Week two of month two of the DC Comics Relaunch’s New 52 is upon us! Following last month’s gritty debut issues of Suicide Squad and Deathstroke, comes their sophomore issues plus Deathstroke making a massive statement in Shade #1!
All three books were bloody (fun?) – literally – that I needed to unveil a new blood splatter logo for this review (check out the top left hand corner of this column). ;)
That avatar-logo is also a bit of stab, pun intended, at the few internet keyboard warriors that I can expect will digest these books in a very superficial way.
On to the reviews…
It is well understood that I am a fan of Kyle Higgins’ writing. From his co-writing stint on the Batman mini-series Gates of Gotham or his DC Comics Relaunch Nightwing New 52 series, he can do no wrong. He is a clever writer that creates compelling plots propelled by multi-faceted characterization. Deathstroke is no different.
It would be too easy to dismiss Deathstroke #2 as a mindless bloodbath. In a modern world where we see more overt violence on “after school” television, on the internet, manga, and video games, the gore in Deathstroke #2 likely seems tame. When you cut through the body count in the book, you see a very calculating Slade Wilson, as mercenary Deathstroke, working to prove that he still has “it” after doubts surfaced during issue #1.
Slade is gray-haired after all and within a younger DC Universe, this old man may not be seen as vital and relevant. He will have to claw out any respect he can get amongst the antagonists in his book and, to be fair, on the comic book shelves cluttered with DC Comics Relaunch titles and offerings from several other comic book companies.
Deathstroke #2 opens with a symphony of violence. And, as I predicted last issue, the way you make a character with villainous leanings sympathetic is by pitting him against even worse characters holds true in issue #2; Deathstroke takes on a whole bar of meta-baddies as well as takes on a modern age Steampunk villain in Road Rage. These characters are solely motivated by a bounty on Deathstroke’s head, whereas Slade is looking to exercise out some frustration, prove the cynics wrong, and reassert himself as THE big bad in the DC Universe; he even takes his campaign into this week’s Shade #1 (that review follows after the Suicide Squad #2 review below). The way Deathstroke does this is in the most brutal way. There is lots of spilled blood, limbs, and broken lives strewn in his wake.
Deathstroke is nobody’s helpless or hapless victim. He has a problem and he goes to fix it; to re-establish the Deathstroke brand. Slade is not really likable generally, but you can’t help but root for him. We may not like him, but we all know what it’s like to be underestimated. Needless to say, the stories of Deathstroke’s diminishing returns were highly exaggerated.
Penciller Joe Higgins and iconic inker Art Thibert’s softer art style and the bright colors of Jason Wright contrast the darkness of Kyle Higgins story. They have nailed Slade Wilson / Deathstroke and really make the world he’s in seedy with spine of beautiful vibrancy.
This is not your traditional anti-hero yarn nor is it in the same vein as the previous Deathstroke series from the 1990s. However, it seems to ring true to what one can expect is really an unflattering profession with few to no redeeming qualities. Previous portrayals of mercenaries like Deathstroke at DC or at Marvel with the Punisher were more glorified than they actually should have been. This is not a noble profession, but Higgins sets up Slade Wilson and his alter ego Deathstroke as the sole thorn in a bouquet of black roses. And it works.
Suicide Squad #2:
As many folks around the Comics Nexus or our forums here know, I am a HUGE fan of John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad run from the 1980s. It was a fresh take on a Silver Age team name. It is also fair to say that I hoped beyond hope that the DC Comics Relaunch’s New 52 Suicide Squad would be a suitable successor of the team name and its classic tone, the latter most recently advanced by the pre-Flashpoint Secret Six by Gail Simone.
To help readers out, the book also opens with Deadshot explaining in brief the Suicide Squad concept:
“Supervillains recruited from prison, sent on covert missions and injected with a nanite bomb so we stay in line. A bad deal.”
I am pleased that while issue #1 through its, um, “testing” of the team we were able to get at who they are at their core, i.e. their values or lack thereof, issue #2 does more to reveal more concrete elements of their past.
Deadshot, the iconic DC marksman, opens the book using a few words to describe each of his teammates:
- El Diablo – “Amateur”
- King Shark – “Wild Card”
- Black Spider – “Hero”
- Harley Quinn – “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs”
And, later in the issue, of the last Squad member Voltiac, Deadshot remarks “Damn… I could use a couple more of you.” Which makes the end of the book a whole lot more…. interesting.
This particular issue has the team dropped into a football stadium full of spectators. This happened as part of last issue’s cliff-hanger and, I must say, it was strange that some bloggers commented on how cruel it was that the team be sent in to off innocent citizens. Clearly, that was never going to be the case and there was something to this mission that was beyond the one panel we saw at the end of issue #1.
The issue focuses on the team looking essentially for patient X, someone who was infected many of the spectators and gridiron warriors with a techno-organic virus that mutates the infected to disastrous results. Patient X is a pregnant woman that Deadshot has to make some serious decisions about. There are some outlandish B movie horror elements to the scenes with patient X, but they do lead to some interesting moments that will carry into the next issue involving those Squad members that survive this issue – yes, one of the team gets off’d – and a not-so-innocent baby. Since DC has indicated that the nucleus of the Suicide Squad are Deadshot, Harley Quinn and King Shark – in fact these are the only characters to adorn the covers of this series’ first two issues – you can guess that they survive into at least issue #3.
An interesting revelation in this issue too as it seems Black Spider, a hero, has a relationship with his villainous teammate Voltiac; Spider was the one that caught him which lead to V’s incarceration and eventual Squad drafting. I don’t want to spoil any more key elements of the rest of the issue, but I had high hopes for seeing where this subplot would go, and based on the nature of the techno-organic virus, we may see that in issue #3. Or not.
There’s also more on the Amanda Waller front. She’s still the newly slim puppermaster of the team, and she also likes to… smoke cigarettes. Now, while I don’t have an issue with DC slimming down the team’s commander per se – although I do think an obese Waller would depict a type of character we don’t see in comics nowadays – I do think the depiction of smoking in comics should be curtailed. While the teen plus audience for this book is unlikely to go out and replicate the violence depicted in the book, they may be influenced by how “cool” smoking may look. It’s something to be aware of by editorial.
If there is one true criticism of Suicide Squad #2 it would be the interior art. It’s inconsistent and disjointed; dark in some panels and cartoony almost schlocky in others. Also, the way Deadshot mask is done is really poor. Yes, he has his scope over his right eye, but I shouldn’t see the “window” to his left eye. The cool factor of the mask has always been you can’t see where the left eye sees out of. The way it should be done is the way Ryan Benjamin does it on the cover; too bad he’s not doing the interior art. :( Luckily, Glass’ quirky story is so strong, the interior art even for such a visual medium, is not as distracting or a liability as it could have been. My hope is the book’s settles into a permanent interior artist soon.
Overall, if you liked Adam Glass’ tale for issue #1, you’ll REALLY like issue #2. If you look at this series with a superficial lens, you’re view of issue #2 will be as uninformed as your view to issue #1. Ooooo, I guess them’s fighting words from moi? :)
If you appreciate a writer taking a book called “Suicide Squad” and having it reach its dark potential in a modern pop culture environment, this is the book for you. Yes, this is a violent book, but it’s choreographed in a way that advances the story unlike the video games and genre movies nowadays that have senseless violence that adds nothing to the story other than “shock”.
Suicide Squad #2 is a concerto of mayhem that is highly recommended.
BONUS REVIEW: Shade #1:
I was a late convert to the awesomeness of James Robinson’s 1990s Starman opus. I really got into the series in the last 2 years with the publication of the Omnibus editions that collected all of the Jack Knight Starman appearances including the first Shade mini-series. What I liked about the original Shade mini were the rotating artists that told the various era tales of the immortal Shade. It’s a winning formula used by writer James Robinson in his new 12-part Shade maxi-series that debuted this past week as part of the new DC Comics Relaunch universe.
The book opens back in Opal City, the home town to Starman – currently Mikaal Tomas the blue hued powerful hero that was featured in the pre-Flashpoint Justice League of America – and naturally the immortal Shade.
I also want to point to out that Deathstroke plays a BIG PART in this issue. His characterization aligns well with Higgins’ series and it actually makes sense that he’d appear since he is a mercenary trying to prove that he’s still as bad as he’s always been. And let me say, Slade Wilson / Deathstroke shines in this issue. He makes a statement in this issue – a big one.
Cully Hamner, one of the visual architects of the New 52 DC Comics Relaunch alongside DC Comics Co-publisher Jim Lee, draws the interiors for the first three issues of this series. His debut issue work is simply amazing. He can really tell the story through his characters facial expressions as well through the ballad of pain he tells in his action scenes. Cully Hamner is a worthy artist, in a long line of artists started by the uber talented Tony Harris on Starman, who does the covers for the series. This 12-part series will also feature the art of Darwyn Cooke, Javier Pulido, Jill Thompson, Frazer Irving and Gene Ha. Now THAT is great news.
I can’t wait for issue #2 and I am so happy that Shade and Opal City are back.
I was also pleased to read in a recent interview by James Robinson, that if this series does well, he’d love to come back to these characters again and instead of an international tale as told in this Shade series, root his next narrative firmly in Opal City. Now THAT would be “winning”… too. ;)
All three of these books have dark moments, yes, but they also have rich characterization and multi-layered plotting. Don’t get distracted, don’t be superficial. Experience these books as they were meant to be experienced and you should really like them.
Remember, this is the part of the DC Universe they call the “Edge”. This isn’t the Johnny DC line. These books are for more mature readers, teen plus, so no need to make any points by reading it to your 7-year old kids. ;)
If you prefer other kinds of stories, DC has a lot to offer across its various lines in the DC Comics Relaunch and the New 52.
If gritty stories with depth are your thing, you should really enjoy these books.