Suicide Squad #33 is grim and gritty in all the best ways, with a level of self-awareness not often seen in such tales.
There will be spoilers…
This is a very meta story, but unlike most of the metafictional tales inhabiting the realm of superhero comics, this story’s a bit of a tragedy. Suicide Squad #33 is the first issue in an arc entitled “The Chosen One,” and based on the story so far, that title is an ironic one.
Superhero comics manage to contain a multitude of genres. From horror to western to comedy, most genres seem to fit comfortably within a world of superheroes. Even within the superhero genre, there’s a lot of variety; Batman stories, for instance, should have a very different feel than those featuring Superman. This notion might have something to do with why I have such an extreme dislike for Zak Snyder’s version of Superman; he feels like an extension of Batman’s world, and thus not quite right to me. Snyder’s Superman doesn’t meet my expectations of Superman, and thus the character doesn’t work for me.
The point I’m making is that there are certain expectations of a Suicide Squad story, and writers either play to those expectations or risk alienating readers. Readers expect badass villains and antiheroes, with maybe a grim hero on a redemption arc every now and then, in the ranks of the Suicide Squad. We expect to see blood and murder, and even torture. Death tolls will be high, because the Suicide Squad is a place for bad people doing bad things in the service of good, or at least order. It’s tough to say that Amanda Waller’s a good person, but for the most part, readers accept that she’s playing a necessary role in preserving the status quo. And again, the Squad is made up of bad people, so when bad things happen to them, there’s a sort of karmic reassurance involved.
Si Spurrier’s narrative toys with those expectations while telling the reader exactly what he’s doing. The result is a well-crafted but uncomfortable story featuring a classic redshirt as our point of view character, Juan Soria. Juan is referred to as a student of narrative probability, in that he understands the tropes involved in various types of stories. He always wanted to be a superhero, and Spurrier utilizes and deconstructs a multitude of superhero tropes while telling Juan’s tale. Juan gets an origin story, involving the classic accident at a high tech facility. But his power isn’t really suited for super heroics, as all he can do is open locks by interfacing with them via nanites in his hand.
It’s kinda like Grant Morrison’s classic Animal Man story, “The Death of the Red Mask”, featuring a super-powered character with a death touch. He felt fated to become a supervillain, because there’s no room for superheroes with a death touch. Juan’s in the same boat. A superhero with the ability to open any lock is doomed to failure, but it’s an incredibly useful ability for a criminal. Which is what Juan becomes, complete with the trope that he only did it to help his sick grandma. But Juan’s not one of the big guys, one of the main characters, as he’s painfully aware, and he gets caught by the Justice League on his first criminal outing. Because he’s got a problematic superpower, he’s sent to Belle Reve, home of the Suicide Squad and a bunch of other super-powered hard cases. Juan doesn’t belong here, but Juan’s never really belonged anywhere.
Juan ends up “volunteering” for the Squad, despite his protestations, and one of the more disturbing aspects of this story shines a light on some of the dirtier practices of Amanda Waller. It’s not just hardened criminals and super-villains who get recruited for these missions; D-list mooks like Juan get recruited as well, and they’re very explicitly used as cannon fodder. It’s one thing to accept that Waller puts killers like Killer Croc or Deadshot at risk every time they go out in the field. They’re bad guys, and they’re professionals, and for the most part, they signed up for it. It’s quite another thing to accept first time non-violent offenders with only two days of training sent to meet their violent end at the hands of murderous aliens while the Squad A-listers laugh. But it makes perfect sense, especially as a reflection of the real world. Of course little people get ground up and destroyed by the system.
Let me be clear: This is a gripping and well-told story. I like it a lot. But it’s uncomfortable, and even as it twists and deconstructs the common tropes of the Suicide Squad, it reinforces them as well. The Squad operate in a very gray realm involving questionable goals and high stakes missions, and this story is, so far, very solidly ensconced in that world. Spurrier’s deft meta-narrative storytelling lulls the reader into an expectation of lightness (gotta love the fact that Captain Boomerang somehow has a can of beer available to him in the middle of an alien spaceship), then destroys that expectation.
The art by Fernando Pasarrn and Oclair Albert supports the story nicely; frenetic scenes of confusing combat, fractured and incomplete due to Juan’s perspective, are intermixed with subdued scenes of imprisonment and despair. And the colors by Blond bring it all together, with bright garish colors suggesting chaos and anxiety, and monotone grays and browns depicting the isolation and harshness of imprisonment.
I don’t think Juan’s getting out of this one alive, and neither does he, but in spite of those expectations, I’ll keep reading and hoping, because it’s a great story.
Suicide Squad #33, published 1/10/18 by DC Comics, features writing by Si Spurrier, letters by Pat Brosseau, and art by Fernando Passarn, Oclair Albert, Blond, Eddy Barrow, Eber Ferreira, Adriano Lucas, Whilce Portacio, and Alex Sinclair.