Thursday, April 23, 2015

Suicide Squad

Surprise surprise, there's another comic book movie in the works. This time, it's one of my absolute favorites.

It's called Suicide Squad. The series for DC Comics truly has its origins in a 1959 issue of The Brave and the Bold, but it was the 1987 re-launch by writer John Ostrander that really caught my attention. Well alright, I'll be honest. I didn't start reading it until about 1991, just a few issues shy of its cancellation in the fall of that year. Just like me to be late to the party, showing up just in time to watch the whole thing sale across the sky like a bolide before winking into non-existence. Anyway, what was it about Suicide Squad that drew me in? Well, four points in answer to that question:

First of all, there was the basic concept. The protagonists of the series were all supercriminals. It's a story about bad guys. While imprisoned, they were given the option to undertake high-risk special ops missions for the U.S. government, missions with a low probability of succeeding (hence the name, "Suicide Squad.") The government got "deniable assets." The supercriminals got commuted sentences.

Second, the series took lesser known villainous characters and gave them a home of their own where they could really develop. Sure, characters like Penguin and Captain Cold each had story arcs, but those were rare. Most stories focused on characters like the tormented and sociopathic Deadshot, the manically depressed Count Vertigo, the ninja-esque Thugee known as Ravan, and the laughably base Flash villain, Captain Boomerang. While on missions, the Squad is coordinated by their eyes and ears, Barbara Gordon, who has become the computer hacker Oracle since being shot by the Joker in The Killing Joke. Riding herd on all of these crooks was the gruff Amanda Waller of the NSA, a character I saw somewhat reflected in that of Nancy, the NSA director on The West Wing.

That reference to the genius of Aaron Sorkin brings me to my third point. Suicide Squad was something of rarity for comic books as it took its inspiration from real life political situations and news stories ("ripped from today's headlines.") There were terrorist cells from the Middle East, situations that pertained directly to the Cold War, and espionage activities that mirror what went on behind the scenes of the world stage, such as toppling dictatorships. From time to time, real world leaders such as Reagan and Gorbachev made appearances. Writer John Ostrander said that he had a friend who would ask where the Squad was going on their next mission so that he could avoid travel to that location.

Ostrander was of course the fourth point. His writing was of a depth and quality that one seldom finds in comics. A series of this nature gave him all manner of opportunity to explore moral gray areas. And not just with the criminals, mind you, but with the actions of our own government. By employing literary devices such as psychiatrists and chaplains at the prison, Ostrander was able to delve deep into these characters and drag up their pasts while illustrating their psychological make-up. During the late 80s and early 90s, DC was really at the top of their game when it came to writing. John Ostrander was a big reason why.

As I mentioned at the top, there is currently a Suicide Squad movie in the works. It seems heavy on the Batman villains and has Will Smith as Deadshot. Not sure I can see that working as I've only seen Smith in roles where he is a wise-cracker and not a badass, but he may yet surprise me. This is not the first live-action adaptation of the Squad, however. The TV series Arrow has had its own version and it has turned out all right, especially with its depiction of Deadshot. I mean, they toned down his past and made it a bit more noble (the comics Deadshot had a past similar to that of Don Draper from Mad Men but not as warm), but it is the CW after all and they've been playing fast and loose with Green Arrow for a little while now. I'm not saying that's bad, just saying. We'll see how it goes.

Given overall quality of DC's films, I'm not optimistic.

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