Suicide Squad Annual #1 review

While Task Force X is preoccupied with their mission in Atlantis (see the current Sink Atlantis crossover with Aquaman), this annual takes a look at everything that goes wrong at Belle Reve while the Squad is away. Not only does this story’s cast consist of various obscure characters, it also incorporates elements of body horror, slasher horror and supernatural horror, with a good dose of camp mixed in. To me, this annual is a fun change of pace from the regular series, and I think those who have never read a Suicide Squad issue before can pick this up and have a good time, if they’re into the type of content that this book has to offer. So, with that said, let’s have a look.

The basic premise of the annual is rooted in the body horror genre. The book opens with Cadence Laramie and Dennis Gaines undergoing surgery in Belle Reve. The story goes that Cadence and Dennis had once been abducted by an unknown entity, and when they were found again it turned out they had been surgically conjoined. However, Dennis dies in the opening scene, which results in Cadence walking around and eventually trudging through the swamp with a dead body attached to her, while chased after by many scary ghost entities which are out for blood. Moreover, when characters die, the creative team makes sure that you get to see exactly how they die, which sometimes can get incredibly gory, to a point where we see bone sticking out of people’s limbs, or eyes flying through the air in a rain of blood, or people getting torn to pieces as demons set upon them. This comic doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to violence, and with every cast member truly being at risk of dying, this annual also has an element of suspense that the regular series can never achieve because it’s unthinkable that characters like Harley or Deadshot will get killed. This issue, however, honors the series’ title, so get ready for that.

The Suicide Squad consists of Merlyn, an archer and nemesis of Green Arrow; Scream Queen, a punk rock vampire with an attitude; Shimmer, a woman who can manipulate matter; Tao Jones, martial arts expert and able to create force fields; Skorpio, a dude that looks like a reptile, wielding two blades; Rag Doll, a creepy guy who can contort his body in twisted ways; and, last but not least, Baby Boom, a weird little girl that can explode things with her mind. While each team member looks great in their costume, has a cool code name and an interesting power or skill, this book does not actually contain many character moments. There are some, but they are few and far between, and as such this comic is heavily driven by plot rather than the characters. On the one hand, I think it’s a bit of a shame that we don’t get to know these characters better; some really never transcend just being cool-clothed characters with fun powers. On the other hand, this being mostly plot driven makes for a quick-paced horror story where the backgrounds of certain Squad members don’t matter as much; it’s more about the situation itself that they find themselves in and the action, than the characters’ motivations. Having said that, there are a few character moments sprinkled throughout the story, such as Scream Queen and Shimmer’s love affair, and Merlyn’s doubts and survival-instinct reactions to what’s going on, and of course Cadence’s ordeal in the swamp. I think it’s a good thing that these moments are placed in the narrative, because they set up a few outcomes that attain a bit of emotional resonance later on. Including these moments adds just that little bit of extra flavor to spice things up. Besides, in a book that’s meant to keep a fast pace and focus on the core plot elements, I think it’s a good thing that these character moments never overshadow the actual story.

Of course, this book also guest stars Swamp Thing. Seeing as the story, for the most part, is set in the Louisiana swamp and heavily incorporates horror themes, including Swamp Thing is a bit of a no-brainer. What strikes me here, though, is that Swamp Thing really seems like a saint, especially when compared to the Suicide Squad and Waller. Whereas I’ve seen Swamp Thing do some morally ambiguous things in other comics, he is the only character in this book that’s a straight-up good guy and the only one who wants to save Cadence’s life. But, if I’m being honest, for the most part Swamp Thing’s appearance feels mandatory, like editorial wanted the character in the story and the creative team had to find a way to fit him in. As such, Swamp Thing doesn’t get many important character moments, doesn’t—in my opinion—get powerful hero moments (he just fights really hard), and he also doesn’t feel like an actual threat to the Squad because he and the Squad are soon overwhelmed by common enemies. That’s not to say that Swamp Thing and the Squad members ever team up, though; they very much remain opposing forces throughout. However, while Swamp Thing isn’t written as complex as he could (and perhaps should) be, and fully embraces the goody-two-shoes role, he does get a powerful moment at the end of the comic that validates his presence as well as makes the story come full circle. I will elaborate on this point, but I will do so in the spoiler tags below because I will have to give away the ending.

Scream Queen and Merlyn, the only two survivors, return to Waller’s office for debriefing. As Waller detonates Scream Queen’s neck bomb, exploding her head in a rain of blood, eyes and brain, she’s leisurely eating dinner, and has a salad on the side. This is when Swamp Thing emerges from the salad and threatens Waller that she doesn’t want to make him his enemy if she knows what’s good for her. Not only does this moment show that Swamp Thing can be everywhere as long as there is vegetation around, it also shows that he has a way of infiltrating Belle Reve and going to Waller directly. Waller, however, tells him off, stating that he won’t be able to watch her in her place of power while he’s off doing hero stuff with the Justice League Dark. To this, Swamp Thing answers that she’s right, that he’s not able to watch over her, but that someone will. The ghosts of Cadence and Dennis, along with all the other creepy ghosts that have been killing Squad members left and right, fade into the office to haunt Waller. Thereby the comic ends on a creepy image; the ghosts don’t actually attack her, but they have come to watch, and there’s nothing that Waller can do to stop them. It’s a powerful ending if you think about it, not only because Cadence and Dennis are together once more (although now in ghost form and no longer sharing a body), but also because this essentially means check-mate for Waller. For now.

I have some final remarks about the ending, but this doesn’t contain any spoilers. It’s merely about how the ending is structured. At the start of the comic certain questions are raised, such as, who abducted Cadence and Dennis and surgically conjoined the two of them? The implication is that the creepy ghost monsters did so, but by the end of the issue we never get any answers; it’s completely left out in the open. But, rather than taking away points from the story because it can be considered as incomplete, I actually think that this open ending is one of the book’s strengths. In the horror genre, the story is usually the most scary when things are unexplained, because fear almost always goes hand in hand with the unknown. If we don’t know what’s going to happen, or if we can’t see in the dark and therefore can’t know what’s around us, we sometimes get scared. I think the horror in this book mostly comes from the fact that we as readers never quite find out who those ghosts are or where they come from, and what they have to do with Cadence. Waller herself also might not know exactly, which puts her in a position where she, for once, doesn’t think she’s the smartest person in the room who knows everything. For once, she’s put in her place and might very well be at a loss as to how to deal with this situation.

The artwork is by Ronan Cliquet (artist) and Jason Wright (colors). The two of them manage to establish suspenseful opening pages that had me on the edge of my seat. The shots are framed in such a way that it’s hard to see what’s going on, and only glimpses of the ghosts can be caught. This horror theme continues throughout the issue, haunting the misty swamps around Belle Reve. The way that they render gore is also rather impressive: the art team doesn’t shy away from drawing closeups on wounds, blood and even brain. Furthermore, the outfits of characters look delightfully campy. For example, Rag Doll looks like a horrific trickster entity with his black and white checkered pants and deathly white face. Baby Boom wears weird glasses, holds a lollipop and wears a funny dress. Scream Queen looks like she’s just emerged from a goth/punk show. It’s these offbeat looks that add a layer of comedy and absurdity to an otherwise dark horror story. There are, however, a couple things that don’t work out so well. For example, sometimes characters are rendered with a smile on their face while the context of the story and the dialogue clearly indicates that the character should be distressed or scared. We also see Skorpio sneaking up on another character, and he wields both his blades. But in the following panel, one of his blades has suddenly vanished and he only wields one. There are more of these types of errors, but I don’t think that any of them will diminish the entertainment value of the book.

Recommended if…

  • You are into body horror, slasher movies and/or ghost stories
  • You like it when Waller is put in her place
  • You are a fan of Swamp Thing
  • You want to read a Suicide Squad title where the team actually goes on a suicide mission

Overall: A fun horror comic with some weird humor on top. There are a few inconsistencies in the art that might raise questions while reading, and the comic’s ending is ambiguous and open. But on the whole, this is a good, well-paced, suspenseful horror story featuring obscure characters. Prepare for a high body count, gore and a lot of ghosts, and enjoy this break from the usual.

Score: 8/10