Search This Blog

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Cover Story - Top 15 Suicide Squad Covers

If you liked this article, please like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and please consider Donating to keep the blog going

Edited by Robert Beach 

Suicide Squad is finally upon us, and surprise, surprise, it’s pretty bad. I haven’t seen it yet, but the critical consensus has been overwhelmingly negative, to the point where Warner Bros. is already gearing up to damage control on Wonder Woman and talk up more Harry Potter spin-off movies. This move is all in the case this whole DC Entertainment Universe thing is a giant boondoggle. It’s a shame because I’m quite a fan of the Suicide Squad comics. 

Not the New 52 series, rather the late ‘80s series by Ostrander or the 2000s comic from Keith Giffen. Given that, and my pathological obsession with topicality, it’s Suicide Squad day here as we dive into the shallow end and get the cover story on the top 15 Suicide Squad comic covers.

Okay, yes, I know I just opened this feature by stating I don’t care for the New 52 series. It’s not my favorite, but this cover deserves a spot here. This cover is the most simplistic cover design of the list, in so much as the visual is literal. With only a few flourishes of metaphorical language, the cover combines that and an out-and-proud craziness. It’s still a really good visualization of the Suicide Squad as a concept with a lot of quality details fitted into a single image even if the central conceit of the design is a little suspect.

I love the color work on the skeleton, blending red and orange as augmenting cover the black of the bones. I’m not sure why he’s holding a hand grenade.  The design of the cover might imply an explosion. If that’s the case, he wouldn’t be holding the grenade; it would’ve exploded. 

I also like the giant target behind him that’s exploding into the blend of light and orange background colors. The target neatly implies an explosion while keeping the crosshairs logo. The photos are also a nice touch. The way the profiles flutter downward with singed edges evokes the sense of an aftermath to a devastating event. It’s a solid cover if not necessarily as memorable as what’s to come.

Now we’re talking. Get that meta weirdness in here. In case it’s not immediately obvious, we’ve got an instance of one of my favorite visual gimmicks in cover design: the sliced cover by an unseen hand and allowing us to see inside the book.  

I delight in these kinds of gimmicks. It’s a cheap concept, though there’s something innately wonderful about it, owing to the nature of how it utilizes the medium. This is such a specific gag because only in comic books does the visual language of the medium support this joke. You can’t cut open and look into a movie or a book. This only works because there are more pictures on the inside of the book. 

This is one of the ‘80s comic run when the Suicide Squad was this weird and insane pitch that came out of nowhere to be a cult classic comic hit. The thing that’s chopping up the cover is a character known as “Jihad,” a terrorist from the fictional country Quarac who wielded a flaming scimitar.   

He was a common foe of the Squad at the time as part of the nation’s burgeoning interest in seeing Middle Eastern extremists as villains. Mind you, this all took place not long after Joker was made the Iranian ambassador to the UN; it was the flavor of the era. 

I’m not sure I’d call this a “gimmick” cover. At the very least, it’s an imaginative cover. Our main character here is Captain Boomerang, an Australian thief who usually fights The Flash because “boomerang vs. super-speed” made sense back in the ‘60s.  He’s viewed as one of Flash’s more beloved, but quite incompetent, rogues in the same vein as Turtle Man. The other guy you can make out in the background of the cover is Mirror Master, a much more powerful Rogue who had all kinds of deadly mirror-based technology after discovering a bizarre nexus linking all mirrors of the world. 

Mirrors are the central reference point of this cover. The shattered background design meant to imitate the set-up of a broken mirror, hence why Mirror Master is in the same pose as Boomerang. The whole image cuts to one of the exciting explorations of the comic: the way the Suicide Squad was received by the supervillain community. 

This is one of those ideas comics really master: there are communities of professional super villains who hang out, network, and form relationships. It’s the benefit of having a shared universe, and it automatically gives you a greater amount of stories to be told. In this case, this story explores how Boomerang’s fellow Flash foes respond to him working for the government. 

Now you get a better look at Jihad and his flaming scimitar. The guy crouching in a wholly unnatural position is Rick Flag, the Squad’s leader, and lone normal guy. He’s one of the only parts of the team that dates back to the Squad’s origin in the ‘60s.  See, Ostrander’s Suicide Squad wasn’t the first time the name was used. 

The first appearance of the name came back before the superhero boom of the ‘60s when DC flirted with other genres like westerns, weird science, and military stories. They occasionally combined these and one of their more popular pitches was about a team of military operatives who stumbled on an island of dinosaurs; their name was the Suicide Squad. 
Rick Flag was the name of the Squad’s original leader with this Rick Flag being retconned as the son of the original, making him Rick Flag Jr.  

I’m not sure why he insists on wearing such a dorky costume (is that a leather bracelet?), but he was always a fun part of the book. What sells this cover, aside from the fun action shot, is the structural design of the countdown clock and inter-title. See, there’s a series of clock displays counting down the side of the cover, finally coming to a close in a nuclear blast that starts the words “Stone Cold Dead.” It’s a clever bit of alignment that manages to get the message across without cluttering the action. 

As I just mentioned, the Suicide Squad and Dinosaurs have pretty much always gone together. And this cover, from the 2000s revival series, is a great example of how DC loves to pay homage to that origin. The island full of dinosaurs from the original Suicide Squad adventure became a consistent part of DC’s geography known as Dinosaur Island, obviously enough. It pops up a lot, especially regarding DC’s war heroes-turned-super heroes, which was a big part of the revival series’ ethos. 

This series ditched the more popular Amanda Waller as the head of the Squad (among a lot of other changes) and brought back the DC war horse Sergeant Rock as the squad’s leader. Created in the war comic boom of the ‘60s, Sergeant Rock was the head of Easy Company during World War 2 and is usually the character DC tries to turn into their answer to Nick Fury. 

He’s a salty old war horse who’s useful to throw around when more villainous folks like General Eiling (Captain Atom, JLA) or General Lane (Superman) aren’t available. He’s on this cover, the guy on the right, as this story is about him leading Easy Company to fight dinosaurs on a tropical island to help Rip Hunter, the time master from Legends of Tomorrow.

In case you only know the Suicide Squad from the movies, here's a few things: this is what DeadShot looks like. I don’t have an opinion one way or the other regarding altering the character’s race, the vision of DeadShot from the film is just Will Smith. It’s hard to say if that version of the character brings anything new to the concept. In any event, it doesn’t matter. We’re here for weird and awesome covers, not race controversies, and man is this cover ever great.

This is some classic Silver Age cover construction with the emphasis on the visual being the insane weirdness at hand of having DeadShot fighting DeadShot. Obviously, this could be achieved by someone else just stealing his costume. Given we don’t know for sure, I like to assume it’s a cloning situation. That’s the whole point of the cover: the mystery is so obviously weird and undefined, you, the audience, will fill in the blanks with whatever’s most exciting to you. I do wonder why mask-less Dead Shot is sporting a revolver rather than his wrist-mounted guns, but it’s probably just more cloning shenanigans. 

It’s a team called Suicide Squad, defined by the high likelihood of death. You had to know zombies were going to be involved in this. I’m not exactly sure why these folks are all zombies. Pretty much all of these characters usually survive the missions, but I’m sure it all makes sense in context. 

I do like for the double-sized 50th issue special the creative team decided to mark the occasion with hideous undead versions of the main characters. That’s a bold move. Incidentally, most folks might not be familiar with this now because a lot of modern comic series tend to get restarted before the 20-issue mark. Back in the day, comics always made a really big deal out of milestone issues like #50 or #100. 

If you’re looking to identify the characters at hand, I'll help out. Captain Boomerang, Amanda Waller, and Dead Shot you already know, but the woman lurking between Dead Shot and Boomerang is Nightshade, who has mystic shadow powers. The guy between Dead Shot and Amanda Waller is Bronze Tiger, a martial artist who’s been on Arrow a few times. And finally, on the far left side is Nemesis, a male Black Widow who once dated Wonder Woman for a time.

Hope you don’t have a fear of ants because this cover is just terrifying (I speak from experience here.) As you might be able to tell from this design, the 2000s Suicide Squad comic was a very different beast from the Ostrander series, though there were some areas of overlap. Both comics always did a good job not taking themselves too seriously, but Ostrander’s book was much more of an espionage thriller-type story where they fought terrorists and the Russians. The 2000s comic was a lot more insane with its monsters like hidden civilizations and killer army ants. 

The other thing this cover speaks to from that series is the way a lot more people died in it. Where Ostrander’s team usually survived their missions, Suicide Squad 2000s made a point to have almost the entire team die in every issue; it was brutal. For context, this series was set in the Luthor White House, so a new and improved Suicide Squad with high body counts and moral ambiguity just made more sense for the time. 

Hey, it’s another Sergeant Frank Rock cover. This series was good to him. Actually, this cover is from one of the weirder storylines of the comic. Overall, this book was about giving the Squad a new origin, so the idea became that each mission everyone but one character would get killed. 

In the third series, Rock assembled a crew of “survivors” from all the previous missions to go on a high-stakes assault on a small mystic nation that had recently declared war on the US.  Conveniently, the survivor team happened to match most of the Squad’s more popular members like Dead Shot and Killer Frost.

As for this cover, I love the way this book worked to turn Rock into DC’s answer to Nick Fury. The cigar-chomping character design is straight out of the grizzled World War 2 badass playbook, and the visage of him burning some form of atomic post card with his cigar is absolutely delightful. I don’t think we ever got a good answer as to how the Rock was still kicking after fighting in World War 2. Based on this image, I can only assume he’s physically sustained through the ages by the power of sheer awesomeness. 

Well, this is just delightful. Something that made the 2000s series such a delight is that it kept the weird and whack-y sense of humor that informed the previous comic. If anything, Suicide Squad in the 2000s had even darker sensibilities than its predecessor, using the patently disposable nature of most of its characters to set-up seriously grizzly death gags. This particular cover is a good example of the sense of humor at hand as well as the weird relationship the comic had with the mythos around the Squad.

At this point, the Suicide Squad had proven a vaunted and successful part of the DC universe with an established roster of characters and aesthetic stylings. The 2000s comic was looking to both exploit that iconography as well as undermine it. That's what’s happening here with DeadShot returning to the Squad to threaten to murder one of the new characters. I’m also sure the cover is a visual pun based on having your cake and eating it too, which is damn clever.

Story time: this character is called Oracle, her real name Barbara Gordon. If you don’t know her, she was Batgirl for a time before the Joker shot her through the stomach and paralyzed her from the waist down in one of the most popular Batman comics The Killing Joke.  

In the wake of that event, DC was a little unsure what to do with her before Ostrander brought her into Suicide Squad and started her down the road of rehabilitation. Later, she took the name Oracle and became a superhero hacker, the nerve center of the superhero community’s digital information and technology as well as the leader of the Birds of Prey. 

Oracle is one of my favorite characters of all time, and this is a great cover for her. Sure, she’s using a gun, but I don’t have a problem with that. Yes, she’s Batgirl, and as such part of the Bat family, she’s also the daughter of a cop and her taking up a firearm fits that background.  

What’s more, that gun is amazing. Look at the barrel; it’s HUGE. It looks bigger than her arm. What really sells the cover has to be that little speech balloon. If you don’t know, “Smile” is what the Joker said to Barbara right before shooting her. I'm not sure whom she’s pointing this gun at. What I am sure of is we’ll never find their body. 

Another sobering look into the darker side of the 2000s series. As I said, this was a comic that featured permanent death, usually through the tactic of having Z-grade villains made up especially for the comic. That was all well and good for giving folks outrageous cannon fodder to laugh at in death. That doesn’t mean there weren’t legitimate causalities as well. There’s a very good reason Sergeant Rock manned this version of the Suicide Squad. He knows how to take losses in battle and keep going. 

Aside from the neat visual conception of a guy laying on the logo (I’m a sucker for artists playing around with logos), this is just a superbly chilling and affecting image. The dead soldier is an unnerving concept as well as another clever reference back to the original military-themed version of these characters. It’s especially shocking to see his blood splattered across the logo. The whole thing is a brilliantly crafted reminder of the black comedy of this comic. Suicide Squad is still glib, but it’s still addressing a very dark subject matter. It let you forget that.

And we go right back to comedy for some serious tonal whiplash.  I’m fairly certain this cover is a direct inspiration to the DeadShot and cake close-up cover we saw earlier in the list (#6). While I usually don’t care for close-ups like this, I think it works here; the cover finds interesting things to do with DeadShot's bland visage. 

Rather than just have him shove his mug in our face, he’s pointing his gun right at us, and I like that his target is reflected in his weird bionic eye thing. That speech balloon is delightful as well, I always love speech balloons on cover, and of course, he’s making a pun, which is a huge plus in this comic’s favor.

What I love about this is that the guy DIDN’T miss Dead Shot. If you look carefully, you can see he’s been shot right in the head. There’s a small mark directly above his left eye that’s clearly a bullet wound from where he got shot, and the bullet ricocheted off his helmet. That is incredibly hardcore that this guy can get shot in the head and just walk it off like it’s nothing.  That’s why he’s the world’s greatest assassin right there. 

These last two covers are going to be going damn heavy on Amanda Waller, the woman who started the Suicide Squad and hands down one of the most kick-ass women in all of comics. You’ll see more of what I mean with the #1 pick. Trust me; this lady is a superhero in her right with how incredibly powerful and deadly she is. If Storm is the first step toward great women of color as superheroes, Amanda Waller is the definitive giant leap. This cover is a great twist on her and her role. In the Ostrander series, the Suicide Squad always existed as a somewhat nebulous organization with a lot of uncertainty about how legal they were. 

It was always understood that the whole “plausible deniability” thing that led to press-ganging supervillains extended upwards as well. And this cover brings that sense totally home to roost.  Amanda Waller has most often been visually defined pulling people out of jail, but here she is in handcuffs and being escorted by two of the evilest-looking cops imaginable.  It’s a serious "dark night of the soul" type image that throws Waller into the same dank hole she so often threatened to leave her team in. 

It’s become something of a modern cliché that the ultimate signifier of coolness in the DC universe is standing up to Batman.  I’m not sure if that’s totally fair given that Batman’s been outsmarted by preteens and Mexican wrestlers. It is what it is, and there’s no better use of this trope than Amanda Waller driving the Bat right up the wall. She’s that god damn awesome.  

What’s so great here is that she doesn’t even need to resort to physical force to intimidate Batman like Green Lantern or Aquaman do. She just has to come at him with the full force of a super successful black woman in the modern world, and Batman folds like a cheap lawn chair. 

It’s a great testament to how little the creators needed to compromise their vision of Amanda Waller to make her powerful.  She’s still a short, overweight lady in this cover, but she marshals a fury like unto the destruction of a billion suns. She doesn’t need to throw a punch, doesn’t need to be attractive, doesn't even need any powers, all she needs to turn Batman into a little punk is her strength and power; it doesn’t get any more bad ass than that.

If you liked this article, please like us on 
Facebook or follow us on Twitter and please consider Donating to keep the blog going 

No comments:

Post a Comment