As DC gears up for the release of the Suicide Squad film, the company is kicking off its new Suicide Squad comic book title by making the team's missions more central to the DCU - and by attaching a superstar artist to the ongoing title.
This week sees the release of Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1 by writer Rob Williams and artist Philip Tan, which will introduce readers to the core concept of the team before it launches with a formal new #1 later in August featuring DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee as the lead artist.
Williams, who won critical acclaim recently with his dark yet humor-infused approach to Martian Manhunter, is hoping to bring the concept of the Suicide Squad back to its John Ostrander-era roots while also making the missions of the Squad more important in the DCU.
Newsarama talked with Williams and Tan about the Rebirth issue, what makes their approach unique, and how the movie influenced their approach.
Newsarama: Rob and Philip, most people are familiar with the Suicide Squad, especially now that the movie's coming out. How would you describe the approach to the characters in your book?
Rob Williams: What we're trying to do with all the Rebirth books is go back to the core of who these characters were originally, and why these concepts worked.
I went away and read the John Ostrander original stories, and we're trying to come at it from that kind of angle.
Also, in recent years, while there have been some excellent Suicide Squad stories, it felt quite peripheral to the DCU. And one thing that was intent, going in for us, was to tell a story that felt like, if you're a big follower of the goings on in the DCU, you would have to read Suicide Squad. We don't want to sideline them, in terms of missions.
If the Suicide Squad goes on missions, those missions have gravitas and import.
But overall, we just want to make sure the book's a lot of fun. As the trailer's have shown for the movie, it's meant to be a thrill ride and it's meant to be funny and dark.
Philip Tan: It is fun, especially for me, to be able to draw these villains, not as antagonists, but as protagonists of the book. That's what makes the Suicide Squad very different from other books.
Nrama: What character is at the center of the Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1?
Williams: In the Rebirth issue, it's Rick Flag. Amanda Waller is kind of the spine of it, of the entire thing. But she's going to have the Suicide Squad shut down on her by Barack Obama. She has to convince him that the squad can be controlled in the field, but she needs the right man to do it.
So to do that, they hire Rick Flag, who hasn't been seen in the DCU for a few years. And he's going to be the field commander. So he's very much this sort of neophyte eyes, and you'll see the Suicide Squad for the first time through him, because he's a good guy. He's the moral center in the middle of a sea of crazy, which is what these characters are.
I think in the pitch, I suggested that Rick was like Charlie Sheen at the start of Platoon, going into this world of horror and craziness. So it creates that contrast.
Tan: I don't think people are expecting Rick Flag and Amanda Waller to be the backbone of the first issue. We still have the big action and all the villains of the Squad, but Rob has really amazingly choreographed the sequence of scenes to make something unique that introduces the concept to the readers.
Nrama: Rob, we got a preview of your issue with the April Fool's Day issue, and people familiar with your writing will know that you've got a great way of injecting humor into your comic books. You mentioned making the book fun. Does that include humor?
Williams: Yeah, it's a dark humor, but it's also just straight up dark. You've got to balance. I think I always try to do that. I like using a lot of humor in my writing, but I'm also aware that it's just one tool in a writer's armory, where you can lead a reader down one path and then just pull the rug out from under them.
And I think that's part of these characters, and readers understand that sort of approach. In recent years, you've seen characters like Tony Soprano or Walter White who are the bad guys, yet they're the main characters. And people will follow bad guy stories. The only thing we have to do as writers is try to humanize them.
And if we make you like these characters, it's a twist when we have them do something absolutely horrendous.
That's what the Suicide Squad is. If you can imagine a team of Walter White and Tony Soprano and Nucky Thompson — these are the bad guys, but they're also really funny.
Characters like Boomerang and Harley are some of the funniest characters I've ever written. So a lot of laughs are on the page. And that's what you saw in the movie trailers, I think.
But also it's got to be high-octane action, and it's got to have dark underpinnings, and all these core aspects of Suicide Squad.
Nrama: You mentioned that their missions will have an importance. Can you describe what their missions are like, what sort of things they get involved in?
Williams: Yeah, one of the things we definitely wanted to do was make these stories a core part of the DCU. What happens in Suicide Squad will impact books elsewhere and vice versa.
And it'll be global. In the Rebirth issue, they go to Mongolia on a mission. And in Suicide Squad #1, they'll be in Siberia.
This is who they are. They're going to be sent there by the United States government on missions, going to countries where they shouldn't be — but the whole point is that they have completely deniability. If things go wrong, Waller can either blow their brains, or she can just go, well, they're just a bunch of super villains. So that will be part of it.
Nrama: Phil, did you tweak your style at all for this? Or what was the biggest influence on your approach?
Tan: Oh, it's all Jim Lee. Working with one of the best pencillers in comic book history, I really wanted to channel the sensibilities of what Jim does and hopefully present a book that's up there in quality. I hope readers can go from the Rebirth issue to Issue #1 without having much of a visual change.
Nrama: You guys have mentioned the movie, but this is really a separate thing, right?
Williams: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. At no point did anyone say, because of the movie, you have to do this. That didn't happen.
There's an awareness within the company from people like Jim that to stick too slavishly to try to sort of ape a movie in either plot or look just makes you look like you're a tie-in comic, and that's not what we are.
So even though a lot of the characters are the same, and the some of the group dynamic might possibly be the same, you're going to see things going into very different directions.
Tan: Yeah, none of us were ever going in and saying we would be influenced by what we saw in the trailer. There's a sense of mood maybe that was influenced, but none of the details, none of the directions — and the characters are not exactly the same on the roster for the book.
Nrama: Rob, any extras you're putting into the book?
Williams: One of the extras is getting Jim Lee's artwork, as Phil mentioned. It just looks amazing.
We've also got personnel files with these stories, which are going to delve into the characters a little further, as Amanda Waller sort of picks the brains of the Suicide Squad. Those allow us to concentrate on character a little more. They'll have some superstar artists drawing them.
And I should add that the Suicide Squad is going to get a brand new member very early on, who is someone that I think readers will never suspect is joining the Suicide Squad. And that's going to push the story into all kinds of new, exciting, deadly areas. So that's real fun as well.
There's a moment in issue #2 as well that's a real kind of like game-changer for the book. So we're really excited to have everyone reading this book.