Tag Archives: DC comics

Reading Comic Books Out of Order #8 — “Suicide Squad: From the Ashes”

suicide squad from the ashes_0001I apologize again for the gaps between these posts, which are gradually growing larger as I try and keep up with my life.

I first became familiar with the Suicide Squad not through comics, but through the Justice League cartoon. It being a show aimed at children first and foremost, a name like “Suicide Squad” wouldn’t work too well. Instead, the team was called “Task Force X,” which also served as the title of a brilliant episode. In it, Deadshot, Plastique, Captain Boomerang and Clock King team up with Rick Flag to steal the destructive Annihilator armour from the Justice League home base.

Despite the episode being focused on a team of villains, it was there where I found myself really liking Deadshot, the smug bastard.

When browsing for a few new graphic novels, I ended up picking up Suicide Squad: From the Ashes partly because Deadshot referenced his time in the Squad during the excellent Secret Six comic I read previously, but mostly just because I knew Deadshot would be in it (sadly in a more diminished role, but the reasoning behind that will be clearer later in this post).

To dig into the plot of this limited series (if I’m correctly recalling that it was a limited series) is to dig into so many plotlines that it would take several posts to unravel them all. We’ll start with Amanda Waller. She figures prominently into this book, and her zero tolerance for bullshit makes her a great new head of the Suicide Squad, as she collects a series of villains including Deadshot, Bronze Tiger and Nightshade, to start.

The reason she’s doing this? The former leader of the Squad, Rick Flag, dies while fighting Rustam, who is working for Qurac (I couldn’t believe that was the name of the country). Except Flag didn’t die (much to the chagrin of fans, apparently), instead taken to Skartaris thanks to Rustam’s magic sword. The two men call a truce to escape the place, only Flag and Rustam fight again before they can leave, and Flag ends up killing Rustam and using his sword to escape solo.

Once back on Earth, Flag re-joins the Suicide Squad along with countless others, including White Dragon, Marauder, Multiplex, Blackguard, Plastique, Twister, Windfall and more. Oh yeah, and Waller can with the help of a device control the radioactive monster Chemo.

The new Squad’s first mission is to kill all the board members of Haake-Bruton, a pharmaceutical company that plans on releasing a virus that could wipe out large portions of the world population.

Except the mission doesn’t turn out as easily as it should, thanks to another Squad member, Wade Eiling, a giant, hulking monster who also has some suggestive control over Flag. Eiling wants to profit from the endeavour, offering to kill all the Squad members in exchange for Haake-Bruton board membership.

Oh, and Rick Flag might not even be Rick Flag,

If that all sounds like a lot to take in, that’s because it is. A ton happens in this book, and it involves more characters than I count. It makes for a crammed experience, to be sure, and thus it’s hard to get a grasp on many characters’ personalities when we’re constantly switching points of view. Later in the story several villains die, but they’re given such little “screentime” that it’s hard to feel upset about their loss. The characters themselves don’t even feel the loss—Waller cheerfully welcomes a new Squad member at the end, a face that comic book fans will most definitely recognize.

Still, despite its drawbacks, I did enjoy going through this thing, because I’ve found that more than anything I enjoy reading about B-list and C-list characters as the stars of the show. Deadshot’s limited appearances are still fairly memorable, especially with his interactions with the son of Captain Boomerang. Eiling, despite being possibly the mos repulsive character in the book (and that says a lot) is enjoyable to watch as he schemes and plots. And as mentioned, Waller is incredible, so it made me a little sad when I heard that she is rebooted as a younger, thinner woman in the DC comics New 52 line of stories. (I’ve read one book in the New 52 and since reading all of the old stuff I’ve been steering clear away).

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Reading Comic Books Out of Order #6 — “Secret Six: Unhinged”

secret sixI’m going to come right out and preface this post by saying that this might be my favourite series since beginning “Comic Books Out of Order.”

The series itself revolves around a group of mercenaries who will do whatever, so long as they’re paid handsomely. In the beginning of the book we are introduced first to Junior, a villain who we don’t see in full until much later. All we know right away is that Junior is horribly fearsome and apparently even scares criminals in Arkham Asylum. Then we switch to Thomas Blake (Catman) and Floyd Lawton (Deadshot), as Blake talks about the possibility of him “going straight.”

The scene is actually pretty hilarious—they’re talking casually as armed men come into the convenience store they’re in and try to rob it. For several panels, they continue the course of their conversation until Floyd finally chides the would-be robbers on their poor skills and kicks the ever-loving crap out of them. This convenience store scene alternates with a scene involving Scandal Savage (the bastard child of Vandal Savage) stressing out over the death of her girlfriend and member of the Secret Six, who I eventually learn went by the name Knockout. Ragdoll (a very fitting name when you look at the guy) tries to console her, as does Bane, to little avail.

Floyd and Thomas return to their base, which seems to be either a mansion or a castle, and Scandal tells them about the mission they’ve just accepted. They’re to break a villain named Tarantula out of prison and return her and a card she’s carrying to their benefactor, whose identity they don’t know.

It seems like a simple enough mission, but we get some early foreshadowing when Huntress calls Thomas, telling him to not take the mission, or they’ll all be killed. Batman agrees, and Blake and he end up in quite the fistfight.

As it turns out, the card is nothing ordinary. It’s a “get out of hell free card,” and it does exactly what is says. Every person in the world would want to get their hands on that. It doesn’t help that Junior wants the card, and puts a $10 million bounty on the head of every member of the Secret Six.

There are plenty of twists and turns along the way. but I don’t want to give everything away, because this book is incredible.

Mostly what I love are the characters themselves. The introduction to the book is helpful, as Paul Cornell touches on the moral grayness of these characters—they’re not presented explicitly as heroes or villains, just a group of people who (begrudgingly) care about each other. I first realized who much I love Floyd Lawton as a character when I watched “Task Force X,” an excellent episode of Justice League Unlimited. Floyd is a smug bastard, but beneath the mask he cares about his teammates. Ragdoll’s perverse and shameless personality adds hilarity to nearly every scene he’s in. Bane, believe it or not, is the kindest of the bunch and starts to act like a father figure for Scandal.

And then there’s the writing itself. Cornell alludes to this divine panel as one of his favourite panels ever (please forgive my horrible scanning skills):

secret six panelThe pure look of betrayal on the shark’s face is pretty priceless, particularly because there were so many other villains to take out, and Catman chose the most predatory-looking.

My comic-book-guru-friend said that this series is a crap shoot to recommend, because it’s a series about very, very messed-up and damaged people, But it’s for precisely this reason that Secret Six is so compelling. Give me this over the 50,000th iteration of Batman.

 

Reading Comic Books Out of Order #3 — “All-Star Batman and Robin”

1asbrI was warned ahead of time by my comic book guru friend that this would be bad. I agreed to read it, however, because a) she needed someone to talk about this thing with and b) I wanted to see how Batman, probably my favourite “big” superhero of all time, could be messed up. It turns out Batman doesn’t work so well when you turn him into a complete psychopath.

Batman/Bruce Wayne has always been a volatile character. Despite his vow not to kill, many times he’s almost driven to committing the deed. He will never fully get over his parents’ brutal deaths, probably because of how their deaths shaped his entire life from the minute the bullets felled them after the fateful viewing of The Mask of Zorro.

Frank Miller succeeds (if you can call it that) at pushing Batman to his most volatile in All-Star Batman and Robin. From my basic research into its history, I learned that this series was published between 2005 and 2008 in sporadic bursts, and initially sold really well. Here’s the problem, though; the series is awful.

There are numerous reasons why this is so, but the core reason is that Batman/Bruce Wayne is at his most crazed possibly ever. Over the course of this book (thankfully the only book in the series) Batman kidnaps Dick Grayson and forces him into the Robin role, makes out/mates with Black Canary and gets into a fight with Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern.

Let’s narrow in on Batman’s psycho personality here. When he kidnaps Dick, the just-orphaned boy repeatedly asks where he’s being taken and what’s going on. Batman often replies with variants of “shut up,” or “just watch this, kid” at one point uttering his most infamous line from the series “I’m the goddamn Batman.” The line cringeworthy, and is even used as the name of “Episode 5”: “I love being the goddamn BATMAN.” When Dick and Bruce finally arrive at the Batcave, Bruce basically leaves Dick to fend for himself. This means eating rats.

When Alfred rightfully clothes and feeds Dick, as should happen, he gives Bruce shit for the way he’s treating the kid. Bruce’s justification? He had to fend for himself that way, therefore so should Dick. If Bruce were anything like he’s been characterized in other series, he would never want another kid to have to live through his experience.

There is a shred of humanity that Miller attempts to write in, however. At a few moments, Batman wonders whether he’s doing the right thing, and more importantly, if he’s going to traumatize Dick worse than he himself was traumatized when his parents died.

Other characters suffer a lot too. For no particular reason, Black Canary is said to be Irish, a bit of heritage that adds nothing to her character other than for a chance for several characters to say “she’s Irish.” Wonder Woman is turned into a parody of a radical feminist, first shown skulking through an alley wearing a trench coat. Her thought bubbles have her griping about how awful the world of men is, and the first actual words that come out of her mouth are aimed at a man in her way: “Out of the way, sperm bank.”

Hell, the books opens with a scantily-clad Vicki Vale, basically presented as nothing but gratuitous near-nudity and not possessing much of a shred of a journalist’s mind. However, she gets a call that she’s to go on a date with Bruce Wayne and she flips the hell out. That’s about all there is to her character, other than the fact that she becomes someone Batman needs to save later when she’s badly injured.

The winding story features one chapter that is basically a buildup to Black Canary flipping out and knocking out a bunch of pervy drunk dudes in a bar and little else, a verbal argument (and partial fist fight) between Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern and Plastic Man on what to do about Batman and Dick confronted with the choice of whether or not to kill the man who killed his parents. It’s very scattered, and in all fairness was probably meant to set up a grander story, but it’s probably for the best that it’s been retired.

There are a few bright spots, however. Frank Miller made Hal Jordan’s innate dumbness more apparent, and I couldn’t help but burst out laughing when Batman called Hal “as dumb as a post.” It’s even funnier when Batman begins talking circles around Hal, forcing Hal to verbalize how dumb he is when he tells Batman to sop confusing him.

The Joker only appears briefly, but his scene is pretty memorable as he brutally kills a woman he’s just slept with, then tells Bruno (a Frank Miller creation) to dispose of the body. It’s a pretty ridiculous cameo but well worth the nearly-whole-page spread.

Which leads to another bright spot, Jim Lee’s art. Miller has always had a rather unique drawing style, but I feel like it would have been an even worse series if Miller had drawn the thing too

I’m obliged to agree with Linkara’s theory as to how this happened; this Batman is actually a hobo named Crazy Steve who convinced himself he’s the Batman. It’s the only thing that makes sense, besides the idea that maybe Frank Miller just might have lost his edge here.