This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on August 31, 2016.
If you thought the release of the Suicide Squad movie was the biggest event of 2016 for this particular franchise then you were mistaken. This week John Ostrander returns to the series that he transformed into one of the most beloved DC Comics’ series of all time in the one-shot Suicide Squad War Crimes. Even if you’re not familiar with Ostrander’s name, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s the man who created Amanda Waller while perfecting characters like Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and Rick Flag. It was his run on the first volume of the series along with co-writer Kim Yale and artists like Luke McDonnell who formed the team now beloved on the big screen.
In the over-sized Suicide Squad War Crimes Waller is tasked with rescuing a retired Secretary of Defense from the Hague. He has been kidnapped for alleged war crimes and the United States can neither allow him to stand trial nor send troops after him. That’s where a six-member iteration of the Suicide Squad comes in. It’s a fantastic standalone story, but one that also reflects many of the best elements of Ostrander’s original series. For those of you unfamiliar with Suicide Squad or just a bit rusty on its lore, we’ve assembled a list of six key elements that make this issue by a comics icon even better.
The Line Up
The Suicide Squad has a regularly rotating lineup as one might expect given the title of the series. There’s a large rate of churn, but over the decades a few constants have formed. In Suicide Squad War Crimes Ostrander brings back all of his favorites from the original series: Amanda Waller, Deadshot, and Captain Boomerang. He’s said before that these were the ones that he eventually understood he could not kill. Rick Flag doesn’t belong in that category though. He was killed in Suicide Squad #26, but was resurrected many years later in a different mini-series.
Fans of the film will recognize Harley Quinn and El Diablo, both of whom are relatively recent additions to the team and who Ostrander is writing for the very first time. Mad Dog is a brand new addition on his very first mission. While these characters may not be part of the “classic” Squad that doesn’t stop Ostrander from having fun and finding how they fit into his take on the Squad.
The Briefing Room
In the original Suicide Squad series each planned mission would begin in the briefing room of Belle Reve Prison. It was a small, unadorned lecture hall not dissimilar to one a small high school choir might use. That mundane aspect of the Squad’s routine underlined its connections to government and the humanity of its members. That briefing room is back in Suicide Squad War Crimes!
It might seem an odd thing to get excited about, but this bit is a key element of the Squad. The way Amanda Waller lays out the mission including detailed maps and profiles of each potential enemy are classic Ostrander tropes. The best part of the entire setup though is a complete shot of the team. With so many deaths and departures, it can be hard to keep track of who’s around. The briefing room always offered a shot of the lineup before a mission and in this issue readers get just that. Whether you know about the Suicide Squad or not, this setting makes the comic accessible to just about anyone.
Ostrander makes a point to have multiple characters refer to Captain Boomerang as Boomerbutt in Suicide Squad War Crimes. This isn’t just a silly nickname, it’s a thorn in Boomerang’s side since Amanda Waller coined it at the very beginning of Suicide Squad. This particular name has stuck and is given an alternative form when Boomerang says “Boomiebutt” in this issue and his teammates decide to use that as well.
It’s not the only work tied to Boomerang either. Ostrander was known for using multiple obscure bits of Australian slang in his dialogue. Words like “barney” and “galah”. It’s a tradition that some of his Aussie friends would give him guff for, but based on how Digger Harkness is speaking in this comics, it’s a habit Ostrander seems unwilling to drop.
Mr. Carmody and Political Analogs
Marvel Comics may have made the use of political analogs in superhero comics seem ordinary, but it has not always been common to see the resemblance of a President at DC Comics. Suicide Squad was the exception to this in the 1980s and 90s, as it portrayed both President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the same panels as Amanda Waller.
That use of political analogs is continued in the form of Secretary Carmody in Suicide Squad War Crimes. While Ostrander uses coded language, Carmody’s involvement in the “gulf action” during the “prior administration” combined with his role as Secretary of Defense makes it clear that he is standing in for Donald Rumsfeld. Carmody’s alleged war crimes are the core of this comic’s conflict, showing that the Suicide Squad is just as willing to tackle current political issues today as it was decades ago.
Ostrander had a “type” when it came to villains in Suicide Squad. The Jihad was their most persistent foe, a version of the Squad formed to carry out the needs of Qurac, a fictional government in the Middle East at odds with the United States. They also battled the People’s Heroes, a USSR-based group, and another Suicide Squad in the fictional island nation of Diabloverde. Battling other superpowered teams representing international interests was an ongoing theme.
In Suicide Squad War Crimes the Squad tackles a brand new group: Strikeforce Europa. Just like with these other competitors, Strikeforce Europa serves a similar purpose and provides each team member with a unique challenge in a one-on-one battle. Even the introduction of this European team is similar to that of The Jihad when Amanda Waller walks through each of their faces and powers in a sequence straight out of Suicide Squad #1.
The More Things Change…
If anything should be clear at this point, it’s that while Suicide Squad War Crimes works well as a standalone story, it’s also infused with the DNA of the classic Suicide Squad series. Nowhere is that more clear than in the characters. Deadshot is still a man of few words with even less concern for his own well being. Rick Flag is still an obstinate leader ready to do whatever it takes to complete the mission. The Wall is The Wall, Ostrander’s greatest creation.
Perhaps what is most amusing is how little Captain Boomerang has changed. In Suicide Squad War Crimes he vomits while traveling and complains about every detail of the mission. He even gets another team member killed just like he did on the Squad’s very first mission in Suicide Squad #2 when he let Mindboggler be gunned down by a member of The Jihad. If you can rely on anyone in Suicide Squad to be unreliable, it’s Boomerbutt. That seems to be an eternal truth of the universe.