John Ostrander and the Suicide Squad are old, familiar friends. And although it's been 10 years since the writer has worked with the team, he calls the experience of writing next week's Suicide Squad Special: War Crimes #1 like putting on some "comfortable clothes," but still wanting to spruce them up for a modern audience.
The veteran writer and creator of the modern version of the Squad, Ostrander had a five-year run on the title from 1987 to 1992 - a run that is venerated by current, younger writers who've taken on the Squad (including "Rebirth"'s current Suicide Squad scribe Rob Williams, who's been quoted as saying he hopes his current run honors Ostrander's work).
In the Suicide Squad Special: War Crimes #1 with artists Gus Vasquez and Carlos Rodriguez, Ostrander is working with some of his favorite characters, including the one Suicide Squad stalwart he created, Amanda Waller, but is also getting his hands on some characters for the first time. Newsarama talked with Ostrander to find out more about the Special, how he felt about being recognized in the Suicide Squad film, and whether fans can anticipate seeing more Squad stories from the writer.
Newsarama: John, I'm sure you have a special place in your heart for these characters. Good to get back to them?
John Ostrander: Oh yeah. In some ways, too, it's like pulling on some comfortable clothes, stuff that you know so well.
But of course, at the same time, you want to spruce them up so they look good.
Nrama: Well, let's talk about how you're sprucing them up. What would you say is different this time around?
Ostrander: Once we get going on the mission, it's almost non-stop action, and I don't usually do that, but it just seemed to suggest itself that this happens, then that happens, oh and then that happens. And it builds and gets more exciting, I hope.
Nrama: This mission that they're on has some application to real world politics. Can you describe who they're rescuing here, and why the U.S. sends them on this mission?
Ostrander: The story's kernel started when I was talking with my better half, Mary Mitchell, and we started talking about some articles we'd read that said George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld all couldn't really travel overseas very much because there were countries that wanted to put them on trial for alleged war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And so I thought, well, there's an interesting idea.
So I created a character who's like them, but not them. And then he's kidnapped on the streets of Manhattan by a strike force and then brought over to the Hague in the Netherlands, to the international criminal court where they try war crimes.
And of course, there are many people in America who are simply outraged. This is something they don't think should be allowed, and there are those who are talking about sending the military to get him back, but that would involve the U.S. invading an ally, which is not the best thing in the world.
So what do you do? You send in the Suicide Squad. This is what they were made for.
And of course, being the Squad, the mission goes sideways.
Nrama: We've seen the cover, so we've got an idea of who's in the book. Some familiar faces for you, but some different too?
Ostrander: Yeah. We've got the unholy trinity of Amanda Waller, Deadshot, and Captain Boomerang. And of course Rick Flag is in there as well.
And into this mix, we through El Diablo, whom I had not played with before. And Harley Quinn, of course. And a character called Mad Dog.
And the difference this time, for all of them, is that they have not only the little things in their heads that will blow up if they quit the team, but if they get captured, they can also be blown up and killed. Because America doesn't want them left behind to say things that they shouldn't be saying.
Nrama: Never a good situation for this team. Looking back at the Suicide Squad, what do you think was so attractive about this team? Why has this concept endured?
Ostrander: Well, when I first proposed the Squad, it seemed like a radical idea, of America using not-so-good people to go off and do covert actions that were supposedly in America's best interest, or self-proclaimed best interest.
And then in between the time it was proposed and accepted and first published, Irangate broke out, where we found out the U.S. was trading weapons for [hostages] and everything else. And once again, reality made us look like a piker.
I think one of the attractions of the Squad for people is that it feels very real world.
Generally you have A fighting B over some perceived thing. But no, this is real-world stuff, and these people didn't necessarily want to be part of that. And there's sort of an inherent drama, I think, in that.
Nrama: You mentioned earlier that you wouldn't normally write your Suicide Squad stories with quite this kind of pace. Obviously, at the time the Squad was introduced, you had to tell people who they were and the concept behind them, which most people know now. But looking back at the style of the book in the early days - a run that is so venerated in the comic book industry now - how would you describe your approach? Why do people look back and call out that run as so special?
Ostrander: One of my approaches to action and fights is that it's a way of revealing character as well. It's not just A hitting B. You know?
One of the ways of revealing character is to take someone and put them in the middle of something and then see how they react, see how they respond.
And I think I did that consistently - both me and my late wife Kim Yale, when she joined the writing team.
So there was emphasis on characterization. Everything not only moved the story forward, but also revealed character.
And there were themes. This is something I learned from Shakespeare: You tie the theme into what the action was, to what was going on. You didn't just stand there and spell it out. You put it there so that the reader could put it together.
Nrama: People know these people even better right now because of the Suicide Squad film. What was it like to be honored by the movie for your creation of the modern squad - I saw your name plastered on that government building, which had to be cool for you. You went to the premiere, right?
Ostrander: Oh yeah, I was invited out and oh, what a night. What a night. One of the things that just knocked me out was that, even before we went over to the premiere party, I and Mike Gold, who was with me, and down in Times Square they had this huge ad plastered on the side of the building - like, four or five stories tall and wrapped around the sides of the building - and my jaw just dropped.
There was so much attention devoted to the Squad. So many people wishing it well and stuff. Really, it's one of the best days in my life.
Nrama: Now that you've written Suicide Squad Special: War Crimes #1, is there a chance we'll see you writing more of these characters?
Ostrander: Well, Andy Khouri, the editor who asked me onto this to begin with, and I have been talking. And there's a possibility I could do maybe some villains and stuff like that. And that would be fun!