SPOILER ALERT! As the title of this article implies, there are major spoilers ahead for this week's Suicide Squad #20. If you don't want to be spoiled, click one of the links above and read another article!
When Ales Kot sat down to write his initial pitch for Suicide Squad, he had what he describes as an "explosion of ideas."
With his debut issue — this week's #20 — the first fallout from Kot's explosive ideas was revealed on the final page: The newest member of the Suicide Squad is James Gordon Jr.
The son of Batman's Gotham police commissioner Jim Gordon, James Jr. has been utilized as one of the creepiest villains in the DCU since the New 52 reboot (and just before). Not only has James Jr. been established as a psychopathic villain for Batman, but he ended up matching crazed ideas with the Joker as a Batgirl villain during the recent "Death of the Family" storyline.
But now James Jr. is part of the Suicide Squad, recruited by team leader Amanda Waller. It's probably the last person in the DCU that anyone would associate with the word "team," and his established psychopathy means Waller must be off her rocker for adding him to the roster.
Waller should also watch out, because Kot's dialogue for James Jr. indicated the villain is in love with Waller. Or at least, he thinks he's in love with her.
In this spoiler-filled interview, Newsarama talked to Kot to find out more about his inspiration for including James Jr. in the team, and we also discussed what's coming up in Suicide Squad.
Nrama: Ales, wow, when did it occur to you to add James Gordon Jr. to the team — and why?
Kot: It happened shortly after I got off the phone with my editor, Wil Moss. I wondered about the best possible lineup and I thought, well, Gordon Jr. is an interesting character. How would he interact with the team?
And then my head exploded.
Nrama: I think mine exploded when I saw him. How would you describe the character of James Jr. as you pick up his story?
Kot: He's an obsessive, he's a psychopath, he's extremely intelligent. James Gordon Junior is the Hannibal Lecter of the team and he's interested in working for the Squad because it means he can be near Waller — and also because the membership enables him to figure out ways to kill and torture people and be rewarded for it. It's a new situation for him and while the incarceration itself is a sore spot, he is excited about what he can do.
Nrama: Why is Amanda Waller so important to him?
Kot: Because he has a fetish for strong, intelligent women and for people who are not afraid of him in general. Also because, as we find out, he's in love with her - but as for what his definition of love actually is, well, that's up in the air.
Nrama: What's Amanda's motivation for bringing James Jr. to the team?
Kot: Nothing better than a psychopath when it comes to dissecting other psychopaths. Gordon Jr. is young, "talented" and driven. Waller wants his expertise and she believes she can keep him on a tight leash. That said, she's involved with running other teams, so if she overcommits, something might just slip her attention for a moment.
Nrama: You called James Jr. a psychopath, and we've heard him referred to that way before. But "psychopathy," at its very basic meaning, is a "lack of empathy." Yet your story ended with him saying something about now having "empathy instead of aggression." Can you describe what James means, and what you mean by including that statement?
Kot: Yes, he was revealed as a psychopath, and he also, in Scott Snyder's "Black Mirror" story arc (from Detective Comics), very specifically stated that he views empathy as a weakness. So why the turnaround? I won't spoil everything, but it could be one of these: either he truly feels love for Waller and cares for her, or he thinks he feels love for Waller and what he truly feels is something far more dangerous. I don't want to deprive the readers of the chance to find out for themselves.
Nrama: I have a feeling that either way, it will end badly. But James Jr. isn't the only one whose mental state is being explored here. This issue hinted that you'll be examining the morality and psychology of these characters quite a bit. Is that true? Or are there other themes as well?
Kot: Well, exploration of ethics and psychology of the characters is inevitable if one wants to write a decent comic, and I want to write a great one. There are other themes, and they will become more visible as Harley hijacks…well, something Waller is involved with, in the next issue. The whole military-prison complex and the way it influences our lives has to be a big deal for the series just because of the premise itself, and its influence extends its seedy tendrils into every aspect of our lives.
Nrama: Things didn't look so good for Voltaic. Or is that death final? It sure looked final, but characters have been brought back to life in this comic enough that it's hard to tell if someone's death is real...or permanent.
Kot: I won't tell. Let's put it this way: having Voltaic's talking head around — in a jar — would theoretically be a good idea. Theoretically.
Nrama: That would be a fantastic idea. Theoretically. But even if he is still around in a jar, would his spot on the team be filled by a new character? Are there any new members coming for the team?
Kot: There are. There's a big reveal of who the next member is in our next issue — #21. I can say that he or she is a favorite of many readers, and the way we introduce him or her made me really happy for Patrick Zircher, the artist on the series, because I knew he would enjoy drawing that page a whole lot. It's a flash-forward set in Vegas and there's a gigantic monster built of corpses of failed startup employees rampaging through the city.
Nrama: I don't know if that's supposed to be a clue about who the new character is, but I'm going to let Newsarama readers try to figure that one out. Let's talk about the characters we do know about, starting with King Shark. How would you describe the character as you're writing him going forward?
Kot: Half shark, half man. He eats people. He's a virgin. It's easy to make him into a monster because he so often acts like one, but what if there's a raw, beautiful beating heart underneath it all? What if he never got a chance to see who he could become? What if he lives in fear and just does the same thing over and over because he was taught that was the way? Can he escape that mind state if he realizes he is its slave? The decision would be up to him, and this just might be the road I would love to see him take.
While he rips things apart.
Nrama: OK, next, how about Harley Quinn? Can you explain Harley's emotional and mental state now?
Kot: As in, at the end of #20?
Nrama: Yeah, as we pick up your next issue, after what we saw of her in issue #20.
Kot: She's tired of being perceived as Joker's ex-girlfriend. I am tired of seeing her under-utilized like that, too. She is so much more — an intelligent, empowered, empathetic and — well, OK, insane — woman who is also highly dangerous and very educated. Is she mentally stable? No. Is she emotionally stable? No. She's a lunatic. But that is just one part of her, and the other parts have many different qualities, some of which I have outlined above. So Harley might be on her way to some self-actualization.
Nrama: Why was it important to have Unknown Soldier play the role of hero for Harley in your kick-off issue?
Kot: Waller needed Unknown Soldier to play hero because she wants Harley under control. She wanted to see if Harley would break when the fake Joker arrives and she wanted the Soldier to be there when he gets a chance to get under Harley's skin. She misread Harley, and it's possible that Gordon misread Harley as well. Or maybe he didn't misread her at all, maybe he knew what would happen next, maybe he planned it all. I won't spoil that.
Nrama: What's it like writing Unknown Soldier? What's his motivation in your story? And how are you going to be exploring his character?
Kot: It's great and very easy! The bleak mini-series by Garth Ennis and the astonishing run by Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli influenced my take on the character. The Unknown Soldier is a deeply damaged, disturbed individual, but he also has a firmly ingrained ethical code. This makes him an ideal candidate for Waller's go-to man in the field, and that is precisely his role. Now, considering the amount of pills he takes to deal with the past trauma, who knows how long he holds it together...
Nrama: Now that we understand the team make-up, what can you tell us about issue #21?
Kot: Suicide Squad #20 is where things hit the boiling point, and issue #21 is where everything overheats. Harley has a knife. Deadshot is incredibly angry. Gordon Junior is a wild card. Waller is not in a good place. Things will get worse before they get better.
Nrama: Why Las Vegas as the setting for your first story arc? And how does that setting go along with the themes you're exploring and the team's mission?
Kot: Las Vegas is only lightly featured in #21 — as I mentioned, there's a flash-forward sequence that sort of frames that issue. We fully dive into the Vegas standoff in #22, and the reason I picked the city is because I spent a lot of time there in the past few months. It simply felt right.
Once I picked it, I looked deeper and realized that the suicide rate in Las Vegas is enormously high. That, connected with the idea of a fairly unconventional anarchoterrorist group and their aims and…well, the first rule is that you don't talk about them, so I should probably stay quiet now.
Nrama: There are hints that Deadshot's presence on the team is going to be a problem for more than just Waller. Can you tell us about how this "grudge" will influence the coming stories in Suicide Squad?
Kot: Deadshot will go after Waller in issue #21 and he is not going to be alone. He will bring scalpels.
Nrama: We've now seen Patrick Zircher's interiors. You had told us that the two of you sat down together to discuss the issue before you started together. What kind of input did he have for the story, and what does his style bring to the comic?
Kot: We discussed our approaches to storytelling in general. We wanted to figure out a way that would ensure we enjoy our collaboration as much as possible, because once you get to that great place where you click just right, magic starts happening and you sort of become one creator in service of the story instead of two creators with somewhat differing visions. So Patch and I sat on the phone and talked and then I started writing scripts for him in an approximation of what creators often call "Marvel style", but I prefer calling it "Open style" — no set number of panels per page, just descriptions and dialogue, no layout instructions unless I have a really special idea for a scene or a particular panel. And it's working out beautifully because Patch trusts me with the words and I trust the way he draws. I always do a final take after we get the pages back, often adjusting things quite a bit because the conversations can flow differently, I can take sentences out, leave more space for art, sometimes radically alter the narration…as Harvey Pekar said, comics are words and pictures, and you can do anything with words and pictures.
The style — it's clean and it's informed by the time Patrick spent studying and drawing comics professionally, which means he's able to do clean and raw very successfully at the same time. There's a panel that looks almost like an Alex Toth panel in #21, the "CRUNK" SFX in #20 is spectacular and playful without diluting the brutality of the scene, the raw angles of the prison contrast with the characters. The layouts and the flow are perfect to me, also. The claustrophobia within the prison becomes more fractured as we progress into #21 and Patch figured out a perfect way to show that visually, also.
I feel I am constantly improving by just simply watching him work my pages.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about Suicide Squad?
Kot: We're having fun. Dance with us.