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Suicide Squad #20 – Review: Kale Shakes and Bludgeonings. Which Is More Gross?

What? King Shark has to balance out all those people he eats.The new creative team of Ales Kot and Patrick Zircher kick off their run on Suicide Squad, injecting a strong sense of character that had been woefully absent from the series since the New 52 began. This is a step up for Suicide Squad, and hopefully, future issues will reward the optimism this issue garners.

Kot is following the work of Adam Glass, who wrote Suicide Squad since the first issue. I was there for those early issues and was far from impressed. The action was often senseless as was the sexualization of female characters. Two of the big controversies from the start of the New 52 came from this book. While DC higher-ups were paying lipservice to the idea of downplaying the sexualization of its female characters, Suicide Squad presented us with a streetcorner-esque new costume for Harley Quinn and Amanda Waller with the body of a supermodel. Beyond the sex and violence, there wasn’t much else to in terms of storytelling and characterization. I’m even hesitant to refer to it as Michael Bay-style comics, because while all those things are generally true of Bay’s movies, there tends to be at least something he does to still make it all entertaining in a vapid, popcorn-munching way. Glass’ Suicide Squad was an unworthy successor to John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad and unworthy spiritual successor to Gail Simone’s Secret Six.

It was, however, a modest success for the New 52. It settled into a low but survivable bracket of sales while most of its peers fell into the abyss. It even continues to outperform many of the books that came in to replace its fallen peers. So clearly, Suicide Squad has an audience.

Kot’s first issue here is a great opportunity for that audience to grow. He starts slow, using Waller’s attempt to mentally assess and control what remains of the team to give readers a sense of the characters the book never really had. It’s a nicely done introduction.

Glass’ last issue brought in the Unknown Soldier as a new factor to shake up the team, but it turns out Kot has a different character in mind for that role. Unknown Soldier remains as Waller’s loyal and ruthless muscle. Much of the mystery concerning him remains too. However, this issue brings in another new addition who steals the spotlight. If Unknown Soldier’s the brawn, this character is the brains at Waller’s disposal.

I approve of Harley Quinn's new costume.
The addition of James Gordon Jr. definitely spices things up, and he would have made a far better WTF month surprise than the blank slate that is the Unknown Soldier. I do have some concerns, though. James’ reintroduction to the DC Universe in Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics run was brilliant stuff, but the character then got overdone in Batgirl. The character could really use a rest. Hopefully, his service to Waller here will as part of an ensemble cast will serve to give him some breathing room.

Also, this is another example of what I’ve talked about before. When in doubt, DC goes for more Batman. Here we have another Batman character joining Deadshot and Harley Quinn on the cast. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Suicide Squad, but I thought I’d point it out.

Now, force him to regrow his facial hair!While Waller’s goal in this issue is to basically break the team down in order to get better control over them, it really doesn’t seem like that is what she and James are able to accomplish. If anything, the process reveals that the team is even more volatile than ever. One character, who no one will likely miss, doesn’t survive the ordeal. King Shark turns out to be more complex than previously believed. Deadshot is pushed to the point where he really has nothing to lose by lashing out. And perhaps most importantly, Harley Quinn is elevated from team slut to possibly the most dangerous wildcard of them all.

Zircher’s art is an excellent fit for the book. He has always been an appealing superhero artist, but recent years and the use of heavier shadowing have given him a good handle on the more grounded and dark stuff like this. He shows off a good handle on all the characters, especially Harley Quinn. You’ve got to love her kitty pajamas.

Suicide Squad gets a new lease on life with its new creative team. The strong characterization, intense violence and dark humor present here are what I, and many other fans, were hoping to see back when the New 52 first launched this title. Anyone who previously gave this book a try and found it wanting should make another pass. Kot and Zircher may be starting something here worthy of the book’s predecessors.



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