Friday, August 29, 2008

FanBoyWonder TPB Spotlight—Suicide Squad: From The Ashes

Okay you can relax now, FanBoyWonder is back. We found ourselves off the grid for the past couple of weeks as a mega-writing project at the day job sucked up all of our available creative writing reserves, to say nothing of our free time outside of the office.

But as we take some vacation time for an extended Labor Day loooong weekend, we’re trying to catch up on some of neglected bloging duties.

We would be remiss in said duties if we failed to point out the release this week into trade paperback (TPB) one of the very best mini-series that DC Comics has put out this year—Suicide Squad: From The Ashes.

Here’s the Upshot from DC Comics: The Suicide Squad makes its triumphant return in this new volume collecting the recent miniseries. But how did team leader Rick Flag Jr. survive a ground-zero nuclear blast and return from the dead?

This eight-issue reunion mini-series collected in TPB recaptures the magic—and then some—of one of the smartest comic book series of the late 1980s-early ‘90s.

The one sentence explanation of Suicide Squad: Think Dirty Dozen meets Mission Impossible with the worst villains of the DC Universe sent on the toughest black-ops missions.

Back in the day, writer John Ostrander—along with frequent collaborator, co-plotter and Ostrander’s late wife, Kim Yale—managed some sophisticated storytelling amid the backdrop of super powers, covert intelligence and Washington politics.

FanBoyWonder was delighted to hear last year that DC had commissioned a new Suicide Squad mini-series with Ostrander as the scribe. There had been at least one or perhaps two attempts to revive the Suicide Squad concept in the years since the Squad’s cancellation in 1992 after a 66 issue, five-year run.

These all-too-forgettable Suicide Squads lacked a key ingredient—John Ostrander. Now back in the saddle for eight issues, we can say without a doubt that he not only didn’t miss a beat but Ostrander’s take on the Squad had actually improved with the years.

‘The Wall’

One of the DC Universe’s most unique and enduring characters, Amanda Waller was a creation of Ostrander during his original run on the Squad. “The Wall” as written by Ostrander is a force of nature. She’s morally compromised and as flawed a character as one can be and NOT be an outright villain.

We came to appreciate Ostrander’s gift of nuance with Waller over the years as we watched other writers—most recently Checkmate’s Greg Rucka—attempt to write Waller and end up with a generic facsimile who was ruthless but without mirth.

The first third of the mini-series focuses on one-time Squad leader Col. Rick Flag, who was “killed” off during the second year of the original series. In “From The Ashes, Ostrander cleverly explains away how Flag did NOT die in a nuclear suicide bomb explosion. Better yet, this is the first time long time Squad readers like us got to REALLY got to know the Rick Flag character.

From the time he was first introduced in the original series, Flag was on the verge of emotionally snapping… until he did in the aforementioned nuke “suicide” bombing of Quarac. With the revival of Rick Flag, Ostrander injects something old and something new into this reunion series at the same time by permitting old-time Squad readers to meet Col. Flag again for the first time.

Best quote of the mini-series: Don’t kid yourself. Your son was a heartless killer who planned and caused the death of innocents. I strangled him to death with my bare hands in a place from which you will never recover his bones. I’m proud of it.” –Flag reacting to the father of Jihad leader Rustam who attacked Flag to avenge his son’s “murder.”

Ostrander never skimped on characterization—whether they were main players or Z-list villain guest stars not long for this world.

Case in point: One time Master-of-Disaster villain and one-time hero Outsider Windfall was plucked out of limbo by Ostrander to be the Squad’s latest cannon fodder. But during a single-page scene where Windfall is talking to the Squad’s shrink, Windfall explains how she tried to go straight and go to college but she ended up wanted for multiple murder when she used her powers to kill the frat boys who legally got away with drugging and gang-raping her.

That one scene gave this obscure character feeling and personality and it made us really invested in her getting through the mission alive to redeem herself. Ostrander made us care about and root for a character who—for storytelling purposes—was a Star Trek Red Shirt.

Ostrander is an old school pro who is good enough to put make is own mark on a story without over-writing somebody else’s previous work.

A word about the art by Javier Pina and Robin Riggs. It was spectacular in an understated way. The Squad NEVER looked better.

Ostrander left the door wide open for a new Squad series but DC seems to be taking a pass. This boggles the mind given the utter crap that makes up their current line up.

In a recent column, Ostrander observed how he and other veteran comics writers over 50 have had a hard time finding work in comic even as they are a the peak of their writing experience and mojo.

There is something deeply flawed in the universe when Judd Winick (no talent, one-trick pony) is the most prolific writer in the DC bullpen while John Ostrander (a proven rainmaker) struggles to find work.

We hope that DC Management reverses course because we know there would be an instant audience for an ongoing Suicide Squad series by written Ostrander (with art by Pina and Riggs?????).

Suicide Squad: From The Ashes—192 pages, $19.99. On sale now. Do yourself a favor and pick it up.


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