A Suicide Squad: The Black Vault Review – Squad vs. Zod

suicide-squad_-the-black-vaut-jim-lee-coverTITLE: Suicide Squad, Vol. 1: The Black Vault
AUTHOR: Rob Williams
PENCILLERS: Jim Lee, Philip Tan, Jason Fabok, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis
COLLECTS: Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1Suicide Squad #1-6
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: February 28, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

If The Black Vault isn’t the most important and most notable Suicide Squad book DC has ever published, then it’s absolutely in the top two. This is the biggest that Suicide Squad has ever felt, and may be the best its ever looked.

Thanks to the movie, the Suicide Squad “brand” has never had more eyes on it. The Black Vault features almost all of the characters from the movie, including a few pages of the Joker. So it’s bursting with crossover appeal for casual moviegoers. With this in mind, DC loaded the book up with A-list artists, most notably Jim Lee. Indeed, the master of the modern superhero epic is drawing characters like Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, and the Enchantress. Talk about something you don’t see every day…

Task Force X, a.k.a. the Suicide Squad, is a black ops group assembled by government agent Amanda Waller. Comprised primarily of imprisoned supervillains, the team is sent on covert missions. They serve as both soldiers, and built-in patsies. Should they refuse an order or become compromised, Waller detonates a nanite bomb in their skulls. Like the movie, in The Black Vault our team consists of Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, and the Enchantress. They’re accompanied by Colonel Rick Flagg and Katana.

suicide-squad_-the-black-vault-harley-quinn-jim-leeTheir latest mission sees our heroes sent to a secret Russian prison to neutralize a secret doorway to the Phantom Zone. In the process, the team meets none other than General Zod.

People can say what they want about Jim Lee’s influence, for better or worse, on DC’s “house style” right now. But when he’s in his element, he’s one of the all-time greats. Lee is at home with the dynamic and the awe-inspiring. As such, it seems like Lee’s work on the book starts out rather slow. He starts on issue #1 and has to re-tread some of the ground covered in the Rebirth issue, specifically Waller’s motivations. He takes us from the team’s home base at Belle Reve Penitentiary to the Russian facility, giving us a few cool shots in the process. He and Rob Williams also have a really fun take on Belle Reve, where the prison cells are plucked and moved by a giant claw arm.

But once Zod enters the story at the end of issue #2, Lee gets to flex his muscles. He makes Zod surprisingly large, literally twice the size of the other characters (save for Croc). But the ultra powerful Kryptonian against these mostly street-level characters makes for a fun fight, particularly when the big guy goes against Katana. At the end of issue #3, we bring in a few other characters to oppose the Squad. But the good stuff is with the general himself. Issue #4 gives us a cool interaction between Zod and Croc, and a nice climactic moment involving Rick Flagg. It’s not Lee’s best work. But it’s still pretty damn awesome.

suicide-squad, Joker, Harley Quinn, Gary FrankThe notoriously deadline-challenged Lee was massaged into Suicide Squad‘s a bi-weekly format with a reduced workload. He only had to produce 12 pages per issue, with the rest going to an oversized back-up story spotlighting a particular team member. I suspect most fans will find Gary Frank’s look at Harley Quinn the most enjoyable. While on a mission with Flag, she struggles with some of her more villainous impulses. These are personified, of course, by the Joker. I’m not in love with Frank’s rendering of Mr. J. But his Harley is delightfully expressive in a way that’s exaggerated, but not quite cartoony. Naturally, this compliments both her character and Williams’ script.

But artistically, Philip Tan gets “Best in Show” as far as these back-ups are concerned. In addition to the Rebirth issue, he does the Katana story for issue #3. Tan shows off his versatility with an anime-inspired look at her origin. The script isn’t the strongest, but Tan and colorist Elmer Santos provide visuals that range from haunting to downright heart-breaking.

Rick Flag gets a lot of quality page time here. The Rebirth issue is essentially about him. Williams writes him as unwaveringly loyal, even to his own detriment. He’s the conscience of the team. A good guy tasked with leading all these bad guys. Flag is easy to root for and empathize with. Considering he’s the least flamboyant and colorful character in this book, that’s a good thing.

General Zod, Suicide Squad #2, Jim LeeOn the other end of the spectrum, Zod is an oversized caricature of himself, spouting lines like…

– “Prostrate yourself before your general, sub-creatures!”
– “I will boil and eat your magic!”
– “I have incinerated your human flesh and reveled in it’s pungent stench!”

I understand humor is a valuable component here. But c’mon, really? You’ve got Harley for that. You’ve got Boomerang for that. We don’t need Zod for that.

On the subject of weird comedy, this book has a recurring bit about Killer Croc throwing up. Oddly enough, it works. Can’t say I ever imagined Jim Lee drawing that.

The Black Vault represents the first time Suicide Squad has been elevated to a top-tier title with A-list talent. That alone makes it one of the most noteworthy stories in the team’s history. And while this isn’t the best scripting I’ve ever seen, Rob Williams knows how to put together a good Suicide Squad story. One can argue the book has never been in better hands.

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A Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1 Review – The 2016 Playbook

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1, cover, Jason FabokTITLE: Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1
AUTHOR: Josh WIlliamson
PENCILLER: Jason Fabok
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 21, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s fitting that Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is DC’s last big release of the year. This is essentially a snapshot of the Warner Bros/DC movie playbook for 2016. Of course, it’s a also hook for new readers who’ve seen the movies.

And in a very pleasant development, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is pretty damn good. At least, so far.

When the Justice League learns of Amanda Waller’s Task Force X program, they interrupt a the Suicide Squad’s latest mission to bring them in. Naturally, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and the team aren’t coming without a fight. Meanwhile, several prisoners have been broken out of the Catacombs, “the most top secret prison in the world.” A threat is emerging that may give the Justice League and the Suicide Squad a mutual enemy.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1, two-page spread, Jason FabokI think one of the reasons this story works so well is that there isn’t an exorbitant amount of exposition to get through. Yes, we have the typical captions that introduce the characters (i.e. “Deadshot. Expert marksman. Has a death wish.” We also have a two-page scene where the League finds out about the Squad, and we go over why they don’t like them. But other than that, we’re mostly doing the business of the plot. It’s easy to understand why these two groups wouldn’t get along. You don’t need all of the build-up and the layers you would for, say, Civil War or Avengers vs. X-Men. The mere knowledge of the Squad’s existence is enough to prompt a fight.

The only downside to that additional time for character moments is that Williamson’s use of Captain Boomerang for comic relief comes off grating. One thing this book hammers home as much as anything is that ol’ Digger is horny as hell. I guess it makes sense, given he’s in prison. Plus, whenever he goes out he’s got the over-sexualized Harley Quinn with him. But he doesn’t need to be Captain Innuendo. We also have a little exchange where Simon Baz asks, “Aren’t boomerangs a little lame?” Not nearly as lame as that line. Way to go, Simon. Antagonize the murderer who Flash just told you was no joke.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, team shot, Jason FabokThe larger story Williamson is setting up involves a third team, led by our mystery prison breaker…the returning Maxwell Lord, dressed in his Omac Project and Justice League: Generation Lost era garb. Per usual, Lord is hardly a mustache-twirling villain. He’s out to save the world. What that means exactly remains to be seen. But the team he’s assembled (shown below) consists of Lobo, Dr. Polaris, Emerald Empress, Johnny Sorrow, and Rustam. Certainly an…eclectic crew. But they all have one thing in common: They hate Amanda Waller. Considering how expansive the cast of this book already is, we can’t guarantee all these characters will get a chance to shine. But I can definitely appreciate Williams putting a renewed spotlight on some of the company’s more obscure characters.

Jason Fabok is in top form here. As I’ve said previously, his is art has an undeniably epic quality to it. So he’ll always be a solid fit for big event stories like this, or Darkseid War. I compare him to Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, or Ivan Reis in that sense. He’s very much like Lee in the way he makes use of splash pages and two-page spreads that are either explosive, or have a lot of intrigue. His characters also tend to be very charismatic and expressive. Particularly Harley Quinn, despite the over-sexualization. There’s also a really nice splash page where Superman catches Deadshot in mid-air. Those two characters are such a great contrast. That image almost sells the premise by itself.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1, Jason Fabok, two-page spreadBy the way, the country that the big confrontation takes place in is called Badhnisia. I was blown away when I typed that into the ol’ Google machine, and found out it’s actually a long standing country in the DC Universe. A little on the nose, don’t you think?

Lending a certain subtle consistency with other big DC event comics are Alex Sinclair’s colors. Sinclair has worked on big books like Batman: Hush, Infinite Crisis, Blackest Night, Flashpoint, Justice League: Origin, etc. Sinclair’s work is always quality, and he’s a tremendous asset.

Based on the solicitations, it looks like the artistic teams on this book will fluctuate as the weeks go by. We’ll see names like Fernando Pasarin, Robson Rocha, and Howard Porter tag in. I can’t say I’m looking forward to those transitions, especially given the quality of what Fabok and his cohorts gave us here. But from a plot perspective, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad starts out strong. Now it becomes a matter of telling a compelling story while balancing all these different characters, and not letting it all become a mess.

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A Suicide Squad #1 Review – Life on the A-List

Suicide Squad #1, 2016, cover, Jim LeeTITLE: Suicide Squad #1
AUTHOR: Rob Williams
PENCILLERS: Jim Lee, Jason Fabok. Cover by Lee.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: August 17, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Even with the movie, the idea of Jim Lee working on a Suicide Squad book seems bizarre. This is the man who broke records with X-Men, set a new standard for Batman, and ushered Justice League into a new era. He’s the master of the modern American superhero epic. He’s synonymous with A-list characters and stories. So to see him work on mostly B and C-list characters is an interesting change. Still, it’s great to see new art from Jim Lee.

Even when he’s drawing Killer Croc nearly drowning in his own vomit.

A rogue Russian state is in possession of a cosmic weapon. Amanda Waller calls in Task Force X, a.k.a. the Suicide Squad to either steal or destroy it. But to avoid detection, the team must drop in from space. But it turns out the squad wasn’t made for space travel…

Our team line-up is the same as the movie’s, minus a few: Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, and the Enchantress. Plus Rick Flag and Katana working directly for Waller. Also, Belle Reeve Prison now has a “Select Your Players” feature, in which inmate containers/cells can be retrieved via crane. There are many, which invites theories about who else Waller could select for the Squad. (Black Manta? Deathstroke?)

Suicide Squad #1, 2016, Jim Lee, group shotThe issue doesn’t let Lee be as dynamic as he often is. We do get a cool group shot of the team (shown left), with Harley wearing a cutesy “Rebirth” t-shirt. But the big action sequence of the issue is the team sitting in their spacecraft as it crashes into the sea. I expected something higher octane, akin to what we saw in Justice League.

The trade off, however, is that we get a nice character moment for Rick Flag, a character conspicuous by his absence in the New 52verse until Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1. Flag was cast as the incorruptible hero with a heightened sense of responsibility for his fellow soldiers. Thus, after Croc gets sick in the spacecraft, Flag undoes his restraints and tries to save Croc from drowning in vomit. This sequence, even more than what we saw in Rebirth, distinctively sets Flag apart from his teammates. He’s loyal to a fault.

 Lee also didn’t have as many pages as he usual. DC’s trick for keeping Lee on deadline this time around is reducing his page count, and giving him bulked back-up stories. This issue is about 60% Lee, and 60% Jason Fabok, as we get a story under the banner of “Personnel File: Deadshot.” I can only assume this will be an ongoing theme for the foreseeable back-ups. Predictably, Deadshot’s revamped origin has echoes of the movie. Batman is involved, and we heavily emphasize Flloyd Lawton’s daughter Zoe.

Suicide Squad #1, 2016, Jason FabokJason Fabok has cited Jim Lee as an influence, so I imagine it’s quite a thrill to for him to have his work next to Lee’s. Comparatively, Fabok’s pages come out more polished and clean, while Lee’s work is a bit sketchier than usual. Fabok’s colorist Brad Anderson works with a darker palette, which fits with the more emotional tone, not to mention much of the story taking place in Gotham City. If Lee’s job is to deliver an action-packed “A” story, while Fabok handles the quieter and perhaps more emotional “B” stories, we may have a winning combo on our hands. In that sense, the contrast in styles works very well.

Question: Why is Katana working with the Suicide Squad all of a sudden? Yes, that’s how it was in the movie. But how did it happen in this universe? Maybe that’s a question for a future back-up.

Also, i guess we’re discarding the whole meta-bomb in China thing from Rebirth? Too bad, I liked that story.

If the object of Suicide Squad #1 is to lure in movie viewers and entice them to read future issues, then I’d call it a mild success. I was left wanting more action on Jim Lee’s end. Whether that leaves newcomers anxious for the next issue, or disappointed overall, remains to be seen. But there’s potential here, and they’ve got me coming back at the very least.

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A Suicide Squad In-Depth Review – Will Smith is in This Movie?

Suicide Squad, 2016 film posterTITLE: Suicide Squad
STARRING: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman
DIRECTOR: David Ayer
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Entertainment, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment
RATED: PG-13
RUN TIME: 123 min
RELEASED: August 5, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s not often you go to a movie and forget Will Smith is in it. He’s one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and is the focal point of the marketing for whatever film he’s in. But not Suicide Squad. From a publicity standpoint, this has been all Joker/Harley Quinn, and for good reason.

Based on the comic book series of the same title, Suicide Squad sees government official Amanda Waller assemble a task force of killers and criminals to send on covert missions. They serve as both agents and built-in patsies. Should they refuse an order, Waller detonates a nanite bomb in their bodies. Under the command of Colonel Rick Flag, “Task Force X” consists of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, El Diablo, and a metahuman called the Enchantress. But when the Enchantress loses control of her dual “witch” personality, Waller is forced to call in her team of villains.

So you’re Warner Bros., and you’re trying to match the success Marvel has had at the movies with their shared cinematic universe. You put out a Superman movie, then a Superman/Batman movie. Now third in line is…Suicide Squad? Not Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, or Justice League. But Suicide Squad? In terms of DC Comics, it’s always been a second-string book at best. So why make it part of the foundation of your cinematic universe? Marvel certainly didn’t do anything like that…

Suicide Squad, 2016, team shotThat last point is one of the keys to the vast amount of interest in Suicide Squad. There’s never been a big budget movie quite like this. It’s all about supervillains doing what they do. Who doesn’t love a good villain?

And there’s no better villain in all of pop culture than the Joker. Both superhero buffs and casual moviegoers are fascinated by him. More importantly, from a business perspective the Harlequin of Hate means big box office bucks. When Jack Nicholson played the character in Batman, the movie broke records and pulled in over $411 million. Heath Ledger won an Oscar when he played the part in The Dark Knight, which again broke records with over $1 billion. Even this year’s limited release of the animated version of The Killing Joke made over $3 million.

So in that sense, one can understand why Warner Bros. would want the Joker in Suicide Squad, a film about supervillains the general public has never heard of. What better way to compensate than with the one villain everyone knows?

Sadly, audiences expecting something akin to The Dark Knight will be disappointed. The Joker gets considerably less screen time than the other characters, as the movie isn’t really about him. He’s a supporting character, a role that would undoubtedly infuriate the Clown Prince himself.

Joker, Jared LetoJared Leto’s Joker is interesting to watch, and leaves you wanting more. But his performance lacks the complexity and depth of Ledger’s, or the sheer fun of Nicholson’s. He’s a tattooed Scarface in clown makeup. But it may be unfair to even compare Leto to his predecessors, as he doesn’t get the chance to dominate the film the way they did. But Leto has the chance to evolve his Joker over multiple films. He’s had the less screen time than Nicholson and Ledger. But that’s likely going to change.

Fans of Harley Quinn (and there are many) can rest easy. Margot Robbie performs the character very well. Though let’s be honest: She’s highly sexualized. I’ve never been a fan of sexy Harley Quinn, especially when she’s with the Joker. Her love for him isn’t prominently sexual. For her own twisted reasons, she’s entirely bought in. That’s what gives her the tragic element present in so many Batman villains. Harley is in an abusive relationship. Either she doesn’t realize it or she keeps returning to it, depending on where you are in her story. I’m not sure if she’s, as one reviewer put it, “damaged dolly jerk-off material.” But it unflatteringly simplifies her.

Then again, it looks like damaged dollies make box office bucks too.

Deadshot, Suicide Squad, Will SmithDid we mention Will Smith is in this movie? And it’s better for him being there. Floyd Lawton/Deadshot acts as the film’s moral and emotional compass. Smith is more than qualified to play that role, with his trademark charm to boot. He’s almost the Han Solo of this movie, bringing a much-needed down to Earth perspective and character-driven levity to the proceedings. Without him, the movie would have been as needlessly grim as Batman v Superman.

Suicide Squad has the unenviable task of introducing us to an entire team of supervillains, filling in their backstories, and making us care about them while still keeping its plot going. It accomplishes some of this by formally introducing its main protagonists from the get-go, framed by a dinner scene with Waller. Deadshot and Harley get the most emphasis, obviously. From there, we see flashback scenes as the movie progresses. This strategy is fine, but it negatively impacts part of the movie’s climax.

Diablo, played by Jay Hernandez, isn’t a main character. He’s a fire-starter with a conscience, and makes a big sacrifice during the final battle. But we don’t learn about Diablo’s past until the second half of the film. We’re invested in him, but not nearly as much as we’d have been if we’d gotten this information sooner. Whether this is the case or not, it feels like Diablo’s backstory was shoved in to make the climax more impactful.

El Diablo, Suicide Squad movie, 2016Also, Slipknot (the supervillain, not the band) is shoehorned into this thing for 10 minutes so he can get blown up by one of Waller’s nanite bombs. This was obviously done to establish she wasn’t bluffing. But Slipknot’s purpose in the story is immediately apparent, to the point where his death is almost an eye-roller.

Suicide Squad was clearly influenced by Guardians of the Galaxy, which also got us acquainted with a team of heroes and their world. Guardians used music from the ’60s and ’70s to make its main character quickly recognizable, likable, and familiar. Suicide Squad tries the same trick with music from Credence Clearwater Revival, Eminem, and other artists that go a long way in engaging the audience. After awhile, you can plainly see what they’re doing. But there’s something to be said for keeping things fun, and letting the audience rock out to music they know and love.

Critics haven’t been kind to Suicide Squad, and that’s very much justified. The movie gradually starts to come apart in the third act, before quickly snapping back together at the end. But the movie does deliver something that was sorely lacking from its predecessors, and that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has in spades: Fun. Suicide Squad is a flawed piece of work, and is guilty of objectifying its female lead. But it’s a fun summer popcorn flick that furthers the story of the DC Extended Universe. By and large, it delivers more than Man of Steel or Batman v Superman. That should serve as a lesson to Warner Bros. going forward.

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