RETRO REVIEW: Suicide Squad #22 (January 1989)

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Or – “Back In The Day With The OLD New DC…”

The late 80’s were a great time to be a comics reader, especially in terms of DC.  Having revamped and relaunched their entire universe (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?), they had begun bringing back characters who had been sidelined during the previous decades, and putting new spins on characters who had once been given the short end of the stick.  It didn’t last very long (the mid-90’s were a dark time for all comics) but while it lasted, there was a lot of brilliance on display…

SUICIDE SQUAD #22
Writer: John Ostrander
Penciler: Luke McDonnell
Inker: Karl Kesel
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Robert Greenberger
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $1.00
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00

Previously, in Suicide Squad: Amanda Waller’s life taught her one thing:  To survive, you get mean.  When she ascended to control of Task Force X, she channelled that mean streak in to iron-fisted control of some of the DCU’s most unpleasant criminals (as well as a few bruised heroes) into her own Suicide Squad, a team that handles missions that superheroes or soldiers couldn’t, shouldn’t or wouldn’t.  Unfortunately, her profile was high enough that one of her own former lackeys went rogue, using his knowledge of Task Force X as a political bargaining chip, and forcing Amanda’s hand.  Unfortunately for Lackey Tolliver, angering Amanda Waller is a bad idea, and has led quite a few men straight to a shallow grave.  When Tolliver began blackmailing her, Amanda called together her Squad…

The situation is dire, and complicated by the fact that the Suicide Squad’s ramrod, Rick Flag (never the most stable of individuals) has set out to kill Tolliver to keep the Squad a secret, even though Amanda had a plan to keep the minor functionary in check.  The true joy of Ostrander’s Suicide Squad always comes in the character interactions, as the heroes and villains didn’t always get along, and often rubbed each other completely raw, something which was pretty unique in those days…

In many ways, Suicide Squad was a glimpse into the future of comics, as well as the future of the DC Universe.  With Flag’s best friend, Bronze Tiger, leading the team, the Suicide Squad is sent out with the mandate to bring their rogue topkick back in, and keep him from murdering Tolliver and his boss, Senator Cray.  Her manipulation of the heroes of the team is brilliant as well, pointing out to Bronze Tiger that the villainous members of the team don’t have any stake in bringing his pal back alive.  Of course, that does raise another question that the Tiger has to answer…

Vixen’s presence on this team was always fascinating to me, seeing the former Justice Leaguer knee-deep in psychos and murderers, and her pretty much doomed relationship with the Bronze Tiger is a highlight of mid-period S.S. stories.  Unfortunately for Amanda, by the time her team is in the wind, Flag has already killed Tolliver in cold blood, and arranged a clandestine meeting with the Senator on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial…

Will Rick Flag be able to pull the trigger on a mostly-harmless United States Senator in order to keep his new life and “family” under wraps?  Amanda Waller seems to think so, refusing to call in the police on her almost-friend, hoping that the members of the Suicide Squad can pull him back from the brink of madness.

Enter: Deadshot.

Upon reading this issue, those many years ago, I clearly recall the intense feeling of “HOLY CRAP!” upon seeing this panel.  There had been many shocking moments in this book, but never had one of the protagonists gone quite so far around the bend, and given that Deadshot was sent out to try and keep Flag from murdering Senator Cray, the unexpected twist was (to say the least) surprising.  Worse still, Deadshot is in the middle of a complete mental breakdown, believing that he has just murdered his abusive father, shooing Rick Flag away before he kills him, too.

And then…  It got worse.

This is Deadshot’s first Bolivian Army ending, though not his last, and it is a miracle that he survives the hail of police bullets.  A couple of hours of surgery later, Deadshot awakens to find a highly pissed Amanda Waller in his face…

Know what makes the whole thing even worse?  The information that Rick Flag wanted to protect GETS OUT ANYWAY.  By the end of the issue, the Suicide Squad has been outed (although, this being the DCU, an alien invasion pushes them off the front pages) and things have to change, leading to a new paradigm for the various reprobates and lunatics that Amanda gravitates towards.  This whole series is dark, it’s merciless, and it has no fear in showing the dirty side of spycraft and politics, well ahead of it’s time.  Propelled by surprising and adept character work, Suicide Squad #22 is the shape of comics to come, in ways both subtle and horrifying, earning 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.  So, where’s my Absolute Edition?

Rating: ★★★★½