Ostrander & Simone: The SQUAD & The SIX

Ostrander & Simone: The SQUAD & The SIX

The "Return from the Dead" theme of Blackest Night becomes the reason behind eight special one-shot tie-in issues in January, as DC brings not only characters back from the dead, but long-thought-dead comics too.

Among the issues being revived for the event is Suicide Squad, uniting long-time Squad writer John Ostrander with co-writer Gail Simone, the author of the current Secret Six ongoing series, a book that has several ties to "the Squad."

The issue, which will be drawn by Jim Calafiore, is unique among all the other series being "resurrected" in January because it continues into the Secret Six series. Suicide Squad #67 will kick off a story that runs a total of three issues, all co-written by Ostrander and Simone.

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As Newsarama readers know from Simone's updates on Ostrander's health, the legendary writer is struggling with glaucoma and the ongoing medical bills associated with the affliction. Simone and other creators have worked together to conduct auctions to help the writer in his time of need.

In the meantime, Ostrander also wrote the most recent issue of Secret Six for a story about Deadshot, a character he helped define during his Suicide Squad run.

Now the two writers are working together on Suicide Squad #67, and Newsarama talked to the pair to find out more about the issue and what's coming up in Secret Six.

Newsarama: John, we just read your Deadshot issue of Secret Six. How was it working on that character again now that he's part of Gail's team?

John Ostrander: One of the things I do in my writing classes/workshops is note how we are different around different people. Different sides of our personalities are brought out by the people we are around. As with us, so with the characters we write, and that’s very true for Deadshot. He’s more relaxed, more verbal, in the Six than he ever is around the Squad or outside of the Six. So I want to emphasize that in the story.

Gail Simone: Yeah, absolutely; that’s my feeling as well. Huntress is different alone than she is when she’s around the Birds of Prey, and it’s the same thing here with Deadshot. Floyd was semi-forced into the Squad, but he chose to interact with the Six (at least until this point), and he’s almost genial in their company. He still shoots people on a whim, though.

I consider how Floyd behaves in the Secret Six to be the aberration. John’s version is the definitive one. But it’s fun to see both sides.

Nrama: John, as a writer who helped define modern villain comics, what do you think of the overall Secret Six dynamic?

Ostrander: A really good read and lots of fun. A fascinating and somewhat fluid cast of characters. Usually in movies and TV and books, the villains all have the best lines, and we’re fascinated with them because they can act out our darker impulses. That’s the case here, and Gail takes full advantage of that. A bruised personality gives you lots of room as a writer and, boy, do the Six have bruised personalities.

Simone: John’s being modest here, because obviously the Secret Six is a direct off-shoot of the Suicide Squad, which is still the gold standard for villain books. The Six are different; they reluctantly get along, and for them, that’s almost worse than hating each other…certainly, it’s less comfortable.

Nrama: How did this Blackest Night/Suicide Squad one-shot project come about?

Simone: That was a piece of weirdness, but it might have come down to a certain amount of begging on my part, to be honest. I really enjoy being part of the big mega-stories. I always find it really fun to find the right piece of the puzzle, like our off-beat Battle For The Cowl tie-in, or the first Villains United mini. And I’ve said it before, but Blackest Night might be my favorite big crossover story since the original Crisis. It’s really kind of an astounding story, and it has a lot of the nasty things I love to write.

Through an odd miscommunication, Secret Six was going to have a crossover, then it wasn’t, and then thankfully, it was again, and it just seemed a perfect time to do the Secret Six/Suicide Squad that people have been clamoring for for ages. Geoff Johns has been amazingly helpful, and he’s a big Suicide Squad/John Ostrander fan, so his input was really a big help. Thanks, Geoff!

It’s really the kind of stuff that makes me love my job. I get to work with a great artist, some of my favorite characters of all-time, and a legendary co-writer on a big, huge, sweaty brawl in a story where villains are coming up out of the grave. What’s not to love?

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Ostrander: Gail emailed me saying, “You wanna do this?”  My basic reaction was – “Are you kidding me?!” I met Gail last summer at the Superman celebration in Metropolis, Ill.  –  great con/celebration, by the way; had loads of fun – and we got along like crazy. The chance to work with her was really exciting for me. I love what she’s been doing. And so much of my work on Suicide Squad was co-writing with my late wife, Kim Yale. (I think she and Gail would have gotten along like a house on fire.) What’s interesting to me is that we can explore how the Squad and the Six are alike and not alike, especially through pivotal characters like Deadshot, who has been with both teams.

Nrama: One of the features of these Blackest Night tie-ins is that we get to see characters return from the dead. What dead characters might show up in Suicide Squad #67, and what's it like when they meet the Secret Six and interact with the living?

Simone: I think it’s like when the relatives you most dislike come to stay for an extended vacation. And they’re zombies.

Ostrander: I don’t want to spill the beans too much about the Homicide Squad (as Gail dubbed it). I will note that the Six and the Squad are so busy fighting amongst themselves that it’s tough to get them to work together against the Dead. Lordy, there’s a lot of fighting going on!

Simone: It’s true, it’s a relentless story. No tea cozies and polite discussions with these two teams at each others’ throats!  

Nrama: Any particular interactions between dead and living characters you're looking forward to writing?

Simone:  I don’t want to give anything away, so I can’t say. Except there are a lot of dead Suicide Squaders!

Ostrander: Waller has to confront some of the people who died/were killed during Squad missions. And there are some of the living, like Deadshot, who also have a bone to pick with her. Amanda’s not big on apologies, so we’ll see how this all works out. Oh, and in the best Squad tradition, not everyone who is alive at the start of this story will be at the end.

Simone: John is a sick man. That’s awesome.

Nrama: Because this story is just the start of a story that continues in Secret Six, what will we see set up in this issue? And how does it lead to future issues of Secret Six?

Simone: Good question. Well, first, at the end of the "Depths" storyline, the Six have a membership change, and in Issue #16, Black Alice comes a little too close to the heart of the team, so there is a membership shift. We also have an interesting conflict where Deadshot has to decide once and for all where his loyalty lies, andthat is just huge fun. And two characters get the hots for each other who should never be together. Oh, and blood. And eggs.

But beyond that, we have a story we’re calling "Catman Unleashed," and man, oh, man, you have never seen Catman go this wild. Pity his enemies in this one!

Nrama: Why did you decide to make this more than just a one-shot?

Simone: This is kind of a thrill, actually, as we’re the only one of the resurrected books with a multi-part story.  It’s mainly because you can’t have the Six and the Squad meet and not have it be the baddest badass throwdown in ages. People are going to want see who gets matched up. It’s the exact kind of crossover stuff that used to make me run to the comics store first thing on New Comics Day.  DC graciously gave us the room to make it epic, bless ‘em.

Nrama: Who's going to be working with you on art?

Simone: Jim Calafiore, who did a magnificent job on John’s issue of Secret Six last week, actually.  We’re lucky to have him. He draws the Six like he’s been doing it for years, and he writes all the time to ask about specific details and with ideas for really dynamic layout ideas. I love to get that with an artist. I’m delighted to have Jim on the book during Nicola’s brief sabbatical.

Ostrander: Me, too. Jim does great storytelling and has a terrific eye for the visual. And his characterization is spot on. Plus he does action really well which is very important because there’s a lot of action.

Nrama: Gail, what's it like working with John on some of these characters he helped to define when he was writing Suicide Squad?

Simone: Well, like half the writers in comics, Suicide Squad was one of my favorite books, so I always feel a little bit like a Led Zeppelin cover band or something when I’m writing Deadshot, for example. But it’s fun to write in John’s style a little bit. Some pages are definitely his and some are definitely mine, but it’s not going to be as clear as people might think. We both did dialogue passes to make sure the voices were right, and in some cases we actually both worked on the same pages. That’s just good fun.

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Nrama: John, how does it feel to be back writing these characters, even if some of them aren't exactly themselves?

Ostrander: Fun! The Black Lantern versions have none of any possible redeeming traits the characters had when they were alive. Writing nasty is always fun – at least for me. Cripes, what does that say about my mental health?!

Nrama: John, we've all been hoping for the best with your battle with glaucoma. Can you update us on the status?

Ostrander: Glaucoma is all about the interior eye pressure because a high pressure is what erodes the optic nerves. The two surgeries have resulted in appropriately low pressures in both eyes without medication – which was the goal. It won’t improve my eyesight but it won’t erode it more. So the news is good.

Nrama: Will the two of you be working on anything else together? Or John, any other projects coming up? Gail, we've heard hints that you've got a big non-Wonder Woman project coming up post-Blackest Night. Will you continue on Secret Six along with that? And will Nicola Scott be back after her stint on Blackest Night: Wonder Woman?

Simone: Oh, yeah, the Six are my babies and I’m very particular about them. As I said, we have a big, very rough Catman story that takes place after this arc. It really is Catman Raw, in every way. And absolutely, Nicola will come back in a few issues… she has two worthy projects she’s working on, and only one has been announced. Then she comes back to kick ass on S6!

Ostrander: We’ve got nothing scheduled together but you bet I’d do it again in a heartbeat. As for other projects – I’m still doing Star Wars: Legacy at Dark Horse along with Jan Duursema. This is the series where we drop everything about 140 years after the end of the movies and pick up on a new generation. I have some proposals out there but nothing I can discuss just yet.

Simone: Seriously, these resurrected books are coming out really good, they’re lots of fun and there’s a definite kick seeing these beloved characters return. And we’re crazy proud of this one. It’s three issues of extremely rapid-paced rage, sex, fun and violence. People should get it just for the match-up between — no, I’ve said too much. Just get it!

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