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Suicide Squad #20 – Review

SUICIDE SQUAD #20

By: Ales Kot (story), Patrick Zircher (art), Jason Keith (colors)

The Story: You will need to pay someone pretty well to head-shrink these folks.

The Review: It’s been ten issues since I Dropped this title, not so much from an egregious level of quality as for simply a lack of interest.  While Adam Glass had the right idea for the tone of this book, he seemed to lack a clear vision for the series and the characters never managed to take off under his pen.  For a cast criminals, each with their own psychoses, they were rather dull as a group.  Glass suffered more from a lack of inspiration than lack of talent.

So it’s pretty exciting to see what a new writer can do with the material, especially one who’s pretty new to the game.  Now, I’m sure Kot has his fans elsewhere, but as far as mainstream superhero goes, he’s definitely an unknown—so there’s always a chance you might get to witness firsthand what might be the start of a breakout run for the writer.  And from the get-go, things look very promising, as Kot displays an instinctive handle on the title’s unique qualities.

Psychological profiling is not an uncommon tactic for getting to know a cast of characters, but Kot’s use of it works well because he not only assesses each team member, but tests the assessment as well.  In doing so, he shows a total lack of squeamishness in pushing these already edgy criminals to a violent breaking point.  Kot’s not interested in a watered-down group of supervillains and he’s not interested in any kind of rehabilitation.  Quite the reverse, actually.

Nowhere does that intention come through more cruelly than with King Shark, potentially the most innocent—not legally, but emotionally—character here.  In reading the works of Persian poets* and choosing a vegan diet, you can see his earnest attempts to better himself, only to be thwarted by others, defeated by Amanda Waller’s cold judgment: “He might be trying to change…but he’s still just an animal.”  When he snaps and loses control, he actually seems more than ever a tragic figure (“He’s crying while chewing,” remarks the observing assessor).

Shark’s helpless violence embodies the theme Kot has going forward on this series: the idea of “weltschmerz,” which Voltaic describes aptly as “feeling like crap because the world is broken,” though it’s more accurately defined as weariness in the struggle to rise above your flaws when they are outside your control.  The Suicide Squad exists in a world of Waller’s making, where she looks down upon them as their god.  To maintain their use to her, she manipulates their environment, watches their every move, controls not only whether they live, but whether they die (to Deadshot: “You truly died.  Twice.  We just keep reviving you.”).

If Waller is a malevolent god to the Squad, she has two fallen angels to carry out her inscrutable goals.  Unknown Soldier acts as her arm, her “hound” as the caption calls him, ensuring that none of the Squad members ever grow so comfortable in their nothing-to-lose positions that they don’t fear her wrath.  The moment Voltaic makes a smart remark, one he would’ve easily gotten away with during Glass’ tenure, Soldier immediately and without warning smashes his face with a steel staff, punctuating every blow with his mandate: “There—will—be—discipline.”  And then there’s the man who’s been making these personality evaluations, someone with an even keener perception of human fallibility than Waller herself.  Spoiler alert—the inclusion of James Gordon, Jr. is nothing short of twisted brilliance on Kot’s part, particularly the revelation behind his cooperation: “I fell in love with Amanda Waller.”  Chills, right?

Zircher is just as much an unknown to me as Kot, and just as promising a talent for this series.  I don’t think I have the artistic chops to describe his work with justice, but he conveys the desperate, violent energy of this series as perfectly as you could possibly hope.  Even when the blood flies from Voltaic’s beating, spattering the walls, it feels dreadful and horrifying, not gratuitous.  Though he’s not quite the craftsman as J.H. Williams III in his paneling, he knows how to alter their shape to suit a given scene and emphasize details for the greatest impact.  Most of all, along with Keith’s hellish colors, Zircher can bring out the soullessness of each of the characters; you look into their eyes, and it’s like a vacuum, threatening to fatally suck you in.

Conclusion: It’s too soon to say whether this series will become a sleeper hit with Kot and Zircher in control, but it definitely has new life, as if it’s launching for the very first time.

Grade: A-

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * As he’s reading The Essential Rumi, I think “Late By Myself” would be apropos, no?

- I do like that when Soldier beats Voltaic in the face with a staff, the flying Scrabble letters spell out “Crunk.”  I’m assuming this is a sound effect, and not a reference to the hip-hop style.

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2 Responses

  1. I’ll go one step further and say that the pre-Kot iteration of the book did suffer from an egregious lack of quality. The first four or five issues were solidly entertaining, but the book quickly became a godawful mess, with inconsistent and often downright ugly art, garbled plots and indifferent characterization (the low point coming with the “Death of the Family” crossover).

    By any measure, Kot’s opener is an major improvement. Kot clearly has an authorial voice that goes beyond Glass’s “attempted wiseass.” He makes the characters seem intelligent instead of foolish and clearly has some interesting things planned. I’m not familiar with Gordon or the Unknown Soldier, but their inclusion and the teasers of other new members grabbed my attention. Kudos to Zircher as well, for toning down Harley’s skanky New 52 look. Now if only Kot can reclaim Deadshot, who Glass somehow made into the most boring character in the series.

    • Intelligence is a big factor, for sure. I really like that even someone like Voltaic knows the meaning of obscure German phrases, that King Shark is smart enough to appreciate the works of Rumi, and that Harley Quinn is considered a psychological genius on par with James Gordon, Jr.–which is a match-up I’d like to see at some point.

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