As much as I can’t believe it, 2021 marks the ten year anniversary of the DC Comics publishing initiative known as The New 52. For a variety of reasons, DC made a clean break from the previous continuity by blowing it up and starting it all over from scratch — except when they didn’t. Over the course of a year, I’m going to go back and re-read every single debut issue from The New 52 line-up to see how much it changes things from the way they were before, how much of this new status quo stuck around and just how well the comic holds up ten years later.
Ten years and nearly two movies later, it’s hard to imagine a time when the Suicide Squad wasn’t a priority for DC Comics but its appearance in The New 52 line-up was somewhat of a surprise. These days, Suicide Squad had become somewhat of a staple of DC’s publishing slate and if one volume ends there’s usually plans to launch another shortly afterwards but prior to The New 52, the last Suicide Squad series was released four years ago and the last Suicide Squad ongoing series published its final issue nearly twenty years prior.
The original Suicide Squad was launched in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths when the DC Universe had a surplus of expendable and silly supervillains who could be sent on life-endangering villains and it served as a way for forgotten villains like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang to get a spotlight as protagonists. This volume of Suicide Squad is similar in that regard, launching in the wake of another universe-shattering event with Flashpoint and serving as a launching point for Harley Quinn to breakout as one of DC’s biggest breakout characters of the 21st century.
The core premise of Suicide Squad remains the same. Supervillains are recruited into Task Force X by Amanda Waller and sent on missions in order to shave time off their sentence, but they have an explosive planted in their head which can be detonated if they step out of line. Alongside Harley and a returning Deadshot, we have El Diablo, King Shark, Black Spider, Savant and brand-new character Voltaic.
This new volume of Suicide Squad is written by Adam Glass with art by Federico Dallocchio, inks by Scott Hanna and Ransom Getty, colours by Scott Hanna and letters by Jared K. Fletcher. Prior to The New 52, Adam Glass was best known as a writer and producer for shows like Supernatural, Cold Case and The Cleaner but did have some comic credits under his belt with titles such as Luke Cage Noir, Deadpool Team-Up and Flashpoint: Legion of Doom. I’ve never been a massive fan of his work and Suicide Squad serves as kind of a microcosm of all of The New 52’s worst elements.
I don’t like this comic, so before I start to talk about what I don’t like about it I want to talk about the one aspect I did. As we’re being introduced to the characters, we get to see how some of them were brought in; we see Deadshot getting taken down by Batman and Harley Quinn getting discovered by Black Canary, and it helps add to the feeling that there is a history behind this new take on the DC Universe. El Diablo gets a flashback too where we discover that he accidentally killed the girlfriends and childrens of some gangsters he had a problem with and it’s just a little thing that gives us a greater insight into who he is.
It also serves to highlight one of the big problems with Suicide Squad #1, because the whole roster doesn’t get that treatment, so it’s basically telegraphing which characters we should care about and invest in, and which characters are cannon fodder. The great thing about Suicide Squad as a concept is that every character should feel like they’re on the chopping block and anyone could get killed off at any time but Glass and Dallocchio make it clear which characters we should actually give a shit, which defeats the whole purpose.
The actual plot of Suicide Squad #1 feels quite tropey as well, although this might be that it hasn’t aged very well. It starts with the team captured by an unknown group who are torturing them for information on who they are and who sent them, but this turns out to be a test put in place by Amanda Waller to determine who can be trusted to protect her secrets. The whole “fake torture” thing feels really overdone and we don’t actually get to see much of the Suicide Squad in action in their first issue.
Speaking of rote and predictable, Federico Dallocchio is a great example of the kind of DC house style that we’re going to see emerge in a lot of these debut issues. There’s some great art to be found in The New 52 — Francis Manapul on The Flash, J.H. Williams III on Batwoman and Travel Foreman on Animal Man all come to mind — but more titles than not just have this rushed, grimey, generic style present in Suicide Squad.
There are two big artistic redesigns in Suicide Squad #1; one of them was more successful than the other but both were rather controversial at the time. The first is Harley Quinn, who was reimagined for The New 52 as a scantily clad sexpot who looks like she got trapped inside a Hot Topic during a hurricane. There’s a larger conversation to be had about how women’s bodies were depicted during The New 52 which would feature Harley Quinn, Starfire and Wonder Girl but this version of Harley did prove to be commercially successful for DC and was brought to the big screen by Margot Robbie in the Suicide Squad film.
The other redesign in Suicide Squad that also dovetails into the larger conversation about how women were drawn during The New 52 era is that of Amanda Waller. The character was created to be the head of the Suicide Squad in the late-80s and was depicted as a short, stout black women in her late-forties/early-fifties. Everything about her design conveyed her humanity and served as a contrast to the bright colours and bulging muscles of the superhero world she had found herself in.
However, in The New 52, she was reimagined as younger, thinner and more conventionally attractive. Her lips are full and red, her cheeks are sharp and severe, her cleavage sits on full display. You could throw some spandex on her and she wouldn’t look out of place on the Justice League, which is exactly everything Amanda Waller was designed to not be. When I say that Suicide Squad serves as a microcosm of all of The New 52’s worst elements, a big part of that is the lack of imagination when it comes to what a woman in a superhero comic can look.
Unfortunately, Suicide Squad is a massive misfire for The New 52 and even more unfortunately, I anticipate more of the comics will be like this than not. However, I can’t say that it wasn’t influential in some positive ways. Overall, I’m a fan of the Suicide Squad concept and I’m glad that it’s become one of DC’s most important franchise, it’s given us great runs in recent years from the likes of Rob Williams and Tom Taylor/Bruno Redondo and they wouldn’t have happened without this revival here. It’s definitely not worth revisiting but I don’t think it’s going to end up being the worst of the worst when it comes to The New 52.