Events in Suicide Squad are always a little crazy, but as the title gears up for the Justice League vs. Suicide Squad event, the whole Belle Reve prison has gone nuts.
Well, everyone but Harley Quinn, that is. The strange energies from the Black Vault have driven the staff and prisoners of Belle Reve homicidally insane, but the effect on Harley has been the exact opposite. In this week's Suicide Squad #8, readers will see what happens when the only person in the Suicide Squad who's sane is Harley, and what choices she makes to save the day.
Issue #8, written by Rob Williams with art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams, also sets up the addition of Killer Frost to the book, and her story will spin into the Justice League vs. Suicide Squad event, which pits the two teams against Maxwell Lord.
Newsarama talked to Williams to find out more about the team's future, why he wanted to try out Harley's sanity for this story, and how he's coordinating the events of Justice League vs. Suicide Squad.
Newsarama: This week's Suicide Squad #8 is coming just before the upcoming Justice League vs. Suicide Squad event. How much are you, Jim, and editor Andy Khouri coordinating with that larger event and its writer, Joshua Williamson?
Rob Williams: Yeah, it's all through the same office at DC. The event book, which is written by Joshua Williamson - Justice League vs. Suicide Squad - we've got the same editors. So sometimes Josh and I have talked about certain things, even though the event's very much his thing. But yeah, we're all kept in the loop.
You're aware if anything you do is affecting what's happening elsewhere. That's the nature of the beast. In fact, we're tied in with the eight-page prelude we've got in Suicide Squad #8, the Killer Frost story. And Suicide Squad #9 and #10 are both tie-in issues to the event.
It's been interesting to deal with the ramifications of the event, which we do in an explode-y, blow-up thing, and also in an emotional way.
Nrama: With issue #8, you're finishing up the current "Black Vault" storyline. It's been crazy - literally crazy. What can you tell us about how #8 ties this story up for the Suicide Squad?
Williams: If you've been reading the book, they brought General Zod in a portal to the Phantom Zone back to Belle Reve Penitentiary to try to study the portal. It sends out these crazy electromagnetic energies and has a weird effect on everyone. And everyone starts going crazy, for lack of a better way of putting it. The Phantom Zone portal makes everyone's bloodlust go through the roof.
But it has the opposite effect on Harley Quinn, because she was crazy already. So with her, the effect flips and she's turned sane by it.
Nrama: That's been a surprising part of this arc. There's dark comedy as everyone else goes nuts, but for Harley, the experience is bittersweet. Is that something about her that you wanted to explore in this story?
Williams: Yeah, I thought was an interesting way to show a different side to Harley. It shows who she was before, and shows who she could be again.
And also, it gives her the one thing she wants more than anything else, I guess, is to have her sanity back. And she's got to sacrifice that in order to save the day. So it's kind of a heroic arc for her.
Nrama: She's such a popular character. Why do you think she connects so much, particularly right now?
Williams: She's got so many layers. She's funny, she's very smart - which is one thing that I find fascinating about writing her, and really is the core for me. People forget that she was a psychotherapist at Arkham, before she fell for the Joker and went insane.
And she's just vibrant. She pops off every page she's on. I think it'd be a lesser book without her, really. She gives a different flavor to it. I mean, Deadshot's a bit brooding, and Killer Croc's mono-syllabic, and you've got Enchantress who speaks in terms of sort of black metal lyrics constantly. I mean, Harley gives it the spark it needs. I really enjoy writing her.
Nrama: This story certainly makes her even more relatable. It's interesting to see the mix, in your run on Suicide Squad, of moments that make the characters very empathetic, and moments that make them scary and over-the-top villains. Do you feel like Suicide Squad has to be a balance of those things?
Williams: Yeah, I think that's exactly what it is. The book has to be over-the-top crazy, and some of the stuff they say and do is very enhanced. But at the end of the day, no one's going to care about a book like that, unless you care about these characters.
That's the challenge of the book, but the fun of the book as well. These are the bad guys. These are the scum, you know? But there are still relatable things in there. They still want things. They still have pain in their lives and very often more pain in their lives than most people. That's why they're the bad guys.
And you know, villains are usually the most flawed characters. And the flawed characters are usually the most fun to write. The goody-two-shows tend to be more frustrating to write.
But we wouldn't be doing our job properly in Suicide Squad if you didn't find something relatable in the characters - even the really extreme ones.
Nrama: This group that's in the Suicide Squad right now - is this the team that will go forward for a while? I know you've got Killer Frost coming into the story, but can we expect other changes after the event?
Williams: I think it's the core team. As you said, in the Justice League vs. Suicide Squad prelude, you'll see the Killer Frost is going to be a new member of Suicide Squad going in the event.
We have the ability to have a fluctuating membership of the team. I mean, Belle Reve is a big prison. We know El Diablo's in there. You see him a little bit in "Going Sane," but we haven't really made him a core part of the team as such yet. But that can change going forward.
But right now, it's quite a big cast. You're always aware that you can't make the cast list too big, because it becomes too difficult to give them all a moment to shine, which they all need. They're all really fun characters to write, so I don't think we need many more right now.
Nrama: What kind of challenges are these characters going to face in your Justice League vs. Suicide Squad tie-in issues and even in your 2017 storylines? Are there any characters in particular who come front-and-center?
Williams: I think Amanda Waller - it's her story in issues #9 and #10 as much as anyone else's. It's her choices.
I think what you'll see through the event, for all the fun and the action and the punching and the explosions - all the things we love about these kind of books - you're going to see Amanda Waller put in a position where her soul's on the line to a large degree. And there will be big ramifications for her.
And that will lead us into the next arc. There will be repercussions. Certain people are going to want revenge on Amanda Waller. She's a person who puts the Suicide Squad into motion, sends them out into the world and is willing to make morally ambiguous choices in order to keep people safe. It's always interesting playing with Amanda. For all the bad guys on the team, she may be the biggest bad guy of the lot of them, but then there's also an argument that says she isn't. And that's what makes her such an interesting character to write.
Nrama: Eight issues in, and you've worked with numerous artists - led by Jim Lee. Who's coming up?
Williams: Yeah, Suicide Squad has had some amazing artists. For a start, we've had, as you said, Jim Lee as the core artist on the book, which is a dream come true. Jim's not just one of the biggest names in the business, he's one of the most dynamic visual storytellers of the last 20 years or more. So for Jim to do it was huge. And that's been enormous fun. There are worse ways to start the day than getting Jim Lee pages of your script in your in-box in the morning.
But then the personnel files stories we've done have allowed me to work with a bunch of different artists - all very different and all fantastic. We've had Jason Fabok, Ivan Reis, Philip Tan, Gary Frank… I mean, it's just been one great artist after another. And the distinction in styles between each one of them has been terrific as well, something I really enjoyed.
Going forward now, we've got Riley Rossmo drawing #9. Riley did an amazing job on that. That's got big, bold super heroics with a kind of edge to it.
And the artist we've got drawing the next arc is huge - I can't reveal the name, but it's someone whose work I've enjoyed for a long time. In a way, it had to be someone amazing, because they would be taking over from Jim.
Suicide Squad has treated me very, very well in terms of the artists. It's been a treat. My little Christmas list has been ticked, put it that way.