Crocked Critics: Suicide Squad #1

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on August 19, 2016.

Suicide-Squad-1-Rebirth

In “Crocked Critics” two comics critics are joined by their favorite companions: booze and sequential art. With minimal editing and maximal drinking, a pair of typically insightful writers take a serious look at a new comic while putting back drinks. For this particular journey we are joined by Alison Baker accompanied by Hell-Cat Maggie Irish Whiskey (which traces its roots to the same lore as Gangs of New York) and Chase Magnett sipping on Mt. Defiance Amber Rum (aged in whiskey barrels for a unique Virginian flavor). They are taking a look at Suicide Squad #1 from writer Rob Williams, artist Jim Lee with inker Scott Williams, and colorist Alex Sinclair to see how this fares in comparison to the critically-panned film from earlier this month.

Chase Magnett: Where do we start? There’s a million things I have to say, but there’s too much hate.

Alison Baker: 1. The cover is a mystery. Who is that black lady in the glasses? Is Enchantress not white? Where is Floyd’s facial hair? 2. Amanda’s narration is a mess. It’s not consistent, and the elevation of these C-list idiots to “Evil” is completely counter to the Suicide Squad idea. Either they’re a bunch of expendable losers, OR they are ultra badass. Not both. 3. I cannot believe there are 4+ pages devoted to diarrhea and barf. WHY.

Magnett: I’m glad we have an itinerary for this particular journey into darkness. Let’s start at the beginning and tackle the cover. In spite of it being created by the interior artist, it is wildly inconsistent from the story being told inside. June Moone is of a different race. One character is not present in the story, while team leader Rick Flag is absent from the cover. You’re right that Deadshot doesn’t look the same as he does inside and neither does Boomerang with those lovely locks no longer curling on his shoulder.

One of my biggest beefs is Killer Croc. He is set apart from the team as if he is an alien presence, a more animalistic force than his comrades. Inside he’s the most reasonable person of the lot. The worst part for me though is his lower jaw which hangs about a full head length below his upper teeth. Even if he can unhinge his jaw, these proportions are a stretch. That purposeless lack of consideration to consistency or anatomy is not just present on the cover. It’s the defining characteristic of his work in Suicide Squad #1. But what did you think of the interior artwork on this issue?

Baker: Well, Jim Lee brought enough hash lines for everyone, so that was nice of him. There’s a lot of inconsistency in the main story – June Moone’s look changes panel to panel, along with Harley’s breast size and the details of Deadshot’s hideous outfit – and I’m going to be upfront, I have hated the Deadshot redesign since day one.

Suicide-Squad-1-Introductions

Honestly, the biggest flaw for me is a lack of any sort of emotional acting. Lee doesn’t do well with faces; they all feel static. Combine his static art with Rob Williams erratic voices, and it’s hard to feel a real connection to the characters. Beyond their initial introductions (which feel DEAD ON and WONDERFUL), they’re all over the place. Maybe because we spend the last half of the main story falling from space in a sea of bodily fluids.

Fabok does a better job on the back up, but the layouts and the writing make the story clunky and thin. We can dive more into that later.

Magnett: I want to go back-and-forth with you on Deadshot’s costume, but that’s honestly an essay unto itself. Let’s leave it at this: It’s an absolute, incoherent mess that makes him look like he’s wearing a parka from Hot Topic the one moment his face is shown in Lee’s section of the comic. These problems run throughout the issue though and visual coherency is generally absent. Lee seems to have resumed some of the worst tendencies from his work at Marvel in the 90s (e.g. waistlines that cannot contain organs) while losing the refined lines that made his work in “Hush” work so well as posters. It’s difficult to discern how much of this may be down to inker Scott Williams who tends to blur any facial expressions not focused in a close up.

I’m reluctant to throw too much of this at Lee’s footsteps though. The man has a style and, while he’s not at his best, this is what he does. My biggest problems with Suicide Squad lie with the plotting of the story. I look at this comic and wonder exactly what this version of Suicide Squad is supposed to be about. You mentioned earlier that there are two divergent visions of what this team is: expendable losers or incredible black ops. It goes for both and that mix seems to ruin any success with either. Do you think the first issue manages to succeed going one way or another?

Baker: No. Most Suicide Squad stories come together around one key point: Amanda Waller. Amanda is just as incoherent as everyone else in this comic. Not only that, she’s unlikeable. The characterization is so uneven that it completely obscures the point of the book – hard ass lady leads misfit team on suicide missions. It seems more like “horrid bitch drops sick folks from space, maybe they die, oh well.”

Suicide-Squad-1-Deadshot-Shoot-a-Snake

Even the Deadshot backup lacks any kind of focus, which is disappointing given it’s a smaller playing field, so to speak. Lawton’s motivations are paper thin, and his voice drowns in a flood of plot-driven bat-punching. Oh, and he straight up murders a snake. Do you know what sound that makes? BANG – apparently.

Magnett: Amanda Waller’s characterization is upsetting. She is a brutally incompetent sociopath in this comic, and both of those descriptors deserve to be broken out. It’s clear that she has an insane number of resources. Belle Reve is a masterpiece of technology with incredible cells that can be swapped out like those super cool new garages. The Suicide Squad has a spaceship in this comic. What does Waller do with this? Ask for five randos who almost all of whom would be less effective than a well-trained black ops soldier, throws them in space when she is aware more than one will be dangerously ill, and drops them down with orders to find a thing whatever it is, sure, whatever. The American government isn’t well-respected for budgeting, but this is beyond the pale.

Suicide-Squad-1-Space-Vomit

In the meanwhile, we are exposed to her internal monologue where she continually refers to this group of thieves and mentally ill individuals as “evil”. She is obsessed with how evil they are, but she is the one dropping Killer Croc from outer space and allowing him to drown in his own spacesuit. Not only does this speech make no sense in the context of the story being told, but it makes Waller out to be sadistic. While she feels compelled to use these men and women to achieve good ends, every action she takes makes them more likely to die. It’s a borderline ruinous turn for someone who has typically been a nuanced, morally grey character.

My question at this point is: Where is this coming from? Why would you make the Squad seem like the most hyper-vigilant and well-funded military organization in existence, then fill the team with horrifically incompetent characters who regularly make mistakes that could have been avoided by asking one pertinent question or using Goggle?

Baker:  Honestly, I think this comic was written about 3 weeks ago. Between the Pokemon Go reference and the close hew to the Suicide Squad film (at least as far as roster and aesthetic), I don’t get the sense that this was a long term plan. Parts of the comics feel like they were taped to other parts – which, based on my viewing of the movie, is appropriate. The cinematic Suicide Squad also felt like a bunch of disparate scenes stapled together.

It’s a shameful waste all around. Suicide Squad has one of the most impressive critical pedigrees in DC Comics history, and with the new movie, there is an opportunity to hook an entirely new audience. Plus, DC already rebooted the the title twice since 2011, so you’d think they’d have had ample time to work out the kinks. AND YET. We have barely ⅔ of a main story, and during most of it we’re falling from space. The characterization sporadically matches up with what we saw from Will Smith and Margot Robbie, but most of the dialogue is explaining what we’re looking at.

Also: a lot of the layouts look like straight rips from the storyboards of the animated movie Batman: Assault on Arkham. Specifically, the drop scene. Assault on Arkham has an entire sequence where Waller drops the Squad out of a plane, and they scream and panic and beg for mercy. Also, Killer Croc has a panic attack re: heights.

No one poops themselves though.

Magnett: Captain Boomerang pooping himself was funny when it was first published in Suicide Squad #15. At least there it was based on characterization and relationships that make the humor more natural than a one-off, gross-out line of dialogue. You’re comparisons to the film and animated movie seem apt though. A lot of this reads like it was based on instructions from a higher source. It doesn’t matter whether or not that is true because that is exactly how it reads.

Suicide-Squad-1-Belle-Reve

Characters are rough sketches based on this sort of external media. Setting and plot feel like a bizarre mashup ofCall of Duty mission intro scenes and things that seem cool only as a sketch of an idea. Nothing really coheres here and it’s impossible to pinpoint why that is. Deadshot illustrates this in an interesting way. At one point he comments “about time” on the team’s impending death. It’s shorthand for characterization mimicking a deathwish. Then in the backup we get the same sob story of Deadshot wanting to be a hero and loving his daughter conjoined with him being a serial killer and no acknowledgement of the cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a nice word for a lot of what happens in this issue. There’s a lot there, but none of it works together and it ultimately induces madness in us, the readers. I fear for what may happen if we keep discussing this comic.

Baker:  Yeah, I don’t really want to expend more energy on this garbage fire of a relaunch. It’s truly unfortunate, because DC has the spotlight and the means to do a proper revamp of the Suicide Squad as a brand. It’s so damn lazy. Like, we nitpicked George Harkness’s poop and Harley Quinn’s boobs, but the entire comic is an incomplete vignette, with no thematic anchor and a very “we’ll sort this out next issue” vibe. I don’t particularly like that – a Rebirth issue should nail down its premise and its tone, at least in a perfunctory way. Instead they’re literally making readers wait until next time to figure out if this was worth it. If we’re judging the book on its single-issue merits….I hope the direct market kills it. Preferably in a Rancor pit.

Magnett: I’m in complete agreement. While there are technically a few ways this could have been worse that’s like comparing the quality of life between North Korean fishing villages. No one is a winner here and I don’t perceive any genuine redeeming qualities.

I give this comic a rating of drowning in your own vomit while falling to Earth. How about you?

Baker: I’ll get back to you when I recover from the runny shit smell. Which is apparently a fun narrative device now!

SUICIDE SQUAD! Super fun adventures in space! BUT ALSO WITH POOP!

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About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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