History of the Suicide Squad
With the movie coming out soon, I thought this was a good time to go over the history of DC’s team of rogues. They first appeared in 1959 in the Brave and the Bold anthology title, and have had a few different incarnations. This piece will go over the major eras, and some of the big players.
Suicide Squad- Original Recipe
Originally, the Suicide Squad had nothing to do with supervillains. The team was a sort of comic book espionage version of Mission Impossible. The core group was Rick Flag, Jr., Karin Grace, Hugh Evans, and Jess Bright. The group wasn’t around long, and were fairly obscure– good for a secret government agency, but bad for a comic book. In a nice touch of the rich history DC used to have, it was later retconned that the Squad was created by the government to handle strange cases after the Justice Society of America was disbanded by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. The name and concept faded from the comics for a few decades until…
Suicide Squad- Legends of the 80’s
1987 was a year of many changes for DC Comics. The Legends Miniseries showed Darkseid screwing with Earth’s heroes through various pawns. Among the things that came out of this was re-introducing Captain Marvel to the DC Universe (again), the formation of a new Justice League (with Dr. Fate, Captain Marvel, the Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Captain Atom, and Black Canary’s ugliest costume ever, including the DCNU one), and a brand new version of the Suicide Squad.
John Ostrander’s run on Suicide Squad is one of my favorite comic series of all time. He took flat characters and gave them a depth they’d never had. The organization had great detail, including a psychiatrist, a priest, and a ruthless director. The Squad became a big piece of DC’s complicated espionage scene through the 80’s and 90’s. The idea was, since villains kept escaping from prison anyway (a tried and true comic book trope), to get some use out of them. A team would be selected based on the needs of the mission, the members fitted with lethal control devices, and told that, if they survived the mission, they’d get let out… until the next time some superhero captured them and the process possibly started again. A core team provided some stability (not a word usually associated with this group) and other members came and went. The tone was set in their first appearance in the Legends Miniseries, when fourth-string Batman foe and Hulk knock-off Blockbuster was killed. Surviving the mission was never a guarantee.
The book ran from ‘87 to ‘92, and the Squad made a lot of other appearances after that. Among the heroes that dropped by for missions were Nightshade, Speedy, Vixen, Shade, Manhunter Mark Shaw, and Atom Ray Palmer. There were many many villains in and out of the book, the best known probably being Penguin. While a lot of people think he’s a joke, director Amanda Waller could appreciate how sharp his mind was. The team lived up to its name, wracking up a high body count over time.
The Squad floated around, homeless, with a few attempts at revivals. They did a lot of guest shots in various books, usually opposing various heroes. They operated out of the Belle Reeve penitentiary, and went on missions all over the world and beyond, even going to Darkseid’s Apocolypse once (it didn’t go well). One thing the title did that is almost always forgotten is bringing the events of The Killing Joke, before this an Elseworlds story, to the main DCU. It was in the pages of Suicide Squad that Barbara Gordon became the first version of Oracle, using the name Amy Beddoes.
Suicide Squad- (New) 52 Pick Up
The book was revived when DC did their major relaunch. Among the major changes were Amanda Waller, the director, going from the heavyset woman she’d always been to yet another supermodel comic book woman, which a lot of fans strongly disliked. The new book also featured Harley Quinn for the first time. It was never one of the DCNU’s best-sellers, but did well for itself, lasting 30 issues.
A version of the Suicide Squad formed on the CW tv show Arrow. That group included John Diggle, Deadshot, Cupid, Shrapnel, Bronze Tiger, and a cameo by Harley Quinn (voiced, never seen). Despite DC’s questionable decree that their movies and tv shows would be wholly separate, DC management initially told the Arrow show runners they couldn’t use Harley, then made them kill off all their Suicide Squad-related characters as the movie got closer. Willa Holland, who plays Thea Queen/Speedy, has gone on record about the dictatorial decrees the CW shows have had to deal with in this regard.
Suicide Squad- The Movie
As part of DC’s efforts to catch up to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, they have finally begun trying to link their movies together. One of the films they are hoping to build up their brand on is Suicide Squad. It’s mostly based on the newer version of the team. Among the characters are Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, Will Smith as Deadshot, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, and at least a cameo by Ben Affleck’s Batman. I’m looking forward to seeing this one in the theater.
Squad- Who’s Who
Among the characters that have been important to the various versions of the Suicide Squad are:
Amanda Waller- The non-powered, non-costumed director of the team. She’s utterly ruthless, a brilliant planner, and highly skilled at manipulating people. Waller has been in most versions of the Squad since the 80’s, and versions of her have been on the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, Smallville, Arrow, and the upcoming movie, portrayed by Viola Davis.
Rick Flag, Jr.- Some version of him has been in the original version and most of the villain oriented ones. He’s a highly skilled soldier and government agent, with a wide array of combat skills. He’s usually the field supervisor, riding herd on a host of villains who are reluctantly working for him and Waller. He’s been killed and come back at least once (in one of the lamest comic book resurrections ever- a normal man doesn’t come back from being at Ground Zero of a nuclear explosion). There was at least one story that suggested he wasn’t actually the son of the original Rick Flag, but a Special Forces solider whose memory had been tampered with. Flag will be in the movie, played by Joel Kinnaman.
Deadshot (Floyd Lawton)- Deadshot was originally a third-string Batman foe. John Ostrander was the first writer to give the character some actual depth. Deadshot has no powers, but is one of the world’s best marksmen, usually using wrist-mounted Magnum guns with variable ammo. He’s been one of the longest serving members of the team. He denies having a death-wish, correcting people that say that with a variation of, “I wanted to die, I’d be dead already. I just don’t care if I live or not.” Deadshot was on Arrow and will be played by Will Smith in the movie.
Captain Boomerang (George “Digger” Harkness)- Capt. Boomerang was one of Flash’s Rogues. He was one of the first recruits to the team, and has stuck around for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Also non-powered, he uses a variety of trick throwing weapons, like Green Arrow’s specialized arrows. He is a nasty, ruthless schemer, and has sacrificed teammates to save his own life or even just learn how things worked. On Arrow, Boomerang was the one of only two foes so dangerous he needed to be sent to Arrow’s private prison on Lain Yu (the other being Deathstroke).
Bronze Tiger (Ben Turner)- Turner was one of the DCU’s best fighters. He’s one of the few to ever beat Batman in a fight. He’s been a hero and a mind-controlled villain. He stayed with the team to serve a kind of penance for his past misdeeds. He’s helped Flag supervise the villains in the field. A villainous version of Bronze Tiger was on Arrow. Common was rumored to have been playing the role in the movie, but he’ll be Tattooed Man instead. Bronze Tiger won’t be in the movie according to everything I’ve seen.
Enchantress (June Moone)- One of Supergirl’s rare recurring villains, the Enchantress is a powerful spell-caster. She’s one of the split personality characters- the Enchantress being an evil witch (literally) and June Moone being a good person who hosts the villainess against her will. She was on the first version of the 80’s team and stayed for years. Enchantress will be played by Cara Delevingne in the movie.
Harley Quinn-(Dr. Harleen Quinzel)- Harley has an interesting history. She’s one of the few characters to start outside the comics but later become an important part of the DCU. Harley first appeared in the classic Batman: The Animated Series cartoon, eventually making it to the comics. She was a therapist at Arkham who fell under the Joker’s sway, becoming a colorful and crazy villainess. Harley didn’t join the Squad until the reboot. She’s presently DC’s best-selling female character, passing even Wonder Woman. She will be played by Margot Robbie in the movie.
Suicide Squad opens on August 5th. I did not care for Man of Steel, and actually skipped Batman v. Superman, but I’ll be going to see this one. It looks like it might be a lot of fun, something that’s been missing from a lot of DC’s recent movies. I’ve always liked the Squad, and I’m really curious to see what Will Smith does with Deadshot, and if history repeats itself with Boomerang and Slipknot.