First issues are a hard thing to pull off; so much ground work to lay. The start to John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad is thick with exposition. Even with the Squad was spinning out of Legends, there are: new members (Plastique, Mindboggler) to introduce, the basics around the squad itself, and its first mission. That is a lot to fit into 21 pages. “Trial by Blood” is complete table setting but Ostrander uses the function of the Squad to at least adequately contextualize this exposition dump. Playing into audiences extra textual knowledge of films like The Dirty Dozen to make what is a fairly dry second half not ruin the issue overall.
The art by Luke McDonnell and page design for “Trial by Blood” gives the opening action sequence a cinematic quality. The paneling gently leads your eye as Rustam and Ravan slowly ready for the terrorist group Jihad to strike, and then, in a flash a 10 page massacre unfolds. It is worth noting that the eye is led in part by a quasi credit sequence that makes up the second page. Part trial run part mission statement, the airport massacre reads like a typical terrorist attack with super villains, giving Squad a surprising contemporary feel. The amount of onomatopoeia found in the frame isn’t something I’m used to with contemporary comics and on some level breaks the sense of realism to the massacre that is unfolding. Yet pacing and overall quality of McDonnell’s art overcomes this and I never lost track of eh fact hundreds of people were being killed in and out of frame.
The briefing page design as Waller fills her recruits in is also rather nicely done, creating a slide projection effect with the insertion Waller into every other frame.
George Harkness aka Captain Boomerang is such an over the top, camp, character. The idea of a villain built around boomerangs is total comics cheese. The writing of his Australian accent also serves to alienate and embolden his character; constant use of Aussie slang makes him a memorable character in a pack of villains. At the same time Boomerang is a much needed obvious camp presence to help ease into the overall B-quality of this series. Thought bubbles give insight into leader Rick Flagg Jr. fragile mental state following Secret Origins Vol 2. #14 builds to the over dramatic reveal of former flame Karin Grace alive and well as the Squad’s medic. Like most comics of this time, it operates on soap opera levels with the subtly of Captain Boomerang’s outfit.
First issues are tricky business and “Trial By Blood” uses the convention of the first issue as a means to entirely setup a two part introductory mission for the Squad in this new book. Ostrander uses the context created by the briefing to drop huge amounts of necessary exposition in such a manner that isn’t forced.
I rarely talk about covers. They are an art in themselves, look at classic pulp covers, in their attempt and need to convey the plot or theme in a single large image with a fair amount of text. Howard Chaykin’s cover is among my favorite all time covers. It is filmic in its centraility, showing the entire cast of the Squad with the simple promise that “These 8 people will put their ives on line for our country. One of them won’t be coming home!”. That is such a simple and effective pitch that explains the very obvious stakes in a single image.