Suicide Squad #35 review

Suicide Squad #35 is the start of a new arc, entitled Drain The Swamp. After a short break, Rob Williams is back on scripting duties, this time delivering a story about artificial technology and the dangers that come with it. While I think that the art is solid and that the issue is a quick and easy read, in the end this episode remains just setup for things to come. Being just setup doesn’t have to mean it’s bad; however, in the case of this issue all that really occurs is the introducing of several plot threads, while it doesn’t look like an actual story is being developed as of yet. I’ll explain what I mean in the review proper.

The issue opens up with a sequence in which we see The Wall. No, I do not mean Amanda Waller, but a super soldier employed by the President of the United States who answers to that particular code name. This guy carries pretty powerful weaponry, and even a small nuclear warhead. In one of the panels we see him leaping through the air at a tank, aiming a big gun and blowing the tank to bits. Toward the end of this opening sequence we see him on a television screen, looking into the camera, introducing himself as Captain David Prohaska, the new hero of the U.S. Military. There are a couple of things that I find striking here. First of all, on opening the issue and seeing The Wall in a full page splash, I am immediately reminded of Captain America, although Prohaska does not use a shield but a big gun and therefore seems like an inversion of the Marvel character. Secondly, the opening narration is written in such a way that it’s clearly meant to be Donald Trump speaking. These two elements together make for a fun and satirical tone, established through a propaganda style narrative that speaks to the current state of affairs in American politics. I enjoy this style of storytelling and I was curious to see how Williams would develop this tone throughout the rest of the issue. Moreover, reading that The Wall could potentially be vulnerable to cyber-corruption—as there is an AI implanted in his brain giving him access to certain military files—immediately suggests to me that Hack, the true villain of this new arc, will eventually corrupt The Wall and use him as a living weapon, perhaps in a later episode. While this sounds like a fairly straight-forward idea, where there is plenty of room for fun satire, I find that after the opening sequence the tone immediately shifts to something much darker. Next, a series of disjointed events follows, and as such it feels like the comic isn’t really sure what it wants to be: a political satire or a fast-paced superhero comic or a personal character drama? Especially because we do not get to see Prohaska again in this issue. We glimpse him in the beginning, and then promptly forget about him in favor of one of DC Comics’s brand new characters.

The next scene shows us Amanda Waller in her office, monitoring the Squad’s current mission. After a short argument with Flag inside her office, she is being contacted by Harley Quinn, who is out in the field with the Squad. We then transition to the fight scene, which takes place in the middle of a big city in broad daylight. Because the details of the Squad’s mission aren’t exactly clear—all we know is that they are on a recruitment mission—it is somewhat hard for me to get immersed in what is going on. First of all, I don’t see how it is a recruitment mission, because I don’t see anything specific about the fight scene that establishes that fact. It is especially an odd sequence because the Squad is pretty much wrecking the city around them and even have Giganta, of all people, stomping about. Katana actually brings this up, saying that the Squad is a stealth operation and what they are doing in that moment is anything but stealthy. If a group of (ex-)supervillains is laying waste to a city, you’d think at least some members of the Justice League would take note and investigate, but of course this doesn’t happen. If I’m being honest, in my opinion it seems that putting the Squad out in the open like this actually beats the purpose of the Squad. That having said, it is also very odd that there are no civilians about whatsoever. This is something I brought up in a Teen Titans review (#16): the city backdrop feels more like an empty video game arena than an actual city.

Moving on, the Squad is fighting none other than DC’s brand new character Damage, who is part of the New Age of Comics line. Essentially what happens in this scene is that Damage is wreaking havoc, pounding on Solomon Grundy, and he even manages to one-shot Giganta, knocking her out cold. While the action is fast and explosive and the characters certainly sound like their authentic selves, it is impossible to deny that this is just some product placement on DC’s part. Especially since we never get to see the outcome of the fight, it really feels like the sole reason they put in Damage is to advertise his new solo book and hopefully draw in new readers. Now, I’m going to be somewhat blunt: first of all, I think that all of this is a waste of page count. I would rather have seen Williams developing the theme established on the opening pages instead, by further fleshing out who Captain Prohaska is, because as it stands the opening pages feel incredibly random and disconnected from the rest of the issue. Secondly, seeing as DC would have put in that Damage cameo regardless of any counter arguments (because it seems like that’s just how the business works), then I’d say at least try and make Damage look interesting. To me, right now, he comes off as a random and generic monster that the Squad just so happens to be fighting this week, rather than an actual main character as part of DC’s new line of comics. After this sequence, new readers will still know next to nothing about Damage and I don’t see that there are any reasons presented in this sequence why you should check out the solo title. All Damage does here is smash things. He doesn’t even have any lines, or any cool moments. Even when he knocks out Giganta in one hit, it seems that’s only there to make Damage look strong. Because of this, it feels very much like he’s just being shoehorned in. I don’t see how this scene contributes to the overall plot in any way, and therefore, sadly, I end up being bored with it.

After the fast action sequence, we see Waller moving through the halls of Belle Reve, talking to Faraday, Belle Reve’s resident ghost. It is hammered home here that the Squad is in disarray. Flag has walked out on Waller earlier, and now Waller is standing before Croc’s and Enchantress’s cells, seeing the former reduced to a monster that’s lost every shred of humanity and the latter mourning the spiritual death of Waylon Jones (Killer Croc’s true identity). However, barely is this state of disarray addressed, or we’re already moving on to the next sequence. As such, I think this is a missed opportunity. Where the scene could have had some impact, showing how bad things have gotten for Waller and her Squad, we simply gloss over it and don’t take the time to process it. I’m not saying we should have spend page after page talking about how bleak the Squad’s current status is; I’m just saying I would’ve liked to see a little more development here. There would have been room for this had the Damage scene not taken up so much space. Additionally, on reaching this point in the comic we have gone from satirical to popcorn action to Waller’s lamentations, and this is how the comic lacks focus in the narrative department. It is a jarring reading experience, and so far it has seemed like it’s been a string of random events. Especially when Waller reaches the hospital where she visits her daughter, whose baby’s just born, I think Williams missed out on a golden opportunity to flesh out the inner turmoil of Waller some more. While I do think Williams does a good job at showing that Waller, even when she tries to connect with her family, is immediately drawn back into her work, I think the sequence could have been made stronger had there been some more elaboration on what Waller is thinking and/or feeling. A first person narration from Waller’s point of view would have enabled us to get a feel for what she is going through, and therefore it would be easier to connect with the character and care about her. As it stands, we blitz through each scene so fast that there’s barely any time, at least for me, to develop empathy or sympathy for the character.

Lastly, toward the end of the comic the main villain is revealed, in typical superhero comic book style. The visuals are blazing, the action is fantastic, and if it had not been clear enough that the Squad is falling apart, then certainly it is now. Yet I’m not sure how I feel about this sequence. On the one hand, I think it’s very abrupt and there hasn’t been a clear build up toward this point: it just cuts right into the narrative, almost randomly. On the other hand, it could be argued that this is exactly what makes this moment in the comic so powerful. The abrupt explosion of dangerous action not only cuts into the narrative, but also into the lives of the characters in the story. Clearly none of them saw this coming, and this, I imagine, must especially be a shock to Waller. Moreover, it is here at this point in the comic, in the final pages, that I feel like the story is actually starting and it makes me wonder even more why we spend all this time on a pointless Damage scene. In my opinion, had Williams focused more on either the satirical tone established in the opening pages or the more dramatic and character-driven elements concerning Amanda Waller, while incorporating a clearer build up toward the villain reveal, the comic might have been more streamlined and impactful rather than a collection of separate events put together within the same issue.

As for the art, this time around we have Eduardo Pansica on pencils, and man oh man, this dude can draw. The bodily proportions are consistent. Faces are recognizable, consistent and unique, and as such it’s easy to tell everyone apart. It is also noteworthy that Pansica shows quite a range across the emotional spectrum. He manages to draw smiles, shocked expressions, anger, and sadness, and it all looks very realistic. His fight scenes are dynamic and the combatants go hard on the battlefield. Pansica also captures the monstrous aspect of Killer Croc perfectly, as the character is munching on bloody meat in his cell; the image seems married to the accompanying captions. And while, sometimes, backgrounds are nonexistent, the backgrounds that he does draw are very detailed, which is quite impressive.

On inks we have Julio Ferreira. I find his inks to be quite subtle. His lines are rather thin and mash very well with the pencils, turning them into a beautifully completed image. Despite his lines being thin, when a scene calls for shadows, these shadows are still very present but never overwhelmingly so. It looks to me like Ferreira has found a sweet spot in his inking: it is never too much or too litte, it is always just enough.

Finally, on colors we have Andriano Lucas. Lucas’s palette has range, but it seems all his colors are somewhat dark and soft. Even the brighter colors never quite pop. This, however, is not negative, but actually a good thing, because it creates yet another layer of consistency in the art department and the colors are very easy on the eye. Like the inks, they never overwhelm. At the same time, Lucas is able to set apart the characters and the environment very well, and there is a believable sense of depth in his color work.

So, I’d love to see this art team working together again. Every layer—from the pencils to the inks to the colors—just fits so well that it’s almost seamless. Whereas I have some problems with the script, it is truly the artwork that saves this issue and makes it worth having a look at. Seriously, these are names to remember.

Recommended if…

  • You’re looking for a good jumping on point for Suicide Squad, because this is the start of a fresh new arc
  • You want to see more of Amanda Waller, as she takes center stage

  • You want to see for yourself how awesome the art team is

  • You don’t mind if the story lacks some substance here and there

Overall: This is a quick and easy read, and gorgeously drawn, but in the end it is nothing more than a series of (as of yet) seemingly unconnected events, and therefore never amounts to more than setup for the rest of the arc. In my opinion the issue takes too long to get to the actual threat of this arc, and spends too much time on advertising another DC Comics character whose solo series has only just started. The constant shift in narrative tone also doesn’t help in terms of consistency. That having said, this is certainly not the worst comic on stands at the moment, so if you do pick up this issue, rest assured that at least you will have some delicious eye candy for the collection. However, I do recommend to wait and see if this arc gets better before buying, because for all the amazing artwork and fun ideas, it is still just an average book.

Score: 5.5