sat at the edge of my seat wishing he would make it out alive. But right now, after reading this entire arc, I’m just glad that Juan is dead and that the story has ended and that I don’t have to read it again. This is incredibly harsh commentary, and I hate saying it, because I want to love comics and say positive things about them! But for me, this entire tale falls flat.

After a rather negative rant—especially if you have read what I put in the spoiler section—I think it’s fitting to end on a positive note by discussing the issue’s artwork, because I’m really enjoying the visuals at least!

On pencils, like last time, we have Pasarin. In my opinion, Pasarin’s doing an even better job this time around than he did last time. Once more the facial expressions of characters are phenomenal: Pasarin is a true master of showing emotions. It adds weight to the story because the characters don’t come off as robotic or blank slates, and this really gives their faces unique features. While sometimes the heads of Pasarin’s characters have the same kind of shapes, I think he really improved on this aspect as well, because all the characters look very distinct to me. Any similarities I mostly ascribe to his style rather than it being a shortcoming in his artwork. Pasarin also draws the characters in dynamic poses, and none of their bodily proportions shift or distort from panel to panel, which is an incredible consistency that is hard to maintain. This should be applauded. Like last issue, I’m also admiring that every panel seems to be in motion. It’s jam-packed with action, aliens are flying around everywhere, people are dying, guns are being fired, the Squad is wrecking the battlefield. Not a single panel is boring to look at, there is always something going on. Even in the background. This is amazing attention to detail. Pasarin is a good artist. I especially enjoy the panel, in the flashback sequence, where the Squad enters the hangar and Juan meets them for the first time, because the members of the Squad are all instantly characterized by their body language.

The inking this time is brought to you by Sean Parsons, replacing Oclair Albert. Parsons’s inks are slightly thick and somewhat rough sometimes, whereas I tend to prefer smoother and cleaner lines. Nevertheless, Parsons is consistent in his line work and effectively separates the characters from the backgrounds while still making everything look like a coherent whole. His inks mash well with Pasarin’s pencils in that it looks like they give the pencils a little more structure and depth. If I had to point out one thing I would like to see handled slightly differently, then it would be that I think, at times, the shadows are too thick. What I mean by that is that the blacks really jump out and seem to clash somewhat with the color schemes. If this had been toned down just a little bit, the book would have looked even more consistent to me.

Then we have Blond on colors, once again. Like last time, his colors pop and his palette is varied. I like the difference in tones between the bright present day scenes and the muted flashback scenes, so you can instantly tell when the scene takes place. His colors balance one another out well. In darker scenes there’s usually a brighter color for variety across the spectrum, and in brighter scenes there are so many layers of colors that it takes a while to study them and take all of them in. As in the last issue, it can be slightly overwhelming at times, but I think that actually adds to the experience because the fight scenes are supposed to be explosive and overwhelming.

Recommended if…

  • You don’t mind a sad sack for a main character

  • You really need to see how this story ends, even if it might piss you off
  • You can’t get enough of Croc’s “I’m so hungry” jokes

  • You want to marvel at some seriously good artwork, even if the script leaves much to be desired

Overall: As I said in the introduction, this is a prime example of how even great artwork cannot save a bad script. The issue has some plot holes that I can’t overlook and a main protagonist that is not at all interesting to read about. The ending of the story just leaves me with a feeling of: “what did I just read?” and I’m glad that it’s over so we can move on to, hopefully, better things. I recommend skipping this issue, even if you picked up the previous part. Trust me. It’s better to spend your hard-earned money elsewhere. Now here’s to hoping that Williams, after having taken a break, will come back with new energy and a bunch of killer stories!

Score: 3.5/10