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Suicide Squad: trial By Fire

by Robert Greenberger

With a version of the suicide Squad now running through Smallville’s final season, it is a fitting time for DC Comics to finally collect the early run in trade paperback. A while back the Squad was scheduled for the showcase line but that was not indicated to be, but the wait has allowed the stories to be collected in full-color which is just fine by me. suicide Squad: trial By fire collects secret Origins #14 and the first eight issues of the original title.

Spinning out of Legends, the 1986 crossover from Len Wein, John Ostrander, John Byrne and Karl Kesel, the suicide Squad was something the DC universe had never seen before. Sure, there were plenty of heroic teams, and everyone fondly recalled the secret society of Super-Villains but mixing heroes and villains was an untried concept. This came at a time when comic book themes were getting darker as this was the dawn of the “grim and gritty” era. The heroes were down on their luck, having little to lose while the villains were enticed into performing acts for the public good with a pledge of having their sentences commuted… if they survived the mission. To make sure good behavior, they were outfitted with explosive bracelets that could be triggered by their field leader, Col. Rick Flagg, or his superior, the cold-hearted Amanda Waller.

Ostrander created Waller and she has become a deeply-entrenched member of the DC Universe. She was a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners woman who fought for her position in the federal government. The wall earned it as we will learn in subsequent reprints but the woman overcame adversity and lived the American dream by achieving her role. She and Flagg supplied the link back to the original Squad, which was featured in a series of issues of The brave & The Bold, but sales never led to a series back in the 1960s. That linkage was covered in the secret Origins issue, for this reason its inclusion here.

In all the books I serviced during the eighties, this was the one where the creators were in synch from the beginning and fed ideas off one another. John came from a stage background and created complex characters to populate the series, culling a lot of from the fringes of the DC Universe. When we well established their base as part of Belle Reve prison, he also created a staff supplying a rich supporting cast that could interact with the rotating agents. Luke McDonnell, coming off a run on Justice league of America, thrived on creating that cast, the prison, and Sheba, their helicopter for missions. Inker Karl Kesel regularly wrote essays to me and John, suggesting themes and characters. The entire Lashina lost on earth story, which begins in these pages, was entirely his concept.

Editors were somewhat leery of letting us play with their big guns at first, which may be why we featured the Penguin early on, surrounded by the second tier. but that was fine by us considering that that freed the team to maim or kill as the story dictated. and as you will discover in the first two storylines here, the comic took its cues from the headlines of the day as you will see an all-too-familiar middle east and a crumbling Russia.

We were just warming up as we got used to the new players. The following issue tied in with the Millennium weekly event but after that, John, Luke and new inker Bob Lewis were unleashed. The book remained rich with subplots, both comedic and dramatic, the antithesis to the decompressed storytelling that is in vogue today. I miss good sub-plotting so will be thrilled to revisit it here.

The Squad as a concept, along with Waller, has also endured the changes to the DC Universe. regardless of the reality, there seems to remain a need for a team ready to do the dirty work no one else can or will touch. it all began here and I strongly recommend you dive ideal in.

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