Retro Review: Deadshot #1-4 By Ostrander, Yale & McDonnell For DC Comics

Deadshot #1-4 (November 1988 – ”Holiday” 1988)

Written by John Ostrander, Kim Yale

Art by Luke McDonnell

Colour by Julianna Ferriter

Spoilers (from thirty-three years ago)

By the time Deadshot’s miniseries debuted, he’d become the breakout favourite character in Suicide Squad.  John Ostrander played things carefully with Floyd Lawton, giving him some great scenes, but never over-using him.  We slowly started to learn things about him from his therapy sessions with Marnie Herrs, although we also saw that there was a strong attraction between them, leading to a couple of kisses.  

Prior to being in Suicide Squad, Lawton was an occassional Batman villain with a great outfit and gimmick.  Ostrander gave him a tragic backstory (dead wife and kid), and introduced the idea that he always pulled his shots when aiming at Batman.  This allowed Lawton to keep his reputation as a top-notch assassin, who never managed to hit Batman.  Ostrander also started hinting at the idea that Lawton maybe had a death wish.

It’s cool that regular Suicide Squad artist Luke McDonnell was able to draw this miniseries too, giving the book a very consistent look and feel.  I remember bits and pieces of this comic, and definitely remember liking the cover motif.

As I’ve been rereading Suicide Squad (my column on that will be coming in a few weeks, probably), I’ve been surprised by little we actually see of Deadshot.  It’s like how Chris Claremont used Wolverine sparingly at the start of his X-Men run, and that’s what helped build the character’s popularity.  I’m excited to revisit Lawton’s story, and learn more about him.

Let’s track who turned up in the title:

Villains

  • Silage/Silas (#1)
  • El Jefe (#1)
  • Wes (#2-3)
  • Danny (#2-3)
  • Philip Schale (#2, 4)
  • Pantha (#2-3)
  • Genevieve Pitt Lawton (Floyd’s mother; #3-4)

Guest Stars

  • Sarge Steel (#1)
  • Rick Flag (Suicide Squad; #1)
  • Black Orchid (Suicide Squad; #1)
  • Amanda Waller (Suicide Squad; #1, 4)

Supporting Characters

  • Suzan Lawton (Floyd’s ex-wife; #1-2)
  • Marnie Herrs (therapist; #1-4)
  • Dr. Simon LaGrieve (psychologist; #1, 4)
  • Flo Crowley (#1)
  • Eddie Lawton (Floyd’s son; #2-3)
  • George Lawton (Floyd’s father; #2)
  • Sheriff Joe Truscott (#2-4)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • A woman with red hair enters a very run-down small apartment building, looking for Floyd.  The Super tells her that he only uses the place as a mail drop, so she writes a note and asks that he get it to him.  She tells him that she used to be Floyd’s wife as she leaves.  Floyd meets some guy named Silas (who he insists on calling Silage) in a bar somewhere.  Floyd makes a homophobic comment, but Silage assures him that he was only interested in men while he was locked up.  They run down the list of people in the “old gang” that have died, and we learn that Silas is supposed to be hooking up Floyd with a job.  As they head out to meet their contact, we see that Rick Flag (field leader for the Suicide Squad) is sitting in a car with Sarge Steel, surveilling Floyd, who is supposed to be hunting a crimelord named El Jefe.  Flag mentions how Floyd is alway eager to take on assignments that might get him killed.  Marnie Herrs, a therapist at Belle Reve prison, is going through Floyd’s file, which gives us a neat recap of his life.  We are reminded that Floyd was born rich, saw Batman foil a crime, and then decided to become a criminal and get his attention.  After getting out of prison, Floyd upgraded to his current costume, and continued to fail to get one over on Batman.  Marnie is thinking about what Batman said to Floyd when they met recently, that he pulls his shots with him around.  Marnie worries that Floyd is setting up his own death.  Deadshot and Silas go to meet some guy named Ariosto, who is an intermediary for El Jefe.  He wants to test Floyd, and have him kill a supposed government undercover operative.  Floyd kills the man, which makes Flag angry, even though Steel insists they had no one working this file.  Deadshot forces the issue with Ariosto, threatening to kill both him and Silas if he doesn’t meet El Jefe.  Ariosto insists that was part of the test and agrees to take him.  Marnie continues to review her files, thinking about how Floyd has a lot of anger towards women.  We learn she’s talking to her superior, Dr. Simon LaGrieve, who thinks that Marnie has lost her sense of professional detachment in treating Floyd.  LaGrieve knows that they kissed, but Marnie pushes back when he removes Floyd from her patient list.  She tells him she’s going on a leave of absence and storms off.  Floyd and the others board a private jet, where El Jefe introduces himself to Floyd.  He mentions that he feels safe on the jet, because if Floyd were to fire his wrist guns, he could kill everyone since the plane is pressurized (I’m not really sure that’s how that works).  Floyd shoots him, and when his men respond, he blows a hole in the side of the plane.  Floyd tells Silas he’s the only one of the old gang he hasn’t killed yet, and then he shoots him.  Floyd blasts open the side of the plane and jumps out.  As he falls, Black Orchid shows up out of nowhere and grabs him.  She flies him down.  Later, at Belle Reve, Flo Crowley gives Floyd the note the superintendent forwarded to him.  Amanda Waller wants Floyd for another mission, but he says he has to take some time off, and leaves.
  • Floyd shows up at his ex-wife’s house, and learns that his son, Eddie, has been taken.  Suzan doesn’t know who took her son, but she says that the people who phoned her said that Floyd would know, since it involved a job he didn’t finish twenty years before, and that he’d know who to contact (assuming Floyd is 35, how likely is it that he was taking on jobs like this when he was 15?).  In a nondescript building, we see that Floyd’s son Eddie is being visited by one of the men holding him, a guy named Wes.  Another one of the kidnappers, Danny, makes it clear that Wes shouldn’t be in the room (it seems he can’t be trusted around kids).  Marnie Herrs has gone to Lawton, the town that Floyd’s father built, and heads to his father’s mansion, hoping to speak with him.  Mr. Lawton, who is in a wheelchair, insists that both of his sons are dead.  Marnie never knew that Floyd has a brother, and Mr. Lawton threatens to have the sheriff kill her.  The Sheriff is there, and he walks her out and gives her a ride.  He makes it clear that he doesn’t kill people for Lawton, but that he does have to pay some mind to his wishes.  A lawyer named Philip Schales sends his assistant home for the night, and is then visited by Deadshot.  It’s clear Floyd knows this guy.  Schales tells Floyd that if he finishes a job he took, his son will be returned to him.  Floyd tells Schales to put his hands on the desk, and then shoots him through each palm with his wrist magnums.  The Sheriff and Marnie share a meal at the diner, and Marnie learns that Floyd’s wife lives on the edge of town.  She asks about Floyd’s brother, and learns about how beloved Edward was in the town.  He explains that Floyd could never live up to his older brother, so he went the other way.  We also learn that a sniper took a shot at Mr. Lawton, which is why he’s in a wheelchair, and that Edward threw himself in front of the second shot, and was killed.  It seems that people always believed that Floyd was the shooter.  Schales is in the hospital, and he tells his assistant, Andy Haskell to tell the people who have Eddie to move.  He also says that he wants someone named Pantha to go after Floyd.  Haskell calls Danny, and they start moving.  Pantha, a sniper, gets ready.  When Haskell goes to his car in the hospital parking lot, Deadshot stops him and gets him to tell him where his kid is.  Then he shoots Haskell and steals his car.  We see that Wes is talking to Eddie again, as they move locations.
  • Marnie approaches the house of Genevieve Lawton, who refuses to speak to her.  Marnie rejoins the Sheriff, who questions why Marnie is so involved, and makes it clear that he’s into her.  Marnie explains that her sister died by suicide, and that has somehow gotten connected to Floyd’s story in her head.  The Sheriff agrees to help Marnie by taking her to someone who might be able to explain Floyd’s story to her.  Danny warns Wes again to keep his hands off Eddie as they set up at an airfield.  Deadshot arrives at the warehouse Eddie was being held at before.  Pantha plays an audio tape telling him where his son is, in an attempt to frighten him I think, but Floyd shoots out the power, and then gets the drop on Pantha.  He shoots him.  Next, Deadshot shows up at the airfield, and starts shooting at everyone there.  Danny tells Wes, his brother, to take off with Eddie in the car, and then gets shot.  Lawton finishes killing everyone except Danny, who tells him that Wes does bad things to children.  Floyd shoots him, and figures he’ll still be able to find him.  Marnie approaches the gardener at Lawton’s father’s place, who tells her about how Floyd was never jealous of his brother, and loved him as much as everyone else did.  He talks about how Floyd’s parents hate one another, and suggests that Mrs. Lawton might have been behind the shooting of Mr. Lawton.  When the gardener hears Lawton calling him, he refuses to talk any more.  She leaves even more determined to speak to Mrs. Lawton.  Wes has killed Eddie, and is starting to freak out about it when Deadshot comes into the flophouse they are hiding in.  He starts shooting Wes in his limbs, without even asking him any questions.  Wes calls for his brother, and Floyd tells him he’s dead before shooting him in the head.  Floyd starts yelling that he’s coming after his mother next.
  • Marnie sneaks into Mrs. Lawton’s house after dark, but the older lady hears her and holds a gun on her.  Marnie explains that she’s left a letter for the Sheriff saying that Mrs. Lawton called her there, so if she turns up dead, there will be problems that Lawton doesn’t want to deal with.  She agrees to talk to Marnie.  Elsewhere, Schales’s assistant (who I thought was dead) gets his boss from the hospital and drives off, telling him that Deadshot has killed all of their men, and will be coming after them.  He pulls over just off a highway and pushes the injured man out of the car.  He tells him that he’s following Deadshot’s orders, but then kills Schales himself, hoping that will gain him favor in Floyd’s eyes.  Floyd, standing close by, shoots the assistant between the eyes and leaves.  Marnie lays out her theory about what happened when Floyd was younger – that his mother arranged for him to shoot his father, and his brother Edward was killed by mistake.  Mrs. Lawton makes it sound like what really happened was that Edward and Floyd tussled over the gun, and that’s why Edward was killed.  Deadshot appears in the living room (some of these scenes must be out of sequence for him to get there that quickly), and lets his mother know that her grandson was tortured to death by a pervert.  When his mother tries to blame all of this on Floyd, he explains that it was Edward she’d manipulated into wanting to kill his father, and that Floyd tried to stop it from happening.  Floyd was outside the house when Edward first shot his father, and Floyd tried to shoot Edward in the arm to keep from firing again, but the tree branch he was standing on collapsed, and he shot Edward in the head by mistake.  Marnie explains to Floyd that his mother has a death wish, and that if he shot her now, which is what appears to be about to happen, he’s giving her what she wants.  Mrs. Lawton yells at Floyd, disowning him, and he shoots her in the spine.  Marnie tells Floyd to leave, and then she tells the old woman that if she tells anyone that Floyd was there, Marnie will make sure she goes to jail for her role in her grandson’s death (I’m not sure why she wouldn’t make that happen anyway).  The woman agrees.  Later, Marnie talks with the Sheriff, who doesn’t believe that she wouldn’t know about the death of Floyd’s child, and he walks away.  Later still, back at Belle Reve, Amanda Waller talks to Dr. LaGrieve about how she covered for Lawton, claiming he was locked up the whole time these events went down.  LaGrieve is surprised that she protected him.  Marnie meets with Floyd, asking if he wants to start therapy again, but he doesn’t.  She suggests that he needs to process what happened, but he says he’s just waiting around to die.  When she accuses him of sublimating his grief, he gets angry and tells her that he can’t be helped, and that he’s not going to change.

Well, this was a pretty bleak miniseries.  It made a lot of sense to spotlight the most popular character in Suicide Squad in his own book, but it’s surprising how far Ostrander and Yale went from the typical in this portrayal.  Floyd doesn’t interact with the rest of the DC Universe, once he takes his leave from the Squad, but also doesn’t become the emotional centre of a story that should be so gruelling for him, digging up old family trauma and laying on new levels as he deals with the brutal murder of his son.  (I thought it interesting that we never saw his ex-wife again in this book).

Floyd has always been an interesting character, even before Ostrander got ahold of him, but it felt like that was done in a very haphazard way.  He went from being a society villain wannabe in coat and tails to a colourfully dressed master assassin, but it was Ostrander who, by making him so inscrutable, turned him into a fascinating character.

I remember expecting (especially with Batman on the cover of that first issue), we’d be exploring Deadshot’s unconscious inability to shoot the caped crusader, so I was a bit surprised when this series focused on Floyd’s backstory and family.  This series does a great job of establishing Floyd’s death wish, and differentiating his trauma from that of his teammates.

Ostrander’s Squad was raising the bar for psychological approaches to superhero comics, and this gave him and Yale the chance to really dig into the character.  What’s interesting is that Floyd says and does very little here.  He seems unaffected by the death of the son he wasn’t exactly acknowledging, and the interest he showed in Marnie in the parent book dies on the vine here.  

Luke McDonnell’s art peaked around this time.  He inked this book himself (while still drawing Suicide Squad monthly) and it looks great.  My complaint about McDonnell is that sometimes his figures seem stiff; that’s not the case here.  I like how he laid out the pages in this series, and how cool he makes Floyd’s costume look.  I also think that the covers to this series are incredible, with Floyd running across the bottom of each one, and turning and shooting at the audience on the last cover.  It makes me think of the opening of James Bond movies.

I’ve always loved Deadshot’s classic costume.  I guessed that it was designed by Marshall Rogers, based on the fact that he was drawing Detective Comics when it first appeared.  There’s a lot of unnecessary stuff on the costume, but it’s also very sleek and stripped down.  I like that it’s bright red with yellow highlights, but that Floyd’s job is that he is a gun for hire and an assassin.  This plays into the death wish aspect of his personality, where, kind of like Moon Knight and his all-white costume, he wants people to see him coming.

This is a good series, taking two Suicide Squad characters away from that very crowded book to give them space to grow.  I’m continuing to read the Squad, and will have a column about it (or perhaps its other spin-off book) for you soon, although I think I’m going to be launching a very irregular Retro Event column when I reach what I remember as one of the best multi-title events I read as a kid.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

Tags: ,

Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!