No one is going to praise Suicide Squad for depicting a multi-cultural group of villains with sensitivity or skill. Although early reviews of the film say it’s a bit of a mess, sprinkled with interesting character moments, one critique rising through the noise is racial insensitivity. The only Asian character in the film, for instance, is named Katana, the Latino hero is a named Diablo and is a gang leader, and the Australian villain is named Captain Boomerang. It’s an anti-Justice League constructed, in part, out of cultural stereotypes, and critics say the film isn’t smart or self-referential enough to do anything with the antiquated character names.
This article contains spoilers.
In the comics realm, DC has doubled down on several of its Suicide Squad members, tossing some of its minor characters — the ones not wearing shiny, brightly colored hot pants — into solo series. While Diablo, whose real name is Chato Santana, may not seem like the most likely character to lead a Suicide Squad spin-off comic, he’s given just enough room in Suicide Squad Most Wanted: El Diablo and Boomerang to breathe.
In the first few panels, we see Deadshot ordering the Squad to destroy a church as part of a mission, and Diablo looks at him incredulously. “But…it’s a church,” he says, and Deadshot points out that the congregation had been brainwashed. “Burn it!” he insists, and in the next two panels, we see Diablo’s pouty face and Christ on the cross, licked with supernatural flames. This moment definitely feels like the beginning of some strong storytelling, but the comic fumbles in the follow-through.
Diablo mulls over burning the church down with a priest, and is told his work with the Suicide Squad might be helping him cope with his past transgressions. The half-page splash which depicts Diablo thanking the priest is almost comically triumphant, as Cliff Richards and Hi Fi depict him from below, tattooed hands on hips.
The drama in this first issue, of course, comes from Amanda Waller demanding Diablo work yet another mission for her, before he’s allowed free. The conversation with Waller is notable because she tells him, “You think gang,” which is what she apparently needs, as opposed to a soldier who, as she puts it, “thinks military.” Waller orders new super villains to beat the stuffing out of Diablo when he spits in her face, he negotiates the terms of his captivity a bit more, and returns to East LA only to be confronted by a creepy demon-dude named Bloodletter.
Bloodletter, before attacking Diablo in his parents’ home, asks, “how’d you get your powers,” and Diablo says, “I died,” before bursting into flame. He also repeats Waller’s words, telling Bloodletter he’ll lose because he “thinks military.” In a disturbing decision, Diablo burns down his parents’ house entirely to kill Bloodletter, which doesn’t even work.
All in all, DC delivers an intriguing origin-story-of-sorts for a character who still feels relatively stereotypical. He’s Diablo, so he “thinks gang” and is Catholic, right? That’s about all DC managed to give him in 20 pages: no individual quirks or defining characteristics, and it’s a disappointment, coming from comic book writer Jai Nitz. Nitz did great work on Batman, Blue Beetle, and another iteration of Diablo, which painted him as a haunted horseman in the American West. Following Diablo into future issues might present a more nuanced look at a character who could do interesting things for Latinx representation in superhero stories.
On the other side of the possibly-racist coin, Captain Boomerang’s origin story is written by Michael Moreci, with art by Oscar Bazaldua, Scott Hana, and Beth Sotelo. Boomerang’s story, aided by the comedic voices of the other Squad members, rings significantly more vibrant and funny than Diablo’s half of the Most Wanted issue, though admittedly Diablo’s is more emotionally resonant. Boomerang lets down Harley, Deadshot, and the gang, disappearing into South America and teaming up with Breaker while fighting some meta-humans on the side.
The second half of Most Wanted isn’t an origin story at all, and it does more to softly reboot the Squad as a group. It’s unclear why Diablo and Boomerang were mashed together in this way — a very quick look at Killer Croc and Katana in the group panels suggest they might have been better options for solo comic runs — but the effect isn’t detrimental to the story, so much as a tad perplexing. DC fans, whether they’re charmed by the Suicide Squad film or not, have a lot to look forward to, following these characters through their comic book series in 2016.
It looks like the Suicide Squad might be a little more interesting when the Squad is disassembled, which may have been one of the problems in DC’s film. Either way, as with most things superhero-related, the comics are the superior text for fans.
Suicide Squad Most Wanted: El Diablo And Boomerang hits comic book stands August 10.*