John Ostrander: Why Did I Do That #3 – Suicide Squad
I don’t know about you guys but I’m having fun going back through some of the characters I’ve written in the past and explaining why I chose to do what I did. I’m not particularly critiquing modern versions (well, maybe a little) but I’m explaining why I took the approach I did. Today, let‘s look at some of the Suicide Squad members other than Amanda Waller.
Captain Boomerang. Initial Squad editor Bob Greenberger suggested Digger Harkness, aka Captain Boomerang, as a member. Flash at that time wasn’t using the Rogue and Boomerang was available. I wasn’t into the character at first and I considered him sort of lame, but I started thinking of what I could do with him.
One of the series I was reading at the time was the Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser. Fraser took the secondary character from the classic Tom Brown’s Schooldays (an 1857 novel by Thomas Hughes). The character of Flashman, as created by Hughes, was a bully and a coward and got expelled early on from the school. Fraser picked him up in a series of historical novels, let him remain a rogue, a womanizer, a bully and a coward who becomes acclaimed (wrongly) as a hero in his day. At one point when I was reading the first novel I became so pissed with him, I threw the novel across the room. I grew to love him and the series, however; they’re very worth reading today. Historically accurate and funny as hell.
So – a rogue, Flashman, Flash – brain synapses fired. Why not do something like that with Captain Boomerang? He doesn’t change. He always looks for an angle. He knows who he is and he’s perfectly happy with it. He keeps finding new depths to which to sink. He’s a jerk, he’s an asshole, he’s a villain – but he’s fun to read.
According to his backstory, Harkness is from Australia but he never sounded like it. I decided to get some books on Australian slang and pepper his dialogue with them. It was a fun way to sneak some naughty words past the censors but the joke, ultimately, was on me. My buddy, the writer Dave de Vries, is from Down Under and he told me that he and his mates would get together to read issues of the Squad and just laugh at Boomerbutt’s lines. It seems my grasp of the slang was, shall we say, a tad antiquated.
“But I got them from books, “ I protested.
“I know, mate,” responded Dave, “but nobody actually talks like that anymore.”
I toned it down a bit. Still Digger remained one of my absolute faves on the Squad. Totally fun to write.
Deadshot. Also know as Floyd Lawton. Lawton was a little used Batman villain. In his first appearance, he wore a tuxedo with a top hat, a domino mask, and twin Western gunbelts strapped across his waist. Not a very cool look. His story was that he ran in the same set as Bruce Wayne so he was wealthy. He pretended to be a hero in Gotham and a challenge to Batman but actually was a thief and masterminded other robberies until Bats uncovered him and sent him to jail.
Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers brought Deadshot back and gave him a really cool new look. I drafted him into the Squad.
Lawton was somewhat of a blank slate. I have a technique where I use induction and deduction to figure out a character based on what we knew. Deadshot’s rep is that he never misses and yet he can never kill Batman. Is Batman just that good or is there another reason? Does Deadshot pull his shots around Batman and, if so, why? I liked that last concept. Yes, Batman is that good but he’s also aware that Deadshot unconsciously pulls his shots. We later developed that Lawton had this complex relationship with his older brother. He really loved the guy but accidentally wound up killing him – Lawton’s first kill.
Lawton killed without emotion. I had to wrap my head around that if I was going to write it. How do you reach that point?
I had seen a special on TV talking with a mob hit man. Coldest dead eyes I’ve ever seen. Killing was nothing to him; he talked about shooting and killing a man in a car at a stop sign just to test a new gun. How could I write something so foreign to me?
I had also heard someone once say “If my own life doesn’t matter to me, why should yours?” On some level, I could understand that. Life has no meaning to someone like that. Yes, there was a moment – just a moment – when I felt like that at one time.
It’s been said Lawton had a death wish; I saw it – and see it – more that he didn’t care. He didn’t care if he died; he didn’t care if you died. The job mattered; was it interesting? Was there a challenge?
The two were tied together – having killed the person who mattered most to him, no other life mattered, including his own. That was a character I found compelling and so did quite a few others.
Different writers have different takes on both Captain Boomerang and Deadshot and that’s fine. They should have the freedom to develop the characters according to their own understanding as I did. Harkness and Lawton were among the most popular and central characters back when I was writing Suicide Squad; they were among my faves as well.