Last Christmas my brother gave me a booster pack of random, non-sequential issues from a variety of popular comic book titles that syndicated in the late eighties to mid nineties. The nineties was a time of groundbreaking work in the comic community that gave birth to the age of modern comics. Sometimes, not so much. These are snapshots of the industry at its best and worst. This is Brian’s Comic Book Grab Bag.
Suicide Squad Volume 1 #26
“Stone Cold Dead”
Writer – John Ostrander
Penciler – Grant Miehm
Inker – Karl Kesel
Letterer – Todd Klein
There was a movement in comic books around the mid to late 80s that many refer to as “Revisionism.” The arcs and characters produced during this time coalesced into darker content, featuring the corruption of heroes, the ascendance of villains, and the death of AAA heroes in mainstream storylines. Storytelling at DC was significantly more cerebral during this time; a rejection of the superficial “WHAM-POW” era of the Golden Age, and refinement of the intermediary Silver Age. The Vertigo imprint was established to broker a home for this new trend, and many of the DC titles that had gradually introduced mature themes became associated with the imprint. Strangely, Suicide Squad did not join the roster, but terminated its run, headed by John Ostrander shortly before Vertigo’s launch. One wonders what kind of adventures Rick Flag Jr. and his fellow teammates could have encountered under the creative protection of mature readership. That is a question lost to history.
Suicide Squad is, however, a modern espionage thriller, with emphasis on real world events as they occurred. Prominent political figures and their exploits were integrated into the world of the Suicide Squad, becoming the deus ex machina for unseemly events in the real world. The cut and dry alliances behind WWII had come to an end gradually over the course of the Cold War. This was an era that introduced James Bond to the genre of espionage fiction, but even that narrative was naïve and idealistic. The most high profile events that occurred in the Cold War, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, resolved themselves by pure chance. Had America or the Reds flinched, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this in my jogging shorts. The tension and disarming paranoia that typified the tail end of the Cold War is endemic in Suicide Squad. Even the team roster boasts a few high profile super villains. In the name of revisionism, one can cry foul and scoff at the intentions of the Suicide Squad, which originally consisted (in The Brave and The Bold arc) of a outfit of misfits bent on bringing down metahumans with their own cunning and guile. What we find however is a sincere effort on behalf of Ostrander, who labors to uncover the will of his characters.
I will be the first to confess that I had to read my fair share of wikis in order to decipher what was going on in issue 26 of Suicide Squad after a cold read. “Stone Cold Dead” is the finale of the “Final Round” arc, which deals with Rick Flag Jr’s heroic sacrifice by destroying Jotunheim, an ex-Nazi Arabian hideout. Things happen, people die, and Oracle hacks a few computers. It’s all very standard comic book stuff. What stands out most is the purity of Flag Jr’s actions in contrast with the continued existence of the Suicide Squad.
The comic opens with Jack Kovacs posing as J. Danfield Kale as a front man for Amanda Waller’s continued operation of the Suicide Squad. Belle Reve is being rebuilt by its own prisoners as a sign of fealty to the protection of the people, which is ironic considering that this rehabilitation will only lead to the firmer incarceration of the inmates. Consequently, the prison is being founded on lies and everything else is business as usual. In the aftermath of the team’s assassination of a prominent US Senator, the Suicide Squad is on a PR campaign to restore the luster of their organization. Each of these self-preservative actions enforce the hypocrisy of the Suicide Squad’s continued existence, as well as reinforce the muddled morality of revisionism. Despite all of this, Rick Flag Jr goes out with a bang, literally, reviving with his sacrifice the purpose of the original Suicide Squad and their daring Golden Age hutzpah. It’s Rick’s motivation to do something to return legitimate honor to his team that makes the moment shine in contrast with Mr. Kale’s work. When the job that wakes you up every morning is the stuff of lies and deceit, something real stands out. And despite the coverups and subterfuge to dismantle the hype, the action lives on, conveyed by its authenticity. Rick Flag’s own sacrifice is transcendental, becoming everything that the squad was originally meant to protect in a single moment. That is the payoff of “Stone Cold Dead.”
In what I believe to be a rare occurrence in this series, Suicide Squad #26 stands out as a prime example of tempered revisionism. The overall content is neither macabre or overkill, but a smooth drip of maturity. People die in Suicide Squad. Actions have consequences. That is something rarely exhibited in comics, and for that, this title garners my affection.
8 Shaken Martinis (of 10)
This series was my first taste of “mature” comics, in the sense that I really felt that I shouldn’t be reading it. It’s not perfect, it may not even be that great, but I remember it fondly and wish DC would reprint it. Try to read it all, I think you might enjoy it.