7:00am PT by Graeme McMillan
'Suicide Squad': Creators of DC's New Comic Tease the "New Member That No One Would Expect"
They're the worst of the worst — but in Suicide Squad: Rebirth No. 1, out this week, the comic book versions of DC Entertainment's anti-heroes are looking better than ever as new creative team Rob Williams and Philip Tan re-introduce Amanda Waller, Deadshot, Harley Quinn and Boomerang to the world — and bring along a fan-favorite from the 1980s incarnation of the comic for the ride, as well.
Ahead of the release of the Rebirth issue— which heralds the launch of a new Suicide Squad comic book series two weeks later, with art by Tan and DC co-publisher Jim Lee — THR spoke to Williams and Tan about what to expect from the most dangerous team in comics.
You're starting on Suicide Squad, the comic book, on the same week that the movie hits theaters. Has the movie influenced the way you're approaching the comic at all? Are you trying to make the two alike?
Williams: No one at DC has ever gone, "You have to stick to what is in the movie." But what did have an influence on the Rebirth issue is the trailers. The trailers are so good, man. The trailers just laid out the concept really clear, and they were fun — that was the refreshing thing. These are dark stories — these are villains, they're not heroes, they're, as Amanda Waller says in the trailer, "the worst of the worst," but the trailers made you laugh. I think that's inherent in the concept; there's some tragic stuff in the backgrounds of the members of the Suicide Squad, as you'll see in the series going forward, but a lot of these characters are very funny. Harley's very funny, Boomerang's really funny. The tone of the trailers, if anything, made me think, that's kind of what the comic should be.
Tan: I don't think the movie has heavily influenced us in terms of the characters, but it makes us want to look at how the fans are reacting to it, and maybe focus on that angle, but I've never had that direction in mind, thinking, this has to be like the movie.
Judging by the Rebirth one-shot, the book is going somewhere that it hasn't in decades, with missions that are on a far-larger scale than readers have seen in some time…
Williams: Yeah, that was one thing in my initial pitch. We didn't want the stories to be parochial, we wanted the Suicide Squad to be an A-list DC comic — and DC has backed that by putting Jim Lee on the book, which is about as A-list as you can get. But in addition, we wanted these stories to have ramifications. I think there was a feeling in the past that, there may have been some great Suicide Squad stories told over the last few years, but they were too personal in places. The stories that we're telling, we wanted to have ramifications to the rest of the DC Universe. Hopefully, if we do our job right moving forward, people will feel like they have to read it if they want to know what's happening in the DCU.
And talking about things that comic book audiences haven't seen in awhile, the Rebirth issue brings Rick Flag back into the series. Did the team need the one good man to lead a lot of bad men and women?
Williams: It's a nice juxtaposition. You have this team of horrendous super-villains, and you put a guy in charge who, on the surface level, is this clean-cut American hero. On a dramatic level, that seemed like a fun idea. And also, Rick is a huge part of the John Ostrander[-written] Suicide Squad stories, back in the '80s, which is the touchstone for all this stuff. He did a lot of ahead-of-its-time comic book stories at the time, and Rebirth as a whole is about returning this stuff to its roots — Rick is everywhere in those stories, so it just made sense, really.
Not that this is just an exercise in nostalgia, because both of you are doing things you haven't done in your work previously. Rob, you've worked with ensemble casts in things like Unfollow and your 2000AD work, but this is your first superhero team comic, isn't it?
Williams: It is! I have all kinds of respect for people who write team books, because it's ensuring that no-one drifts into the background and everyone gets a scene in the 20 page comic is difficult. You're trained as a writer to think, who is my protagonist, what do they want and how do they get it — all these maxims, and suddenly you've got seven protagonists.
Philip Tan/DC Entertainment
And Philip, your work on the Rebirth issue looks amazing — and very unlike your earlier work. You've clearly worked with Jim Lee to make the visual continuity of the book very tight…
Tan: There's been a lot of tutorials from Jim to ensure that the visuals from the book go smoothly from issue to issue when I'm involved. I'm not going to lie, if you're going to be compared with one of the greatest comic book artists in the industry today — if not in comic book history ever — you just have to put in more than 100% [Laughs]. But the format of the book will include back-up stories where, depending on the character, we can bring in some different styles of artwork, different representations of visuals to tell the stories better.
Rob, you're writing the back-up stories as well as the main stories each issue, right? How do they fit in with the main stories?
Williams: It's almost like text and subtext. You have the main stories where you're thrown into these action-packed missions — suicide missions, literally, by the nature of it. The back-up personnel files give you the chance to step back a bit. They're framed from the point of view of Amanda Waller, and Waller's not looking at these for a therapy session to help people help themselves. She's looking to find their flaws to manipulate them. That's what she does. It's a fantastic thing to have, to have an African-American woman with no superpowers, who's unremarkable in so many ways, but is one of the strongest characters in the DCU. They're all pawns in Waller's game, really.
And the format of the back-ups let us work with artists who might not have the time to do a full arc with us, but they can do eight pages. You're going to see some really big names with these stories.
The cover of Suicide Squad No. 1 shows a group that's very close to the movie cast, but the 1980s series was famous for cycling villains in and out of the team. Will you be adding anyone else to the group in the near future?
Williams: The nice thing about Belle Reve penitentiary is that, as Waller says in the first issue, "I need a five-strong team for this mission." The implication is, there are lots more members of the Squad in there that she can have. As we go forward, I don't want to give too much away, but in the first arc, the Squad gets a new member that that no one would expect, hopefully. It's going to change the entire dynamic of the team and the book. Going forward, the opportunities are there — you will see other characters slipping in and out. That's part of the fun.
Philip Tan/DC Entertainment
Tan: President Obama is in the Rebirth issue. He'll be looking for work at the end of the year. [Laughs] There's a lot of different characters I want to draw, but whether or not they're available in the DCU depends on other books at the time. I'll always want to draw Mr. Freeze or Penguin or any of the Batman rogues, you know? But really, it all comes down to what Waller wants, and what's good for the reader.
Williams: We're a buffet table of evil! [Laughs] There's the tagline for the series!
Suicide Squad: Rebirth No. 1 is released digitally and in comic book stores Aug. 3, followed by Suicide Squad No. 1 Aug. 17.