Suicide Squad: The Dragon’s Hoard (2017)
Reprints Suicide Squad #50-58
Written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale
Art by Robert Campanella, Jim Fern, Geof Isherwood, Karl Kesel, Tom Mandrake, Luke McDonnell, and Grant Miehm
Suicide Squad: The Final Mission (2019)
Reprints Suicide Squad #59-68
Written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale
Art by Geof Isherwood, Robert Campanella, and Andrew Pepoy
The opening chapter of The Dragon’s Hoard sees Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad fully operating as mercenaries for hire, breaking most ties with the US government. It was the 50th issue of the series. It’s an oversized affair that interweaves the history of Task Force X with a fight against the undead. Rick Flag is revealed to have a son that the Squad never knew about, and the child is in danger. Waller feels compelled to honor her fallen friend and protect his child. That means putting together a crew of mainstays from the run. The team ends up facing zombie-fied versions of foes they’ve encountered along the way.
An ongoing subplot introduced here sees Deadshot’s costume stolen during a flight, and he tracks it down to France. An amateur is running around and killing his enemies using it, but Deadshot makes a surprising decision to let him keep it. Ostrander’s work on this character redefined Deadshot to such a substantial degree that he should be listed as a co-creator at this point. To take such an obscure Batman villain and elevate him to the level Ostrander did is a magnificent accomplishment. There’s also a humorous one-off issue that wraps up Doctor Light’s arc. He tells a story about coming back from Hell and trying to right the evils he did in life. It’s done well but plays silly against the more grounded narratives.
The main story in this collection is fine; nothing I felt was too ground-breaking. Building off the Soviet Union’s failed mission in Afghanistan, a major cache of Russian weapons is hidden away in Cambodia for sale on the black market. This is the titular Dragon’s Hoard of the title, and it leads the Squad into a confrontation with the Russians, the Khmer Rouge, and eventually the Yakuza. Ostrander was very aware of global tensions and real-world politics and weaves it skillfully into the story. However, because of the de-emphasis on costumes and superpowers, the book feels very different from when it started. If you are a fan of political thrillers, I think this will satisfy you, but if you are looking for more traditional capes & tights antics, you might not be.
The Final Mission collection is actually two distinct storylines in one book. The first is titled Legerdemain and doesn’t focus much on the Squad. Instead, they are supporting characters in an arc that follows Batman, Superman, and Aquaman as they work to get to the bottom of the appearance of a new Atom. It had already been revealed at this point that the new Atom is Adam Cray, the son of a US senator who is using Ray Palmer’s shrinking technology. The antagonists are mainly Hayoth, an Israeli super-powered strike force, but eventually, we’re thrown Micro Force. Micro Force appears to be people left shrunk by Ray Palmer, who want revenge, believing that Cray is the original. There are so many moving parts in this story I was left a little confused, especially when the Squad isn’t the main focus of the narrative.
The final mission sends the Squad to Diabloverde, a stand-in for gangster-era Cuba. A group of supervillains operates there as the strongarm of a cruel dictator. I appreciate how Ostrander stood back around the halfway mark of his run and shuffled the deck. He made sure to boost Waller as a more prominent player in the book and pared away much of the excess. His best moments aren’t necessarily the big plot beats but rather small pieces of character development. I love how Count Vertigo’s depression appears to have been cured by the toxins Poison Ivy used on him, and he doesn’t quite know how to handle that. The final scene of the series involves Deadshot and Vertigo, two characters Ostrander did so much work to develop into multi-layered actual characters rather than gimmicky villains. Vertigo wants to test his suicidal impulses, something depression causes him to have, and enlists Deadshot to help. It’s such a great note to end the book and underline how not just these two but everyone in the title has changed over time. The biggest shame is how it was the last moment in the spotlight for many of these characters, or they would eventually have their status reset to zero and be the same old villains they used to be. Even the newer Suicide Squad books haven’t quite managed to recapture the magic Ostrander could pull off.