This issue is intended to conclude the three part arc Drain the Swamp, a story centered around Hack. The previous episode’s cliffhanger showed us that Waller, in an attempt to defeat Hack once and for all, blew up Belle Reve’s servers with the Squad members still tied to them. In this issue we will find out what exactly happens to the Squad and Hack. While last issue left much to be desired, the question is whether or not Williams is able to save the current arc with a strong conclusion. So, let’s find out, shall we?
The story opens with a flashback in which we see Hack, as a child, in the Korogocho Slum in Nairobi. She’s trying to hack a phone. But just as she succeeds, a rough-looking fellow approaches her with gun in hand, and starts to threaten her. The scene gives new readers—those who haven’t read Suicide Squad issues that precede this arc—a glimpse at her childhood, and how this shapes her into the person she’s become in the present day story. But, unfortunately, in my opinion there isn’t enough information here. The scene takes up a single page, and it sets a tone as if we’re going to see more character development for Hack. Instead, the scene is over as quickly as it started, and therefore it doesn’t add much to the issue as a whole. It feels like it’s tacked on, and it looks very out of place to me. Especially because we pick up right where we left off last time on the next page, and this flashback doesn’t resurface anywhere in the narrative.
As for Hack’s motivation, obviously she desperately wants to find out who killed her. In order to find out, she has transported the Squad members to a digital cloud, converting them to digital information. This raises several questions. First of all, how does Hack access a cloud (of her own making, even) while all nearby machines with a connection to the internet are destroyed? Does this mean she can do this even without an internet connection? At some point it’s mentioned that Hack’s basically on “battery power,” but how this works and what it means isn’t further elaborated on. Just like last issue, I find myself confused about Hack’s powers because it never becomes quite clear how powerful exactly she is. This doesn’t always have to be a problem, because this can actually make a villain quite terrifying and unpredictable. But in the case of Hack, she’s been shown to use a variety of powers and oftentimes it seems much too convenient, especially when it’s questionable how she creates and accesses this cloud. It doesn’t make her a more convincing villain but in fact merely a confusing character. Besides that, it’s all very deus ex machina, without there being a good justification for using such a plot device. Of course, it’s explained in the story that she’s saving the Squad because she has questions for them. But in truth the Squad members simply can’t die for marketing reasons, so they are never in any real danger anyway. Therefore I’m not concerned about the lives of the Squad members, and I’m also not convinced that Hack is a real threat to them. I have one more point with regards to her powers, but I’ll drop this in the spoiler tag.
What’s more, Hack demands the Squad to tell her who killed her. For some reason she’s convinced it must be one of the people present in the scene, although, if you think about it, anyone could’ve assassinated her for all she knows. Even someone outside of the Squad; I mean, it’s possible. She hardly has any evidence to go on. In any case, the Squad members explain why they couldn’t have killed her, and none of them seem very impressed with her at all, which entirely reduces the threat level to zero. I wonder if this was an attempt to make Hack more sympathetic in the eyes of the reader; give her the underdog treatment, as it were, because it’s her alone versus the others. Taking into account the opening flashback scene, perhaps this is indeed the case. However, since this arc has mainly been focusing on plot development and not so much on character development, we’ve barely had enough time to bond with Hack. I imagine this especially holds true for readers who haven’t read the issues preceding this arc. Additionally, the Suicide Squad, the titular characters, are probably going to be the ones we root for by default. Lastly, what we know by the end of the story (without spoiling anything) is that Hack wants to figure out who killed her; that she’s, well, a hacker; and that she has a confusing power set. So, in my opinion, we never really learn much about the character in terms of redeeming qualities, or why we should root for her. As such, I find it hard to care about her when the real danger strikes.
However, whereas Hack isn’t a very convincing character, I think that Amanda Waller most certainly is. Although she’s not physically present in the scenes with the Squad and Hack, and acts from a safe distance, she’s operating with a cold and calculated mindset. Just like last issue, she doesn’t hesitate to order her agent to go for the kill. And when she tells her soldiers to search for survivors, she certainly doesn’t neglect to order them to kill anything that gives them trouble. She’s straight to the point; she’s mean; she’s focused; and she has contingency plans in place. This is how Waller should be written, and if you ask me, she’s more of a terrifying villain than any of the other cast members.
As for the Squad members themselves, they all behave like they should. But whereas Waller acts with conviction, I think the Squad members don’t actually add anything other than some standard remarks that we would expect from them. Harley is naive and playful and crazy; Katana delivers some lyrical lines about revenge; Deadshot sounds like a confident tough guy; Enchantress’s words sound archaic; and Croc’s straight to the point and blunt. While there’s nothing wrong with what they say in terms of characterization, it all feels simply too straight-forward to me, and even mandatory. As if they are talking only because the editor, or perhaps the writer himself, thinks that they have to talk. The result is a conversation that seems to drag on for a few pages, and it really isn’t going anywhere. Until Captain Boomerang speaks up, that is. I’ll talk a little bit about it in the spoiler section below.
Now, I have to say a few things about the end of the issue. I won’t go into spoilers, though, so don’t worry. This is mainly about the story’s structure. So this episode is marketed as being the “conclusion” of Drain the Swamp. However, on reaching the final pages I never get the sense that this arc is actually concluded. What’s supposed to be the conclusion to the arc is overshadowed by a scene involving super-soldier The Wall, and the final three or so pages are spend setting up the next arc. It’s one thing to have a full page teaser spread at the end of an arc to promote the next storyline. But as it stands, this “conclusion” feels more like part 3 in a longer arc that’s as of yet unresolved. Hack may or may not reappear in subsequent installments, but this issue certainly doesn’t read like a conclusion. Of course it’s a good marketing trick, because many readers will want to continue buying the comics because the story clearly isn’t over yet. But, in my opinion, from a writer’s perspective, Drain the Swamp as an arc doesn’t stand on its own. It requires the next arc at least to resolve the events depicted here. Personally, I don’t think this should have been marketed as a conclusion because it’s rather misleading.
Moving on to the artwork, this time we have José Luis providing the pencils. He does a solid job of illustrating the issue. He’s very consistent across the book; characters pretty much look the same, even when shown from different angles. There is also a subtlety to the way that he draws faces. For instance, Amanda Waller always looks determined, and yet troubled—clearly the events in this book are weighing heavy on her. Furthermore, when characters are angry or annoyed, they actually look angry or annoyed. And I especially like the sad expression on Boomerang’s face halfway through the issue; he’s showing a side of himself we don’t often see. A point of criticism, however, is that Luis almost never draws any backgrounds. And when he does, they are very empty and uninteresting. His character work is really good, but I’d like to see him add in more details in the panels to give the story even more visual layers. But, all in all, his pencils complement the script well.
Jordi Tarracona is on inking duties. His lines range from thin to thick, and he does an adequate job at making the pencils more solid. He manages this by carefully tracing the pencils and adding in more texture, shadow and facial features. For example, Deadshot’s grim face is enhanced by the inking, making him look even more determined and ready to retaliate. Tarracona is doing good work. It might not be the best I’ve ever seen in a comic book, but it’s definitely consistent and skillfully.
Adriano Lucas returns on colors and takes the spotlight in this issue. To those who’ve read my latest two reviews on Suicide Squad it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I love Lucas’s work. His colors shine and pop. The sparks look like they can bounce off the pages; lighting actually looks like it’s illuminating the panels; and especially the scenes in the digital cloud are incredibly detailed and a joy to look at. Lucas adds layers on layers to make his color work deep and rich. For instance, there’s a panel where Hack is angry, and her eyes light up and her hand is aglow. If we look closely at the colors behind her, we can see many different shades of blue blending into each other. And the 1s and 0s, and all the lines of code that run through Hack’s design make for a beautiful aesthetic. Thanks in large part to the coloring, this book is never boring to look at.
You like Hack as a character
You don’t mind that this issue doesn’t actually conclude a storyline
You’re completely fine with an average plot, as long as the art is really good
Overall: Suicide Squad #37 doesn’t really do it for me. I never really get the chance to bond with Hack and root for her, and end up feeling rather careless. The Squad members act in character, but their lines feel forced and too predictable. The story also never reaches an actual conclusion but immediately drags readers into the next arc, despite it being marketed as a “conclusion.” What it does well, though, is that Waller is written as a strong character, there’s an entertaining and even surprising Captain Boomerang scene, and the art is pretty good. However, all things considered, I can’t really recommend this issue because it ends up falling flat, and it feels rather pointless. Despite good art, it’s still a mediocre book.