Suicide Squad #36 is the second chapter of Drain the Swamp, a story starring Hack as the main villain. Last issue we were introduced to the super soldier known as The Wall, a living weapon controlled by the President of the United States. We also saw that Hack has somehow merged with Belle Reve’s mainframe, and is controlling the entire complex while killing many of Amanda Waller’s employees. Last issue, the script had nothing but a series of unconnected events to offer, and the question is of course: is Williams’s writing better than last time? Or even back to the level of quality we saw at the start of his run?

The story opens with the Squad returning by aircraft from their fight with Damage, which took place in the previous issue. While closing in on Belle Reve they notice that all the lights are out, and the Squad, naturally, is very troubled by this. Then they hear Waller’s voice on the comms, and are told to land and that all of this is just due to “power fluctuations on the main grid.” The Squad lands, moves into the hangar with weapons drawn, and are instantly attacked by Hack. Now, there are a couple of things going on during this opening fight scene. First of all, it’s very unclear to me what exactly Hack’s power-set is in her current state of being. She appears as pure electrical energy, and yet she is able to somehow form physical metal arms to stomp her enemies, and even smashes her giant fist into the ground. Secondly, when Katana attacks Hack, we see Hack falling to the ground. Katana says, “My sword, Soultaker, makes you solid.” But how? This is never explained and it feels like Williams is just making this up on the spot. While I don’t strictly mean to say that every character’s power needs to be explained, at least it has to be clear what the powers are so readers don’t end up being confused. In terms of Hack, it’s okay to reveal her powers one by one over time, but if she’s basically living computer bytes then I don’t see how she can become physical. Both in terms of forming a metal arm and being struck by Soultaker. This brings me to another point: it is never made exactly clear how Hack turned into computer bytes living in Belle Reve’s mainframe. We are told that it happened, but this is never further explored in the narrative. Personally, I would find it incredibly interesting to read about the process of how she became one with the mainframe, and I can imagine that some fellow readers would enjoy this as well. I consider it a missed opportunity in the writing department.

More on the subject of superheroes and their powers, there is a scene where we see The Wall again. He’s sitting perched on a rock with his small nuclear warhead. I know it’s nuclear because this is explained in the previous issue, and I went back to check if it is the same gun—it is. Below, The Wall sees various vehicles surrounding a group of captives, and they are slowly moving through a desert. Flag contacts The Wall, but even before Flag’s able to explain the situation, The Wall already answers, “I do the job, and then I fly to Louisiana.” It almost sounds like he already knows what’s going on. Of course, it’s not much of a stretch for him to think he has to go to Louisiana, because that is where Belle Reve is, but without any context it seems like a very quick and convenient assumption on The Wall’s part. Moreover, The Wall assures Flag that he is capable of “true precision targeting.” In other words, he’ll avoid hitting the captured civilians. In the following panel we see him opening fire, and he’s absolutely wrecking the vehicles. The civilians themselves appear to be fine. But this is utter nonsense, of course. First and foremost, The Wall is shooting with a nuclear weapon. Secondly, there are many bits and pieces of those vehicles flying through the air, as well as lots of sand and rocks. Even if the nuclear blasts wouldn’t hurt the civilians, they are still at high risk of getting hit by a piece of a car. Thirdly, the massive explosions would be so loud that these civilians might actually go deaf, or at least get their ears severely injured. So, sure, they don’t necessarily have to die instantly, but mortally wounded is absolutely in the cards. These aren’t minimal civilian casualties at all, and yet the comic still presents it as such. Especially when you see the civilians happily laughing when The Wall goes over to them to see if they are okay. Lastly, this scene just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. It feels very random, like a forced reminder that The Wall is also a part of the story without having him contribute to the actual narrative, or, perhaps more importantly, his own character development.

Moving back to Hack, her motivation as a character and Amanda Waller as her opponent, I must say that I find what is going on here rather annoying. So Hack is controlling the entire mainframe, and she is able to access all of Waller’s dirty secrets. However, apparently she also thinks it’s necessary to say this four times throughout the issue. It’s okay to have her threaten Waller with it, but to have her say it again and again, albeit with slightly different words each time, gets old very fast and actually desensitizes me to the threat. If a threat is being made multiple times but the person isn’t actually following up on it with actions, then it becomes harder to take the threat seriously.

Next, we see Hack senselessly murdering a lot of inmates. She goes on a rant about how she saw all their files and that she knows these people are monsters. She seems to believe that her actions are justified. But for me, as a reader, seeing her senselessly killing these people without remorse strips away whatever redeeming qualities the character may have had. It’s all very edgy, almost to a point that it seems like there’s gore strictly for the sake of gore. I don’t think it adds anything to her personality but in fact takes away from it, simply because we just aren’t ever shown in detail how Hack became so evil. Maybe that is still to come in a later issue, but I’m afraid that by then it will be too little too late. In this arc, she just is what she is, and we just have to accept it. She also delivers a nonsensical monologue about how she wants to free the world by controlling all computer systems. Clearly she doesn’t see that if she starts to control all those systems, then the world is still dominated by this, except now it’s her behind it all and not “the cruel”, “the strong” and “the corrupt.” Seeing as Hack is a senseless killer herself, she isn’t all that much different from the ones currently controlling the world with computers. Perhaps this is exactly the point that Williams is trying to make, that Hack is a paradoxical character who’s misguided in her actions. But whatever the case may be, I’ve seen similar scenarios across many different media (films, books, comics, video games, etc). While I’m not at all against using a trope or a cliché as a plot element, I do want to see the writer taking the idea a step further, developing it some more, providing an insightful analysis that contributes to character development, or even simply putting a fresh, new spin on an old idea. But as it stands in this issue, I don’t see Williams adding anything new, merely sticking to the basics. Therefore, unfortunately, I’m just not very interested, and I just don’t find her a convincing villain at all.

I have a couple more things to say, in particular about the ending of the issue. You can find all of that in the spoiler tag.

[Spoiler]At the end of the issue, Waller gives Hack one last chance to surrender. When Hack refuses, Waller detonates explosives she had put inside the Relle Reve servers. Boomerang, Deadshot, Harley and Katana are tied to the servers and are right in front of the explosives. In the final panel of the issue, we see them blowing up in the background while Hack is blown off her feet. So first things first, why did Waller give Hack a chance to surrender? Why not just blow Hack to the smithereens and be done with it? Wasn’t it already clear that Hack wasn’t going to surrender, given that she was slaughtering Waller’s people as well as going on and on about having Waller’s dirtiest secrets? If you ask me, that should be reason enough to blow her up. Secondly, we all know that the main protagonists of the title aren’t going to die, if only for marketing reasons, so I’m not at all concerned about them. As for Hack, I don’t think that she will die yet because we have more to go before we reach the conclusion of this arc. So ending this issue on this cliffhanger has me even more annoyed. By this stage, I’ve stopped caring about what’s going to happen to Hack, and part of me wishes that she’ll actually be defeated now so we can move on to a more convincing villain. Furthermore, I expect that, next issue, she’ll just somehow latch on to the AI in The Wall’s brain, take over his body, and start wreaking even more havoc. I really regret having to say this, but I’m afraid this entire arc just feels very uninspired, although the ideas are certainly there, so it has potential. It’s just such a shame knowing this could have been so much more, but it’s not.[/spoiler]

I think I’ve ranted enough about the negative aspects of the book, so let’s move on to the more positive things. On pencils, like last time, we have Eduardo Pansica. Once again, he draws very consistent-looking characters. They are never out of proportions, have very detailed facial expressions that make them lifelike, and while I don’t much care for the way Hack is written, visually she looks stunning. Hack is Belle Reve. She is connected to her environment on almost every panel, and she certainly looks like a formidable opponent in the way that she can change her appearance and use the entire building as a weapon.

The inking by Julio Ferreira is also on point, like last issue. His inking is subtle in that it creates a nice sense of depth and makes it easy to separate the characters from the backgrounds. It also adds some extra qualities to characters’ features, such as shadows on their faces, or scratches, or wrinkles, and so this enhances their emotions as well. The inking is heavier when it’s called for, casting pitch dark shadows in corners and corridors. This interplay between subtle and heavy is very well balanced, and makes for a consistent look throughout.

The true star of the show is Andriano Lucas. While his palette is varied and he uses many different colors, he manages to blend everything together so well that the compositions of panels, and transitions to subsequent panels, is just seamless. Where he truly shines is in images where we actually see Hack’s powers. There is one amazing piece where she and her surroundings are entirely digital, showing us what the inside of the mainframe’s software looks like from her perspective. The electrical energy that surges around Hack almost seems to glow, and there are layers on layers in the entire composition. If you look closely, you can see colors bleeding through other colors, and because of this it seems like this cyber realm goes on forever.

All in all, the art team once again knocks it out of the park. I said this last time, and I just want to say it again. These are names to remember. I definitely want to see them work together more in the future, and not just on Suicide Squad, but on other titles as well. Perhaps a book that allows for wild, psychedelic visuals. I’m a huge fan of what they manage to do together—they are truly the saving grace of this book.

Recommended if…

  • You are into sci-fi stories about mainframes, hacking, and computer systems

  • It’s okay when the writing leaves much to be desired as long as the art is absolutely incredible

Overall: Frankly, this story is starting to bore me. As much as I love the artwork, the writing just raises too many questions, and I end up not caring about the main villain or the protagonists. It also feels very predictable. In the spoiler tag above I’ve basically predicted what’s going to happen next time, because it seems the logical course of events. I really hope that Williams goes into a totally different direction, or at least finds a way to spice things up, because this issue unfortunately doesn’t have much to offer. Characters’ motivations make no sense and it’s hard to connect to those characters; cliché ideas are being used without taking them a step further to say something new; and the main villain just isn’t convincing to me at all. It’s a shame, really, because even with artwork this beautiful I can’t really recommend this issue. If I were you, I’d just quietly move away toward other books on stands this week. But if you do buy this book, at least you’ll have stellar artwork and there’s a fantastic Sorrentino variant cover available that would be a nice addition to the collection.

Score: 4/10