Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing.” Grant Morrison’s “Doom Patrol.” Warren Ellis’ “Stormwatch.” Each of these runs have a unifying thread in their history; their existence is owed to writers who took a struggling series, trimmed the fat, injected their own creativity, and gave life to a book that previously had little to offer. While it’s certainly premature to lump Ales Kot and Patrick Zircher’s “Suicide Squad” in with those legendary runs, it’s hard not to draw the comparison in lieu of the massive jump in quality seen in issue #20.
Written by Ales Kot
Illustrated by Patrick Zircher
New team members, new direction, new creative team! After the shocking events of issue #19, the team returns to Belle Reve to lick their wounds and bury their dead—but when they find out what’s waiting for them at the prison, they’ll wish they were back out in the field! Plus: Who are the two killers Amanda Waller has recruited to shake things up, and what are their true motives for joining the team?
Let’s face it, “Suicide Squad” had the odds stacked against it from day one, for the sole reason of it not being “Secret Six.” Likewise, Adam Glass’ preceding comic work, the abysmally depressing and shallow “Flashpoint: Legion of Doom” in particular, didn’t quite inspire reader confidence or interest. However, thanks to strategically placed Batman crossovers, this title stayed alive just long enough to see a creative team fans deserve.
“Suicide Squad” #20 picks up an indeterminate time after the soft “clearing of the deck” in issue #19. Broken and benched, Waller has brought in a mysterious consultant to get to the heart of what makes each team member tick.
You might expect Kot, whose rather small body of work consists of the wildly inventive and subversive “Wild Children” and “Change,” to overpower the reader with heady concepts and psychedelic imagery. However, his work here is instantly accessible, winning the reader over with little more than great storytelling. It may seem simple, but the reason Kot and Zircher’s take on “Suicide Squad” works so well is because it does everything the previous incarnation didn’t. Gone is the wordy exposition and shallow banter, replaced by intelligent and nuanced dialogue. The violence used is evocative and powerful, no longer played solely for shock value. In just one issue, Kot delves into the depths of each character’s psyche and picks out definitive truths. In some case this is obvious (Harley’s relationship with the Joker) while other cases, such as Deadshot’s glorious death wish or King Shark’s desperate loneliness are brilliant takes on these underrated characters. Hanging over everything is a claustrophobic sense of dread, as Amanda Waller and her mysterious companion pull the strings from behind the curtain. When these layers coalesce near the issue’s climax, it’s a wonderful thing to behold.
Fans of Kot’s work need not be disappointed by this essentially no-frills approach, as a few of Kot’s more identifiable ticks shine through, adding an extra layer of character. Pop culture and literary references are casually dropped, characters’ dialogue drips with sardonic wit, and well placed non-sequitors develop the book’s atmosphere without derailing the plot. There’s also a healthy dose of quirk, be it King Shark’s recent appetite for vegan Reubens, or Harley’s kitty onesie pajamas.
Speaking of Harley, the character gets plenty of attention under Kot’s pen, and unequivocally steals the show. Played as far more than a poor woman pining over a twisted psychopath, here Harley is intelligent, strong willed, and quick witted. While her costume still doesn’t convey the message of “strong female character,” this is definitely a step in the right direction.
While many will check this issue based on Kot’s name alone, it’s Patrick Zircher’s art that will make readers stay. Zircher is a master of conveying tone, motive, and emotion through facial expression and character positioning. A perfect example is a scene in which Harley, Voltaic, and Unknown Soldier argue over a game of Scrabble. As Voltaic’s taunts and smug grin begins to get under Soldier’s skin, Harley, brow arched with interest, looks up just in time to see the Soldier lash out. Voltaic, crackling with electricity, goes flying in a fantastic upward shot as letter tiles fly, spelling the sickening “crunk” sound of metal pole colliding with human bone. Zircher carries this masterful attention to detail throughout the issue, and his heavy cross hatching keeps the atmosphere dark and moody without feeling over-inked.
It’s too early to tell just how high this star will rise, but it’s obvious things are looking up for “Suicide Squad.” Kot clearly has a handle on this team of misfits, coming delightfully close to their brethren of continuity past. Appearances by recent “Justice League” villains Cheetah and Graves, along with the inspired use of a certain Bat-villain, certainly point towards a higher profile for this series in the months to come. Regardless of its place in broader DC continuity, for the first time in the New 52, “Suicide Squad” is going to have folks talking.
Final Verdict: 8.9 – Buy. Strong characterization, a fun, quirky cast, and a disturbing premise make for a fantastic jumping-on point. Oh, and that ending…brilliant.