Overview: For the Suicide Squad when a “cold open” features a roughed up, scared-looking nobody in a chair, eyes darting, generally looking like it’s dawning on them that this may be how they look when they die is more or less par for the course. Notable in this particular open? Seated, clearly the subject of recent enhanced interrogation sessions, Amanda Waller. If Task Force X has a heart, it is made of stone and she is it. I’m immediately enthralled.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): We dive headlong into the particulars of Waller’s less-than-comfortable surroundings. A voice on an intercom wakes her into a world of obvious pain. She’s been beaten severally. Her right eye is nearly swollen shut and blood pours out of her face from what was likely a good job directly to the bridge of the nose. Whoever did this is a professional and their aim was to inflict pain. Waller for her part seems to be mostly unphased.
The intercom voice directs her attention to a fresh scar on the back of her neck. And of course, the brain bombs she famously used to corral her charges in Task Force X with the constant threat of oblivion are now part of her reality. The fitting irony is admittedly lip-smackingly satisfying to watch.
As she becomes more fully aware of her surroundings, the intercom villain explains marvelously about the situation she finds herself in. Amanda Waller appears to be on trial. “But don’t worry,” the voice assures her, “if you haven’t spent the last several years planning clandestine operations on domestic and foreign soil using meta and enhanced prisoners as soldiers, coerced into performing wet work operations under the threat of extended prison sentences (and don’t forget death by brain bomb) then you don’t have a thing to worry about!”
Waller’s good left eye closes to a slit that matches her already bruised and swollen purpled right. “Someone wants to kill me? Get in line.” Cold. As. Ice.
At this point the dynamic changes quickly. A door whirs open nearby. A sign instructs her to “keep them talking” which Waller does easily. Eventually getting her captors to reveal that they are submerged.
Elsewhere, Rick Flagg is being a little bit too perfect for a soldier. As rain steadily pours in a Washington DC suburb, he stands in the doorway of a small apartment, dripping wet. A woman holding a baby is polite but evenly reminds Rick that she is not his responsibility. Holding a picture of a military unit in better times, Rick doesn’t agree. His guilt is a physical aspect of his existence, moving him to deliver groceries and money to the widow of his comrade and friend. But in the end, she admonishes him. “I don’t say this to be cruel Rick but we are not your family. You deserve to be free.”
Flagg doesn’t have time for a retort. The duty of his chosen life kicks in at that exact moment as Katana appears with the words, “Time to come home.” One wonders if it ever even occurs to Flagg that had his friend’s ex-lover invited him in…he wouldn’t have been able to stay anyways.
We smash ahead mightily to the Suicide Squad in free fall over the Siberian Sea. Without a single parachute among them, Deadshot instructs his team to go. Killer Croc sums up the chaos of the jump rather easily, simply replying, “Go WHERE?”
It’s a moment that actually gives away more than just a groovy action sequence. What becomes clear is that Katana is taking point here. Deadshot, perhaps falling into a sort of muscle memory leader-adjacent role has a bit of difficulty “letting go of the mic” so to speak, as he most certainly enjoys hearing himself talk. But that doesn’t mean he can’t take orders from Katana who has proven herself every bit the warrior and, in some cases, the leader that Deadshot can be when he’s in top form. The dropship explodes above them and for Harley, the question of who out-ranks-who is totally moot. Between huge icebergs rushing up to meet them and burning wreckage falling all about them, she’s mostly concentrated on the full-time task of survival, casually mentioning how if this isn’t instant PTSD fodder, nothing is.
As the mercenaries regroup in the water, making sure everyone is intact and that their survival gear survived, a leadership question begins to emerge as Flagg, Deadshot and Katana all assume the top spot. It’s Harley who ultimately screams Rick Flagg down, reminding the whole team that he abandoned them for greener pastures to go head up a Super Soldier project months ago. It’s worth noting at this time that perhaps the lady doth protest just a bit too much. Katana steps in, proving again her skill in the area, and settles the team, in the meantime revealing to the reader that everyone who is here on this extraction team to get Waller was specifically requested by her captors. Why would they all head once more into the breach for Waller, the author of their pain? It’s not just about her. If she dies, every state secret, government black site and even the truth about the Kennedy Assassination goes straight to America’s worst enemies.
As they make their way deeper into the underwater complex a few things dawn on the team. This is a place they’re familiar with, main of them at least. Digger even realizes, glumly, that he died here. “Pretty insensitive of you blocks to bring me back here,” Captain Boomerang huffs mightily, “No one worries about Digger’s feelings though, EH?” “Feelings?” Katana exclaims, “You are weapons…so do what you always do.”
As pep talks go it’s not totally resounding and perhaps the impact is felt deeper than any of them realize initially. But the chain of command and general sense of order starts to chip away at each of the members of Task Force X as they begin asking themselves hard questions about what exactly they’re doing here, in so much as they’re instructed to rescue the woman who has made it clear countless times that each one of them are an expandable piece to be used, abused and bounced around how-where-and –whenever she sees fit. Moreover, Deadshot gets a line on an important fact. They’re in the prison General Zod from Krypton was held. Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything in itself, but it may speak to the types and power levels of the other tenants in this underwater labyrinth. Harley breaks first. A bright light distracts them all from their powwow and she starts to give an almost instinctual chase. Rick Flagg grabs her and hooks her arm in what looks for all the world like a safety snag. But in the heightened conditions with each of the team members on a razor’s edge, another part of Harley responds. She rips away from him, screaming that he keep his hands off of her. And then, perhaps most importantly she adds, “I am NOT YOURS to PROTECT!”
And so a pot that’s been boiling for some time now spills over dramatically, messily, on the team and their mission. With Flagg and Harley airing their own laundry without a thought what the other Squad members might think. And there’s no time either way. As the floor falls out from under Rick (who was, apparently, right about a trap after all) the team is caught on the flat footing and immediately under fire. Harley can’t help herself, she has to drop in a line about new powers that “make men disappear,” and it’s worth the cover price in that single moment.
Croc steps up big time because without him they’d all likely be dead. He takes the brunt of the onslaught and tries to give their weapons crew a chance to regroup and return fire. Still unable to see their assailants, Deadshot and Harley lay down a barrage of cover fire, but it’s clear they’re being edged one-way and then another. They’ve lost control of the situation. Before they can come up with a plan to try and take control of who’s maneuvering whom, Digger breaks into a run down a long corridor. There’s just enough time for Croc to ask a rhetorical question of Digger, as to whether he has just- and their escape passage burst into a fireball.
The pressurized environment at this point gives way, able to withstand only so much automatic weapons fire and major explosive-assisted detonations before beginning to trade breathable atmosphere for salty, frigid Siberian seawater. As their assailants poke around for signs of life, various members of Task Force X, lay in soaked, lifeless puddles, some shiver uncontrollably, and perhaps one has actually floated away entirely. While the others begin to rouse, or better yet, spring their tricky traps on the meta security forces trying to determine their states and fates, Rick Flagg alone finds his way deep into the complex where he finds something quite different than what he anticipated.
A giant screen shows playback of a meeting that must have occurred some time ago. Though there are voices he doesn’t know, he recognizes himself, thrown in the brig, court-martialed for refusing to follow orders. As a result, his men died. But he did the time…. what is this about? Then another voice chimes in. A voice he is all too familiar with. It’s the voice of his commanding officer in Task Force X, Amanda Waller. And what she ask of the faceless general, tasked with overseeing Flagg’s current facility, is to make sure he stays in solitary confinement for several months before his trial so that he will be “hungry” for what she has to offer when he gets out.
This tape shows him that Waller rigged the dice from the start and she played with his mind to do it. The intercom voice is now directed at Rick. As a door opens behind him and Waller’s battered body gradually comes into view as the steam clears, the brain bomb remote in his hand glistens coldly. The voice asks, “How about we kill Amanda Waller?”
Analysis: The truth is that Suicide grows with every mission. Each sordid operation, while Harley laughs them through it, the weight of their standard equipment is just a little bit more. As “Rocket to Russia” opens, we see this very traditional “the anti-hero has the bad guy and now he’s gonna get what he needs by any means necessary” and to see Amanda Waller become the stand-in, for her to become a piece on the board when she is so often the one who moves the pieces, it’s a very interesting psychological twist. Rick Flagg’s reaction as he takes all of this in at once; both finding her bound and beaten but also with her dark secret revealed; that even he was manipulated from the start, and not just psychologically. Solitary confinement is widely agreed by psychologists of our time to be at the very least a mild form of torture. To find out that he underwent such torment not strictly as a punishment as he believed, but instead as a tool in order to get what she wanted from him. In fact, it might be argued that whatever you think of solitary in its stand-alone capacity, Waller’s use of the treatment effectively pushes it into the realm of torture, as it becomes a tool to access something hidden.
I have waited for this shoe to drop with this book for quite a while and the payoff here is immensely satisfying. In much the way we know in our hearts as we peruse social media channels and pages that for all the smiling, perfect-angled birthday wish photo-moments and the after-work mixers where everyone has had exactly a glass and a half of…maybe Zima. Behind those facades we know lies a reality of unkempt homes, screaming parents, occasional alcoholics. Abuse, depression, anxiety and body types we aren’t happy with. It is much the same sense that Suicide Squad has put forward, teetering along in the fun/funny lane with Harley keeping everyone’s eye-rolling if their heads don’t first. It’s snappy, it’s fun. In all honesty, it’s just a really good slice of comics.
But behind every belly laugh so deep, you end up crying…. there is a line on a cheek where the tear fell not from laughter. This arc promises to reach in. Into the minds of these characters who use laughter as a weapon. Why wouldn’t they? Faced with worse and more worse, they can at best narrowly avoid becoming the first casualties of a Next-Gen WMD package of a Nation-State in which women are not allowed to speak in public. Imagine the hate they feel for Miss Quinzel? Digger jokes that he’s lonely or that nobody cares about his feelings…. And no one laughs because there’s nothing funny about it and they all know they’re each partly to blame.
Good comics actually might share an ancestor with truly talented stage magicians. There is a powerful “misdirect” at work when it’s all done properly. And some people might scratch their head and wonder why it is that each member of the Wu-Tang Clan, a hip-hop group known for being a team valued far beyond the sum of their parts, find just as deep a connection with superheroes, commandeering their monikers (Johnny Blaze, Tony Stark, Dr. Doom and many more) just as easily as they incorporate the mythology of the Shaolin Shadowboxers and the Mystery’s of Chess Boxing, Kung Fu lessons they studied for hours under the tutelage of fictional Masters and Abbots they grew up watching on Channel 5 Saturday mornings. Mythology is just the hero tales that help you through the night. Where they begin is irrelevant since they all end in the same place.
Look, Suicide Squad literally has NO business being a book this enjoyable and well-plotted. Monster-of-the-week moments have come and gone, but by and large, they try to play a game that relies on a long arc. Bright flashes in the pan don’t always even sell the issue. In today’s strangely staffed art departments, gorgeous covers present an image you might know to be a misdirection, sometimes simply because nobody took the time to correct the artist!
The truth is these things are largely immaterial to Suicide Squad. Rob Williams has built a towering grandstand of a book with monster seats and luxury boxes. It’s all quite a spectacle. As we approach the numerical milestone of fifty issues (regardless of the fact that it measures nothing so far as our calendars are concerned…in a twelve-issue year, the five-year anniversary would fall on issue #60, lol) I can’t help but be very excited to see where he takes us. Having witnessed Batman hit #50 (while his bride-to-be floored it at least 50mph outta there!) Having witnessed Grayson hit #50 (while a nearly .50 cal bullet* tore a bird-shaped piece of skull out for seagull-food! Which by the way, there is no chance that bullet was near .50 cal, the size of gun typically associated with mounting for anti-aircraft or tank defense situations) Suicide Squad’s fiftieth issue, if true to form, will be part three of a three-part arc and… well. In my opinion, it will be required reading.
All of these things said… could we PLEASE have an artist on board, full time, of a reasonable yet not god-like (here comes the joke again) caliber? None of the artists who’ve stinted for Williams have left a bad taste in my mouth. But as someone who not only believes but knows in my BONES that the synergy between a truly excellent artist and the wordsmith he keeps company with is an as-of-yet undiscovered elemental substance, all I want to see is everyone at their best! Give people the tools they need. They’ll give you the product you deserve! That’s all that must be said on the topic.
(If you were to happen past the door to my room just now, you might catch me putting finishing typing touches on an overly long review…with my fingers crossed, and also see the tiny shrine dedicated to Tony S. Daniels)
Final Thoughts: An enjoyable book that is speeding towards the finale with #50 that is a must-read title.