It’s no secret that my opinion on Suicide Squad, as a series, hasn’t been very high as of late. I’ve found the story about Hack to be very predictable, and therefore boring and dull. However, #39 turned out to be a lot better than preceding episodes, with strong characters and a much more focused plot. I think that’s a step in the right direction. Now, #40 is the conclusion to the Shock and Awe arc, and the question is, of course, whether or not the creative team manages to continue into the right direction. Let’s have look, shall we?
For starters, this issue is mainly focused on Amanda Waller, and the Squad doesn’t even play a role in this. They appear in a few panels, probably because their appearance is mandatory, but they don’t actually do anything to contribute to the plot. An argument is made in the story that Amanda Waller is the Suicide Squad, but I’m not exactly convinced of this, because to my mind the Squad is not just Waller. When I think of the Suicide Squad, I think of the actual team of super-villains going on black ops/stealth missions. So if you’re someone reading this title specifically for those kinds of team missions, you’re not getting what you’re looking for here. However, what is here isn’t necessarily bad, though still flawed. What stands out to me the most is that I’m actually surprised with how this episode plays out, which I never thought possible, and that is a positive thing.
First of all, let’s talk about Waller. She’s being written as a very focused and determined character here. Her daughter and newborn granddaughter are in a hospital bed and the villain Hack (who has been the main villain for the past several issues), who is inside of Captain Prohaska’s AI and in a full control of him, is on her way to kill Waller’s daughter. Waller herself comes marching into the hospital and goes straight to her daughter’s room. As Prohaska/Hack lies on the floor and is incapacitated (though still capable of talking), Waller’s first concern is the lives of her daughter and granddaughter, which highlights the theme of motherhood that runs through the issue. This is a theme that resurfaces toward the end of the story as well, and helps to explain Waller’s main motivation for why she is doing what she does. Besides this motherly love, and her cold but righteous attitude toward Hack, she is also written as a smart woman who’s thought of contingency plans. For instance, Hack stole some information from Waller’s files, but later Waller reveals to Flag that those files had been planted as a distraction from the real secrets. Williams has done a good job of writing Waller as a strong character, and the more I think about her scenes and the underlying themes of motherhood and wanting to protect one’s family, the more I find myself rooting for her, because these themes humanize her and make her more relatable. One thing I do find rather silly, however, is when Waller orders the Squad to stay put and out of sight. She says, “No one gets to know you exist.” That’s all well and good, but by now I’m completely unable and unwilling to suspend my disbelief at the idea that they are still a secret task force. These guys have been running around major cities, wrecking buildings, fighting villains in the middle of the streets, and yet nobody is finding out about them? How are they still a secret task force if their missions are so public? It doesn’t add up.
Moving on, I was surprised by the way the conflict played out in this issue. There is a notable lack of violence here. The final battle isn’t fought with weapons, but with words. Yet, I’m a bit conflicted about this. On the one hand I think it’s cool that Waller appears so unaffected by Hack’s threats; if anything, Waller looks and sounds like she’s just really tired of all of this and wants the conflict to end. But she doesn’t seem to be afraid by any means. On the other hand, Hack comes off as a rather boring villain, and as such I’m not at all impressed by her threats either. Back when Hack was first introduced, I wasn’t too impressed by the character and not very interested in seeing her story unfold. When Hack returned in the recent issues as the villain, my attitude toward the character didn’t change. At no point did I feel like I was connecting to the character’s traumas and feelings, at no point did I feel like I could root for her. I also never felt like she was an opponent that I really wanted to see go down. On the contrary, because I only got to see glimpses of who she was beyond the whole super-villain gig, I’ve been feeling like there’s a big gap between Hack as a character and me as a reader. As such, I’ve felt that the whole struggle with Hack has amounted to nothing more than a distraction rather than an actual, thrilling Suicide Squad story. So, while the way the confrontation played out surprised me (because I was honestly expecting some kind of final brawl between the Squad and Hack), in the end the final confrontation just didn’t pack as much of a punch as it probably could have. Thereby the conclusion to Shock and Awe falls short for me, especially because I don’t feel like Waller or the Squad have really made any progress with regards to the story and personal arcs. The victory just doesn’t feel like a victory because it is such an anti-climax.
Before I move on to the art, I want to point out something else that I cannot ignore. I normally am not quick to do this, choosing to focus more on the plot and the art and how the story is told, but in this case it’s just too jarring for me to overlook. In this issue, 3 glaring typos stand out to me. Had there been 1 typo, I would’ve explained it away as a human mistake. With 2 typos I would’ve rolled my eyes, but I would’ve just moved on to other things. But the 3rd typo was too much for me. A writer not catching these typos is entirely understandable and not that big of a deal. But there are three editors assigned to this book, and I find it hard to believe that none of them managed to catch the errors. It just doesn’t look very professional.
As for art, this time around we have Jack Herbert providing pencils and inks. Herbert draws characters in dynamic poses, and especially his visuals at the start make for an explosive opening with Prohaska/Hack crashing in and unleashing their electrical powers. The expressions on characters’ faces are also on point, conveying their emotions very well. Herbert also shows he’s capable of drawing interesting backgrounds, and although he sometimes leaves them empty, it seems like he planned out rather well when to use more detail and when to leave it out. For example, when Waller is holding her newborn granddaughter in her arms, there is no background, which puts all the focus on the characters. Just like Waller’s focus is completely on her granddaughter as, for the moment, the world around her fades away. All in all, I think Herbert is a good artist whose work is up to professional standards, and his consistent, dynamic art is a good fit for a Suicide Squad book. I just wish the script called for more action, so these strengths of the artist could have been put to more use.
On colors we have Hi-Fi, who is also doing a good job, complementing Herbert’s pencils really well and making them come to life more. While most panels have darker tones and muted colors, because most of this plays out at night, Hi-Fi still manages to work with a range of colors to create a sense of depth and detail. His colors play off of Herbert’s inks as well, creating a nice contrast between light and dark, and especially Hack’s blue electrical superpowers pop on the page. So, both artists do a solid job of telling the story through visuals, and I’d like to see them return for a couple more issues.
You are a fan of Amanda Waller
You have been following Shock and Awe and want the conclusion to the arc
You don’t mind if the actual Suicide Squad barely appears in their own book
Overall: It’s not a bad book, but it also just doesn’t feel quite right to me. The Squad sits this one out (except for some cameo appearances in a handful of panels), as the issue focuses mainly on Waller. While Waller is written as a strong character with a solid motivation, I am missing the actual Squad in their own book. Moreover, in my opinion the villain isn’t a very strong character and therefore not very interesting, and as such the entire conflict feels like a distraction from what the book could be doing instead: telling a focused, plot-driven action comic about a black ops team going on actual secret missions, rather than city-wide rampages. But I guess those are just my 2 cents. As for a recommendation, I guess those who’ve been reading the Shock and Awe arc get the most out of this. To everyone else, I recommend you wait for the next arc to start off—which features Batman!