SUICIDE SQUAD #21

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

The Story: It takes a crazy to know a crazy.

The Review: It’s a confusing time to be a DC fan right around now.  In the last few months, we’ve seen a multitude of creative changes to its line of titles.*  Some of them have caused me to slap my forehead wearily in the manner of a parent experiencing his child’s latest screw-up (e.g., Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps).  Others have left me disappointed by failing to live up to their potential (e.g., Justice League Dark and Green Arrow).

Only a few have so thoroughly impressed me that I’m willing to overlook the failings of the rest as the hazards of trying something new (as opposed to change for its own sake).  Charles Soule on Swamp Thing is one; Kot on Suicide Squad is another.  In a short time, both writers have clearly established their voices and visions for their respective titles, showing that their thought processes go far beyond a good pitch meeting.

For Kot’s part, he seems to see the subtleties in the Squad’s brain patterns better than anyone who’s come before him.  It’s easy enough to write a sadistic nut, but to write a sadistic nut with a fully-rounded character?  I’d say it’s much more of a challenge, but Kot makes it look pretty easy.  His Squad is effortlessly menacing, each in his or her special way, and none more so than our triumvirate of masterminds: Waller, James Gordon, Jr., and Harley.

The inclusion of Harley in that list is something of an early achievement for Kot.  Even though she’s grown into her own character over time, her adoration for the Joker often overshadows everything else about her, including the intellect she’s supposed to have.  Here, Kot sets her brilliance in the forefront, with her humor (now with fifty percent more irony and self-awareness: “Lookit mah gangsta skeelz.”) an understated way of revealing her competence.

Kot sprinkles this black comedy tastefully throughout the issue, never once inserting it where it might inappropriately defeat the tension of a scene.  As someone who still dabbles in comedy writing every now and again, I appreciate that Kot never resorts to broad gags or puns in his humor.  Some jokes are obvious (Harley, escaping from her cell: “Waller!  I put on my hunting suit!”); others take a moment to sink in (“Trust me.  I’m a doctor,” says Deadshot, killing three guards with several precisely thrown blades); and at least one or two are subtle enough to take a couple reads to grasp (when asked if he’s at least a reasonable loon, Gordon replies, deadpan, “Yes.  I swear.  On my sister’s grave.”).

While the character work is top-notch, the plotting remains a bit too mysterious to make any judgment calls as of yet.  Kot purposely withholds a great deal of information, namely the particulars of the deal Harley, Gordon, and Waller negotiate between them, as well as the identity of the person who hacked into Belle Reve’s computer systems.  Some writers do this and you can quickly sense they’re just trying to hide a bad hand.  With Kot, it’s a bluff so good you feel that the wisest course is to just fold and trust that he’s got a full house ready to play.

Having a strong unknown writer come out of a series creative change is remarkable enough, but to get an effective artist out of it, too, is almost too serendipitous to believe.  Zircher has an art style that can capture the over-the-top scale that befits a superhero comic, but it has enough roughness to sell the idea that this isn’t your typical superhero comic.  He has nearly as much subtlety as Kot as well.  If you look at Harley and Gordon’s showdown, her expression barely changes in each panel, yet her mindset is still so apparent each time.  And I should mention that Suicide Squad also boasts a talented, heretofore unknown (at least to me) colorist.  Keith adds flair and punch to Zircher’s grounded lines, bringing sexy back to the barrel of a gun.

Conclusion: Kot and Zircher have seized control of this title with the deftness of master puppeteers, matching their cast of characters as manipulators of the highest degree.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * And that’s not even talking about the spate of cancellations and newly announced books.  The idea of losing Dial H and gaining Superman/Wonder Woman (even though I’m pretty sure I’ll be checking the latter out) in its stead just makes me sick to my stomach.

Grade

Conclusion