Of all the different DC characters, I think the Suicide Squad might loan themselves best to one of the mature readers “Black Label” imprint. Sure, people would probably go with Batman, but the Suicide Squad’s very concept–bad guys forced into dangerous missions that superheroes can’t or won’t do on their own with a high probability of death at the end–pretty much has a mature concept baked into it.
So, here I am talking the first issue of a Black Label Suicide Squad story.
Issue: Suicide Squad: Blaze #1, February 2022
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Artist: Aaron Campbell
The Plot: When a superhuman serial killer proves untrackable, Amanda Waller has to bring in a very special Suicide Squad.
Commentary: OK, this was fun. Yes, there’s a Suicide Squad, but not the one you think. There’s a superhuman serial killer, basically a Superman-type with those sorts of powers who has been flying around the world and ripping random people apart. The fellow is eventually discovered when he attacks first a Gotham City businessman and then a minor superhuman who was doing some stuff with drones. Said being appears to be at least a little bit of a cannibal, and whoever he is or wherever he goes, even the Justice League can’t seem to find him as he strikes at random all over the globe.
Oh, and then once his face is out there, be starts sexually assaulting his victims.
So, really, this looks like a job for the Suicide Squad. That would be Peacemaker, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, and King Shark.
King Shark may be my favorite of the bunch, as his dialogue in this iteration is mostly timid whispers talking about how he doesn’t like violence and wants to call his mother.
However, this Squad isn’t powerful enough to take on the mystery man, so Waller offers them more than just time off their respective sentences if they take the Blaze drug and gain powers. All they need to do is take down the serial killer once empowered despite Blaze’s side effects…to which the Squad to a man blatantly refuses, leading to plan B. See, Blaze has some problems to it…see below for details.
Here’s where the issue starts to get really interesting. See, Waller can’t even get her regular Squad, including known crazy person Harley Quinn, to do what she wants. For that, she’ll need to find a new Squad.
Enter Michael Van Zandt. He’d been narrating the series and had been given a backstory, but he’s one of many inmates with life sentences offered a chance to do something to get out for a limited time. The catch is they need to take Blaze. Blaze will give them all superpowers. Like, massive superpowers. The sort that will allow them to theoretically stop the killer. It will also kill them in six months. Michael is one of many people to sign up for this, but there’s only enough Blaze for five people.
To get it, the candidates need to get past the regular Squad. The “winners” include a parkour master who slips past the well-armed quartet, a suicidal woman who just wants to die, a clever older man who sneaks around past King Shark after wiping some blood on some nearby competitors, and the woman Michael was partnered with before he got sent away. Her name is Tanya, and she uses her good looks to get men to do what she wants. Michael, the dumb sap, doesn’t realize it.
Of course, Michael became the final candidate through sheer dumb luck.
Michael, as narrator and probable protagonist, has nothing but bad luck. He’s a loser in every sense of the word, a man who doesn’t even realize Tanya is using him, something that seems obvious to the reader, especially when it becomes clear that Tanya’s, let’s say, charisma does not extend to other women as she gets under Harley’s skin without trying too hard. And while the other four all gain great powers, Michael, well, his arms turn invisible. That’s it. He doesn’t even have killer arms like Phantom Limb does on The Venture Brothers.
There’s a lot to like about this first issue. Spurrier’s story takes a look at a DC Universe where a media savvy Wonder Woman has to step in when Superman is asked rude questions, points out no one even knew the killer was active until he took out a rich white man in an American city, or even just the small details like Waller offering the Squad extra time off when she needs protection at one point if they’d just protect her.
The issue ends with another revelation about the Blaze, and I am inclined to think at some point Michael will realize Tanya doesn’t care for him the way he does for her. That said, Peacemaker already shot off one of his invisible fingers and everyone seems inclined to mock him, so he may be the hero of the story, but I won’t be surprised, or even displeased, if he saves the day accidentally.