Gunn was fired last July by Disney after alt-right journalists hyped a bunch of decade old social media missives that made light of pedophilia and rape. Persuaded by Gunn’s public apology and his handling of the situation after, Horn decided to reverse course and reinstate Gunn.
Gunn took to Twitter to express his thanks:
Gunn is also slated to do Suicide Squad 2, which is scheduled to be done before Guardians 3.
For the past few weeks I’ve been discussing the stories contained in the upcoming volume of Suicide Squad reprints (Volume 7, The Dragon’s Horde, out December 22). I’ve been running down the stories in order but this week I’m jumping to the last story in the collection.
This last story was a tie-in issue to the War of the Gods crossover event that DC was running at that time. I’m jumping to it not because it’s my favorite story in Vol. 7 but because it isn’t.
I’ve had mixed reactions to Big Company Wide Crossovers. They do interrupt the flow of what you have planned but, OTOH, that’s like what we laughingly refer to as Real Life: big events happen and toss our best laid plans out any convenient window. It is said the gods like when mortals make plans; it gives them something to shoot at.
There are all kinds of ways of doing a crossover issue; it can be a vital chapter in the overall story, it can show how the Big Event is affecting part of the world, it can be a Red Sky story. That happened during Crisis on Infinite Earths, the granddaddy of Big Events at DC. One of the hallmarks of the events was the red skies. An issue of an ongoing series could qualify as a “crossover issue” if it featured red skies and some person said, “Ooh! The skies are red!” Something less than a vital piece of the narrative; I was a fan and not a pro at the time and I resented it.
However, the red skies stunt underscored one of the major purposes of a crossover – to lure the reader into trying other (or all) of the books in the line. Hopefully, they’ll see a bump in sales. Most of the time, the increase doesn’t last. So – you do another crossover and so on, ad nauseam, until you get fan burn-out. And then marketing tells you to do another.
I’ve participated in all kinds of crossovers, from doing the Main Event (Legends) to tie-in issues (hopefully none of which are “red sky” issues). Some were easier than others; some were nearly impossible. One we had to co-ordinate with all the other books out that week and I wound up with that assignment since I had two or three of them.
In the story in this volume, the Squad ties into the War of the Gods event. To be honest, I don’t remember what that crossover was about. My problem with the result is that it resulted in a not very good story, let alone a good Squad story.
Captain Marvel’s… excuse me, Shazam’s… Bad, Black Adam, comes calling on the Squad. He needs some warm bodies for an attack he is planning on a temple on an island in a lake in South America guarded by were-beasts and an offshoot of Amazons who live in the Middle East. Where? Somewhere.
Waller feels they’ll need a lot of warm bodies so she recruits a fair amount. The reader at this point probably expects most of them to die and they’re not wrong. We do, however, take the opportunity to get most of the Squad back into uniform. Black Adam claims that, when you go to fight gods, ceremonial garb should be worn. (The hold-out is Deadshot who recently killed the guy wearing his costume, shooting him right between the eyes. You can understand Lawton’s reluctance; the dry-cleaning bill on that would probably be steep.)
Oh, Kim and I (well, mostly me) threw in a new character called The Writer and then killed him off. He was supposed to be a well-known DC writer who had written himself into continuity. It was strictly a gag and, frankly, a puerile one. Apologies all around.
There’s a lot of yelling and fighting and characters die; not the sort of stuff Kim and I usually did with the Squad. It’s also incomplete; at one point in the midst of the battle, Black Adam vanishes into the temple followed by a few Squad members. Shortly afterwards, the island and the temple blow up. Why? Who knows. What’s in the Temple? Doesn’t tell you here. What was Black Adam’s agenda (he definitely had one)? To be told somewhere else.
There’s a block of white space on the bottom of the last page of the story in which the reader was informed where to go for the next thrilling chapter. The reader of this volume doesn’t have that and so they are left with an incomplete story with big gaps in it. And it’s the last story in this volume as well and I think leaves a somewhat sour taste in the mouth.
However, it may be someone’s favorite story. Years ago, I was on a panel at a comic book convention and was asked what was the story I’d written that I wished I could unwrite. I named it and ridiculed it and some poor guy in the front row looked stricken and said “But that’s my favorite story!” If this story was one of your favorite’s, I apologize.
This week we’ll continue with my commentary on the latest collection of my run of Suicide Squad stories, # 7, The Dragon’s Horde. This one will be out just a few days before Christmas making it a perfect last-minute Christmas gift. Well, for some pretty strange people on your Christmas list, I’ll grant you. Once again, although I feel foolish in saying it, the Spoiler Flag is flying although the stories are about two decades old.
Last week we explored the first story in the volume which was the 50th issue celebration. That had everyone, living and dead, from the Squad in it. The next story, Fractured Image, focuses down to mainly just Deadshot. There are others in the story but the main plot centers on Floyd Lawton.
After a major storyline with lots of characters in it, Kim Yale (my wife and co-writer) and I liked to do stories complete in a single issue with a tighter focus to them. When you write an ongoing series, you need to think of the rhythm not only of a given story but of the series as a whole. You can fatigue the reader if you have too many Big Big Big stories with Action Action Action. It’s why we used to do Personal File stories in the Squad maybe once a year; focus on ongoing subplots and individual characterization. This issue isn’t quite a Personal File but it comes close.
Among other subplots, we advanced the connection between Eve Eden (Nightshade) and Tom Tresser (Nemesis). The two always had an attraction for each other but the time never seemed right; it gets right in this story. On a more significant note, Count Vertigo has a conversation with Deadshot that will linger for the rest of the series. Werner Vertigo is manic depressive and had recently been under the thrall of Poison Ivy in which his soul, as he puts it, no longer felt his own. He can’t live that way should it happen again. For reasons he doesn’t go into here, he can’t commit suicide so he wants to know if Lawton will put a bullet in Vertigo’s brain if Werner asks him. Lawton has no problem with that but warns Vertigo to be serious if he asks Deadshot to do it because he will.
The main story spins out of another subplot that we had been spinning for awhile. (Kim and I could nurse a subplot along for more than a year.) Lawton and Captain Boomerang had made a trip Down Under to Harkness’s old stomping grounds when they were summoned back to join the Squad on a mission. Because of Boomerbutt, the two missed their plane. As a result, their luggage got lost – including Lawton’s costume and wrist magnums.
Deadshot is not amused.
At the start of the issue, we discover the costume has been found and recovered – by a luggage handler in France named Marc Pilar who was described as a nothing working in the fringes of the mob. Lawton flies to Marseilles, France, to deal with the imposter and recover his property but there is a real question as to whether or not he can kill “himself.” Lawton had always been described as having a death wish but I never felt he was out to commit suicide. He just didn’t care if he lived or died. Now he is being hunted by “Deadshot”; will he let himself be killed by his alternate persona?
At this time in the run of Suicide Squad, I had decided it would be more realistic to take the Squad out of their costumes and code names. They were supposed to be a covert action group and, as such, should not be drawing undue attention to themselves. In theory.
I now look back at this decision as a mistake. These are comics and the costumes and codenames are a major part of the visuals. I think we started to hemorrhage readers at this point and it would help lead to the book’s cancellation about a year and a half later. Any book that’s more than five years old is going to start losing readership but this choice may have helped.
Nonetheless, I like this story a lot. It’s fair to say that Deadshot was one of the Squad “trinity” (along with Waller and Captain Boomerang) who were never going to get killed. Oh, they occasionally got shot just to make the readers think we might kill them but it was never going to happen. I just enjoyed playing with them too much.
It feels a little silly to be issuing a spoilerwarning for a story that’s more than twenty years old but it’s entirely possible that there are folks out there who have never read the story described below. I’ll need to discuss some plot points and twists so if you don’t want to know ‘em, avoid this week’s column. Spoiler warning issued.
December 22 will see the publication of the seventh volume in the reprint series of my Suicide Squad, just in time for last minute holiday giving. See? Sometimes it does pay to wait until the last minute to shop.
This will probably be the penultimate volume in this reprint series as there are only a few more issues to gather. Kim Yale was once again my co-writer. I’m taking this opportunity to re-read these stories myself and over the next few columns I’ll comment on them, as I’ve done with some previous volumes.
The title tale is the biggest one in the volume but, as not unusual, is not the only story. The first one reprints issue 50 which was extra-sized. I’m of two minds about anniversary issues. Certainly, you want to celebrate the longevity of the given title but sometimes setting it up can throw off the whole pacing of the series. That happened with GrimJack and maybe the Spectre; you can wind up treading narrative water trying to get to an anniversary issue.
However, the Squad 50th issue worked.
Kim’s and my goal was to take as many story points that we had in the early days, especially issue 1, and re-work them into a new narrative. That can be difficult when you’ve spent as much time killing off your characters as Kim and I did. Basic background on the Squad; the series was created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru and ran for five issues of the Brave and the Bold. The first Squad was a team of four: leader Captain Rick Flag, medic Karin Grace, and scientists Jess Bright and Hugh Evans. Rick and Karin had fallen in love but felt compelled to keep it a secret since the two scientists were also in love with Karin. It could’ve gotten kind of kinky but this was 1959.
The element that I took for the new Squad was that the old one fell apart on a disastrous mission to Tibet. Bright and Evans found out about Rick and Karin and were pissed at being played for chumps. They died falling into a chasm during an attack by a Yeti. Karin had a breakdown and wouldn’t see Rick anymore.
Rick and Karin were both part of the new series but by issue 49 both had died. Rick would get better and return but for issue 50’s purposes, he was still dead. However, we revealed that they had a son; Rick was never aware of it and Karin blocked the boy’s birth from her memory during her breakdown.
The incident triggering the plot is that the boy has been kidnapped by a zombie like character named Koschei the Deathless. During the story, it’s revealed that Koschei is actually Jess Bright who had survived the fall into the chasm but loss his nose, lips, toes and fingers to frostbite before being rescued by the Chinese. He later winds up with the Russians where he becomes Koschei.
Unaware that both are dead, Jess wants revenge on Rick and Karin and, having run afoul of the new Squad since becoming Koschei he also wants them dead. To this end he has resurrected members of the Squad who were killed on missions by using mechanical implants at the base of their skulls. Oh, and I should mention that Koschei has also died but, using the same technology, walks and talks and plans terrible revenge.
So we have the Suicide Squad up against the Zombie Squad which makes for some fun visuals and match ups. The climax takes place in a fake Quraci airport that figured into the first story.
Yeah, it all does sound convoluted, but I think it all works in context of the actual story.
One of the flaws in issue 50 is that it concludes rather quickly without a lot of space for visuals but that’s a flaw I sometimes have as a writer; I don’t always pace everything as well as I might. All things considered, however, I think it is a good story and covers the anniversary tropes pretty well. It even ends with a surprisingly tender moment for Amanda Waller. It also gets this reprint off to a good start, I think, although you folks are the ones who have the real say.
We’ll continue this next week as we look at the next story or two. Ciao for now.
Life is about balance. After last week’s screed on my personal health journey, it’s only fair I balance things out with a very gluttonous listing of my most favorite meals whilst being an indie creator. You see, a life in comics — part time, at least — find folks assembled around a table to break bread more often than you’d think. When logging in considerable hours at a convention, creators often will nibble here and there, and then run out of the expo hall in a mad dash for food when the con floor closes. Great minds have met over bowls of pasta and pizzas, whilst inking deals on Batman or the X-Men. Here are, in no particular order, five meals that remain stuck in between my teeth:
Miller’s Pub with Mike Gold
The first time ComicMix honcho Mike Gold asked Unshaven Comics to meet him for a meal, he chose Miller’s Pub in downtown Chicago. Prior to the lunch we shared, Mr. Gold was a fleeting presence at the Wizard World Chicago where we made our debut. The lovely late Linda Gold had stumbled across we Unshaven Lads, dying a slow and panicked death in Artist Alley. She listened to our pitch and promised to bring Mike by. After briefly meeting us, Mike and I exchanged e-mails post-show. When the opportunity arose to find Mr. Gold back in the Chicagoland area, he proposed a meeting of the minds. Over hot sandwiches and the first round of name-dropping stories we would succumb to hear on a yearly basis, Mike looked us in the eyes (as we demanded Unshaven Comics pick up the check) and said the kindest thing we’d ever hear in our careers: “Boys, I will do whatever I can to see you doing well in this business.” And let me tell you, nothing has ever tasted sweeter.
Breakfast Buffet with John Ostrander
A few years back, John asked us to pick him up at his house and drive him down to the Detroit Fanfare comic convention. We were more than happy to oblige. The next morning, he asked us to join him for breakfast. Amidst pans of bacon, lukewarm pancakes, and runny scrambled eggs, John waxed poetic about all sorts of things. Star Wars, the Suicide Squad, playwriting in Chicago, and even the secret origin of Wasteland all came tumbling out from John’s timid timbre. Matt, Kyle, and I sat in awe of an industry legend as he treated us as friends… not the drooling fanboys we were. And not to be undone by Mike Gold, John heaped a bit of praise on us (as we picked up the check): “Seriously, I don’t know how you guys do it. You have everything planned out to the nines. I’m in awe of you.” Not bad for the cost of a few plates of breakfast meat.
The CowFish with The Samurnauts
Unshaven Comics got greedy in 2013. Figuring we could sell tons of books by splitting up and covering more ground, we sent Unshaven Salesman 2000 (Kyle Gnepper) off to a show in Cincinnati whilst Unshaven Matt and I covered the HeroesCon in North Carolina. Knowing that sans-Kyle we’d be without our real power, our blue and yellow Samurnauts (Cherise and Erik) joined our menagerie to bolster our abilities. While we learned that four of us couldn’t match a single Gnepper, we did find something redeeming about the lackluster show. Unshackled from Kyle’s more predictable palette, the Samurnauts, Matt and I found a burger/sushi restaurant in a neighboring town. I could spend literally an entire article simply remarking about what all we ordered… or I could simply say we loved the place so much, the manager gave us coupons if we’d consider coming back the next night. And we very much did.
Brandy Hauman’s Homecooking
When Unshaven Comics makes the 14-hour trek from Chicago to New York (or, in fact, Homewood to Weehawken), ComicMix’s Glenn Hauman is always the most gracious of hosts — opening his home to us for the price of a few bottles of hooch. As the New York Comic Con sits on the single piece of New York real estate devoid of decent food, we often wind up at la Casa del Hauman for some real New Jersey takeout. But last year, Glenn’s amazing (talented, beautiful, funny, and charming) wife demanded she make us a home-cooked meal. A nice roasted chicken and some sides — but it was served over a table filled with laughter, embarrassing stories, and friendship. With this past NYCC our fourth journey to the city that never sleeps, this single meal stands out as a testament to the best part of the tri-state area: the people who you make friends.
Some BBQ joint in Stamford, CT
I’ll end here on the most sincere memory I have in regards to comics and food. As mentioned above with the meal at Miller’s Pub, with this meal Mike Gold quickly morphed from a coveted mentor to both a mentor and a mensch. When my wife and I got married in November of 2009, we’d invited all of the ComicMixers we knew — knowing that the gesture was largely symbolic given the distance any of them would have had to travel just to see a then super-fat Marc stomp on a glass and yell L’chaim. As it would turn out, the newly minted Mrs. Fishman and I would take our honeymoon out along the East Coast (we didn’t quite google that Cape Cod is really a summer town). Mike was quick to demand that on our way home, we move our route to swing down his way. There, not far from the WWE headquarters, Kathy and I would be greeted by Glenn, Mike, Linda, and a smattering of other ComicMix friends for a BBQ lunch. As with much of this list: I don’t remember the food as much as the feeling that I’d made friends I’ve held on to ever since. That these oddballs would welcome me and mine into their family has cemented that my life in comics has been filled with some of the finest meals a man could dine on.
This week we wind up our discussion about the 6th volume of DC’s reprint of my (and Kim Yale’s) run on the Suicide Squad. We’ll be discussing the final story in the book; it was issues 48 and 49 and featured Oracle, a.k.a Barbara Gordon, the former Batgirl crippled by an attack from the Joker. She then re-made herself into the go-to information broker in the DCU. Well, Kim and I re-made her but you get the idea.
This story brings back another character from the Squad, Simon LaGrieve who had been the Squad’s shrink. He and Waller had not parted well and now he was the head of the Institute for Metahuman Studies (the IMHS). La Grieve was doing Waller a favor in treating two members of the Squad who were hurt in the previous story and in return, had a favor to ask of her.
There was a character in Firestorm (which I had also been writing and from which I also got the IMHS) named Cliff Carmichael who was Ronnie (Firestorm) Raymond’s nemesis. I’d inherited the character and, to be honest, I didn‘t much care for him so I decided he was a sociopath and he wound up at the IMHS.
There at the Institute, thanks to two dunderheaded scientists, Cliff got a hold of the late Thinker’s helmet. (I’d killed off the Thinker in another Squad story.) He used the helmet to analyze the helmet itself, create a series of microchips that he had inserted in his head – along with a computer port – and became a real cyberpunk. He gained the ability to interface with any computer and, oh yeah, could create a field within which he could grab control of another’s person’s brain. Doncha just love simple, easy, straightforward backstory?
Minor digression: The two dunderheaded scientists were named Pangloss and Caius. Pangloss is named for a character in Voltaire’s Candide and there’s a Doctor Caius in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. I do that from time to time; borrow names from other literary works. Simon LaGrieve was named after Simon LeGree from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He carries no other traits with that odious character but I did it as in in-joke for myself related to Belle Reve prison which had been the Squad’s HQ for much of the series.
Belle Reve is also the book’s connection to Tennessee Williams, being the same name as the plantation that Blanche DuBois and her sister Stella had been raised on in A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche lost it and my conceit is that it was bought by someone who lost it to the government which then built a prison on it. That’s why the prison is in the swamps in Louisiana. (There’s your bit of Squad trivia for the day.) A plantation should have an overseer and that’s how Simon LeGree became Simon LaGrieve. End digression.
Carmichael, a.k.a. the new Thinker, was now stalking Oracle. Why? Because LaGrieve asked Oracle to help set a trap for the escaped Thinker. The idea was to introduce a virus that would wipe the chips in his brain but the plan backfired and now the Thinker is stalking Oracle to punish her for her part in the scheme. And LaGrieve wants the Squad’s help in stopping Carmichael before he can do it. Of course, Amanda agrees; she and Oracle also have history.
Not really a spoiler alert: Waller succeeds and Oracle survives but not before the Wall also tries on the old Thinker’s helmet. Carmichael with that kind of technology was scary; Waller with it? Brrrrr!
The cover to issue 49 is also one of my faves in the series and one of the great ones featuring Babs Gordon. Drawn by Norm Breyfogle it just has Barbara in her wheelchair pointing a gun out in the general direction of the reader. There’s a bat symbol behind her, a determined look on Bab’s face, and a one-word balloon: “Smile.” Definitely a reference to the Joker who put her in that wheelchair.
There’s some hits and misses in the story. To show the first confrontation between Oracle and the Thinker, we had it take place in cyberspace. The look was heavily influenced by the movie Tron (the first one). It’s interesting but also now a bit dated. Don’t blame Luke McDonnell and Geoff Isherwood who were the artists; they were simply following the instructions of the writers. In fact, don’t blame Kim either; I think this was my big idea.
There are only a few members of the Squad available for the mission: Bronze Tiger, Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, and a hidden Atom. We carry over the gag from the previous story that Boomerang’s and Deadshot’s luggage is lost by the airlines, largely due to Boomerbutt. Deadshot is not pleased and Harkness is getting real nervous.
A big issue in this story is whether or not Barbara, who knows that the Thinker is after her, will shoot him. And who does she really want dead? For me, that’s the most vital part of the plot.
The story resolves with Waller getting uncharacteristically physical, basically beating the crap out of the Tinker. Actually, it’s very satisfying, I think. And Oracle agrees to resume her relationship with Waller and the Squad.
Oh, and we also set the stage for the double-sized issue 50 which will be reprinted in late November when the 7th volume of the Squad TPBs come out. Volume 6 will be out around May 23 and now you have all the background dirt on these stories. The Squad should always have background dirt.
For the past few weeks we’ve been discussing the latest TPB reprint of my Suicide Squad run at DC with me giving some of my thoughts about what went into the stories. One of the things I like about this volume is that it gives a nice variety – there’s a four-part story arc, a single-issue story, another four-parter, and then a two-parter.
This week we’re going to focus in on the second four-parter, The Jerusalem Serpent. The villain of the piece is named Kobra, a Jack Kirby creation. He’s the leader of a cult-like terrorist group and had bounced around the DCU for a number of years. He was a made-to order bad guy for the Squad although I monkeyed with him a bit. In DC cosmology you had the Lords of Order and the Lords of Chaos (which, in itself, was patterned after the cosmology in much of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series). Doctor Fate, for example, was an avatar of the Lords of Order. So I made Kobra a follower of the Lords of Chaos, working to usher in the Kali Yuga- the Age of Chaos. The guy had a real Jones for it.
He was offset in the story by another character that we had brought into the Squad – Revan, who had originally been part of the Jihad, the super-powered terrorist for hire group we met way back in the first issue. Revan was a modern Thugee, from whom we get the term thug. He and Kobra both worshipped Kali which might make you think they were on the same side but Revan sought to delay the Kali Yuga while Kobra wanted to usher it in. This made them implacable enemies and they were described as the mongoose and the cobra. They were destined to fight to the death and, in this storyline, they do. Well, one of them does.
In this arc we also meet an Israeli band of superheroes, the Hayoth, all of whom were created specifically for this book. The Hayoth were the four living beasts of Ezekiel and Revelation in the Bible and, in this, I hear Kim’s voice. She knew Bible lore better than I did or do.
Their leader, and Waller’s counterpart, is Colonel Hacohen, also Mossad’s liasion with Hayoth. Its members included Judith, essentially a Jewish ninja. A man named Moshe Nachman was code-named Golem and had the ability to alter the chemical composition of his body to sand, mud, earth, water and so on.
The last two members are among my favorites: Ramban, who we described as a combat magician, and Dybbuk, an Israeli A.I. or Artificial Intelligence. Ramban is named for one of the great Kabbalistic magicians of old. A dybbuk, in Jewish folklore, was a possessing spirit. In this case, Dybbuk can possess other computers, machinery, just about anything that has electricity running through it.
Kobra gets caught in the early pages of the story and imprisoned by the Israelis but he has sent a message to the Americans: “The Age of Kali Yuga will dawn in Jerusalem.” Waller and the Squad are hired by an Egyptian official to find out what Kobra intends and prevent it from happening. So why does he care what happens to the Israelis? As the official puts it, they don’t want a madman like Kobra manipulating events to his own ends – ends that would not benefit the Arabs or the Israelis.
So Amanda Waller gets hired and she and her team must infiltrate Israel, something that is harder for some than others. A running joke throughout the arc is Deadshot and Boomerang trying to get there. They’re coming from the previous issue’s adventure in Australia and, because Boomerbutt insisted on getting a drink (or two or three or five) on the way to the airport, they’ve missed their plane. Their luggage, however, has gone on without them and then gets lost in the system. Deadshot’s uniform and guns are in his luggage and he is not amused. Harkness understands all too well that this could get him killed.
Waller is not amused either.
The Wall figures out early on that Kobra got caught because he wanted to get caught. The Israelis dismiss such a notion but Waller wants to figure out why and this gets us to the heart of this story and the reason its one of my faves.
The A.I., Dybbuk, is guarding Kobra 24/7 which gives the Avatar of Chaos a chance to engage in a dialogue with him/it. Dybbuk is an innocent, like Adam in Eden. He has no knowledge of Good and Evil. Kobra is the serpent seducing him. Is Dybbuk a person or a machine? Kobra convinces the A.I. that the only way to know is to determine a course of action and then choose to follow it through.
The course of action? Sending Israeli jets to destroy Islam’s third holiest shrine, the Dome of the Rock, which happens to be built on the ruins of Solomon’s temple. The Jews then will be able to rebuild the temple. In theory. Of course, it will also ignite the unholiest of Holy Wars – and usher in the Age of Chaos.
The Squad and the Hayoth battle each other while the Squad seeks to stop the jets’ attack but the real climax to the arc is a dialectical conversation between Dybbuk and Ramban, a philosophical discussion about not only making a choice but the value of making a moral one.
I hear Kim’s voice all over those pages; my late wife and writing partner knew the source material being cited and how to present it. The fate of the world depends on two beings talking and coming to the right decision. As Ramban says, “To know what to do is good, to know why you do it is better.”
Ah, that‘s the Squad I loved.
We’ll wind this up next week with the final story in the collection and that one centers on Oracle.
Last week in this space, we started discussing the latest volume in DC’s TPB re-issue of my Suicide Squad series. The book is called The Phoenix Gambit, which also was the name of the first arc.
Today we’re pushing on with the stand-alone story, Dark Matters, which also serves as the re-vamped and more detailed origin of George “Digger” Harkness, aka Captain Boomerang. Boomerbutt, as he became known in the Squad, was not originally one of my picks for the team; editor Robert Greenberger urged him on me. I thought Boomerang was pretty silly looking with an even sillier gimmick, but he was a prime member of the Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery. The Flash group wasn’t using the Rogues at that point so he became available to us.
I decided to model Boomerang after George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman character in his series of historical novels. Flashman remains a cad, a liar, a coward throughout the series but he’s an entertaining bounder and I thought I would go there with Boomerang. No matter how far he sunk, Boomerang could always find another level to sink to. He became a trickster character; always up to something but never quite as clever as he thought he was. I quickly became very fond of this version of Boomerang and so did the readers.
Since he was supposed to be Australian (boomerang connection, right?), I wanted him to sound Australian, which no one had ever done. Let’s go a little beyond “shrimp on the barbie” colloquialisms. So I got books on Aussie slang and peppered his dialogue with things I found.
After doing The Phoenix Gambit, I thought it was time for a “Private files” sort of story and why not focus on everyone’s favorite asshole? Kim wasn’t going to be co-writing this issue so I dragooned an old mate of mine, Australian David de Vries, to join me. Dave was already an accomplished comic book writer, co-creating the Southern Squadron, a down-under team of superheroes. He also did The Phantom for DC, as well as some Batman and Star Trek among scads of other things.
In fact, it was our conversation about Captain Boomerang during one of Dave’s visits to the States that gave me the idea for this story. Dave was telling me how he and his mates would get together and read Boomerang’s dialogue aloud and laugh themselves silly. Flustered, I protested that I had gotten the lingo from dictionaries and the like. “Well, yeah, mate,” Dave told me, “but nobody really talks that way.” Let’s just say it was slightly dated.
But having an actual Aussie there gave me the idea of having him help dialogue the guy and then I’d crib from Dave for future issues.
Which is what we did. You can find a dramatic shift in Boomerang’s speech patterns between The Phoenix Gambit and this story and the ones that followed.
The plot basically has Harkness going back to Australia along with his friend Deadshot to attend the funeral of Harkness’s mother. We meet his father and brother and get to see Harkness where he was born and raised. We meet “Uncle Walt” (W.W. Wiggins) who actually launched Harkness as Captain Boomerang and discover his real connection to the Harkness family.
All in all, it was a nice, tight single-issue story. Dave’s a real good storyteller in his own right and back in Australia he wrote and directed Camilla Hyde which has won a plethora of awards around the world. He’s a talented guy but, even better from my viewpoint, he’s been a good and loyal friend and I’m really proud of this story we did together.
And that’s the fair dinkum.
Okay, de Vries, you can laugh at me now.
Next week: the Squad visits Israel. Hey, what’s the worst that could happen?
On May 23, DC will release the sixth volume in their TPB reprint series of my Suicide Squad work. It’s sub-titled “The Phoenix Gambit” and, as is my wont, I’m going to share some thoughts about the stories therein. This might actually take a few weeks.
The volume covers issues 41 through 49 and, with one exception, was co-written with my late wife, Kim Yale. It was at this point that we shook up the Squad (and the book) to a large degree. When we last left the Squad in issue 40 (and the end of the previous TPB), the Squad had disbanded or dispersed. Amanda Waller was in jail as a result of her hand in executing the criminal gang calling itself the Loa; she just surrendered and, at the time, many people both within the book and without wondered why. Why didn’t she fight it? Why didn’t she scheme to get out of it?
In one of the stories in this issue, Amanda explains why to a friend – she felt she deserved to go to jail, that she had stepped over the line. This re-enforced the fact that, so far as I was concerned, Waller has always had a conscience of some kind, even when she crossed it. I think that’s the main difference between my Amanda and the film’s Amanda – mine is not a sociopath. Please note: this is not a criticism of the film; they wrote the character as they saw her, as they needed for their story. Mine is just a bit different. The first story starts with Waller in a prison cell in Belle Reve and the caption “One year later.”
This was slightly controversial at the time. There were fans who felt this now put the Squad out of sync with the rest of the DCU. Kim and I weren’t overly concerned about that; we figured over the run of the stories, they’d even up. It was important to Kim and I that the time elapse between the end of the last story and the start of this one. Not only did Waller need time out, some of the other characters need time to elapse as well.
Sarge Steel approaches Amanda in her cell. (Steel also works in the Intelligence biz and he and Waller have been at loggerheads since the Squad began.) He could use her help and advice with a problem and makes her the same deal she made others – do the job, succeed, survive, and get time off your sentence.
Amanda smiles at him; she’s been waiting for this or something like it. She has a counter-offer. She gets a presidential pardon; she gets to put a Squad together like before, they work without governmental ties or oversight, and they get a million dollars. Oh, and Batman has to help with the first mission.
This would be one of the big changes in the book; no more Belle Reve, no more supporting cast. Smaller Squad and, for the most part, no costumes. Every day clothes. They were free agents. More expendable than ever and the U.S. Government had less (or no) control over them (and especially Amanda).
These were significant changes. The book was over three years old and time, Kim and I thought, for a shake-up. While the new direction seemed to me at the time to be a good idea, in retrospect I’m not so sure. Fans can be a conservative bunch; they tend to want the same thing each time but different. That’s a hard trick to pull off. Don’t you need the characters in costume to really know who they are? It could be argued that Deadshot’s costume WAS the character. In losing the Belle Reve, we lost not only the Squad’s HQ but a genuine character in the series.
It could also be argued that having the characters running around in costume negated their being a covert action bunch. This seemed more “realistic” although realistic in this context is somewhat malleable. It also got Waller more out into the field as part of the operation rather than waiting at HQ and that seemed to me to be a better idea.
The Squad itself was a somewhat different group. Deadshot and Captain Boomerang were givens and Vixen and Bronze Tiger were regulars although we had messed with Tiger a bit, scuffed up his “good guy” image. They were joined by Count Vertigo and now Poison Ivy and the modern Thugee, Revan, who previously had been a Squad opponent, working with the terrorist group, the Jihad.
They were also joined by the Atom or, shall I say, an Atom. It appeared that Ray Palmer was killed in an explosion and a new Atom, named Adam Cray, had taken his place. Most the of the Squad members (and many readers) believed that Cray was actually Ray Palmer; they thought Palmer had, for some reason, faked his own death and was now assuming a disguise.
I always felt that the Atom would be an ideal member of an espionage team, especially the Squad. His ability to shrink could make him an ideal spy and so, when he became available to us, Kim and I jumped at the chance – albeit with our usual touch of twistiness.
The Phoenix Gambit also included the Russian equivalent to very early Superman crossed with Captain America, Stanoivolk (“Steel Wolf”). And Batman. Lots of Batman. In fact, the first chapter of The Phoenix Gambit could almost be thought of as a Batman story. He’d stick around for the other three issues as well. No great mystery there – Batman already had a history with the Squad and doing something of a crossover could be a nice way to boost sales, Especially at this stage of the Squad’s history.
Getting ready to write this column (and the next few) gave me a chance to go over the volume myself; I hadn’t read most of these in more than a decade. I think, as a whole, they’re among the strongest in the series. Kim and I were really hitting our stride and there are places where I can clearly see her hand and hear her voice. There’s a place where a drugged and deranged Count Vertigo gets all biblical while in battle. That was almost certainly scripted by Kim; her father was an Episcopal minister and she knew the well from which she drew.
The main artist at this point was Geoff Isherwood who had been one of our inkers for a long time. He gave the art a nice illustrative feel while, at the same time, keeping the down and dirty realism the book required. Luke McDonnell, our original artist, would return here and there but the bulk of the work is Geoff’s and he does a fine job.
Well, that does it for this week, my li’l Squadders. Join us next time when, among other things, we’ll talk about our Secret Origin of Captain Boomerang and how that came about. That’s next week – same Squad time, same Squad channel.
It was a lifetime ago. It was just moments gone by.
Tuesday will mark twenty years since my wife, Kimberly Ann Yale, died.
I’ve been working on a column discussing the passage for some days but haven’t been satisfied with it. Sometimes you try to say something and can’t find the right things to say. I’ve come across an old column I wrote ten years ago. Just about everything I wanted to say I said back then so, if y’all don’t mind, I’ll just reprint it here.
Today is Thanksgiving and a hearty Happy Thanksgiving to you all. As it turns out, it’s also the birthday of my late wife, Kimberly Ann Yale, who would have been 54 today. This is a day for stopping and giving thanks for the good things in your life and so I’ll ask your indulgence while I remember one of the best things in mine, which was Kim.
For those who don’t know her, never met her, how do I describe her to you? My god, where do I begin? Physically – heart shaped face, megawatt smile, big blue eyes. Champagne blonde hair which, in her later years, she decided should be red. That decision was pure Kimmie. She looked good, too, but she also looked good bald. More on that in a few moments.
She was buxom and damn proud of it. Referred to her breasts as “the girls” and was fond of showing them off. She was about 5’8” so that when she was in heels we were about the same height. Basically had an hourglass figure although sometimes there were a few more seconds packed into that hourglass than maybe there should have been. We both fought weight problems and I still do.
All that, however, is merely a physical description. Photographs could tell you as much and more and still tell you so little about Kim. Not who she was. Kim was an extrovert to the point of being an exhibitionist. She was sometimes flamboyant; I have described her as the world’s most innocent narcissist. She loved the spotlight but with the delight of a child. Yet, she also loved nothing better than to be in the corner of a tea shoppe or coffee house, drinking her cuppa, writing in her journal, totally absorbed into herself and the moment.
She also genuinely loved people. Loved being around them, hearing their stories, telling her own. She had one of the world’s great infectious laughs. If you were in a comedy on stage, you wanted Kim in your audience. She got the jokes, too, including some the rest of the audience missed.
She loved music, all kinds of music, and could talk knowledgeably about it for hours. Hell, Kim could hold forth on almost anything for hours. She loved classical, the blues, rock and roll, soundtracks to movies – everything. She loved movies, she loved books, she loved TV. She adored Doctor Who; we, in fact, met at a Doctor Who Convention.
She loved comics and she loved the idea of women in comics. At many different Cons, she would chair the Women in Comics panel and, in Chicago especially where she did it for several years, people learned to come because it would often be one of the most interesting, thought-provoking panels at the Con. She was part of the early organizational meetings that resulted in Friends of Lulu and their annual award for the best new female comics creator is named for Kim. She would have been very proud of that.
How do I describe our relationship – what we gave to each other? One example – she brought cats into my life, I brought dogs back into hers. She made me more of a cat person; I brought out the dog lover in her.
Other things she brought to me – her love of Westerns and of the Civil War. I had dismissed Westerns as “oaters” and “horse opera” but Kim patiently took me through the best ones, showed me the difference from a John Ford western and a Budd Boetticher one. Without Kim, there never would have been The Kents or my Marvel westerns, Blaze of Glory and Apache Skies.
On our honeymoon, Kim wanted to go to Fredericksburg, Virginia, so we could walk some of the Civil War battlefields in the area. I was a little dubious at first but went along because it was important to her. My god, I learned so much walking those battlefields. I don’t know if you can understand those battles or the War without doing that. We would later add others like Shiloh and Gettysburg to the list. Amazing, bonding, illuminating moments.
Kim and I worked together as co-writers on several projects, notably Suicide Squad, some Munden’s Bar stories, and a tale of Young John Gaunt that ran in the back of GrimJack during its final year at First Comics. I think Kim was a finer writer than I am. I’m at heart a storyteller and I’m mostly about what happens next; I turn a good phrase and I know plot, character, theme and so on but Kim was also into the composition and the polish on the story. She would go over and over things while I’d push on. I wish she had written more on her own; at the end of her life, so did she.
Kim also introduced me to the fabled “Bucket of Suds,” a wonderful bar in Chicago that was the nearest earthly equivalent I know to Munden’s Bar and to which we, in turn, introduced many folks from the comic book community, especially during the Chicago Comiccon. The owner, Joe Danno, was a mixologist and could invent a new drink on the spot in addition to creating his own cordials. The Bucket not only served drinks but, for many years, served home made pizza, burgers, breadsticks.
Joe also created his own catsup, mustard, bar-b-que sauce, and hot sauce. Want to see our esteemed editor, Mike Gold, both drool and cry at the same time? Get him talking about the hot sauce and the bar-b-que sauce, neither of which is available any more. (Oh, the humanity!) I set a scene in an issue of Hawkworld at the Bucket and got photo reference for our penciler, Graham Nolan, which he used wonderfully well. I later obtained the pages and gave them to Joe who proudly had them framed up over the bar.
Joe got older and the bar’s opening hours became more erratic. Kim by that point, was also sick with the breast cancer that would kill her. Joe finally announced that the Bar was closing and said there would be a party the closing night. Kim desperately wanted to be there – it was right around her birthday, as I recall – but she was too sick by that point to make the trip. The bar closed and Kim herself died the following March.
Kimberly wore her heart on her sleeve, both politically and personally, and it was an open and generous heart. She identified so much with underdogs. She was a PK – a Preacher’s Kid – and her father was an Episcopal chaplain in the Navy as well, so she was also a “Navy Brat.” She would move every few years to another base somewhere else in the country. Sometimes it would be a great place and sometimes it was one where she was treated horribly but one thing she learned was not to form really close friends because, in a few years, she or they would move on to another base and would be gone.
Yet despite all that, her heart was not bitter or closed. She loved meeting people and she did make friends even though her heart did get hurt time and again. What people thought of her mattered to her and sometimes that could hurt. I tried to explain to her that, in fact, while everyone had a right to their own opinion, not everyone’s opinion mattered. Some people were just assholes. Some were nasty assholes. Some had agendas. Some were misinformed. Kim understood all that or at least her head did but it hurt nevertheless. It’s hard when you lead with your heart.
Kim died of breast cancer more than ten years ago. I won’t go through all the particulars of that time, other than to note that it was mercifully swift and that she fought with her customary determination, élan and brio which she documented in a brave series of columns that she wrote for the Comic Buyers Guide.
There are a few grace notes to tell in the space we have. As a result of her bouts with chemo, Kim’s hair did fall out so eventually she shaved her head. She considered using a wig but eventually opted for temporary tattoos at her temples. I remember the butterflies.
In her final weeks, she let go of more and more things that simply no longer mattered. She let go of old angers, she forgave, she reconciled. As her body failed, ultimately her spirit became more clear. I’ll not say she went quietly into that good night; she was very clear about wanting to die in her own home and when circumstances forced us to bring her back to the hospital for pain management, she rebelled. Drugged up, she still tried to take the tubes out of her arms. She wanted to go home and, finally, we brought her home.
Yet, all of these are also simply random facts about Kim and cannot capture her. There is only one way that I know to do that – through story. We had three memorial services for Kim after she died – one at our church, one in New York for those who knew her from the comics industry, one back in Chicago for family and friends there. Stories were told at all three and, for me, they were the centerpieces of the memorials. Mary and I still tell them, recalling Kim’s foibles as well as her virtues for, as I have said before, I prefer Kim’s foibles to many other people’s virtues. They make her human. They make her alive.
I think that’s important for anyone who has lost someone who was loved. Don’t just remember – tell the stories. So that’s what I’d like to do with the comments sections this week, if you have time – tell stories about the lives of people we are thankful we have known, those who are no longer here. If you have a Kim story to tell, that would be great – I’d love to read it. If it’s about someone else, that’s okay, too – Kim would have loved to hear it.
That’s who Kim was – a person of story.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
A few additional thoughts.
Kim was a geek back when it was not cool to be a geek and the triumph of geek culture would have floored her. The Star Wars prequels and now the new sequels and stand alone stories; the whole Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies; the return of Doctor Who and the dawn of the superhero movie. She would have been in NYC with me for the premiere of the Suicide Squad movie; Kim would have seen the three-story tall Squad ad in Times Square, screamed and swooned and then laughed with utter delight. I can hear it in my mind’s ear.
She’s missed a lot. She is missed a lot.
I have a new life and a partner that I love and treasure – Mary Mitchell. Twenty years is a lifetime; twenty years was just a moment ago. Kim is still a part of my life and will be for the rest of my life and that’s as it should be.