They say that a hero is only as good as their villain, but what if there is no hero? What if the villain occupies their place and function in a story? Seems like that could be an interesting tale. It’s a relatively untapped narrative but one which should be like butter is to bread in comics. So before we watch the villains go wild, let’s examine the cast’s previous outings and what we want from them this go around before offering tips for others to follow…
DC’s Suicide Squad, thanks to its multiple inclusions in its shows, is a property and concept I’m well aware of but wasn’t a fan until recently. In my naive beginnings to comics, I was completely dismissive of books about supervillains. Anti-heroes I understood, they’re heroes but “darker”. It took the last couple of years but now I get the appeal in flipping the script and having the bad guy have the limelight. It’s different, and it opens up potentially new stories for writers to tell. Suicide Squad, in most of its iterations, does just that.
Created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru in 1959 before be revamped into its modern version by John Ostrander, Len Wein, and John Bryne, Suicide Squad went from a Challengers of the Unknown knockoff to a covert team of villains working off their jail time for an early release if they happened to complete their mission. Its a brilliant hook for a series that Ostrander came up with and although not as consistent as other DC series, the Suicide Squad has remained a fixture of the DCU since.
Part of the appeal I think is the cast, little of it is set, instead its open to theoretically anyone in the DCU and there’s a good chance some of them will die. So we have variety, drama and tension, which are good ingredients to a story. The twist that the principal cast are villains only enriches that, these are people who in the words of Amanda Waller are “acting against their own self-interests”.
I mentioned earlier that I have witnessed the Suicide Squad in (live) action before and the results weren’t always great. The first I remember is the “Task Force X” episode in Justice League Unlimited which may be the greatest heist story in animation ever (and there are quite a few of them).
Consisting of Rick Flagg Jr, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Plastique and the Clock King; the team breaks into the JL Watchtower to steal something for Project Cadmus and then has to evade the heroes on the satellite to complete their mission. At the time, I only cared about seeing Temple Fugate again but like any story thought up by the late Darwyn Cooke and Dwayne McDuffie, its pure brilliance.
The next time I recall seeing mention of the team was in Smallville, which the less said the better. That show really strained itself to extend its life and the poor imitation of Task Force X only shows that. The one in Arrow is much closer, but nowhere near as compelling as it should be. I think both really fail the material in making it seem so mundane, the characters, the (lack of) costumes. If it wasn’t the Ostrander version they were trying to adapt it might have worked. Ironically, the last one in animation worked ok but with some clear vision problems.
They have the costumes, the depravity, the violence, the movie’s not that bad but the weakest parts include Batman’s lingering presence. If he was out of it almost entirely and the movie focused on the team completing their mission it could’ve been great. Nonetheless, only the JLU episode earns the Squad prime television memory.
So now its 2016 and we have a feature length film written and directed by David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury). The past summer has been kind of underwhelming for comic book movies, with Dawn of Justice and X-Men: Apocalypse failing to meet expectations. The excitement for Suicide Squad, like Fox’s darkhorse Deadpool, has been just as crazy but less easily explained. Deadpool is Deadpool, who fans have wanted to see properly adapted for ages. Suicide Squad‘s appeal seems to be (aside from the wonderfully demented advertising campaign) how different it is from past comic book films. They’ve almost all been about heroes or anti-heroes, although there have been rumors past of Sony scratching the itch that Suicide Squad seems ready to with their Spiderman villains. While I doubt they will ever come to fruition, a movie about Spider-Man’s sextet of rogues the Sinister Six or Venom have their individual merits.
The Sinister Six’s problem is that although Spider-Man has some of the best and iconic villains around, Sony was barely able to show eight of them in his own films and even less that people actually WANTED to see again. For five films, that’s much to speak for a spinoff. There’s also the fact that most of them are in fact, pretty heinous people so you can’t go making them out to be these misunderstood victims of society. Which is probably what will end up happening. Venom, I can say right now, needs Deadpool level focus. Everyone from the writers, cast, and director needs to know its a hard R movie about a guy wearing a living alien who eats people. Or a living alien glob that attaches itself to various people and makes them do crazy Spider-Manesque stuff, I’d watch either of those.
What I think Suicide Squad has going for it, besides it being a fresh idea in an admittedly growing field of stale ones, is that it looks like David Ayer and the cast know what they’re doing: putting a comic book on the screen. Not a translation, less an adaptation, but a garishly colored, bonkers story starring impossible archetypes on the marquee.
You can say DC jumped into this shared Universe thing headfirst, and you wouldn’t be wrong. After Batman v Superman, people are saying this is the thing that makes or breaks the DCEU (of course that was before seeing the Justice League groovying to ‘Icky Thump’). If nothing else, I doubt very much that the movie is middle of the road. It’ll either be a smashing success, or another DC also ran.