Back in the mid-80's, when the big companies wanted to get rid of the scrub villains and failed heroes that inevitably clutter up long-running comic publishing concerns, the Big Two started up two distinct schemes.
Marvel's was the Scourge of the Underworld, or as one wag put it "Marvel's Immune System." Basically, the Scourge was an empty suit, almost literally--whenever there were a load of useless one-off villains around (if a villain had appeared in Marvel Team-Up or Marvel Two-In-One, they were pretty much dead meat) here came the Scourge to kill the hell out of them. He wasn't a particularly interesting character, but then, he wasn't meant to be. He was a walking plot function, and when he'd finished the job (we'll always remember you, Turner D. Century) he was promptly snuffed out.
It was one way to do it, for sure, but it wasn't particularly interesting apart from providing the usually fairly staid Mark Gruenwald run of Captain America a body could almost at Miracleman levels.
Over at DC, what deadwood hadn't been tossed in the bin after Crisis on Infinite Earths presented another problem--even if every DC book every month ran with the idea of killing an ineffectual bad guy, the amount of crummy Firestorm villains alone would have kept them doing it until the turn of the century. Surely there was another way to deal with this junk in an interesting way. Even better, it might rehabilitate some of these guys and show some heretofore unrealized potential in them.
Most of all, the hope was that it might get people to read the otherwise dreadful Legends crossover, a crossover now remembered (if at all) for launching the Giffen-era Justice League and our subject for today: The Suicide Squad.
Suicide Squad, like Blake's 7, used the tried-and-true Dirty Dozen model for its storytelling engine. Unlike the ragtag band of revolutionaries comprising the Seven, the Squad had a much more pragmatic remit--criminals (and fallen heroes, occasionally) received a commuted sentence if they survived the mission they were selected for. Try to escape or double-cross the people in charge, and you got your arm blown off (if you were lucky)
As storytelling engines go, it's pretty durable. Using supervillains means you can tell stories in a meaner milieu with a group of ruthless characters. Moreover, as the characters are disposable at will pretty much, it can foster a sense that anything can happen. Put all this together and you have a book full of characters that can die at any time, and aren't the most pleasant people besides, and well, you have a book that's rather dark indeed.
But if that was all it was, I would probably roll my eyes and label it as a blueprint for the sorry state DC comics is in currently--naturally adding some bonus points for disposing of as many Firestorm villains as they did.
But Suicide Squad achieved far more. For one thing, despite being a book where the unspoken expectation was that everyone would die, they managed to create a core of intriguing characters, one of whom was Amanda Waller. She's been bent in several plot-convenient directions since then but in her element in the title, her complicated relationship with the Squad (occasionally a tool of power and often, in some ways, a lifeline) In addition to creating an enduring character, the book also rehabilitated two characters who'd been drifting around the d-list for awhile.
Bronze Tiger was a little known character--famous for little more than killing the original Batwoman and being one of the few black characters created in the 70's who didn't have "Black" somewhere in their codename. Constantly riding the line between "hero" and "villain," Bronze Tiger personified the line between the heroes, the nominal heroes, and the villains within the Squad.
If Bronze Tiger personified the borderline between hero and villain, Captain Boomerang stakes out the "villain" side of the equation. Completely venal and always out for himself, yet competent in his own way, Boomerang was the straw that stirred the drink, and incidentally always kept the team on this side of self-destructing.
Somewhere in the middle, staking it out his own bizarre stretch of territory, was Deadshot. While Deadshot's done the best out of all the Suicide Squad alumni in terms of visibility (still appearing in the vastly overrated Secret Six to this day) and continuous popularity despite being dragged into some really dodgy storylines over the years. Deadshot's character an be summed up thus: having nothing left to live for, he wants to die, preferably as audaciously as possible. Of the characters I mentioned, it's particularly telling that Deadshot was the one that got his own mini-series back in the day.
Unusually for its time, Suicide Squad had a fairly good run for a determinedly mid-list book, left to its own devices for the most part until it was finally dragged down by yet another lame DC crossover (War of the Gods, a storyline so terrible I'm not even going to look up a Wiki link for you) but, like the other anti-heroes I've cited this week, it made an impression at the time, and certainly informed my own approach when the time came for me to develop my own anti-hero.
Next Time: Kazekage talks about himself and his writing and is apologising in advance for it.