The Suicide Squad film is the adaptation of one of DC Comics lesser known, and often terrible, sometimes interesting, sometimes very good, comic of the same name. Part of the beauty of adapting the title to film is that it’s so open to interpretation, but the film does look it takes the basic inspiration from the John Ostrander era in the 1980’s, though I doubt Ostrander will see 0.0000014% of the millions I’m sure this film will make.
As for the comic, it’s best to start at the beginning, and that means going back to 1959 with the Squad’s first appearance in The Brave and the Bold #59, one of DC’s showcase titles at the time for potential ongoing series.
I love that cover. The 50’s and 60’s had some great giant monster covers but I don’t think you’ll see many with the heroine in the Arctic wearing a pencil skirt and her best jewellery.
Created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru the Squad was led by Rick Flag, who led a group of stereotypical Kanigher army types and a damsel who fought giant monsters while trying not to die. It’s one of Kanigher’s odder ideas (which is saying an awful lot) but it didn’t go anywhere, which meant the Squad lay dormant as an idea for nearly 30 years until DC’s first notable post-Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover series in 1986, Legends. Written by John Ostrander and with art by John Byrne, Legends was there to tidy up some post-Crisis continuity as well as introduce revamped characters into the still newly revamped DC Universe. In #3, we see the Suicide Squad more or less as we know it now as elements like Amanda Waller, Captain Boomerang, The Enchantress and Deadshot are brought together; plus the idea that villains are not just used to fight other villains but they’re also expendable is cemented from this first modern age appearance.
This led right into Suicide Squad #1 in 1987, still written by Ostrander but drawn by Luke McDonnell.
Ostrander is a writer I personally like a lot, but at the time Suicide Squad didn’t have much going for it as this was a book lost somewhat in the wake of the hugely successful Justice League revamp by DeMatties, Giffen and McGuire. Somehow though, it carved itself a nice little following and indeed, Ostrander told great little stories using a rotating cast of villains, many of which he killed as obviously DC had no more use for them. Ostrander though kept a core of Amanda Waller (who was the government agent in charge of the Squad), Rick Flag (the army hard nut whose job it is to keep the Squad in line), Deadshot (an old Batman villain), Captain Boomerang (an old Flash villain), Bronze Tiger (a character created in the 1970’s to cash in on the Kung-Fu craze) as well as other more major and minor villains.
The death toll during Ostrander’s run was substantial as befits a comic called the Suicide Squad. Even major characters weren’t safe, so there was an element of unpredictability as anyone in this comic could – and often would – die. Then, in 1992 so did the comic. The Squad popped up in various DC titles sporadically afterwards, but returned from the grave in 2001 with Keith Giffen’s short lived version (which is the last version I read all of purely because Giffen was taking the piss and is worth seeking out for being a fun black comedy). Again though, it died, this time only a year later.
For the next few years the Squad was restricted to cameos and appearances in DC’s lumbering weekly crossover titles New 52 before returning with John Ostrander at the helm for a mini-series in 2007. It is however with DC’s New 52 revamp that the Suicide Squad gains its biggest new member, Harley Quinn. Harley was a character created for the Batman animated series, but eventually crossed into the comics. It wasn’t though til the New 52 where Harley changed into DC’s amalgam of The Joker and Tank Girl and her popularity increased with the amount of cleavage artists would draw.
The first series of the New 52 Squad lasted until 2014 where, again, it enjoyed yet another revamp, and it’s a mix of this version and the Ostrander version that’s formed the new film.
But guess what? With #22, this latest volume ends and in August it receives yet another revamp as part of DC’s Rebirth reboot.
This latest reboot is to make the comic look more like the film, which should make Suicide Squad a massive book for DC. And they’re taking no chances by putting one of their Big Guns Jim Lee on art duties as opposed to one of the many Lee clones they seem to have an endless supply of.
Over the decades there’s been some great stories, my personal favourite being the Ostrander series. I’m less enamoured with the more recent stories, however there’s plenty to pick from a title that’s really good when it’s up, and when it isn’t is almost suicidal in its awfulness. The idea though that a throwaway concept by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru is today one of DC/Warner Brothers biggest films of the year is simply extraordinary, but with the comic itself not having that many devoted fans there’s a basic concept and characters which more or less leaves a blank slate, as this has never been a title weighed down by its own history. Where it goes from here we’ll see, but I’ll lay a bet on now at some point it’ll be cancelled, again…