As we gear up to watch DC’s villains hit the silver screen this month with Suicide Squad, we at Blastoff are taking a look back at some highlights of the title’s past. Last time, we checked in on the current Rob Williams run, which is heavy on the Harley – always a good thing. Now, we’re taking it back to 1987 to see how this lovely tale of blood, guts, and gunfire began.
The Suicide Squad as a team had been around for a while, popping up in such titles as The Brave and the Bold, Legends, and Secret Origins. It wasn’t until 1987 that the team got their own series with Suicide Squad #1, penned by comic book legend John Ostrander. Completing out the team for this first issue is Luke McDonnell on pencils, Karl Kesel on inks, Carl Gafford on colors, and Todd Kline on letters.
I mentioned in a previous article that I approach all of my comics reading as a modernist, since I didn’t get heavy into the medium until I was in my early twenties, despite loving a few as a kid. That said, I didn’t grow up with a lot of the stories that I’m revisiting, so I might have a different reaction than, say, someone who grew up picking up new comics drawn by Jack Kirby at the newsstand. I mention this because my Blastoff research has introduced me distinct styles of art, giving me a crash course on how the medium has changed over the decades… and so far, Suicide Squad #1 has far and away my favorite artwork of the classic comics I’ve read here. Minimalistic but riveting, this action-packed and character-driven issue is expertly laid out in simple grid panels – most often a 9-panel grid. I love the figure-drawing, but the mathematic simplicity of the layouts was stunning, breaking down a chaotic action scene into deviously simple images, giving the reader exactly what is needed in the panel to move the story forward and create a wholly unique aesthetic. No superfluous detail, no flash – just barebones, daring storytelling.
The roster of this inaugural Suicide Squad series includes Rick Flag, Deadshot, the Bronze Tiger, Enchantress, Captain Boomerang, Mindboggler, Nightshade, Karin Grace, and Plastique. They are tasked with taking out the Jihad, a group of supervillains who have just carried out an airport massacre. From the depiction of the Jihad’s powers and connections, it seems that the Suicide Squad is outmatched – though we don’t get to see the two teams throw down in this issue. While this issue does function primarily as an introduction to the team and their situation, I wouldn’t call this a “set-up issue.” Ostrander’s writing, even when doling out exposition, puts the spotlight on the characters, giving us distinct personalities for everyone in the room in every scene – even people who die before they get to play any major roles. The world of Suicide Squad feels real, lived in, as if these are people with real histories and messy backstories. Instead of attempting to explain every little detail we need to know, Ostrander lets us get to know the characters by spending time with them, which had me personally invested in their stories instantly.
While DC is doing some amazing things with the various Suicide Squad members – especially Harley – with their Rebirth titles, folks looking for more Suicide Squad after seeing the movie would do well to take a look back into the early days of the series. Their first ongoing is a brutal, character-driven, visually stunning comic that could stand up to any superhero book on the shelves today. I mean, come on, Djinn is the coolest villain! He’s a genie made of binary ode that is stored in a magnetic bottle. Only comics, my friends. Only comics.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Vampire Emmy and the Garbage Girl, Equilibrium, Van Helsing), novels (Avengers, Iron Man, Charmed), and pop culture journalism (Blastoff Comics, Sad Girls Guide). You can find him on social media @PatShand, where he is currently attempting to avoid all of the angry conversation about the Suicide Squad movie until he actually sees it.