Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Movie/TV Tie-ins, Part XV: Suicide Squad #9

Bland heroes and villains make you root for death in this early team book

I never did catch on to the appeal of DC's Suicide Squad books. What with their random assortment of rotating door villains performing black ops style missions under duress alongside order-following, straight-arrow good guys and led by Amanda "The Wall" Waller, the government special operative who has "the end justifies the means" tattooed on the inside of her eyelids, I found that much of the time the books just didn't excite me.

For one thing the villains never seemed villainous enough. A true criminal would always be looking for the opportunity to escape and far too often these guys just went with the flow. I'll go into the particulars below, but suffice to say real bad guys would have been plotting from the very first moment to get away.

Also our good guys are pretty bland. Even at their emotional high points they are boring. And their superpowers are not just weak, but non-existent. Suicide Squad needed someone with flashy explosive powers to go along with their deadly, high-risk mission itinerary. Bronze Tiger and Rick Flagg, Jr just don't cut it.

The squad created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Ross Andru back in Brave and the Bold #25 in 1959 bore little in resemblance to the current team. This was a band of secret military heroes who fought strange foes, and nary a super criminal one was in evidence in their numbers. The group had a brief run in Brave and Bold and a one shot in Action Comics #552 before vanishing.

Following DC's Crisis, mainstay writer John Ostrander wrote them into the 1986 Legends miniseries in much their current incarnation, as Task Force X operating out of Belle Reve Penitentiary in Louisiana. Amanda Waller was introduced as the behind-the-scenes puppet master of the group. The initial group even lost a member before the series began as Blockbuster dies combating Darkseid's heavy Brimstone. 1987 began volume one with Ostrander at the helm and things were off to the races.

The issue I hold in my hand was from that run, near a year in. Ostrander is doing the scripting, as he would for all 66 issues of this run. Luke McDonnell is on pencils and Bob Lewis on inking chores. This was a tie-in to end all tie-ins, too. Millennium was DC's plot to suck every nickel from your pocket in 1987, a crossover event that touched all their titles. They must have loved the sales bump that Crisis gave them and were hitting the well a second time. It would be a while yet before readers realized that these multi-title stories were bumpier than four miles of gravel road in a car without shocks.

This particular chug-hole filed trail concerned the non-event of all time, a creation of a group of super-powered beings to succeed the Guardians of OA while they went to another dimension with the female Zamarons to eh..um, it's not really clear so I'm gonna go with "bone." Those little guys were kinda lonely, I guess.

Also these "New Guardians" were going to birth a race of immortals.
The selection of the New Guardians became the instigation of an attack by the evil robot Manhunters. At the culmination of the crossover the replacement Guardians got their own book, titled The New Guardians which lasted exactly twelve issues. There were lots of problems with their book including one villain gaining superpowers by snorting cocaine, a villain named The Heomgoblin who was basically a vampire with AIDS and a hero that was flamboyantly gay to the point of being an offensive stereotype. But mostly it was just boring. And after it wrapped up we went back to business as usual in the DC universe with the regular little blue smurf Guardians back on OA.

What little good did come out of the event came from the Manhunters. Manhunters are robots that the Guardians created before the Lanterns. They ended up turning evil. So it goes. Crafty little devils that they are and having near indefinite lifespans, they managed to create a stir at the start of Millennium. This initial excitement came from DC teasing us with the Manhunters having infiltrated every hero's core group in some way. Flash's Dad came out as a Manhunter, the JLI's own Rocket Red turned out to be a robot Manhunter in disguise and so was the Olympian goat god Pan.

For a while there we had some fun guessing who the turncoats would be. Then we found out and…well, the rest of the stories became what this issue was: overlap city. This one issue ties into Captain Atom #11, Detective Comics #582, and the Spectre #10. Yes, they wanted all your money. The interlocking cover looked kind of neat, but come on…this is just a gimmick.

And the story suffered greatly. Characters appear and disappear back to their own books a couple of times in each of the Millennium issues. This book concerns the heroes destroying a Manhunter base hidden in the swamp. And here on the title page is the "Baby Huey" bomb they are using, which looks suspiciously like one of my kid's pinewood derby cars.

And not a winning one, at that.

Our cast of villains for this traipse into the jaws of certain death are Slipknot, along with book regulars Boomerang and Deadshot. Guess who will end up getting killed or maimed?

The hero chaperons are Rick Flagg, Jr, Bronze Tiger, Privateer (who was trained by the Manhunters and now wants revenge) and Karin Grace, the love interest of both Flagg and Privateer. 

A whole page of story takes place that recaps quite a bunch. Flagg has reservations about Privateer's loyalties…

…and why he's losing the love of his life to him.

Boomerang sets in motion a plan to test the range of the explosive cuffs that keep Task Force X's criminal complement loyal to the job. 

 In fact all this setup is going along swimmingly until…

Oh, yeah. I was getting so involved in the characters in this book that I forgot this was a crossover storyline. How about we get both of these out of the way as quickly as possible?

So this is a literal suicide mission this time. It's right about here that I realize why I didn't like this book. I find the good guys without motivation to risk their necks. Bronze Tiger and Rick Flagg take orders well enough, but I constantly find myself asking why. Why are they in the middle of this? The movie at least has all bad guys going in to take out the sure-death whatever with the dangled carrot of early release as the incentive. I don't know why these two do it. At least Privateer wants revenge, an understandable impulse.

Anyway, I mentioned getting these crossover cameos over, right? Well, on cue Firestorm shows up and starts an all-out battle with Captain Atom. (Notice the blurb? I was RIGHT!)

Ostrander is really trying to push past all these to get to the story he wants to tell. Heck, Batman only gets his name dropped, Ostrander is in such a hurry.

Which he would be. No sense in putting criminals IN jail just for them to obtain some kind of unearned early release due to taking part in Waller's clandestine program. That might make Bats a teensy bit upset.

Meanwhile the squad has blown a hole in the Manhunter base and we get some "useless powers vs robots" action going. 

And you thought driving the bomb filled the suicide portion of the book, didn't you? Fists, ropes, exploding boomerangs and regular bullets have no effect on these robots, quite as one might expect, yet that's the most these guys came packing with. Seems like Waller picked the wrong bunch to send after killer metal robots. Why didn't they save Blockbuster for this instead of letting him get wasted on the first mission? Or Enchantress? Maybe she could magic the team some giant can openers to use as weapons or something.

Okay, so Deadshot finally has something effective to use but even the shrapnel appears to be against them. Evil shrapnel. I guess that's a thing.

Speaking of Deadshot, he and Captain B are the books staple characters during this run. They are the two criminals who never get the benefit of early release from the program, but are perpetually back in the thick of things while others rotate out. And I kind of like these two, just don't love them.

Captain Boomerang is a conniving, sniveling thief, the type of villain who would twirl his mustache if he had one. Digger's weapon choice makes him seem a gimmicky third-stringer, but he's effectively used in this book making for both comic relief and a bit of melodrama.

Deadshot on the other hand is a bit more complex. He just doesn't care. He is completely nihilistic in his approach to everything. We get to watch him shoot a fellow member of the squad in the head and shake it off like it doesn't phase him. I don't see Will Smith being able to capture this level of emotional detachment unless you count his performance in After Earth, because Deadshot truly doesn't care about anyone or anything. That includes his own skin. While Digger seems forced into squad membership, Deadshot appears to look on it with callous indifference. As long as it allows him to shoot people, it doesn't matter what cause he serves. That kind of attitude is a bit chilling, actually.

About this time Slipknot realizes the title of the squad is literal and he heads for the hills. Given the doubts Captain Boomerang has put in his head, seems like his chances of dying are the same either way. Unfortunately that's gonna cost him.

Digger here is exactly on point with what we need more of: an evil sense of entitled self-interest. Whatever works to his good, he'll use. It makes him an established bad-guy, one we love to hate.

Storywise it works too, because just like in a horror movie we expect a little death here. Suicide IS in the team's name and everything. I bet in the movie they kill the pyrotechnic guy, El Diablo. He fell so below the radar that outside of interviewing his creative team, I hadn't heard of him. Deadshot? No. Harley? Don't make me laugh. Killer Croc? Nope. Guy who I don't remember seeing before? TOAST. 

Unless Slipknot is in the movie. Then of course he's the one going down.
In the meantime, Rick Flagg and Privateer have driven the bomb deeper into the complex where they come across Karin, who was last seen struggling with a group of Manhunter robots. The two men get into an altercation over the decision on whether or not to help her.

So they help her. And then this happens.

Yeah, don't ask me to explain this twist either.
It appears that Karin has been working with the Manhunters and Mark Shaw/Privateer is a mole for them as well. Yet two seconds ago he wanted Flagg to let her fall to her death. Unless he somehow knew Flagg wouldn't let that happen. Yet in the very next panel Karin talks about this…

…and mentions how Flagg doesn't let his personal feelings get in the way of the "mission" or "duty" which flies in the face of his actions here, meaning if he was that guy, Karin would be street pizza right now…so this is just all real bizarre. And it only gets worse when… 

Yup. Karin wasn't in love with the real Mark Shaw. She was in love with…

A robot Manhunter. 

Who claims Privateer is actually an android. Privateer claims the Manhunter is an android (which would make them pretty specialized robots for Karin not to notice anything amiss). Rick Flagg feels like a dumbass and decides to ditch all this and ride that bomb right down the Manhunter's throats. 

The robot Manhunter tries to stop him and instead shoots Mark Shaw/Privateer. Or the Manhunter android that thinks it is Mark Shaw/Privateer. And then Flagg. But he doesn't kill them for some reason, instead states they are just stunned. He hands his pistol-thing over to Karin and instructs her to …

Woah. Karin really was loving on a robot. Kinky. 

Why did it suddenly explode like that, though?

See the yellow box? Oh, that's right! It happened in the other part of the crossover that you will need to purchase to figure out the ending…thanks for holding the ending hostage, DC. I'm sure they plant this bomb in a few pages and blow the Manhunters to kingdom come, in the Spectre book it will have a similar blurb pointing readers to spend their pocket change back this direction.

And about that bomb: Karin drives it the rest of the way in, while Mark Shaw drags Flaggs body out. The car topples over, trapping her underneath. Flagg wakes up and gets an emotional "KAHN!" moment, then "blammo!"

This issue's soap-operatics were a staple of the series and one of the reasons I didn't really dig it. The most interesting thing to me was the villains-as-heroes and their motivations. Far too often we were caught up in Flagg and Tiger and any other "good guy" handlers instead of letting us revel in the bad guys. They are what truly set the book apart and yet they are never really given much chance to shine.

It's a true shame too. A book without any heroes in the forefront, (no Flagg, Bronze Tiger, Nightshade or Karin) where the criminals face off against Waller would have been so much more interesting. Hopefully this is something the new movie gets right.

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