Favorite Stories Starring Women: Suicide Squad
|March 20, 2012||Posted by Jess under Comics, Ladytexts|
Women Write About Comics’ “Favorite Stories Starring Women” week, and my exceedingly self-indulgent series of recommendations, continues! Today: Suicide Squad.
John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad ran for 66 issues from 1987 to 1992, with a couple of Ostrander-penned reunions cropping up in more recent years. Made up of supervillains doing time, the rules of the Squad were simple: Go on black ops missions for the US government to work off your sentence. If you obey your superiors – and if you survive, a big “if” where this team is concerned – you eventually walk free. If you step out of line, you get your head blown off, thanks to the chip implanted in it. The whole thing was masterminded and orchestrated by one Amanda Waller, the scariest person in the whole damn DCU.
Amanda Waller was like no one else in comics. She was short, fat, black, middle aged, and female, the mother of five adult kids. She dressed in ugly purple power suits, hair sensibly pulled back. She wasn’t eye candy and she had no superpowers whatsoever.
But she famously made Batman back down the first time they met. She fought mobsters and zombies and gods hand-to-hand, but her real skill was in political skullduggery and plotting brilliant black ops maneuvers: assassinations, extractions, military coups, smoke-and-mirrors cons, the lot.
Ostrander’s Waller is ruthless and unflappable, always one step ahead of everyone else. Yet Ostrander’s triumph is not in making Waller badass, but in making her human. Sure, she’s scary as hell. She’s also, at the end of the day, doing what she believes to be right, whether that’s defying orders or simply surrounding herself with decent people who will keep her from her own worst excesses. Despite the injustices that took her husband and two of her children from her, she loves her country. When she walks through a jungle that brings her demons to life, she sees the faces of dead Squad members, berating her for letting them die.
And though she seems on the face of it to be the least nurturing woman in the world, she offers good sound advice to the conflicted heroic members of her team: Vixen, Nightshade, Bronze Tiger. She gives Barbara Gordon, newly-minted as Oracle, the kind of trust and support Babs was still years away from obtaining from Batman. And, in what was one of the most powerful moments of the series for me, she marches into what she knows is a trap to rescue Rick Flagg’s son, the child of a man she believes she failed.
Suicide Squad is worth reading without Waller, if such a thing can be conceived of – the characters are richly complex, the plots nicely twisty, and the Cold War political machinations both dated and relevant. And there are other awesome female characters: long-running members Vixen and Nightshade are two of my favorites, one-off villains were permitted to be just as ruthless or crazy or screwed up as the men, and, as I mentioned above, this is the series that took a forgotten Batgirl and made her the peerless superhacker and information broker Oracle, a role unlike any in comics and stunningly prescient in the days before the internet.1
But Waller is the heart and the Machiavellian brain of the series. She’s the reason that a dark, morally ambiguous book about politics manages to make my list of favorites in a sea of plucky teen girl heroines and humor comics. She’s just that good.
Where to Buy: The first six issues were collected last year in Suicide Squad Volume 1: Trial By Fire, but the trades were unfortunately canceled after that due to low sales. Suicide Squad: From the Ashes collects an Ostrander-penned miniseries by the same name from 2007.
Related Recs: Greg Rucka’s Checkmate features similar superhero-related political skullduggery and covert ops; Gail Simone’s Secret Six is also about morally ambiguous antiheroes wondering whether or not to trust each other. Both feature lots of ladies, diverse casts, brilliant writing, gorgeous art – oh, and Amanda Waller. Highly recommended. (The less said about Keith Giffen’s 2001 Suicide Squad or the current series – with new Slim ‘n’ Sexy Amanda – the better.)
- Not that I’m bitter. ↩