If you’re taking the time to read this, then you probably already know that Warner Bros. has finally committed to a DC Cinematic Universe. 2016 will bring us Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (a truly painstaking title to write out) on March 25th and Suicide Squad on August 5th. Suicide Squad has the potential to turn a number of B-list comic characters into A-listers, much like Guardians of the Galaxy did for Marvel. To save you from the moral quagmire of claiming you knew all about Suicide Squad way before the movie came out, like you did with Guardians of the Galaxy (don’t lie, you know you did. And if you didn’t, you have my respect as a fellow comic maestro), I’m going to tell you everything you could possibly need to know about Suicide Squad. So when August 5th rolls around, all your friends will bask in the glory of your comic book knowledge, because that’s clearly how the world works.
The Comic: The initial concept of the Suicide Squad (also known as Squadron S, Suicide Squadron, and Task Force X) first appeared in The Brave and the Bold #25 in 1959 as the creation of writer Robert Kanigher and artist Ross Andru. Under the leadership of Colonel Rick Flag, this iteration of the team typically fought giant monsters on a placed called Dinosaur Island during WWII. Flag’s team of soldiers, scientists, and medics have very little in common with the later team and upcoming film.
The most popular take on the team, and the one the film is using as its basis, debuted in 1987 in the event series Legends, which featured the public turning against Earth’s most prominent heroes, due to mind-control manipulation. With the Justice League out of commission, the U.S. government decided to put together a new team. This team consisted mostly of characters who’d existed before, but were brought together under the name Suicide Squad by writer John Ostrander. The first modern Suicide Squad consisted of the criminals Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, Enchantress, and Blockbuster. The team was directed by government agent Amanda “The Wall” Waller and Rick Flag Jr. to defeat the forces of the major DC baddie, Darkseid.
After the Legends miniseries, Ostrander created a Suicide Squad ongoing series, with the central premise that the team members could win their freedom after successfully completing a number of missions without dying. The series consisted of a large, rotating cast of characters who were selected depending on what the mission required. A large part of the appeal of Ostrander’s run was how it humanized the villains, adding layers to characters that had once been cartoony or cardboard. The series was also noteworthy for tackling real world political issues and featuring prominent politicians and world-leaders. After the series ended with issue #66, The concept lived on in various iterations throughout DC’s wide line of titles. There were several attempts to reboot the series during the 2000s, but none of them had any staying power.
In 2011, DC’s reboot known as the New 52, ushered in the present day Suicide Squad, effectively altering and erasing the previous continuity (I’ll get into DC’s giant time and space altering sweeps in another feature, I promise). The basics of the reboot are essentially the same, though the missions lean more towards assassinations and asset retrieval. Bombs implanted in the members brains keep them from straying. The team, still directed by Amanda Waller, currently consists of more popular characters: Deadshot, Black Manta, Reverse-flash, Joker’s Daughter, Deathstroke, and Harley Quinn. Despite the use of more well-known characters, reactions to the current series have been tepid at best. It seems likely that with the movie gaining attention, DC will reassess the value of the series and place some of their A-list talents onboard.
The Film: Suicide Squad will be written and directed by David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch, Fury). Script rumors seem to point to the fact that it will take elements from Ostrander’s popular run and the current series, brain bombs and all. Rumors suggest (*basic plot spoilers ahead*) the film starts at Arkham Asylum with Harley Quinn attempting to break-out the Joker and Deadshot attempting to assassinate an inmate. Both of their plans are botched and they end up in Belle Reve prison where Amanda Waller and her superior, Rick Flag Jr., invite them to join the Suicide Squad for reduced sentences. The team is sent to prevent a bio-weapon from falling into the hands of Lex Luthor. This bio-weapon turns out to be a powerful, young sorceress known as the Enchantress. The rest of the rumors point towards various betrayals, reveals, and easter-eggs of which I won’t ruin for you here. The central theme that seems to be at the center of Ayers’ take is that sometimes bad people can do good and necessary things. If done right, Suicide Squad could become a unique villain-centric franchise, with the possibility for a rotating cast of expendable characters
The Tone: Suicide Squad will have to strike a delicate balance in terms of the tone. The film is basically asking you to root for a gang of sadistic, murderous, psychopaths. My fellow resident comic book expert and contributor, Diego Crespo suggested that dark and gritty was the approach to take, and I’m inclined to agree. Those two words get tossed around a lot in terms of superhero franchises, but if there’s a comic-book movie that could benefit from that approach, it’s Suicide Squad. I’m sure the film will be rated PG-13, but it should push the boundaries as much as possible. Still, I’m hoping for flashes of dark humor, which we do get a glimpse of in the first trailer. But David Ayer played with dark humor and a bunch of sadistic criminals earlier in 2014 with Sabotage and the result was in my opinion the worst film of last year. If Ayer can create complex and likeable villains like he did with Denzel Washington in Training Day, and if the studio heads don’t attempt to make the film DC’s tonal answer to Guardians of the Galaxy, I think we’ll be safe. Given Ayer’s directorial style, everything we’ve soon from Suicide Squad so far, looks pretty visually distinct.
Amanda Waller (Viola Davis): Amanda Waller first appeared in Legends #1 in 1986, as a heavy-set, middle-aged woman. She was born in Chicago and lived there until a serial killer took the lives of her husband and daughter. After raising her other children, she earned her degree in political science and entered politics as a congressional aide. Later she became the head of espionage branch known as The Agency and eventually Checkmate. Waller’s headstrong personality and questionable ethics put her in contention with a number of heroes, mostly notably Batman. In the New 52 reboot, Waller is slimmer and younger, but no less headstrong and uncompromising. She takes a more hands on approach with the Suicide Squad and has proven to be a capable field agent. The film looks to be blending the two iterations, while leaning slightly more heavily on the original.
Where we’ve seen her before: Waller has become somewhat of the Nick Fury of the DC universe, appearing all over the place and usually tying together larger plot threads. Waller made her first onscreen appearance in Justice League Unlimited where she was voiced by C.C.H Pounder (the best iteration of the character so far, if I may add). She was played by Pam Grier during the ninth season of Smallville, where she controlled a version of the Suicide Squad. You may also remember that Waller was played by Angela Basset in the ill-fated Green Lantern. The New 52 version is currently a frequent guest star on Arrow, where she is portrayed by Cynthia Addai-Robinson.
Rick Flag, Jr. (Joel Kinnaman): Rick Flagg Jr. first appeared in The Brave and the Bold #25 in 1959. His origins are kind of a mess, so I’ll try to be as clear as possible. Because of DC’s reboots and time-altering shenanigans, Jr. was re-introduced in the ’80s as the field commander for the Suicide Squad. The WWII era Flag was retconned to be the ’80s Flag’s father, effectively creating a Rick Flag Senior. Rick Flag Jr. had a deep hatred of those he worked with, fearing the line between himself and the criminals was too thin. He was eventually killed by a bomb on a mission. He was resurrected in the 2000s where it was revealed Rick Flag Sr. was not actually his father, and Jr. was a brainwashed soldier named Anthony Miller (Comics. Am I right?) Neither Flag Sr. nor Jr. has made the transition to the New 52, so they’re both in dire need for a simpler, and more interesting take. In the film, he was originally going to be played by Tom Hardy, but he dropped out over scheduling commitments and was replaced with Joel Kinnaman.
Where we’ve seen him before: Rick Flagg Jr., voiced by Adam Baldwin, appeared alongside the first onscreen appearance of the Suicide Squad in Justice League Unlimited (The Suicide Squad was called Task Force X, because of the kids). Flag Jr. also appeared in the 10th season of Smallville where he was portrayed by Ted Whittall.
Deadshot (Will Smith): The world’s deadliest assassin, Floyd Lawton, first appeared in Batman #59 in 1950. Lawton grew up in an abusive household. During an attempt to shoot his father, he misfires and kills his brother instead, setting him on his path to villainy and disregard for life. In his first appearance, the tuxedo and top hat wearing Deadshot became Gotham’s replacement vigilante while Batman and Robin were away on vacation (’50s comics, gotta love’em!) but he was in cahoots with criminals and used his crime-fighting methods as a distraction. Lawton was brought back in the late ’70s with a laser sighted monocle, wrist-mounted guns and continued to set his sights on Batman for years. Deadshot has been a part of nearly every incarnation of the Suicide Squad, partly because of his expert aim and partly because he’s got a real death wish. In the New 52, Deadshot is the leader of the squad and his desire to be reunited with his daughter plays an important role in his willingness to serve. The film looks to keep Deadshot relationship with his daughter in tact and costume accessories suggest a religious turn for the character. Though Will Smith would have looked hella classy in a tux and tophat, this modern adaptation of Deadshot’s attire looks pretty cool and functional.
Where we’ve seen him before: Deadshot’s popped up all over the place, first making an onscreen appearance in Justice League where he was voiced by Michael Rosenbaum. He appeared with a cowboy hat in the 10th season of Smallville where he was played by Bradley Stryker. He’s currently a member of the Suicide Squad in Arrow where he is given a more morally minded portrayal by Michael Rowe. Deadshot has also been featured in 3 of the Batman: Arkham video games.
Katana (Karen Fukuhara): Tatsu Yamashiro, Katana, first appeared in The Brave and the Bold #200 in 1983. After being caught in an intense love triangle that cost Tatsu her husband and children’s lives, she sought a way to channel her pain by training as a samurai. Armed with the Soultaker, a sword possessed by the soul of her dead husband along with others the blade has killed, Katana traveled the world as a figure of justice who wasn’t afraid to take lives. Eventually she joined The Outsiders, a team formed by Batman after he had a falling out with the Justice League, because y’know Bruce sucks at social etiquette. Katana has remained a member of The Outsiders through almost every iteration of the team. In the New 52 she was a made a member of Birds of Prey, an all-female superhero team, and later a member of the black-ops centric Justice League of America, where she worked under Amanda Waller. In this rebooted universe, some consider her crazy due to her belief that her husband lives within her sword. She eventually finds herself a member of The Outsiders once again, only this time with ties to Green Arrow instead of Batman. Since Katana’s never been a member of the Suicide Squad (though she did aid them on one occasion) and her inclusion in the film came as a surprise when Ayer release the cast photo, there’s no telling what’s in store for her.
Where we’ve seen her before: As one of DC’s most prominent Asian characters, Katana has become quite visible in recent years. She’s appeared in two different animated Batman series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, where she was voiced by Vyvan Pham and Kim Mai Guest, and in the short-lived Beware the Batman, where she was voiced by Sumalee Montano. She made her first live-action appearance in Arrow where she was played by The Wolverine’s Rila Fukushima and disappeared for large chunks of the season before finally putting on the costume right before the season finale.
Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney): The Original Captain Boomerang, George “Digger” Harkness, first appeared in Flash #116 in 1960. An impoverished Australian, Harkness spent his time carving and playing with boomerangs. He eventually became so skilled at it that he became a boomerang promoter for a toy company. Tired of being mocked by people who didn’t share his love of the skill, he turned to a life of crime using trick boomerangs. As a member of the Suicide Squad, Boomerang was the team’s most disliked and useless member. He was labeled as a prankster, coward, racist, and all around ass-hole who usually had to be forced into missions when the time came. Harkness spent his entire life a loser until he killed Tim Drake’s (the third Robin’s) father. Harkness was shot dead before he could escape. The second Captain Boomerang, Owen Mercer, first appeared in Identity Crisis #3 in 2004. Like his father, Mercer also had a talent for throwing boomerangs. Mercer has been both a villain and an anti-hero and always more respectable than his father. In the New 52, Mercer is still Captain Boomerang and has a deep-rooted rivalry with Deadshot. The film will use the Harkness alias for the character, but in terms of look and characterization, Boomerang will be an amalgamation of the two comic characters. Though it seems like quite a stretch to imagine Jai Courtney being able to hold his own against Will Smith, he does deliver in the trailer, even if it is only a brief moment.
Where we’ve seen him before: Harkness appeared as a member of Task Force X in Justice League Unlimited where he was voiced by Donal Gibson. The Harkness version also recently appeared in the crossover episodes of Arrow and The Flash where he was portrayed by Nick Tarabay.
Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje): Waylon Jones, Killer Croc, first appeared in Batman #357 in 1983. Born with a atavistic skin condition that left him scaly but still recognizably human, Jones grew up friendless and abused. He became a gator wrestler and later one of Gotham’s most consistent threats. In his initial appearance, Croc was a shadowy crime boss who sought to gain control of Gotham’s underworld. His most significant act was the murder of Jason Todd’s adoptive parents, creating a chain of events that would cause the boy to become the second Robin. Over the years, the character has evolved, or should I say devolved, to be more of a sewer-dwelling monster of the years. He’s now most often depicted as a hulking man-gator with little interest in being a crime boss. In the famous Hush storyline, Killer Croc is infected with a virus that turns him into more of a monster than a man, and severely decreases his intelligence. In the New 52, he’s regained some of his intelligence and human features, but his inability to blend in with society has left him an outcast who tries not to get involved in the efforts of Gotham’s underworld. Despite his continuing conflicts with Batman, Croc does have honor. He’s aided Batman on multiple occasions (in an alternate universe he even becomes the Dark Knight’s sidekick) and has served as a guardian for a number of Gotham’s outcast children. The film’s depiction of Croc looks very similar to the character’s appearance through the 90s and hopefully Adewale and Ayer can tap into Croc’s humanity.
Where we’ve seen him before: Killer Croc has appeared in every animated Batman show since his debut. Most notably he appeared in Batman: The Animated Series where he was voiced by Aron Kincaid and later Brooks Gardner. A more reptilian version of the character appeared in The Batman and was voiced by Ron Perlman. The character can also be seen Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Beware the Batman, and the animated films: Batman: Gotham Knight, Son of Batman, and Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts. He also makes an appearance in all of the Batman: Arkham games.
Slipknot (Adam Beach): The little known villain, Slipknot A.K.A. Christopher Weiss, first appeared in Fury of Firestorm #28. He’s responsible for creating unbreakable ropes and his trade is assassination…through a mastery of ropes. But these ropes skills were enough to gain him a spot on the Suicide Squad, but he gets his arm blown off on his first mission. The character has played a minor roles in a number of the DC comics events over the years (Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis) but was rarely used. He was eventually beheaded with razor wire by the Tattooed Man. He has yet to make his debut in the New 52. Slipknot is pretty much a blank slate for the movie, though hopefully he’ll get to do some something cool with ropes (rope-fu?) My bet is that he bites it by the end of the film. After all, someone has to die.
Where we’ve seen him before: Suicide Squad will be the characters first appearance outside of comes (I wonder why).
Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie): Harley Quinn has the distinction of first appearing in Batman: The Animated Series in 1992 before making her in-continuity comics debut in Batman: Harley Quinn in 1999. Dr. Harleen Quinzell (a completely sensible name) interned as a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum where she became fascinated by the Joker. During therapeutic sessions, the Joker begins to creep inside Quinzell’s head, manipulating her and making her feel needed. Quinzell quickly falls in love with the Joker, and loses hold on her own sanity, becoming his sidekick and paramour. While she’s far less sadistic than the Joker, her behavior is also erratic and violent. Depending on the story, she can shift from being comic relief to a capable threat. Despite her insanity and fondness for the Joker, she has some quirks of kindness such as a fondness for animals and loyalty to her friend, and possible lover, Poison Ivy. In the New 52, Harley’s origins and relationships remain relatively intact, though it has been revealed she was pushed by the Joker into the same vat of chemicals that created him, making her guise more than just a costume. After leaving the Joker after years of abuse, Harley goes on a killing spree and is forcibly inducted into the Suicide Squad. Rumor has it that the film will depict her origin story. Margot Robbie’s casting is as perfect as it could be for the character and she absolutely delivers in the trailer. My hope is that the film treats Harley Quinn as much more than an object of desire.
Where we’ve seen her before: The most famous version of the character is from the aforementioned Batman: The Animated Series where she was voiced by the incomparable Arleen Sorkin. She was the main antagonist in the short lived Birds of Prey TV show where she was played by Mia Sara. The character also made a brief cameo in Arrow where she was voiced by Tara Strong. Harley Quinn has also been featured in all the Batman: Arkham video games.
El Diablo (Jay Hernandez): While two other heroic DC characters, one Western-themed and one possessed by an Aztec God, have held the name El Diablo, the film will use the most recent and third version of the chracter. Chato Santana (another subtle name choice courtesy of comics) was created for the New 52 and first appeared in Suicide Squad #1 in 2011. He bears no resemblance in either look or action to former bearers of the name. A metahuman gifted with pyrokinesis, Santana burned down a tenement building in an act of gangland retribution for money he was owed. After being made aware that women and children died in his act of violence, he turned himself in. Amanda Waller recruited him against his will to serve on the Suicide Squad. The film version looks to be a mostly accurate adaptation of the character, body tatts and all.
Where we’ve seen him before: Suicide Squad will be the character’s first appearance outside of comics.
Enchantress (Cara Delevingne): The Enchantress first appeared in Strange Adventures #187 in 1966 (two years after Marvel’s Asgardian character of the same name). Freelance artist June Moone gains magical powers from an entity named Dzamor at a castle-held costume party. By speaking the words ‘the enchantress,’ her hair changes from blonde to black and she gains magical powers. The catch is that the transformation also drives her insane, making her vulnerable to evil influences and her powers difficult for her to control. She is one of the most destructive members of the Suicide Squad, and Deadshot was once tasked to kill her should she become too unstable. She has moved between being a full-fledged villain and an anti-hero. In the New 52, the Enchantress is separated from June, becoming completely evil until June is forcibly reunited with the enchantress persona by John Constantine, a member of the magic-based Justice League Dark. In terms of the film, script rumors suggest that the Enchantress won’t be a full-fledged member of the Suicide Squad, at least not a first. The trailer suggests that Moone gets her powers (or is perhaps possessed by them) during a spelunking expedition. As the asset the team must obtain, it seems pretty likely we’ll see the squad face off against this powerful sorceress.
Where we’ve seen her before: The Enchantress appears briefly in the animated movie Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox.
Joker (Jared Leto): The Joker first appeared in Batman #1 in 1940. I won’t spend time covering his origins and crimes, as you’re most likely familiar with his most famous ones. Instead, I’ll talk about his rumored role in the film. The Joker thankfully won’t be a member of the Suicide Squad; he’s not a team player after all. Instead he’ll be put in a Hannibal Lecter-esque roll where he’s behind glass for a good chunk of the film. If Harley’s origins are covered either in a present-tense storyline or a flashback, he’ll definitely be involved. He may even act as a consultant of types at the request of Rick Flag Jr. and Amanda Waller, surely manipulating them so that he can escape by the film’s end. I’m personally loving the direction Ayer and Leto have taken with the character, tattoos, silver dentures, and all. I’ve discussed at length both the Joker’s evolution and his look in the film, and I think everyone involved has a great handle on the character. He looks like someone we should be afraid of and his appearance at the end of the trailer gave me legit chills.
Where we’ve seen him before: Ha! You must be joking.
And there you have it. Consider yourself primed and ready for Suicide Squad. Now go off and impress some folks!
Suicide Squad shoots its way into theaters on August 5th, 2016
Sources: DC Comics Database-Wikia and Wikipedia