The Comics 101 Bookshelf

A closer look this week at a couple of noteworthy new releases at comic shops nationwide. First up is SUICIDE SQUAD: TRIAL BY FIRE, the first collection of the original comics by John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell from the late 1980s that serve as much of the basis and backbone of the upcoming Warner Brothers film.


 Or at least, that’s what we all thought until the first trailer, which revealed itself to look much more like a Harley Quinn spotlight.  Regardless, this is where the real concept of “villains being forced by the government to work as heroes,” and it’s also where the characters that we’ll see in the upcoming film first came together: supervillains Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and the Enchantress, military tough guy and team leader/warder Rick Flagg, and program director/civilian hardass Amanda Waller.  The setup is simple: supervillains doing federal time find themselves transferred to Belle Reve Prison where an offer is made: complete clandestine missions for the government and their sentences are reduced to time served. Oh, and there’s one other catch: they’re made to wear an explosive wristband so they don’t just abandon the team as soon as they’re out of the prison. Is it a bluff? Just ask supervillain and onetime Suicide Squadder Slipknot, who finds out the hard way.


Looking back on these stories today, what strikes me most is how bleak they are. Sure, there’s some black humor, and the characterization is excellent, but it really is a team of mostly unlikable people doing mostly unlikable things, which can wear on you a bit, and McDonnell’s severe, squinty art is a perfect fit for it.



Is SUICIDE SQUAD fun? Not really, but it’s compelling stuff.

On the (much) lighter side of things is DONALD DUCK: THE COMPLETE DAILY NEWSPAPER COMICS, VOLUME 1, from IDW’s Library of American Comics imprint. This is a real treasure.


Never before collected, this first volume brings together the first two years of the daily Donald Duck comic strips by Al Taliaferro, spanning the years 1938 to 1940. Taliaferro, an artist at the Walt Disney Studios tasked with inking Floyd Gottfredson’s MICKEY MOUSE newspaper strip, pushed Roy Disney to give the studio’s up-and-coming star Donald his own daily as well, and in time his efforts were rewarded, as both his bosses and the folks at King Features Syndicate agreed, first to a daily strip and later a Sunday color strip as well.

Taliaferro had a huge influence on the character, introducing both Donald’s trademark black sailor’s jacket and Donald’s nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie, which, in a surprising bit of corporate largesse, he actually received a bonus for when they made the jump to animated theatrical cartoons:


Looking over some of these strips, it’s interesting how many of them are completely silent; with no long-term continuity like the MICKEY MOUSE strips, and with Donald’s character and temperament, the notion of treating it strictly as a “gag-a-day” strip seems to suit him perfectly.


But what really strikes me is the simple and elegant linework Taliaferro brings to the strip and the character design. These are beautiful.


 Anyone with an interest in the early days of Disney would be doing themselves a favor to check this out. Highly recommended.

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