In the real world, the U.S. government isn't quite sure how to deal with Russia's recent aggressiveness in Ukraine. In the DC Universe, it becomes a job for the New Suicide Squad.
But the trouble they cause over Moscow may be nothing compared to what happens when Harley Quinn is forced to work with Joker's Daughter — the twisted new character who's obsessed with finding Harley's "Mr. J."
This week, DC Entertainment is restarting its former anti-hero title Suicide Squad — making the team's missions larger in scope by going international. The former title was starting to slowly slide toward that 20-something-thousand sales level that hint at cancelation, and DC ended its run in May, after it tied into the events of Forever Evil.
With this week's New Suicide Squad #1, the comic gets a few new faces and a couple of familiar ones — Amanda Waller leads a group that includes Deathstroke, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Joker's Daughter and Black Manta. The premise has changed somewhat as well — instead of Belle Reve being publicly known and the villains working in secret, it's the other way around, with the villains traversing the world on missions, and Belle Reve going underground.
With the relaunch, the book gets a new creative team too: former DC editor Sean Ryan is joined by Jeremy Roberts, best known as the winner of DC's Harley Quinn talent search.
The two are kicking off the title with what Ryan calls "a very heavy action vibe with comedy laced throughout — kind of like Die Hard." Newsarama talked to Ryan to find out more.
Newsarama: Sean, we saw in Suicide Squad #30 how the team's new set-up comes about, but was that the main motivation for the new direction for the Suicide Squad? Was it mainly motivated by the change in the DCU?
Sean Ryan: It’s not exactly the change in the recent DCU, but we do take up some of the fallout of Forever Evil.
Amanda Waller got a lot of blame for what happened in Forever Evil, as she was in charge of ARGUS. It’s not entirely fair, but after a disaster, there’s always one person that needs to take the fall, to save everyone else’s jobs, and Waller is that person.
So moving forward in the Suicide Squad, Waller is still in charge of the Task Force X and Belle Reve, but she’s got oversight now. She’s not allowed to do whatever she wants, which Waller hates.
Nrama: So that's the main change now, as you kick off the story this week? That Waller's not in charge?
Ryan: Yeah, it’s not really Waller’s show anymore. She’s got oversight and a boss now, which she hates. Waller has always loved doing whatever she wants, but now higher-ups are calling the shots. The change of direction they've asked for is for the team to be more international.
I love the Suicide Squad book from the '80s, where it jumped from international hotspot to international hotspot. I wanted to bring that back.
Nrama: What's the benefit of adding that international scope to the book?
Ryan: It allows the action to be bigger and on a grander scale. The team doesn’t have to hide the shadows anymore. To the world, they’re just doing things supervillains are always doing, but secretly, they are doing things for America’s best interests.
It’s because the team is more out in the open, that Belle Reve has gone underground, literally. The government is keeping the existence of Belle Reve a secret, and have rebuilt it under a postal service processing plant. That way, if folks see Harley jumping around Russia, they won’t be thinking, “wait, isn’t she a prisoner in Belle Reve?”
Nrama: As part of that international scope, you're specifically taking the team to Russia in the first story — or rather, the solicitations say, "Vladamir Putin's Russia." Since a real president is called out, I have to ask — how much does the comic relate to current events?
Ryan: Well, the book doesn’t touch on really specific current events, but it does touch on the fact that Russia is certainly showing its muscles internationally. It’s seeded chaos in Ukraine and seems to generally just be causing problems for people.
The first arc is called, “Pure Insanity,” and a big part of it is how people in charge don’t think about the ramifications of their decisions and actions on everyone else.
Leaders all over the world do that, but for these story purposes, Russia fit the bill pretty good.
Nrama: OK, but how do the Suicide Squad get involved in that. What's their first mission?
Ryan: The first mission seems fairly simple from the get-go. Really all the team needs to do is disrupt things in Moscow to distract the Russian government. Destroy an important government institution, kill an oil CEO.
But it’s not really the mission that’s the problem, it’s the team. This team is so new and thrown together, that they have problems almost immediately. So while the mission might seem easy, actually accomplishing it and getting out, won’t be.
Nrama: OK, let's talk about that new team. But first, as a writer, I assume you're enjoying the chance to write Amanda Waller. How would you describe her appeal?
Ryan: Waller’s great because she’s just a tough-as-nails woman who hates taking crap from anyone, which is why I think it’s going to be great seeing her actually having to take crap from someone and seeing how she reacts.
What Waller wants to do is do the mission well. Someone with that directness and determination is a great character to throw obstacles in front of to see how she bursts through them.
Nrama: Deathstroke is getting is own title again soon, and he doesn't seem like a character that would work very well for long in a team — and like Amanda, I don't think he'd take orders well. What in the world motivates him to join, and how would you describe his presence on the team?
Ryan: Deathstroke is a mercenary. If there’s enough money being tossed his way, he’ll usually do anything. But you’re right, he’s not a team player. We’ll see in the first arc how, let’s say, unfit for a team Deathstroke is.
On the team, Deathstroke definitely believes he’s better than everyone there, because he is. He certainly looks down on everyone. He’s sort of like a big star doing a terrible movie just for the good paycheck.
Nrama: We've also seen a bit of Joker's Daughter in Batman Eternal, and she's a lot more brutal than I expected, as she searches for the Joker in her own insane way. How would you describe the addition of her to the Suicide Squad? What's the character's motivation for joining, and what does she bring to the team?
Ryan: Joker’s Daughter for sure brings an unstableness to the team. The folks in the government in charge of the team now think she’ll be a great addition to the team, mostly as a way to hopefully get closer to the Joker. They think if they can bring the Joker out of hiding and maybe get him on the Suicide Squad, that would be tremendous.
As for Joker’s Daughter, her motivations and actions are always up for debate. But she mainly joins the team because she's promised that they will give her the Joker eventually.
Nrama: Wait, how does that sit with Harley?
Ryan: Her and Harley are like oil and water. And it doesn’t take long for their animosity to come to a head.
Nrama: Has it been fun writing Harley?
Ryan: Harley's great. I loved Harley from when I was a kid watching Batman: The Animated Series, so it’s awesome to be writing her now.
I’m hoping to explore what makes her tick as we get deeper into the series. She’s a pretty fascinating character. And I think it can get easy just to play her as “crazy.” So I’m looking forward to finding all the parts of her.
In the first arc, most of her time is spent hating Joker’s Daughter, though, so hopefully down the line we can have her focus move to other things.
Nrama: We've gotten to know the New 52 version of Black Manta well in Aquaman, and his motivation seems greatly driven by that hero in particular. How does he fit with a team like the Suicide Squad?
Ryan: I don’t want to get into his motivations, as we’ll dive deeper into those a little later in the series.
But as we saw him in Suicide Squad #30, he’s not really sure what to do with his life. Most of his life has been hating Aquaman, and for a brief time during Forever Evil, he thought Aquaman was dead. He was able to focus his hate into another direction, but I think during that, he saw how empty his life was. He tried to go straight for a little bit, but there's nothing there for him. So he joins Suicide Squad to give him some purpose in life. And there’s more to that, but we’ll be getting to it later in the series.
Nrama: The other member of the team that we know about is Deadshot, who's been on the team awhile. How would you describe his motivations and membership on the team now? ?
Ryan: Deadshot, like most of the team, is a prisoner at Belle Reve, and has a bomb in his neck, so he doesn’t really have much say in being on this team. That isn’t to say that he’s really there against his will.
Something I’m downplaying in the series is the idea that the team is always upset and struggling to get out of doing the Squad missions. Especially for someone like Deadshot, these Squad missions give him something to do and a purpose.
One of the big themes I hope to explore in this series is the sense of purpose. Heroes, a lot of times, their purpose is simple, or at least we know what it is. They are doing good because of "xyz." But why does someone like Deadshot, or Black Manta, do what they do? What compels them to keep going? What gives their life purpose?
Nrama: Will there be more characters joining the team, or is this pretty much the make-up for awhile, as the title kicks off?
Ryan: What I’ve always liked about Suicide Squad is that the team is always changing. So I’ll say that the team will always be changing, with people joining, and people leaving.
Nrama: How would you describe the style and genre you're hoping to achieve with New Suicide Squad as the direction of the team changes — humor, action, drama, horror, etc?
Ryan: Hopefully I end up using a lot of different styles and genres. I think depending on the story, anything is possible. The first arc definitely has a very heavy action vibe with comedy laced throughout — kind of like Die Hard: people in over their heads and doing the best with the insane situation presented in front of them.
But for arcs down the line, things could get more serious, or scary. I think that’s one of the cool things about Suicide Squad — you can tell a bunch of different kinds of stories.
Nrama: What appealed to you about working on New Suicide Squad? And how did you end up working on the title for DC?
Ryan: Suicide Squad is just a great concept. It’s got just about everything I love to write about. It’s got action, morally gray characters, and the chance to tell big, international stories.
I love the superheroes in the DCU, but there’s something to the villains, especially the ones on the Suicide Squad. They’re not always the big-time guys, like Lex Luthor or the Joker. They’re guys like Deadshot, who live in this insane world of Supermen and Darkseids. So it’s interesting to see how they navigate a world like this.
Also, Suicide Squad allows you to write stories about how governments and global politics work in a world where one person can punch a building over, and where you never know when folks from other dimensions are going to show up and ruin everything.
How I got the job isn’t the interesting story. I'd e-mailed Brian Cunningham about possible work at DC, and I must have done so at the right time, cause he emailed me back, asking if I’d be interested in writing Suicide Squad. Needless to say, I was.
Nrama: In September, you're taking the book five years into the future with a story about Amanda Waller taking over the White House. What line of thinking led you to believe this is where the Suicide Squad's path would lead eventually?
Ryan: Well, the cover is a little bit more of a metaphor, as we don’t really see Waller actually sitting inside the White House in our issue. But the cover does speak to Waller’s aspirations in this issue to upend the system.
In our Futures End issue, Waller has actually been off the grid, fighting against the government. So what we see in our issue is probably just step one to her eventually upending of the political status quo five years from now in the DC Universe.
Nrama: What about the team in the September issue? Same players? Or some surprise characters?
Ryan: The team we'll see in the September issue will be a pretty decimated version of our team. In five years, the government will be working on better ways to use villains to do their dirty work, leaving our team sort of wasting away.
As for some surprises, there are going to be some surprising, different looks for most of our team, as well as very different versions of some big time villains.
Nrama: Looking forward in 2014, what can you tell fans about your plans for New Suicide Squad over the rest of the year?
Ryan: Well, first off, we have the arc that takes place in Russia, a mission that will leave the team in not a very good place. It’s really a shell of itself by the end. And one team member in particular will leave the mission a lot more worse for wear.
As for Waller, she tries to get some of her power back in an unexpected way.
After that, the team will be going to China to investigate and destroy a possible superhero factory.
Nrama: Will the series tie into any other DC events or stories coming up?
Ryan: As for right now, we don’t have any plans for tying into DC events. That could always change, though.
Nrama: How's it been working with Jeremy on art? And assuming you've seen the art for September, Andre Coelho?
Ryan: Jeremy is awesome. The energy and excitement he brings to the pages are amazing. I’m super lucky to have this dude on this book.
And Andre’s great too. He drew Suicide Squad #30, so I’m really happy to have him back. There are some pretty insane things happening in our Futures End issue, that I know Andre is going to have a blast drawing.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about New Suicide Squad? ??Ryan: Anything else? Whew. I don’t know. I’m not really great at the hard sells. But what I can say is, I’m really excited to be writing this book, and I’m really excited to jump into these characters and figure them out and tell totally great stories with them. I hope people will love the folks in this book as much I as I’ve started to.