Comic Book Review – Suicide Squad Volumes Three & Four

Suicide Squad: Rogues (2016)
Reprints Suicide Squad v1 #17-25, Annual #1
Written by John Ostrander (with Kim Yale and Larry Ganem)
Art by Luke McDonnell, Graham Nolan, Peter Krause, Keith Giffen, and Grant Miehm

Suicide Squad: The Janus Directive (2016)
Reprints Suicide Squad v1 #26-30, Checkmate #15-18, Manhunter #14, Firestorm #86, and Captain Atom #30
Written by John Ostrander (with Paul Kupperberg, Kim Yale, Cary Bates, and Greg Weisman)
Art by Grant Miehm, Steve Erwin, Rick Hoberg, John K. Snyder III, Pablo Marcos, Doug Rice, Tom Mandrake, and Rafael Kayanan

The first year and a half of Suicide Squad had writer John Ostrander figuring out what the book would be. This means several cast members rotate in and out, never having clear arcs. By this point, the core members of the group were established. Amanda Waller. Rick Flag. Bronze Tiger. Deadshot. Nightshade. Captain Boomerang. There were recurring team members like Nemesis, Shade, Duchess, and others, but they didn’t quite reach the level of development seen in these characters. “The Nightshade Odyssey” brought some science fiction dimension-hopping to the book, but Ostrander pulled back on that quite a bit and decided to center his stories in the global political sphere.

Ostrander also dug into analyzing the concept of the series: a team of super-criminals forced into doing dirty work for the U.S. government. Amanda Waller becomes an even more complex character as she has to be a player within a completely corrupt system. She had few moral quandaries, though, and, more often than not, argues with the supporting characters who see this as incredibly unethical. Politicians are eager to use the Squad but don’t want to be associated with or outright deny its existence to the public. This leads to some significant rifts between Waller and Senator Joseph Cray, a major antagonist in these issues. 

It’s also very evident that Ostrander had found Captain Boomerang’s voice. He comes to exemplify the worst, most base & petty instincts in humanity. I wouldn’t say Boomerang is depraved, but he completely lacks empathy and looks out only for himself. It’s in Rogues that his moonlighting as Mirror Master finally catches up with him. As Mirror Master, he’s captured and brought to Belle Reve while everyone searches for Boomer for a mission. Then both of them are assigned to two different units on the same mission making for a pretty amusing sequence of Digger Harkness rushing back and forth trying to be both villains.

Rogues also saw the return of The Jihad, the Middle Eastern metahuman team the Squad faced in their very first arc. Out of this encounter, Ravan is thrown into the Squad. He’s a Thuggee who practices Kali worship, believing with every death he’s responsible for it stays her coming and the destruction of the world. Ravan and Bronze Tiger develop a fantastic antagonistic relationship. Ravan ends up being one of the most interesting characters in the title, and his arc is one of many that proves how powerfully Ostrander influenced the whole of comics when the industry was trying to figure itself out.

Big things happen in Rogues. A central character dies by the end of the collection that shocked me, one of the Squad mainstays who stayed dead for decades. We also see the first hints of Barbara Gordon as Oracle, a mysterious hacker who aids the Squad. I see this as Ostrander attempting to correct some of the bleaker turns D.C. Comics had taken in the 1980s. While adding drama, Barbara’s shooting in the pages of The Killing Joke definitely sidelined a very interesting character. It was nice to see how she became Oracle and found a brand-new life in the D.C. Universe. Some refreshing new additions to the team are Count Vertigo, Punch & Jewelee, Dr. Light. All of them will have some fantastic moments as the years went on.

The Janus Directive is not as enjoyable because it’s a mini-event crossing over into multiple books. The problem with collecting an entire comic book run at this time is that you’ll inevitably be forced into some big event. The Janus Directive storyline wasn’t anywhere near the scope of something like Millennium or Invasion! Reading this will give you a greater appreciation of John Ostrander’s writing because it was published alongside Paul Kupperberg. I haven’t actively sought out Kupperberg’s work, but I have found his style just feels off. He penned a pre-Crisis Supergirl series, the first Doom Patrol reboot, and this time he was writing Checkmate & Manhunter. He and Ostrander plotted out this event, and the characters involved make a lot of sense. The premise is that some clandestine force is secretly manipulating all of these covert agencies, and Waller intends to use the Suicide Squad and Checkmate to get to the bottom of it.

Ostrander and Kupperberg’s writing styles conflict so severely that they take you out of the book. With Ostrander, characters have individual voices, and you feel that diverse characters are interacting with conflicting points of view. Kupperberg’s Checkmate agents seem straight out of a mediocre Bronze Age book, dumping exposition as big exclamations. There are good elements throughout The Janus Directive, though; the main villain is a perfect fit and is used later by Ostrander to have some great moments. The story interested me in Mark Shaw, the Manhunter, as he fits into the narrative very well. 

The biggest problem is that if you weren’t caught up on Firestorm or Captain Atom, there would be large swaths of this story that are confusing. While telling a multipart narrative, we cross over into their titles, juggling their own subplots and supporting characters. These entries are certainly not good jumping-on points for new readers. You’ve just had Firestorm move from being the combo of Ronnie Raymond & Dr. Stein to this new elemental version, and if you didn’t know that before, the storyline is definitely getting you caught up. Notably, this is one of the first significant uses of Peacemaker since D.C. Comics acquired him in their buyout of Charlton Comics. He had a mini-series a few months before establishing the new post-Crisis status quo. It’s clear he’s unhinged, which I think is always the best to present the character. He should be a psycho Captain America, brought up with violent conditioning. 

It would be hard to skip over The Janus Directive because it does establish some major plot points needed to understand what comes next. Although, in all honesty, if you just read the Suicide Squad issues and skipped the crossover, you would probably be fine. The artwork is pretty weak in this collection compared to Rogues too. Not the best, not the worst, but The Janus Directive is hugely forgettable.

One thought on “Comic Book Review – Suicide Squad Volumes Three & Four”

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