Suicide Squad #45 is the first chapter of Sink Atlantis, a four part crossover with Aquaman. I’ve been reading both titles for a while now, and in my opinion each has its distinct identity. Where Suicide Squad is a team book about super-villains undertaking explosive missions for the U.S. government, Aquaman is a sprawling fantasy epic taking readers on underwater adventures. So, because the former book veers more toward gritty action mixed with oddball humor, and the latter is about a mythical place and the unconditional love between Arthur and Mera, I’ve wondered how Abnett and Williams would unite the two titles to tell one story. Having read Suicide Squad #45 a couple times now, I can say for sure that I think it’s a fun issue, though not without its problems. Let’s have a look.
I’m starting this review with some points of critique. First of all, I dislike parts of the story’s premise, but in order to explain there’s some prior knowledge that readers should have to understand better where I’m coming from (and to get the most out of this crossover). It all began with Snyder and Capullo’s Dark Nights: Metal #6. Wearing magical Tenth Metal armor, Aquaman deeply longed for a place where Atlanteans and humans could coexist. This subconscious wish, brought to life by the armor, manifested itself in reality and the city of Atlantis was raised above sea level; now a place of both sea and land, much like Aquaman himself is a man of these two worlds. Of course Aquaman didn’t do this on purpose, and the American government isn’t too enthusiastic about it either, viewing a risen Atlantis as a potential threat that needs to be sunk back into the depths as soon as possible.
While I think that the idea of Aquaman affecting the world around him with his mind, and a little help from arcane artifacts, is awesome (I’m just really into magical, psychedelic stories), I have to admit that I’m losing interest in stories about the U.S. government feeling threatened by Atlantis. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the idea itself. It just seems to me that it has been done too often. I say this, of course, as someone who likes his Aquaman comics best when Arthur and his companions venture deep into the sea, encountering all sorts of magical treasures and powerful foes, because the deep sea leaves lots of room for creators to let their imagination run wild. However, beyond my personal taste, I genuinely feel that these political stories are starting to become a trope, or even a gimmick. Besides older Aquaman comics, we’ve seen similar plot threads surfacing in Justice League stories and even in Injustice to an extent, to just name a few. So, to hammer home my point: I wish there would be more focus on Aquaman as a mythical hero of the sea (I felt that the recent King Rath saga (#25-38) was a step in the right direction [seriously, pick it up if you can]), rather than his constantly being confronted with the same choice: sea or land. Why not just embrace both and move on to new stories?
Usually when I dislike a story’s premise, reading the rest of the book becomes a chore. But this wasn’t actually the case with Suicide Squad #45. Yes, the two pages devoted to the U.S. government and admiral Meddinghouse were rather boring to me, but then again it was only two pages. Meddinghouse specifically annoyed me because he’s the one character that reinforces the trope of Atlantis as a perceived threat. However, to be fair, I do have to say that the setup is well-written. The way that Meddinghouse, after the government meeting is adjourned, approaches Waller about a Task Force X mission to sink Atlantis just makes sense from his perspective. Even though I personally think it’s boring, Meddinghouse as a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later kind of guy has a clear motivation because it’s firmly rooted in the aforementioned political trope. I imagine this will be easily understood, even by new readers, and thereby the creative team effectively establishes what’s at stake here.
What follows is a typical Suicide Squad adventure. Two new characters are introduced to the team, one of which is Lord Satanis with the power to temporarily resurrect the dead, and the other is Master Jailer, a guy who can get in and out of any locked room (it’s the neck bomb that’s preventing him from escaping Belle Reve). Neither character gets a lot of development here yet, and as it stands they are nothing more than their suits and their powers, although hints at their back stories are provided so they can potentially be expanded on in the upcoming chapters. Also, with these obscure characters on the team, the possibility arises for one or both of them to die, although I do hope that they’ll get the appropriate character development before that happens, because without it they are but plot devices rather than actual rounded characters. We’ll see how this plays out in later issues.
Before we get into what makes this book fun, I have a final point of criticism about Suicide Squad. After Justice League versus Suicide Squad, which was a major event earlier in DC Rebirth, it’s pretty much established that the Justice League knows about the Squad (they fought each other, after all). If the League knows, it’s not a stretch that other people have found out as well. My point is that Waller’s reasoning—the Squad being just random super-villains in case they get caught so as to hide that they are government sanctioned—falls apart, because the knowledge that the Squad exists and is led by Waller is out there. Harley, Deadshot and Croc operating as a team in Atlantis (not Gotham), especially under such political pressure that’s completely focused on that city, is more likely to be a Suicide Squad operation than a random super-villain attack (even if the three aforementioned characters are Batman villains first and foremost). Now, this could of course be just Waller’s reasoning, and that’s fine, but I think currently the book is still undermining its own premise. At this stage, the Suicide Squad exists and they just aren’t as secret anymore. If the Squad keeps on taking on major threats, wrecking entire cities and being all over the place, it will get harder and harder for me to buy that they can’t be linked to Waller and Belle Reve and, ultimately, the government. Not on Batman’s, Superman’s, Wonder Woman’s, or any other hero’s watch, that is.
But once these points are accepted, a genuinely fun and well-structured issue emerges. First, this entire issue is really just setup for the rest of the story. While the Squad and Aquaman don’t meet yet, by the end of the issue it seems all the characters are in place so the show can start in earnest in Aquaman #39, and I think this is a wise decision by the creative team. Seeing as not every Aquaman reader is a Suicide Squad reader and vice versa, it is necessary to provide some exposition to bring readers up to speed. For example, Waller’s briefing to the Squad provides a good recap for those who came in late, and it doesn’t feel like a blatant exposition dump because it makes sense for her to explain these details to the members of the Squad. After all, it’s information that they need in order to get the job done.
What’s quite striking is that Mera’s coronation (she’s to be queen of Atlantis while Arthur is in hiding) takes place in this Squad issue. To me, this underscores that this is a crossover event that blends elements from both series, mixing them into one story. Moreover, it’s great to see that the Squad doesn’t feel entirely out of place in Aquaman’s territory. We’ve already seen the Squad in space and in weird dimensions, so it’s not the first time they are the fish out of water, and it’s precisely because of their deep sea surroundings that this is such a fun read. It really feels like they are infiltrating another DC character’s world, and I’m eager to find out what happens next. After all, both Aquaman and the Squad members can be rooted for, and seeing as they’ll likely be on opposing sides, it will be interesting to see how the story progresses from here.
I also think that Deadshot is the best character in this issue because what we see here not only establishes an important aspect of his character, but it also confirms that the character development he went through during the Constriction arc (#41-44) is still valid. Deadshot is the field leader on this mission, and essentially the plan is to explode Atlantis’s foundation to sink the city. But the moment Deadshot sees that there are children in danger, he refuses to go through with the plan. There are echoes of the discussion on whether Deadshot is a hero or villain (again, from Constriction), and I’m happy to see that the character development from the previous arc isn’t abandoned and still valid.
Art in this issue is done by José Luís (pencils), Jordi Tarragona & Vicente Cifuentes (inks), and Adriano Lucas (colors). What strikes me inititally is that this book, aesthetically, resembles more of an Aquaman comic than a Suicide Squad comic. Part of the reason is that the U.S. government scenes (as I explained above) aren’t new to Aquaman stories. Another part of it is that a big chunk of the comic is set under water. Furthermore, the art team gives us beautiful backgrounds. We see the risen city of Atlantis, embedded in rock, U.S. Air Force planes flying over, the sun starting to set in the distance. We see a detailed underwater world, with all kinds of fish swimming in the background and coral reefs and bubbles constantly in motion. And then there are the campy designs of both Lord Satanis and Master Jailer. They look like they’ve walked straight out of a 90s comic, and they are such weird appearances in the book that they really stand out among the rest of the cast. Master Jailer has spikes on his costume and a full mask hiding his face and Lord Satanis has a large cape and a medieval helmet. What’s especially good about their designs is that they embrace the C-list status of the characters fully, adding a much appreciated element of camp (in conjunction with off-beat humor in the script) to a story with a serious premise.
What’s more, the art team makes Mera’s coronation stately and elegant. Mera herself looks beautiful in her Atlantean dress and powerful among her personal guards and an audience that’s there to witness her coronation. The hall where this takes place is grand and majestic, with enormous statues towering over the walkway that Mera walks across. What makes this scene so great to me is that it shows how Atlantean culture has its own distinct look as opposed to Western culture with its exotic forms and oceanic colors; my fascination for Atlantean culture in part comes from this particular aesthetic.
All in all, the art team is doing an excellent job at illustrating the story. Character models and proportions are consistently believable; facial expressions convey emotions effectively, matching the words that characters say; and the coloring is layered and detailed as Lucas uses a wide variety of colors to create America and Atlantis, finding a sweet spot between the official government room and the depths of the ocean: it’s a fine blend of unique colors that come from the same palette.
You want to read the follow up to a plot point first introduced in Metal #6: the rise of Atlantis
You are curious to see how the Suicide Squad characters and the Aquaman characters will interact
You are a fan of Deadshot
You are a fan of Mera
Overall: This is a fun comic! Despite being of the opinion that America perceiving Atlantis as a threat has been done to death by now, the actual story that emerges from this premise is pretty entertaining. While this issue is just the setup for now, the creative team finds a way to unite both series’ worlds through both solid artwork and well-written characters. However, I do think that this story mainly appeals to fans of Aquaman, and perhaps less so to fans of Suicide Squad, simply because this story centers around Aquaman lore specifically. But with the familiar Squad dynamics in place, there is of course plenty here for readers of Suicide Squad to enjoy as well.