Pretty much since I started reviewing Suicide Squad with #33, I’ve been very critical of the series. I’ve been giving it low marks, because I saw too many plot holes and dialogue issues, and it never made sense to me that Waller would send the Squad to deal with large threats in a city. Yes, the idea is to send in the Squad to make it look like a group of villains has been wrecking town, but that doesn’t work anymore if the Justice League already knows about the Squad’s existence. So color me happily surprised when I found that last issue didn’t suffer from these same problems as much, and actually presented a really fun story. But what about this issue in particular, #42? Does the creative team manage to keep up the good work, or are they slipping back into bad habits?
This comic doesn’t waste any time dropping us right into the action. The opening sequence shows Batman and Deadshot double-teaming against a bunch of Kobra warriors, and there is a number of things happening here that I find quite interesting. First of all, the spotlight is really on Deadshot, and not on Batman. For example, we see Deadshot going up against four Kobra warriors, but Batman defeats his enemy off-panel. Usually I dislike when this type of stuff happens off-panel, because I think characters should earn their victories rather than forcing readers to simply accept those victories. After all, these types of victories can’t always be taken for granted—that’s usually a sign of lazy writing. Usually.
What works in the creative team’s favor is that, in #41, we already saw Batman power-housing his way through Belle Reve, breaking out Deadshot, and managing all of this without leaving a trace that he was there. In other words, last issue we got to see Batman’s various skills, and so it’s already established that he’s a formidable superhero within the context of this arc. In my opinion, Batman completely stole the show then—even though this isn’t even his book. That is why I think it’s right that there isn’t as much focus on Batman this time. This is Suicide Squad, after all, so it’s right that Deadshot takes center stage, and it’s okay that Batman’s fight occurs off-panel for now. Like I said, last time we already established Batman’s prowess—this time it’s Deadshot’s turn.
Furthermore, Williams draws a parallel between Batman and Deadshot through dialogue. Personally, I think Williams is stating the obvious here, but then I suppose it’s mostly obvious to me because I’ve been reading DC books for years now. This might not be as obvious to new readers who don’t know as much about the characters yet. So what happens is that Deadshot tells Batman that Batman might be closer to a villain than he’d like to admit. For example, Deadshot comments on the fact that Batman beats his enemies to a pulp until they talk. Deadshot calls it a villain move. And, honestly, it is. It’s torture, basically. Add to this the fact that Batman’s attire is more suited to a villain than a hero (he dresses like a monstrous, giant bat!); the fact that he lives somewhere in a secret underground base where he makes plans within plans; and the fact that he keeps many secrets from just about anyone (even Alfred), and you’ve got the profile of a scheming super-villain right there. Yet, although Deadshot is challenging the idea that Batman is a superhero, I just wish that Williams would’ve gone beyond the obvious, and actually took the whole question of heroism and villainy a step further to make a more interesting point. As it stands, it’s not really going anywhere. But to be fair, this arc isn’t finished yet, so perhaps Williams will return to this discussion later on. And besides, a debate of a somewhat philosophical nature probably wouldn’t exactly fit the issue’s overall tone.
Speaking of which, the tone ranges from dark and gruesome to carefree and light-hearted, and all of it combined makes for a fun, thrilling read. For example, the opening scene with Batman and Deadshot shows how Deadshot brutally mutilates his opponents without killing them. It’s direct, in your face, and just so perfectly, ruthlessly Deadshot: Can’t kill ‘em? Okay, just cripple ‘em for life instead. So while there is still some room for humor here, the emphasis is very much on maiming, pain and suffering.
The tone switches to more carefree and light-hearted when Harley and Boomerang enter the stage. We see them cracking jokes, as if they aren’t surrounded by crippled people, but just hanging out and having fun. They ask some really weird questions as well, pretending they are looking for a kangaroo with boxing gloves instead of Batman and Deadshot. Fortunately, Captain Cold (as new member of the Squad) speeds things along. His no-nonsense attitude is a welcome change of pace, because, let’s face it, Harley and Boomerang can be incredibly annoying from time to time.
Lastly, with regards to the tone, comparing the two aforementioned sections makes me feel like I’m thinking about two different comics. But that’s not meant as criticism; in fact, it’s to point out that there’s some variation within the narrative. In that sense, the A story (Batman/Deadshot) is the serious and gritty one. The B story then functions as comic relief. However, while I think the creative team found a good structural balance between these sections by bookending the issue with the A story, and having the B story right in the middle, I am critical of the B story in particular. The comic relief that the creative team is going for is only funny up to a point, and it makes me question the characterization somewhat.
The B sequence starts out fun. Harley and Boomerang are so wacky and the look of utter confusion on the enemies’ faces is priceless. But the minute that Boomerang and Cold start arguing about their villain names and who gets to be the “Captain” is where the creative team crosses a line. Boomerang ends up milking a joke (something about him thinking that “to alliterate” means “to sue in court”). I suppose I smiled the first time, but then they keep on coming back to it until I’m absolutely sick of it. On the one hand I think this actually fits Boomerang’s character, to just be this annoying jerk, but on the other hand I think it brings down the book’s overall quality because it reads like someone is trying really hard to be funny, but fails. The reason I’m bring this up is because this is a problem that Suicide Squad as a series has been suffering from for a while now. At best, the jokes that I saw were rather forgettable and only taking up space that could otherwise be devoted to the actual narrative. At worst, the jokes felt extremely forced to me and completely distracted me from the story proper. To see such a bad type of joke come up once again makes me think this problem won’t be fixed any time soon. But really, the story isn’t benefiting from it. In my opinion, the creators of this series need to learn when to stop so as not to take a joke too far and annoy (a part of) their readership.
I also mentioned that I’m unsure about characterization, and this pertains once again Boomerang and Cold. Now, I’m not exactly well-versed in the Flash universe, and I don’t know Flash’s Rogues like I know Batman’s, but I always thought that Flash’s Rogues were buddies uniting against a common foe. That there was an actual sense of brotherhood among them. If I’m completely off the mark here, then I’ll happily admit that it’s just me being misinformed about the Rogues. But what happens is that Boomerang starts taunting Cold, and what follows is a strong sense of rivalry instead of a friendship/brotherhood. See, I was looking forward to seeing these two characters interact, considering they have a lot of history as teammates, but instead it feels to me like they hate each other. It just feels off to me, and I’m also not sure if this kind of rivalry within the Squad is what this book needs, especially after Williams has put so much effort into strengthening the bond between the characters, evolving them from team members to a kind of family.
As a final note on the writing, Deadshot’s daughter, Zoe, gets a lot more panel time than in the previous episode. I won’t go into specifics, but I do want to say that I think she’s a cool character. Even though she is faced with overwhelming odds, she still seems to hold her own quite well verbally. What I like especially is that she seems convinced that her dad will show up and teach these Kobra dudes a lesson. So far, Zoe is a well written character and I’m curious to see how Williams will develop her over the course of the arc.
Let’s move on to the art. Jose Luis provides pencils, Jordi Tarragona is on inks and Adriano Lucas returns for the coloring. The very first thing that strikes me is how dynamic the art is. These guys understand sequential storytelling and it shows. To give you an example, I’ll describe a part of my favorite scene from this issue. It all happens on the same page, which consists of 9 panels. In panel 1 we see Deadshot locked in hand-to-hand combat with Kobra fighter #1 who he punches in the gut. In the background we see Kobra #2 coming at Deadshot. In the second panel, which is shot from a different angle, we see that Deadshot has turned around to hammer his elbow into Kobra #2’s face. In the third panel, the guys that Deadshot knocked out are on the floor, but behind him appears yet another enemy, Kobra #3, and this one has a gun. While still hunkered down after having knocked out Kobra #2, Deadshot has already raced his bracer to deflect a bullet fired by Kobra #3. In panel 4, Deadshot knocks out Kobra #3, and so on. It’s a chain of actions, basically, and every panel flows into the next seamlessly, because every panel simultaneously shows the consequences of what happened before, and sets up what is to happen next. It’s not that easy to compose a fight scene like this, so props to the team for that!
Furthermore, the art team is consistent. They continue to work with different camera angles throughout the book, but I don’t see them making mistakes in the positioning of characters, or the bodily proportions of characters. These shifting camera angles, the detailed facial expressions and the cool character designs all make for solid artwork that fits Suicide Squad really well. It’s action-driven, gritty, and I feel like I was transported into the fictional world of the comic.
Finally, it’s awesome to see how well the art team works as a unit. The pencils, inking and coloring blends together so well that none of it feels out of place. The pencils provide a great foundation that is solidified by the inks, and the coloring makes everything come to life. These guys are professionals, and it shows. Like the art team featured in the previous issue, I’d love to see these guys return more often as well.
A Deadshot/Batman road trip team-up sounds awesome to you
You want to see more of Captain Cold as a member of the Squad
You love really good, consistent artwork
Overall: I’m really happy with this book, especially compared to previous episodes! It’s definitely a step up in quality. This book is very focused and well-paced and manages to draw me in completely. In fact, on reaching the end of this comic I found myself wanting it to go on instead of having to wait until the next issue drops. This is exactly what I think Suicide Squad should be focusing on: smaller stories with simpler concepts, instead of city-wide destruction and still pretending it’s a secret task force. But really, if you’ve been looking to get into Suicide Squad I’d recommend you do so now that it’s actually getting good. Here’s to hoping Williams & co can keep this up!