Taking Pride in the Suicide Squad Movie
When editors are doing their jobs, they get the best out of their talent. Sometimes that means picking the talent and unleashing them, much as I did with Grant Morrison and Richard Case on Doom Patrol. Other times, you get marching orders and like them or not, you produce as professional and commercial a project as you can which I did on numerous occasions. Every now and then, though, you’re in on the moment of creation and magic happens.
An editor’s role in a new series is often hard to pinpoint but once you know their style you can see their fingerprints. For example, Julie Schwartz’s women were working women, independent and not at all in need of rescuing. So, while Bob Kanigher may have brainstormed with Schwartz about dousing Barry Allen in chemicals turning him into the Flash, you know Iris West working for Picture News was Julie’s notion. He did it again with Jean Loring in The Atom, Carol Ferris in Green Lantern, and even when the woman was married to the eponymous hero, as happened in Hawkman, Shiera Hall was still working at the Midway museum.
I was reminded of all this as I was beaming with pride the last week or so since Variety broke the casting news for a 2016 film to be based on Suicide Squad. Did I create the title? No, that was done by Kanigher for The Brave and the Bold, working with artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. The try-out failed to earn the team their own title but the name was too good to lay around unused.
I did, though, mention my fascination with it to John Ostrander in the summer of 1985. We met when the First Comics and DC Comics booths were adjacent to one another at the Atlanta Fantasy Fair. We shared a cab from the airport to the hotel, discovering how much we liked one another, and the conversation continued all weekend long. John, a playwright turned comics writer, had been knocking at DC’s door but no one was answering. Over a meal, he mentioned he had a great idea for the Challengers of the Unknown so I asked him to write it up, knowing full well I had a similar pitch on hand from Mark Evanier. I presented both to Executive Editor Dick Giordano and he tapped Evanier’s version for development.
John and I spent some time on the phone as summer became fall and during one such conversation, I tossed out Suicide Squad as a name in need of a concept. John took it, found the original issues, and came back with the idea of Rick Flag being the sole survivor from the previous team and called back into action. Then the notion that the team be super-villains in a Dirty Dozen story developed and we both got excited at the possibilities. Individually, we poured through Who’s Who and listed characters, both heroes and villains, who might be willing to take on jobs for the government that likely meant death.
That December, Crisis of the Soul, the company-wide follow-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths imploded and a replacement series was needed quickly. Dick had just recruited Mike Gold away from First Comics and was bringing Ostrander with him. He saw Legends as the perfect place with which to spinoff our book. He was promised a series as a reward and this was it, so before he even wrote up the pitch, it was virtually approved.
The villains chosen were designed to be ones we could run with, not worrying too much about the host title demanding them back unscathed. For example, with Batman being revamped under Denny O’Neil and Frank Miller, then Max Allan Collins, none were interested in Deadshot so we grabbed him and turned him into the most complex member of the team. (And I find it fascinating that he will be played by Will Smith, who I worked with a wee bit back on the After Earth project – small world.) With Barry Allen dead (at the time), the new Flash, Wally West would get his own rogues so Captain Boomerang was up for grabs and we decided he was just silly enough to become the point of jokes, his degenerate nature earning him the nickname :Boomerbutt”. Mindboggler and Plastique were castoffs from other titles while no one had done much with the Bronze Tiger since Denny had him kill (the first) Batwoman a decade earlier. The Enchantress was a seldom seen villain since the early 1970s when she fought Supergirl. Dick was looking for a home for the various Charlton heroes DC acquired so I grabbed Nightshade who needed a reason to exist so we had her agree to work with the team in exchange for their help, a promise that paid off during the second year.
John’s series pitch arrived in early 1986 and while we discussed which established characters to use, he floored me with the supporting players who ran the prison at Belle Reve, where the team would be housed. He even threw in a pilot for Sheba, the helicopter I asked for since it would get the characters from place to place in a plausible manner. And this is where John made the series his own, enriching the concept with a deep set of players he could control while the villains and fallen heroes came and went, ones he could kill, maim, or marry while the others were returned to their host books.
While Dick suggested Luke McDonnell to be pencilling, inker Karl Kesel, colorist Carl Gafford, and letterer Todd Klein all asked to be a part of the project once they heard about it and that was a rare occurrence that I continue to celebrate. Howard Chaykin was looking for quick cover work and he graciously knocked out our first cover one afternoon in Andy Helfer’s office (and he gifted me with the original). Few expected the book to succeed but it was critically acclaimed and modestly commercially successful enough to survive over five years with repeated resurrections through this day/
As a result, it is with tremendous pride I see that the film is using Rick Flag, Deadshot, Boomerang, and Enchantress from our initial run. And yes, The Wall will be present and given the actresses under consideration, she will have a far more intimidating presence than what we see in the New 52 or even Angela Bassett’s turn in Green Lantern. Of course, reflecting current tastes and interests, Harley Quinn has been added to the mix. The Joker, though, may be in the cast but he’s, literally, a wild card. Is he on the team? Is he the team’s goal? All I can say, Jared Leto will make a good match for Ben Affleck’s Batman and with both being 42, the each will carry the world-weariness of their age-old confrontations whenever they inevitably meet on screen.
John’s name will likely be in the credits as he deserves; mine won’t since I was on staff and DC gets the credit. For John’s take on the casting, check out his ComicMix column.)But, trust me, no one will be happier sitting in the theater than yours truly.