Editor's Note: Before you start, make sure to read the first part of this two-part oral history of Suicide Squad.
Newsarama's oral history of the Suicide Squad series from its creators concludes today, with a look back at some of the favorite (and most violent) characters and moments, a look at the Squad’s revival and the new film, and just why the Squad is a concept that has endured for 30 years.
John Ostrander (writer/creator main Suicide Squad series): You never knew who we were going to kill.
The challenge was establishing characters within such a short space. Shrike was an interesting example. She has these funny/horrifying moments talking to Father Craemer, and you find out she’s been abused and has this tragic element to her backstory, and then she’s killed off, all in one issue.
No one was a redshirt…okay, Grant Morrison was, I’ll cop to that. The idea was he’d written himself into the continuity when he appeared in Animal Man, and so I killed him off to set him free.
The important thing with Rick Flag’s death was the readers knew, “If they can kill off Rick Flag, they can kill off anybody.” It raised the stakes for everyone.
We made it look like Amanda was killed at one point – she was shot at least once, but I was never going to kill Amanda, any more than I was ever going to kill Boomerang or Deadshot. I was having too much fun with them.
Just before Rick Flag went out on his final vendetta, we did a crossover special with the Doom Patrol, and Rick had a separate team for that one…and we killed them all off! Rick was the only one who walked out alive on that one. It was the Squad taken to the nth degree.
Robert Greenberger (editor, main Suicide Squad series): I don’t recall arguing against anyone’s death, although it took some editorial arm twisting to let me use some of the bigger-name villains such as the Penguin. Once we took off and got some acclaim, that became easier.
Greenberger: Karl would draft his long, enthusiastic letters, which we called “Kesel Epistles.”
Karl Kesel (Inker, main Suicide Squad series): The biggest one (they used) was probably that the Female Fury Lashina should lose her memory and join the Squad under some other identity. I didn’t have a name, just that she should have a Really Big Gun. (I suggested this right after seeing the movie Aliens. Go figure.) John took the idea, named the character “Duchess,” and made the character so much more than just a fan-boy rip-off.
Greenberger: All credit to Karl for pushing us to use the Female Furies and the whole Duchess subplot which took two years to pay off. That was a particular favorite.
Ostrander: Lashina gets stuck on Earth, so she adopts another identity so she can survive and find her way back to Apokalips and take revenge on Bernadeth, who got her stranded there.
The thing with Darkseid is he has this physical power, but what’s greater is his Machiavellian mind. He can punch you through a wall, but going back to Jack Kirby, he can outthink, outplan you.
Luke McDonnell (initial artist, main Suicide Squad series, Deadshot miniseries): Drawing the Kirby stuff was great – I always wanted to do stuff like that. Kirby was a major influence of mine, so getting to draw those characters was exhilarating.
Ostrander: Looking back, I wondered, “Was that even feasible, Amanda Waller standing up to Granny Goodness?” But it was fun, and we got to do it in a way that didn’t make Granny a lesser character.
Geof Isherwood (artist, second half of main Suicide Squad series): I knew Barbara Gordon had been Batgirl, so I drew her accordingly, personality-wise. The point I enjoy presently is the role of Felicity Smoak on Arrow. She is doing exactly what Oracle did for the Squad. And Felicity spent much of last season in a wheelchair, which was a little too obvious if you ask me!
Kesel: Punch and Jewelee. Another set of characters who I never-in-a-million-years thought I’d have any interest in. Yet John made them twistedly memorable. I liked them so much I begged to do their Who’s Who page -and to this day it’s a piece I’m proud of. (There was talk about a Punch and Jewelee one-shot as well, with me on art and John and his wife Kim on story. I’m sure that would have been horrible, wonderful fun.)
Adam Glass (writer, "New 52" Suicide Squad series): I loved Bronze Tiger. There were not a lot of African-American characters in comic books when I was growing up. So, to see a diverse character who happened to be a kung fu masters, with a mysterious background, and a strong moral code was refreshing and cool as hell. And you were lucky to see one diverse character in a comic book, but Suicide Squad had two, with him and Amanda Waller.
Ostrander: I always liked Shade the Changing Man – we were given permission to only use him temporarily, with the knowledge he was going to go off in his own mature readers book, and we wouldn’t be able to use him.
What I wanted to play with regarding the Penguin is that sometimes he’s very silly-looking and silly-acting, but to last as long as he has, he’s got to be a criminal mastermind. So we took him out of his normal element, his outfits, the umbrellas –he had to rely on that mind of his. And I wound up getting to do more with that in Penguin: Triumphant a few years later, and they used that characterization for years afterwards, there’s elements of it in Gotham.
Dr. Light – the thing about him was, it looked like he had a hood ornament on his head. And at that point he’d been defeated by children – it seemed like every time he turned around, the Teen Titans trounced him, Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys beat him. What self-respect could he have? He’d lost his mojo. If later writers decided to give it back, fine, but without that, he was completely pathetic, and he was funny. He hits himself with a pie at one point, just because he wants to be part of the team, and everyone else has been hit with a pie. He hits himself with a pie and makes it look like someone else did it.
Isherwood: I thought Boomerang was fun to do, supplying comic relief, and Poison Ivy was also fun, as she tried to be smart-ass and seductive at the same time. Deadshot was cool too. And, Nightshade, Bronze Tiger and Vixen were also characters I looked for in upcoming scenes. In reality, you have to get interested in anyone you draw, or it shows. But those were the best. And Waller grew on me as time went on. (No pun intended). She was kind of a Yang to Kingpin's Yin.
The more I drew them all, the more they became like family, I suppose. I was quite disappointed the comic got cancelled, because I felt the series still had a lot of great stories to tell at that time.
REBOOT AND MOVIE:
Isherwood: I would say the first thing is Harley Quinn came along too late! John's take on her, her failings, her reaction to abuse, etc.would have fit in marvelously with the rest of the team.
Glass: DC knew my writing from Marvel's Deadpool, Luke Cage and CW's Supernatural. I did some smaller books for them, and they asked me if I wanted to do a book, which would it be? And I said Suicide Squad, and they said okay.
Pat McCallum was my editor, and is a guy who deserves a lot of credit. When I told him I wanted Harley on the team he didn't blink, he instantly saw it and helped me get DC to approve it. And she was the game changer.
Deadshot was a no-brainer, there is no Squad without Floyd. And I loved what Gail Simone had done with King Shark, so I knew he'd be fun, and I wanted Boomer back for sure, and everyone else fell in line.
I thought John did such a great job tackling world issues, so I wanted my book to feel like a runaway train. Humor, character, story, conflict and action were the goals.
Kesel: As for the movie: I probably have unrealistically high hopes for it, which I try to keep in check. I kinda have three dogs in this fight: the Squad, which I worked on and love; Harley Quinn, which I worked on and loved; and King Shark, who I created (I hear he’s in the movie). I think Harley will steal the show. (And: she deserves to!)
I’m betting there’s a Croc/Shark showdown— and, sadly, my money’s on the movie’s regular cast member to win. Then again, it’s called Suicide Squad, right? Not everyone will survive. So... I can hope, right?
My prediction: Suicide Squad will be a bigger hit than Batman vs. Superman. There. I’ve said it.
Greenberger: I think it has to be the best-marketed movie of the last year, if not the last few years. I adore how they are using Waller, Rick Flag, Enchantress, Slipknot, and Deadshot from our initial run. It feels like John’s run was the blueprint, as it should be.
Mike Gold (editor, Legends miniseries): I see it Monday, August 1 at the NYC premiere — I think I’m John’s date, and of course there’s nobody I’d rather see it with!
[Editor's Note: This interview took place before the world premire on August 1.]
Ostrander: I’m very excited about Viola Davis playing Amanda in the movie. She has that look, that presence.
Glass: David Ayer is a great writer and filmmaker, I loved Training Day, Fury, and End of Watch. So, I'm sure it will kick ass.
It's mind-blowing – to be part of this in any way is an honor. I really mean that. But I'm standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before me, especially John Ostrander. There is no Squad without him.
And yes, I have a few Suicide Squad toys in my office. My wife won't let me keep them in the house anymore.
Ostrander: I’m doing a new Squad story – I was talking with my editor, Andy Khouri, and he said, “They want a John Ostrander Suicide Squad story, and they want you to go for it.” So I said, “Okay!” I get to deal with some very extreme aspects – a lot of my favorite characters, and Harley Quinn’s in it as well. It’s going to be a very fun story.
I’d love to do something with Luke again. I think it’d be classic.
Gold: Why has the Squad proven to be such an enduring concept? Amanda Waller. Pure and simple (to say about a character who, indeed, is neither). She is unique and John’s handling of the character was spot-on.
And kind of courageous for the time: there weren’t a lot of large black women bossing male characters around — you know, like the Batman — and getting away with it.
Kesel: As for the Squad’s cult following: like they say in West Side Story— When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way. People who love the squad love the Squad. And I’m certainly one of them.
And, really, that comes down to John’s writing, and the creative environment he encouraged. John was doing things that had never been done in comics before. And in a way we were working under the radar, so we could get away with these things! It was very exciting and energizing, and that always comes through on the page. Always.
Greenberger: One of the original run’s strengths – and one overlooked by subsequent editors and teams --- is that we mixed heroes in need of redemption with villains hoping for redemption or release. Each was on the team for a reason, and as John explored those reasons, they grew and changed from Nemesis to Nightshade to Deadshot and so on.
These were characters that were different by the time I stopped editing with #31 from when we first introduced them in issue #1.
Glass: It's about the bad guys doing good. The villain being a hero. It's about redemption, and I think we all can relate to that.
Kesel: I’ve worked on a lot of great comics in my career. Been lucky enough to work with some of the top writers and artists in the field. And I would drop everything in a New York minute to work with John on Suicide Squad again.