The original article was posted on the old Media Observers website circa August 2015.
With the recent movie coming out and after analyzing the trailers, I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane and try to start a little series here at Media Observers. This series will be similar to something done on social media. Throwback Thursday. On these days, if I, Ed or any future writer can get around to it, we’ll take a look at some old school stuff just to have a bit of fun. In preparation for this first installment, I checked out the history of the contemporary version of the Suicide Squad. I went all the way back to DC Comics Secret Origins, Legends and Suicide Squad Issue 1. However, the bulk of this summation review will cover Legends, the six part series primarily written by John Ostrander who is also working with David Ayer on the 2016 Suicide Squad film. If anything it’ll help those of you searching for back story information from the comics on Suicide Squad, but this article may also give some incite, possibly spoilers as to the plot of the Suicide Squad movie. As I consider the Legends story line now, I have to admit there does seem to be evident inspirational elements pulled directly into Dawn of Justice, but I suspect they will be seen in Suicide Squad as well considering it occurs before Dawn of Justice in the WBCU/DCCU’s timeline.
Although technically Secret Origins #14: The Secret Origin of the Suicide Squad comes after Legends, you receive some historical information about the earlier versions of the Suicide Squad which almost makes it a prequel to Legends. Suicide Squad started back in World War II during a mission on Dinosaur Island with a group of renegade soldiers known as Squadron S. In so many words, this was a DC Comics version of the Dirty Dozen. Due to the high casualty rate, Squadron S began calling themselves Suicide Squad. Feeling obligated to the soldiers, despite their reputation as bad seeds, the military hierarchy brings in Captain Richard “Rick” Montgomery Flag Sr. to be the commander of the Suicide Squad. Captain Flag is the sole surviving pilot of a Fighter squadron after said fighter squadron attempted to take on Japanese task force. Driven by his past, Captain Flag is known to drive others to be better soldiers through his philosophy of, “we carry on for those who can’t, we do it because there’s nobody else left to do the hard jobs.” While under his command the Suicide Squad’s mission success rate rose and their death rate dropped and Flag remained with the Squad until the end of World War II.
During the interim period, Flag married Sharon Race, a cousin of Jeb Stuart, one of Flag’s old war buddies. Despite this, the Suicide Squad was inevitably reactivated during the Korean War. Since this issue was written by John Ostrander as well, the memes are quite similar to Legends. Therefore it came as no surprise that during the 1950’s the senate allowed a Wisconsin Senator to back the Justice Society of America into a legal corner in an attempt to civilly unmask them in front of the public. Rather than reveal their secret identities to the public and risk confrontation with the government in defiance, the JSA simply chose to disband and discontinue heroic activities. As a result nearly all of the other heroes followed the JSA’s lead and discontinued their heroics leaving super villains free to do their deeds. This forced Harry S. Truman to seemingly single-handedly form Task Force X. The organization would be composed of both military and civilian sectors, headed up by Control and General Jeb Stuart. The Civilian team was code named Argent and General Stuart reenlisted the Suicide Squad for the military side of the operations. Argent disappears from historical and classified records without a trace while the Squad continues to bring in results.
Around the same time Task Force X is created, Richard Rogers Flag is born to Rick Flag Sr. and Sharon Race. Now a Colonel, Rick Flag Sr. instills the same ideals into his son, “carry on for those who can’t.” Unfortunately, the young Rick Flag unintentionally causes his mother’s death while venturing out into the street without paying attention. This leads Rick Flag Sr. into a downward spiral despite continuing to fulfill his duties. He sacrifices himself to bring down a resurfaced Nazi War Wheel which leads his son to continue the “carry on for those who can’t” tradition. Rick Flag Jr. goes on to live with his Uncle, General Jeb Stuart, he graduates military academy in the top of his class, becomes an ace pilot and eventually an astronaut. As an Astronaut he meets Karin Grace who, through unfortunate events, holds the same philosophy as he does…”carry on for those who can’t.” This creates a bridge the two are able to cross which eventually leads to romance. Though, their dream of marriage and a peaceful life together is short lived once General Jeb Stuart notifies his nephew the Suicide Squad is being reactivated under his command. Karin followed, only allowed to join the team due to the influence of General Stuart. The other members were scientists, Jeff Bright and Hugh Evans. This time around the team was called Mission X officially, although it still carried the Suicide Squad name for sentimental reasons. Mission X also went public with its exploits in order to keep the tax money coming in.
Unfortunately, at this point it starts to venture into the realm of forced plot devices which robotically dictate character dynamics. Dr. Bright and Dr. Evans manage to both fall in love with Karin Grace. Karin wants to tell the two Doctors about the already established relationship she has with Rick Flag, but because Hugh and Jess suffered losses in the past Flag fears telling them about the relationship he has with Karin will harm them mentally resulting in the destruction of the team. The two never tell. The superheroes return to heroic duties causing Mission X to begin to take on more covert missions. This leads up to their final mission in Cambodia, which leads to a confrontation with an Abominable Snowman. The confrontation with a Yeti results in Rick Flag getting injured and thus, through an emotional outburst, causes Karin Grace to reveal her love for him. This leads to some questions from Hugh and Jeff after the whole team falls into a hidden chamber where they find a temple to take refuge in for a while. Ultimately, they find their way out of the chamber after Flag’s injuries seem to heal only to find a fragile ice bridge to safety leading across another deep chasm. Due to the thin bridge, they can only cross individually. Suddenly, the Yeti shows back up and Hugh and Jeff hold of the Yeti while forcing Flag to take Karin across the bridge in order to save her. During their confrontation with the Yeti, they manage to kill the beast, but it’s hulking body falls on Hugh and Jeff causing the ice to shatter beneath them. They fall to their perceived doom. Distraught by their sacrifice for her, it appears Karin and Flag’s relationship ends due to the mental breakdown she suffers. Flag also takes it hard since it was revealed the relationship he had with Karin was starting to mend the pain both of them harbored due to loosing loved ones. Nevertheless, he is quickly put on another assignment undercover as a dishonorably discharged soldier embedded in a group called the Forgotten Heroes which is where he remained up until Crisis on Infinite Earths. We’ll discuss Crisis later for those who don’t know what it is.
Afterwards, the story goes into the background of Amanda Waller in order to explain why she looks at the world the ways he does. Growing up in Cabrini-Green, Chicago, Amanda and her lover, Joseph steered clear of the law and eventually married. The couple believed in hard work and, in time, had a family of four children. Despite being a blue chip player, their eldest son, Joe Jr. is killed by gang members after a confrontation. Six months after this unfortunate event, their second eldest child, Damita, was killed by a street thug calling himself Candyman. Apparently Candyman brutalized their daughter, Damita, so bad the Wallers had to keep the coffin closed during Damita’s funeral.
With the law failing them in bringing the criminal to justice, Joe Sr. takes the law into his own hands. He shot it out with Candyman and both men end up dead leaving Amanda to take care of the rest of the family. The lost of three loved ones catapulted her towards a new determination in life. She saw her remaining children through college then worked her way through college herself. She’s rewarded with a Political Science degree and almost immediately seeks out something to do for her community. She ends up talking herself into the position of Campaign Manager for potential Congressman, Marvin Collins. Upon his election, Mrs. Wallers is promoted the position of his Aide in Washington, D.C. This puts her in a position to accidentally gain access the files which gave her the idea for the new Suicide Squad seen in Legends. There’s no mention as to whether she was cleared to access these secret files, coming from a military background I was led to question how classified files were mixed in with a potential Congressional bill files. Either way, Ronald Reagan gives her the “go ahead” despite Sergeant Steel’s warnings and counter points. Once she leaves the Oval Office, Reagan reveals to Sgt. Steel he okay’d the Squad to get some quid-pro-quo, apparently Amanda Waller was too effective for the Democratically aligned Congressman, Marvin Collins and in removing Waller from the position of Aide for Congressman Collins allows Reagan to push some of his own agendas. Talk about political propaganda in those final panels of this story, but…heh…moving on.
Legends: Once Upon A Time…starts off in Apokolips sometime after Crisis on Infinite Earths. For some quick background, DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths was an event in which some cosmic beings called Monitor and Anti-Monitor, essentially good and evil wrapped up in the positive and negative concepts of matter and antimatter, fought a war which wreaked havoc across the multiverse. Supposedly fixed up continuity while in the process the conflict destroyed universes, planets, killed heroes and villains and as a result Darkseid has just finished getting Apokolips back under his tyrannical rule. He speaks about uneasiness despite declaring he just forged “order from chaos” and demands Desaad tell him why. Desaad happily blames his uneasiness on all of Earth’s heroes. Darkseid replies by sending for Glorious Godfrey and Doctor Bedlam in order to help hatch a plan to destroy all of Earth’s heroes through humiliation in order for Darkseid to be the one true god. Fast forward and Professor Martin Stein, half of Firestorm, is working in a Queens S.T.A.R. labs facility with other scientists. Suddenly the generator goes haywire and out pops Brimstone, a giant red monster born from Darkseid’s technoseed and he immediately declares himself a fallen angel. (Yes, I’m aware of the rampant supernatural memes so far, I found that particularly interesting) Fast forward a bit more and Brimstone faces Firestorm, but defeats him, causing Firestorm to assemble the JLA who show up later after Cosmo Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes fails to defeat Brimstone. Cosmo Boy just happened to be visiting 1986 with Night Girl, who was on a shopping spree for the entire duration of Cosmo Boy’s interaction in the story.
In the midst of all this we see Deadshot defeated by Wally West who has taken on the Flash mantel to maintain the legend of the speedster after Barry Allen’s death in Crisis. Despite feeling weakened because of taking a blast from Anti-Monitor, West manages to defeat Deadshot pretty easily.
Also in the middle of all this, Captain Marvel aka Billy Batson faces a villain called Macro-Man. During the conflict Captain Marvel accidentally incinerates Macro-Man during the fight while trying to shift from Captain Marvel back to Billy Batson in order to escape Macro-Man’s grip. Apparently something’s afoot as G. Gordon Godfrey, who’s obviously Glorious Godfrey, was on set of Batson’s talk show declaring all super heroes a menace to society and, without so much as a surprise, witnessed Batson switch to Captain Marvel as well from the shadows. Nevertheless, upon realizing he “killed” Macro-Man, Batson declares to never become Captain Marvel again.
Of course, most importantly is the beginning or I should say reactivation of Task Force X under Colonel Rick Flag Jr. Colonel Flag meets Amanda Waller for the first time. They don’t get off to a good start, Flag’s obviously not happy with the team he’ll lead although at this point no heroes or villains have been named. He just looks at a classified file and questions Amanda’s sanity. Still, despite their initial perceptions of each other the two promise to be professionals about the job.
Moving on to Legends: Breach of Faith, anti-religious philosophical points seem to be embedded in the dialogue that leaps out at me right off the first and second pages. Let me try to explain. This installment of the story starts with Gwyneth Tate, WHIZ-TV Reporter, interviewing Doctor G. Gordon Godfrey and Godfrey goes to town on the era of Superheroes. Funny thing is he sounds just like a militant atheist/new atheist of today. You only have to replace the word superhero in his dialogue with, God, Jesus or religion and there you go. I found myself investigating John Ostrander and I’ll comment more about this investigation later towards the end of this article. So let’s continue on with the summation of Legends.
Despite Godfrey’s weak argument, nobody seems to want to defend the heroes. I suspect something more is going on here, something beyond Godfrey’s supreme reasoning skills and well put together argument. Baston’s accidental “murder” of Macro-Man has given Godfrey’s weak accusations against the super heroes some weight, but still, it’s far too easy for these people to fall for his argument against super heroes. Still, the seemingly accidental death of Macro-Man further solidifies Billy Baston’s choice to stop being Captain Marvel as Darkseid looks on from Apokolips. While watching Baston’s misery, Darkseid reveals agents of Apokolips were behind the death of Macro-Man. Not only that, but Macro-Man was a lifeless animated organic construct which Dr. Bedlam downloaded his consciousness to in order to bait Billy Baston into turning into Captain Marvel in order to trick Baston into believing he committed murder.
Of course Brimstone is still wreaking havoc. The JLA consisting of J’onn Jonnz aka the Martian Manhunter, Vibe, Gypsy, Steel and Vixen along with Cosmo Boy fail to take him down. Instead he topples a building on them. Thus, the scene immediately switches to Rick Flag, and Bronze Tiger, offering Floyd Lawton, aka Deadshot, who’s in prison now after losing to the Flash earlier, a spot on Task Force X. I can’t help but feel slighted Bronze Tiger did not make the roster of the upcoming movie. It’s apparent he was important to the team. It’s revealed the only two Squad members required to be controlled, well we find out later all of them need to be controlled by Bronze Tiger, but right now the only two who actually get explosive devices put on them are Captain Boomerang and Deadshot.
Afterwards, Batman and Robin, well mostly Robin, get lynched by a crowd of hostages they just saved as an extreme emotional response to Batman and Gordon talking down to the Police Captain. Batman gets a face full of perfume and Gordon helps him out the Shopping Mall. The mob even set fire to the Batmobile and flip it over, LOL! Later Blue Beetle gets shot. Well…his armored suit is grazed by a bullet while he’s fleeing law enforcement after accidentally ruining a drug surveillance operation for the Police. Guy Gardner saves a plane, but lands it on the freeway during rush hour and irritates everyone further. I love his response though, it’s pretty much get out of my face, I don’t care what you say, I got more important things to do. Then he flies off. Lastly, Superman attempts to reason with President Ronald Reagan about the situation, the mobs, the riots and ablaze super hero effigies. However, Reagan feels he’s forced to issue an Executive Order which forces all super heroes, including Superman, to stand down until the crisis is over. Funny, so super heroes answer to the government? In the final panel the Police finally find Robin who obviously needs medical attention.
At this point I have to make a few comments. Maybe I’m older and I think more critically, I’m not going to shout my age from the rooftops, but reading this again…it’s fun, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not understanding the inner story logic of some of the characters and events. There’s a giant fire based monster walking around the country causing mayhem and the President tells the super heroes to cease and desist all heroic activities because of a few rowdy crowds? No military is deployed, no national guard, nothing to fill the gap. Also, what the heck was Superman doing in the White House while Brimstone was whooping up on the JLA?
Moving on to Legends: Send For…The Suicide Squad! The Titans, more like Flash and Beast Boy…err…Changeling, are on lockdown by Sergeant Steel due to Reagan’s Executive Order. Eventually they call Sgt. Steel’s bluff and leave the Tower. Outside the tower a mob is chanting anti-hero slogans while violently waving fists and weapons. Darkseid is beside himself in laughter as he mocking debates the whole issue of hope and order with Phantom Stranger. The story starts to bounce around between characters giving the feeling this is a global crisis, but the core members of the Suicide Squad are finally introduced. Colonel Rick Flag, the leader, Bronze Tiger, 2nd in Command or deterrent, Deadshot, skilled marksman, Captain Boomerang, I guess for good measure, Blockbuster, the muscle and The Enchantress, apparently chosen for her magic powers. Interestingly enough, their first suicide mission is to take down Brimstone. Funny thing is, Darkseid mockingly says the same thing I’m thinking. They’re trying to do something the heroes couldn’t even, or wouldn’t even (looking at you Superman) do.
The other interesting thing is somehow Darkseid and Apokolips are able to get a visual feed on everything happening around Brimstone and other particular targets. Therefore, he’s aware the Suicide Squad is going after Brimstone. However, conveniently, once Rick Flag starts to explain the plan to take down Brimstone, who’s taken up temporary residence on Mount Rushmore…as if he’s playing “King of the Mountain,” Desaad decides to recap on the last two issues to shut Phantom Stranger up. This appropriately removes Darkseid’s attention from the Suicide Squad’s attempt to take down Brimstone. Despite the Squad’s small success, Brimstone merely reaches his gargantuan hand down, grabs Blockbuster and burns the Hulk-like brute to a crisp. Apparently Blockbuster held Brimstone at bay long enough for Deadshot to lock in his sights the convenient weakness and line up the special gun given to him by the government. Oh, I forgot to point out the convenient weakness Rick Flag just happens to mention in this issue just as they run out to battle. The Enchantress uses her power to turn the remaining plasma from Brimstone into snow, but using it turns her evil again causing Bronze Tiger to put her to sleep with a nerve-pinch. Revealing his reason for being beside her the whole fight. During all this, Desaad is still recapping all the events for Darkseid and Phantom Stranger. At this point, Darkseid makes the obvious distraction plot device attempted earlier irrelevant as he plays down Brimstone’s death and still declares victor since Blockbuster died during the fight.
In Legends: Cry Havoc, more of Darkseid’s plan continues to unfold as the people steadily allow their emotions and reason to be manipulated by Godfrey. Phantom Stranger still debates the futility of Darkseid attempting to destroy the ideal of hope and heroism in the human heart. Black Canary makes an appearance only to be run off by a police officer who shoots his partner in a tussle over a gun. Afterwards, the police officer somehow manages to shift blame to Black Canary. The Suicide Squad does resurface in this issue. Captain Boomerang wants out, but Amanda Waller apparently had other plans. Rick Flag overrides those explosive devices given to Boomerang and Deadshot, freeing Boomerang. Flag states he’s the type of man to honor his word and they promised the Squad members they’d be free if they survived the mission to take down Brimstone. This obviously gives him some credibility and respect among the surviving members, Tiger, Enchantress, Deadshot and Boomerang. However, it continues to keep him at odds with Amanda Waller. With his new freedom, Captain Boomerang idiotically goes out on the city and returns to his criminal ways. He’s confronted by Flash and Changeling which quickly develops into a small fight until the Warhounds of Apokolips show up. Oh, also, Dr. Fate is on the move as well.
Finally, Legends: Let Slip the Dogs of War and Legends: Finale wrap the story up. A few things happen in both of these issues. Darkseid and Stranger continue their debate, Superman debates with Reagan and his administration until Fate shows up and takes him away. With the exception of the previously mentioned JLA members in this story, Fate repeatedly does this to all the heroes we’ve seen thus far in the story. He appears in the middle of their heroics and whisks them away telling them “they are needed.” Baston got it together and became Captain Marvel again when his new friend, Lisa was threatened by the angry mob. Among all this, Boomerang managed to get himself captured by the mob of Godfrey during his confrontation with Flash and Changeling. When brought before Godfrey on national television, Boomerang gives a veiled shout out in the form of a threat to Task Force X, demanding they save him. This prompts them to act. During the confrontation with Godfrey, the heroes end up fighting against the War hounds of Apokolips. As a result Para-demons of Apokolips boom tube in. Godfrey manages to escape the heroes in the hopes of interrogating Boomerang some more in order to find out why villains would help save the world. However, Task Force X has Boomerang in their sights with orders to kill Boomerang should he come down with loose lips. Before Deadshot can put Boomerang down in order to protect Suicide Squad secret, Flag prevents it. Godfrey attempts to flee as a result, but Bronze Tiger confronts him only to get hypnotized by a few control words spoken by Godfrey. Remember Bronze Tiger has had his mind controlled before. Flag tells Boomerang he broke the promise and Boomerang’s own stupidity has locked him into the Suicide Squad, possibly permanently.
Wonder Woman appears to help with the War hounds. Eventually all the chaos manages to reach the White House, apparently police, military, National Guard, etc. cannot control the criminal element, more like the riled up followers of Godfrey, in the DC Universe without heroes. Two men manage to fight their way into the White House and attempt to kill President Reagan only to discover he’s impervious to bullets. It’s revealed to be Martian Manhunter and due to Manhunter saving Reagan, the President rescinds the executive order.
Despite defeating the War hounds and Para-demons the heroes are still forced to face down angry mobs of people who are still under the mystical spell of Godfrey’s rhetoric. It’s only when the children run through the crowds and defiantly stand against their parents and the adults in defense of the heroes does the madness start to reach it’s culmination. Godfrey shows his true colors by slapping Lisa, then absurdly attempts to dawn Fate’s mask. He gained possession of it when a Para-demon took it from Kent Nelson during the commotion. Once he does that, Godfrey ends up on the grown drooling from his mouth and the crowd automatically calms down indicating they were completely under mind control. In the upheaval, Bronze Tiger is also released from mind control and slips away. At the end of it all Darkseid waves off his loss, a new Justice League is formed as well as a new Task Force X and I get a loose answer to one of my earlier questions about Ostrander’s memes since he quotes a Bible scripture at the end. He quotes Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world…”
This still makes me wonder how he is interpreting that verse into this story line. He calls the heroes legends and the meme is one in which humanity’s base nature of evil is riled into a frenzy through deceptive rhetoric, propaganda, mind control and manipulation. Are the heroes a stand in for religion and God? Is religion or God consider legends by Ostrander in the sense they are false myths, good moral stories told to keep us on the path of hope, truth, and all that? Is he coming at this from an angle of questioning religion, or is he coming at it from an angle of support? It’s hard to narrow down with so much masked by actual DC comic characters and events. Or am I simply over thinking this a bit too much? In my research I discovered this interview from 2005 where John Ostrander admits to being raised a Roman Catholic and even considered becoming a priest. Although he admits to questioning religion later in his life, he still admits it influences his writing. Unfortunately, there’s no admission as to his position on God, Christianity, etc. either. There’s another statement made by him on the web, but I don’t think it sheds anymore light into his thoughts on the subject. Thus, we’re really left with mostly our own interpretations of what this means in Legends beyond just the creation of a new JLA and new Suicide Squad.
As I write this, it’s late, and that’s about all I want to put together for this Thursday. I’ll take a look into Suicide Squad’s solo series in the next article.