The current arc of Suicide Squad has easily been the best of all the arcs I’ve reviewed so far. The last two issues have been very entertaining in the way that they present the dynamic between Batman and Deadshot and the motivations for each character: both want to save Deadshot’s daughter. In this issue, rather than solely focusing on an action-driven narrative, Williams manages to include quite a bit of character work, akin to what we saw two weeks ago where parallels were drawn between Batman and Deadshot. Back then I was somewhat critical of it, because it seemed to merely state the obvious and not take it a step further. This time, however, Williams adds to the parallel, making it a lot more interesting.
Basically, this issue consists of two parts, each illustrated by a different artist. I find the first part to be the most interesting of the two, because this is where the creative team spends some time on character work, in the midst of a rather brutal fight. The story opens with Deadshot’s narration in the captions, and he talks about Batman. He wonders why Batman took him on this journey because, as Deadshot puts it: “I’m guns. He hates guns. He hates me.” It is a good question to ask right on page 1, and the fact that Williams is withholding a clear answer from us for the time being adds to suspense. At the same time, it could open up a discussion. While the comic is still first and foremost a fight comic, I appreciate that there’s a second layer just beneath the surface that leaves some room for interpretation. Before I delve into that, however, I have one more point I want to raise about the opening page.
In general, I sigh when Batman’s origin is retold for the umpteenth time in a comic, especially if it doesn’t really seem to be necessary. Perhaps it’s because I’m a long-time reader, or maybe it’s because the scene has been repeated so often across different media platforms that it’s lost its impact (for me, at least). And yet, while still cliché, I think it actually fits in perfectly with the story’s theme. See, Bruce lost his parents as a boy, and then became Batman to make sure that what happened to him won’t happen to anyone else. Bruce is also a father, and Damian, his son, has actually died at one point—of course Damian came back, this is comics, after all, but that’s not important for my argument right now. What is important is that Damian’s death can be seen as a kind of reversal of one specific element of Batman’s origin: instead of losing his parents, he loses a son. The reason I’m bringing this up is because this can be read as a parallel to Deadshot’s arc in this current story. It’s not explicit, it might not even be Williams’s intention, but this does illustrate how this issue has another layer to it, and therefore can potentially enrich the reading experience.
After Deadshot kills an enemy, Batman, naturally, lashes out at him, growling into Lawton’s masked face: “We don’t kill!” Deadshot immediately counters that by telling Batman that there is no “we,” and that this is not a team-up. Clearly, Deadshot fears the worst for his daughter and his reasoning is that if he just kills the enemies, at least there aren’t as many bad guys posing a threat to her anymore. The two of them come to blows, and when their brief fisticuffs are over, Batman says something crucial to Deadshot: “You’re a father. […] You don’t get to be a bad guy anymore.” It is this one line that not only adds to the parallel Williams drew in #42 (where Deadshot argues that Batman is really more like a villain than a hero), but it in fact takes it a step further and could be a (or maybe the) reason that Batman decided to take Deadshot with him.
Deadshot calls Batman a villain. Batman states that Deadshot can’t be a bad guy anymore, implying he should become a hero. This shows the major differences between them. But the middle ground is that they both have a child that they love and care about. Moreover, Batman is known for his attempts at redeeming villains. For instance, he takes Rogues back to Arkham so they can undergo treatment again in the hopes that one day they’ll reform. He also often delivers elaborate speeches to villains right before he takes them down, pointing out their flaws and why they shouldn’t be villains, essentially. So, all things considered, it could very well be that Batman, besides saving Zoe, hopes that this mission might lead to Floyd Lawton’s redemption. It’s an interesting idea, and this theme is woven throughout the narrative so subtly that it might be missed on a first read-through. Personally, I glossed over it the first time around, but seeing it while rereading makes me appreciate this issue more. Williams is giving me something to think about instead of some forced dialogue and uninteresting villains. I consider that another step up in quality, and I would like to see more of this. Suicide Squad doesn’t have to become a deep, thought-provoking story, but it’s nice to have just that little bit more substance.
Unfortunately, the second half of the comic is not as interesting. By this I don’t mean that it’s bad, but the creators do pull a 180 that I don’t much care for personally. On the one hand I understand why it’s necessary. This is Suicide Squad, not Batman/Deadshot. It’s mandatory that at least a few other Squad members show up, especially since Waller sent them after Batman and Deadshot, to drag Deadshot back to Belle Reve. On the other hand, though, I find that it makes for a too abrupt switch in tone which actually takes me out of the story for a bit. Where the comic was interesting and more serious during the first half, the sudden appearance of Boomerang, Harley Quinn and Captain Cold almost feels like an intrusion. The overall tone switches to silly and light-hearted, and while this might be just what some readers out there need after a gritty Batman/Deadshot scene, I think that the contrast between the two sections is too great. For example, Batman and Deadshot have an argument about ethics, killing and even argue about the core of each other’s personalities. But the moment Harley Quinn, Boomerang and Cold come in with a helicopter, we have Harley constantly referring to the aircraft as a submarine, and subsequently crashing it simply because the three of them forgot to check if it had a full tank. Though these shenanigans are fine on their own, I think such campy antics just don’t work as a follow-up to the first section, at least not without a good bridge between both halves, and that’s a real shame.
Artwork this week is brought to us by Philippe Briones (pencils for pages 1-10), Hugo Petrus (pencils 11-22) and Hi-Fi (colors). With no separate inker mentioned, I suppose that Briones and Petrus inked their own pencils. In any case, I think both Briones and Petrus do a good job at drawing the story. They are both capable of drawing big action scenes, and both are pretty consistent as well which means their styles are clearly defined by skill.
I think Briones’s main strength in this book is that he draws good sequential fights. The duel between Batman and Deadshot is well structured, and Briones conveys the impact of each hit expertly. Looking at the panels, I can almost feel the punches in my own gut and jaw. Especially the panels where Batman seems to be gaining the upper hand follow up on each other nicely. First, Batman hits Deadshot’s jaw with his right hand. In the next panel, he pounds down on Deadshot’s head with his left. Then, as Deadshot’s facing the ground, Batman kicks the man. The duel goes on for a while, and it’s like I’m being drawn into the scene, witnessing the combat first-hand.
What Petrus is doing well is that he draws great facial expressions. For example, Harley looks completely unhinged in every panel she appears in, which is exactly what I would imagine her to look like if she’s piloting a helicopter—she’s just having too much fun, even under such dangerous circumstances. Boomerang and Cold both look rather stressed out, worrying that Harley might mess up. Batman’s face is sheer focus; he’s ready to act on a moment’s notice. Deadshot is all rage, saying he’s annoyed with Harley, Boomerang and Cold would be an understatement.
However, there’s also a major inconsistency in the artwork that I can’t overlook. Granted, with two pencillers there is bound to be some inconsistency by virtue of them having different styles. But the problem doesn’t lie with the pencillers—it is mainly the coloring. Don’t get me wrong, I think Hi-Fi is a good colorist who usually has a high professional standard. But what goes wrong here is that the first half of the comic is clearly set at night. There’s even a moon visible in the sky. But the moment that Petrus takes over art duties, it’s suddenly daytime, or morning, or at least the sun is up. Had there been a transition that would’ve made it clear some time passed by this would not have been an issue. But seeing as the dialogue between Batman and Deadshot carries over from section to section, it’s safe to say that not much time has passed at all. So, the second section should still have taken place at night. Or the first during the day. Had there been two colorists at work I guess I could’ve at least understood (though it still would not have been okay, of course), but this is just weird. I honestly don’t get what went wrong during the process. It’s such a glaring mistake, you’d think someone—if not the colorist himself, at least an editor—would have noticed this, right?
You want to read a well-written Batman/Deadshot team-up, complete with interesting conflict
You don’t mind a major switch in tone, from serious and moody to almost slapstick, halfway through the book
You want to read a good Suicide Squad arc after a bunch of misses
Overall: There’s some interesting character work during the first half of the book. Batman and Deadshot are opposites, and yet they have something fundamental in common: they are both fathers that want to keep their kid safe. However, though the first half is interesting and serious, a sudden switch in tone to a more light-hearted approach takes me out of the story and the stakes don’t seem as high anymore. Add to that the coloring mistake—flipping from night to day—and I’m afraid the second half drags the overall quality down somewhat. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad comic. In fact, it’s still much better than this series has been in a while, and if the creators manage to deliver a strong conclusion, this will still be win.