“I’m not joining your Suicide Squad.”
Despite Idris Elba’s sentiments in the newest trailer for James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, Bloodsport (aka, the man who put Superman in the hospital with a kryptonite bullet) does indeed find himself part of the DC Extended Universe’s new lineup of rogues.
He should consider himself lucky, because if the enthusiasm for Gunn’s entry into the DCEU is any indication, the Suicide Squad is the team to be on, especially for C and D-list characters otherwise destined for comic book obscurity.
“The appeal of comics is getting introduced to the forgotten or rejected characters.”
While there’s clearly lots of interest in seeing more all-star team-ups — the likes of which the Justice League or Marvel’s Avengers can provide — The Suicide Squad provides the DCEU with an opportunity to tap into some of DC Comics stranger and less traversed waters.
As much as I love DC A-listers like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman (I’ll never say no to more Batman on film, be it Affleck, Keaton, or Pattinson), part of the appeal of comics is getting introduced to the forgotten or rejected characters, the ones who aren’t appearing in a monthly book, the ones who allow for some of DC Comics’ stranger and less grounded history to be explored.
The Suicide Squad has the potential to get the most out of the DCEU.
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The Suicide Squad doesn’t exactly feature an A-list lineup of characters. You’ve got:
- Polka-Dot Man
- Arm-Fall-Off Boy
If you’ve never heard of most of these names, well, you’re probably not alone. But there’s an opportunity to reinvent these C-listers — and reinvent the entire DCEU along the way.
In the same way that Jason Momoa and James Wan were able to elevate Aquaman’s status beyond references to the Super-Friends, James Gunn has the same opportunity with this rogue’s gallery. For the most part, he’s also free from audience expectations of how these characters are supposed to be — unlike previous DCEU directors Zack Snyder and David Ayer.
No one — at least no one spends time outdoors — is overly concerned with how accurate the Polka-Dot Man or Blackguard is to the comics. Harley Quinn aside, Gunn has a lot of freedom to make these characters connect on screen in the way they haven’t in the comics.
I don’t expect Peacemaker to gain the popularity of Batman, but he could at least get the Harley Quinn treatment (planned HBO Max series included). Gunn seems invested in expanding the DCEU beyond each character’s direct connection to Batman — a necessary evolution if DC ever wants its film franchise to feel as expansive as Marvel’s.
Gunn isn’t concerned with approaching comic book concepts from a grounded place either. The emotions are grounded, but the power-sets and threats needn’t be. It seems unlikely that any major theatrical Justice League film would pit the team against a bizarre villain like Starro (despite the giant, alien, telepathic starfish being the threat that brought the original team together in the comics), but in Gunn’s film, no concept or character feels too wacky or obscure to be off the table. Somewhat counterintuitively, this raises the stakes of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad.
Ayer’s movie may not have been a hit with critics, but it was a box office success and a film I personally enjoy, despite still longing to see Ayer’s original vision. What Ayer did was establish the foundation and get the concept of the Suicide Squad into the pop culture lexicon for non-comic readers. But, as seems like the film’s intention, his Suicide Squad feels like more a Batman spin-off than its own distinct property.
Almost everything in Suicide Squad ties back to Batman, from Deadshot, to Harley Quinn, to Jared Leto’s Joker, to Bruce Wayne himself. Even the film’s setting, Midway City, feels like an extension of Gotham’s aesthetic. Ayer’s film is directly influenced by the New 52 Suicide Squad of 2010, which featured a roster of characters who were edgier than previous versions.
Gunn’s The Suicide Squad smartly refrains from erasing the previous film (all the marketing makes it clear this is more of a sequel than a reboot). Gunn is using Ayer’s foundation and expanding outward and upward, capturing a larger picture of the DC Universe and going back to Jon Ostrander’s global, Dirty Dozen-inspired depiction of the Suicide Squad from the 1980 and ‘90s.
Therein lies the beauty of The Suicide Squad.
As a longtime comics reader, the Suicide Squad is one of my favorite concepts from DC Comics. Jon Ostrander’s comics, a reimagining of the military vs. monsters Silver Age concept of the same name, gave the spotlight to characters who, even as villains, were underdogs. But more than that, Ostrander gave us a reason to care about the bad guys beyond their ability to cause headaches for the central heroes in their own books.
Looking back at his run, currently collected across a series of trade paperbacks, you’ll find not only some of the best action to emerge from that era of comic storytelling but issues devoted to exploring the psychology and backstory of individual members of that team. From Deadshot’s suicidal ideation to Nightshade’s guilt over a massacre of innocent people, readers were asked, if not to sympathize with the villains, then at least empathize with them.
Gunn appears to be taking that same approach. After all, his filmography — from his Troma days to Slither, Super, and the Guardians of the Galaxy films — is defined by making audiences fall in love with beautiful monsters and rejects. If Gunn succeeds in making us love his Suicide Squad, then there’s no limit to the characters we could eventually see in the DCEU.
Think Arm-Fall-Off Boy is weird? Just wait until we get Kite Man or Flamingo or Tweedledee & Tweedledum or Film Freak
These characters, who moviegoers have never seen before and don’t have clear-cut parallels in the Marvel universe, could entice new readers to DC Comics.
The Suicide Squad doesn’t just have the potential to be an ode to DC Comics past but to set the stage for its future as well. Who knows, maybe even the villainous Condiment King will make his theatrical debut one day. And if he does, we’ll have James Gunn’s movie to thank.
Thanks for reading, and as always, keep your mind in The Gutter!
The Suicide Squad releases August 6 in theaters and on HBO Max.