DC’s delivers another Black Label Batman story (they should just call it Bat Label at this point), and this story is brought to you by Brian Azzarello and Alex Maleev. The lead-up to this book’s release has been an interesting one. There’s the obvious idea that this is potentially just a cash grab in an attempt to take advantage of The Suicide Squad’s film release. Also, Joker is plastered on the cover/title because, well… Joker sales. So, those two realities alone give this book a certain perception just on its creation alone.
We also have the reputation of Brian Azzarello. He’s always had a bit of a reputation from within the industry, but I feel like his reputation became even more well-known after the animated The Killing Joke film came out. In general, he has a tendency to try and be edgy to a fault. Seriously, he tries way too hard.
Then there was the controversy. Prior to the book’s release, it was leaked that one of the characters in the story, Wild Dog, comments as being part of the January 6th insurrection. The creators had strong opinions and words about the situation, and this became the commentary surrounding the book over anything else. I personally feel it was a poor idea to include this – not for the sake of the character, but because I feel that including specific, historical events dates comics. Also, I feel that it tends to feel too desperate, whereas just including the themes usually works better.
Anyway, the book is finally out, so what do we think? Is it worth it? Eh…
The basic concept of this book is that Jason Todd, Red Hood, is in prison for his crimes operating as a vigilante (that murders) in Gotham. Amanda Waller decides to recruit him for Task Force X, and ultimately sends him on a mission with other villains to find and take out, you guessed it, the Joker. I like this because it works on a few levels for me. I like the idea of Jason being a member of the Suicide Squad, but I also like the personal connection of Jason with Joker.
In fact, I really enjoyed the first few pages of this book. I like this depiction of Jason, and I enjoy that DC is leaning into the darker side of the character. It feels true to who he is as the Red Hood. DC has spent years talking about how bad he is, only for him to act like every other hero. It’s a constant flirtation with Jason being a “bad boy” while also being heroic, and it’s an initiative that tends to lead to whiplash for the character. How many instances have we gotten of Batman making idle threats to stop Red Hood, only for him to never follow through? How often do we see DC push Jason as an unhinged hero, only for him to beat up someone who potentially deserves it? This direction feels like DC is finally owning what they’ve made of Jason and they’re actually going for it as opposed to toying with the idea.
The rest of the cast is alright at best. While I enjoyed Jason – as well as the scenes between Jason and Amanda Waller – I didn’t really care for anyone else – including Harley Quinn. The characters, nor their characterization, managed to catch my attention. Add in the layer of “Azzarello edge,” and they become a little insufferable. And, yes, even Wild Dog. But it isn’t the controversial decision to include him in the insurrection that bothered me, as much as how desperate Azzarello came off by how he wrote the character.
Speaking of “edge,” DC needs to figure out what in the hell their publishing lines are supposed to represent. We have two YA books (Nubia: Real One and I Am Not Starfire) that feature uncensored cussing, including the word “fuck.” These are books targeted at kids. But then you have Black Label – which is supposed to be the mature, prestige line that’s targeting adults… And cuss words are censored. Wait… What? How does this make any sense?
The censored cussing isn’t even consistent here either. The book starts by censoring the language – some of which I don’t even know what the word is supposed to be because the dialogue is… rough – then there’s a random “bitch” that’s uncensored. I immediately thought this one just slipped past the editors, until I read multiple other cusswords that were uncensored. Did they change their mind halfway through and forget to go back to enter the cuss words? It’s just odd.
To say the script is written with a heavy hand is an understatement. From the insurrection to the cussing that feels like it’s included for no other reason than to make the book “edgy,” the oppression dialogue, to the fact that Russia is the enemy behind the Joker’s actions…. It all comes off as nauseatingly desperate to be relevant.
There is a twist at the end that will probably divide readers depending on their stance of Amanda Waller.
Joker finds Amanda Waller and gets the best of her. It actually appears as though he kills her, though it’s not certain. The attack results in Joker getting control of the “box,” so he can now control the Squad. To prove he’s in control, he kills Firefly, and it becomes quite clear that he has his own goal and mission in mind.
Despite everything I didn’t like about the issue, I am curious to see where the story goes from here. There are only two issues remaining, so I hope Azzarello focuses less on being edgy, and more on just telling a good story.
Alex Maleev is the artist for this issue, and I’m a huge fan of his work. I love the grit and texture of his pencils, and I feel like he draws people very well. That’s not limited to how they look, but how they act. Their body language. Their emoting. Their overall presence and movements – a testament to his ability in sequential storytelling. There aren’t many artists that can take pages of two characters having a conversation and make it feel engaging and dynamic, but Maleev can.
I find his work interesting as well. He’s a minimalist when it comes to backgrounds, but when he does include a background – as opposed to a splash of color – his depiction is often quite good. But even when he just opts for the splashes of color, the art feels fully realized and lived in. Artists like Mazzucchelli and Jean-Paul Leon utilized hyper-detailed backgrounds to create this, and Maleev, somehow, manages to invoke the same feeling with watercolors. It’s impressive.
I also love the tone that is set through Maleev’s shadows. He’s a master of shading and shadows and uses that technique to his advantage to aid the story. Matt Hollingsworth’s colors do their fair share of heavy lifting as well. Overall, artistically, it’s great work.
- You like the idea of Red Hood leading the Suicide Squad.
- You’ll read anything with Joker.
- The Suicide Squad is hitting theaters, so why not?
Suicide Squad: Get Joker is a mixed back through and through. There are some incredible elements and angles that I find generally intriguing, but I wish another writer had taken the reigns other than Azzarello. Azzarello writes with a heavy hand and a desperation to be taken seriously. It’s a shame too because when he doesn’t try so hard, the book is actually damn good. It starts and ends incredibly strong, but the pages in between leave a lot to be desired. Thankfully they’re illustrated beautifully by Alex Maleev and Matt Hollingsworth.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this movie for the purpose of this review.