At the MTV Movie Awards tonight, a new trailer for Suicide Squad was shown off. (Which is apparently being re-shot for reasons no one could possibly fathom.)
Very noticeably and probably for absolutely no reason what-so-ever, and similar to the last trailer we got of the movie, this new one is edited to make the film look like a joyful romp. There’s Will Smith one-liners, gags on gags on gags, a peppy, upbeat soundtrack; all of the ingredients for what looks to be a super-powered and cheeky take on the heist film genre.
Which is a good start! I’ve expressed my dislike of pure “Super Hero” films before; flavorless outings that try to succeed on branding power alone. This one at least seems to have a sense of identity outside of “Franchise Builder Part 1.”
Still, if Suicide Squad utterly blows or you just want to lament about who should be running the DC Comics film universe, I’ve got just the thing.
In 1992, Batman: The Animated Series debuted. Shepherded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, as well as series co-creator Eric Radomski, the series was universally praised for its quality, and nearly 25 years later, it’s widely regarded as one of, if not the best adaptions of Batman that’s ever been done.
Due to the critical and commercial success of the series, Timm and Dini were able to launch Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, a feature length animated film that debuted in theatres in 1993 to equal critical acclaim, a direct-to-video movie entitled Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero, a spin-off featuring Batman’s Best Buddy Superman, titled what else, Superman: The Animated Series, a spinoff of B:TAS set in the future entitled Batman Beyond, and eventually, Justice League & Justice League Unlimited.
In short, they created a fully fleshed out animated adaption of the DC Universe years before this kind of thing was ever thought possible, especially in a live action form.
When they got to Justice League Unlimited, there was this sense that they were throwing every single one of their “I Wish This Existed” dreams onto the screen. It was as if they knew they were running out of time to get this stuff on the air, and at any point, the plug was going to be pulled.
They did an episode that featured The Seven Soldiers, a slightly obscure team from DC comics history.
And perhaps one of my favorites, in the first season of JLU, they did a Suicide Squad episode.
Titled “Task Force X”, (probably because Cartoon Network would not allow them to use the word “Suicide ” in the title card of what was ostensibly a children’s cartoon show), the episode functions as a kind of backdoor pilot to a Suicide Squad animated series.
In its first season, JLU took on a serialized and rather complex, but oh-so-rewarding arc that featured Cadmus, a sciency almost Agents of SHIELD like organization in the DC Universe. Much of the season’s theme focused on the threats that meta-humans, particularly the Justice League, posed to every day humans, and how the United States or any other government could possibly hope to respond should Superman or any other member of the League decide to go rogue. Oddly enough, it didn’t involve Batman wanting to murder anyone.
The origins of the arc cut deep, going way back to Superman: The Animated Series, which ended with a Darkseid controlled Superman going Snyder-Verse on Metropolis, scaring the crap out of everyone on the planet. He eventually snapped out of it of course, but the reverberations of his actions had a lasting impact.
But one of the great things about the episode “Task Force X” is that even though it takes place in the middle of this big season long narrative , you don’t really need to know any of that to enjoy it. There’s a brief reference to the ongoing arc in the last 15 seconds of the episode, and if you’re knee deep in that story, it’s a pretty big moment, but if you aren’t, its impact still works. It’s a great way to add to the established world that’s already been built, while still telling a story that very much exists outside of what you’re used to from that universe.
The episode starts with Floyd Lawton, AKA Deadshot, being led to his execution via an electric chair. A priest following him asks Lawton one last time, if he would like his Last Rites read, which Lawton refuses.
As the door opens, we see Colonel Rick Flagg sitting in “the chair.” The warden demands to know who he is, while Flagg calmly hands him a folded sheet of paper. The warden reads it and begrudgingly tells the guards to let Lawton go. Flagg tells Lawton he is coming with him. Lawton and Flagg drive off and Flagg tells him the score. He’s going to do a patriotic and dangerous job for him, or the explosive nanites (cause comics!) they implanted in his last meal will blow his head off. Lawton asks what the job is. Flagg tells him he’s going to help break into and rob The Watchtower AKA, Justice League Headquarters.
And that’s the setup. This takes a hair over 2 minutes, and we already know everything we need to about the episode and where it’s going. It’s incredibly effective and efficient, and makes for an exciting cold open.
I won’t recap the entire episode, I’m just going to hit on some of the highlights.
A big part of why this episode works so well is that The Justice League are not the protagonists here. We see nearly everything entirely from the perspective of our Mission Impossible flavored super villain group.
We get the brief, but snazzy introductions:
Clock King, the planner who will run things back at base for each assignment.
Deadshot, the “when it all goes to hell” guy.
And Rick Flagg, the guy leading the team on the ground.
It’s quick and easy to digest, and it follows the tropes of something like The A-Team. The direction mimics a mid 80's action show, as does the soundtrack. Everything is just oozing with style and homage.
There’s too many great moments in here to count, but one of my favorites is when, while disguised as two of the staff on the Watchtower, Deadshot and Plastique get stuck on an awkward elevator ride with Green Lantern, who clearly has no idea who they are and just assumes they are random Watchtower workers.
The scene just sits for a few seconds, letting them look on in sheer horror. Deadshot of course, being Deadshot, just HAS to say something, and makes a crack about Hawkgirl.
In JLU, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl have a tepid history, and Phil Lamarr’s delivery of Green Lantern at the mere mention of Hawkgirl is great. It’s subtle and pained, and implies some kind of backstory that you probably aren’t aware of if it was your first time watching.
The plan to get in and get out, of course, goes to shit, leading to a brawl between the reserve Leaguers currently left on the station. Wisely, the production team chose to include Vigilante, (hilariously voiced by Space Cowboy, Nathan Fillion) the Justice League’s resident cowboy and sharpshooter into the mix, I think, simply so they could include this moment.
Of course, this essentially being the Suicide Squad, one of the members won’t be making it out, and it’s a surprisingly dark moment. I won’t spoil who, but it’s handled tactfully and with a bit of ruthlessness that establishes the tone that Task Force X is NOT the Justice League. If you had any reservations as a viewer that these were not “the bad guys” before this moment, you definitely won’t have them by the end. Even cooler, if this was a backdoor pilot, the implications going forward would be tantalizing.
All in all, this is fun, intense, and enjoyable incarnation of the Suicide Squad. It’s currently available to watch on Netflix, and I highly recommend you do so. Even if you don’t watch the rest of the JLU, this is a fun entry that is well worth 20 minutes of your time. But you should watch all of JLU, cause it’s great.
Let’s hope the Suicide Squad the movie, is even half as good as this.
Poey Gordon is a journalist, poet, and fiction writer living in the Bay Area.
Follow him on Twitter at ThePoey for more about comics, Gilligan’s Island 2K1 fan-fiction, or decades old Simpson’s quotes.