I’m a writer of fantastic fiction. That’s been my bread and butter for over 30 years. Folks that fly. Folks that travel through time. Folks that live in multi-dimensional cities. Bad folks doing bad things for ostensibly good causes. And so on and so on.
For all that the stories and characters have been fantastic, I have to keep them in some ways real. I don’t want to have the readers say, “Oh, that could never happen.” I don’t want to have an editor say, “Oh, that could never happen.” Or “That’s ridiculous.” Or “Who do you think you’re kidding?” The stories need to be at least plausible in some way.
Or so I thought until this political season.
Yes, I’m going to use the T word. Trump.
If Trump did not exist, if I had simply made up him and his candidacy, I could never have sold his campaign for president. I don’t think I know an editor who would have bought it except as some wild political satire. It would probably have been dismissed as a product of my fevered liberal brain.
Reality has… trumped me.
That happens now and then. When I first proposed my idea back in the 80s for a Suicide Squad revival, of saying that the government would get supervillains to do covert missions is (supposedly) in the National Interest, there was some concern that the premise was a little too out there. In between the time when the Squad proposal was accepted and the first issue was published, Irangate hit. (For those who are too young or too old to remember, Irangate or The Iran-Contra Scandal occurred during the second Reagan administration where the White House sold some weapons to Iran (which was under an arms embargo) and used the money to fund the revel Contras in Nicaragua which had been prohibited by the U.S. Congress.)
In short, reality trumped me back then as well.
When Donald Trump declared himself a candidate for President, I thought it was a joke. I thought he was a joke. After all, he ran before and went nowhere.
Now? Now he’s the Republican nominee for the highest office in the land and the most powerful person on the planet.
I think that’s a notion that American Horror Story could do a whole season on.
He has done and said things that would have sunk any other presidential candidate in memory. Just this week he praised Vlad Putin, the dictator of Russia, and even went on Russian TV to praise him and disparage President Obama. That was too much even for Bill O’Reilly. I’ve watched countless Republicans in high positions who had to answer questions about it and looked like they were going to vomit in their mouths. They usually mumbled something along the lines of “I support the Party’s candidate.”
Look, I make no bones and no apologies for what I am – liberal and decidedly anti-Trump. I’m not nuts about Hillary Clinton and, frankly, I think if it had been almost any other person who was the Democratic candidate, they would be crushing Trump. I think, and hope, that she will in the end. All that said, I cannot conceive that Trump will win this. I keep telling myself it’s not possible but, on the other hand, I never thought he would get this far either. I do not understand the appeal. I understand there’s a lot of anger out there and a lot of people are fed up with Washington but – c’mon! You seriously want the nuclear launch codes in Trump’s hands?
If this wasn’t what we laughingly call reality, there’s no way I could have sold this concept, this story, to an editor.
If The Donald wins the election, we’ll have an additional definition for the word, “trump.”
The battle lines are drawn each time a leaked picture hits the web. The tattooed Joker. The dark-costumed Superman. The old-school-but-with-new-web-shooters Spider-Man. The Flash — the TV one or the movie one? Aquaman, a.k.a. the WWE’s Roman Reigns. Starlord by way of Han Solo. And whatever the hell Lex Luthor was doing with wardrobe from the porn parody of The Social Network. It sets the nerds on fire in heated debates and discussions. At their core, no true fan of a character can draw peaceful breath while their favorite character is reinterpreted by Hollywood costumers and art directors who totallydo not even know what comics are!
And then the stories themselves! What good is Batman v. Superman when it seems like the writer’s room and director are hell-bent on cramming eight major stories into a single bloated cry-fest? Or what of Marvel basically rewriting the same script over and over, but changing the lead character to whatever name is on the title page, to fill in a roster spot for the next massive crossover planned in 2021?
And of course, the studios get their fair share of the blame. How many more retreads of the Fantastic Four will we have to sludge through until the owners of the license finally figure out they can’t make work? Who will tell DC that it’s not a great idea to take the notes on your universally not-loved picture and just apply them willy-nilly to the next movie in line? And I haven’t even scratched the surface on some of the indie debacles we’ve seen that utterly miss the point of their source material.
For every amazing adaptation like Sin City, Hellboy, Deadpool, and Iron Man, we are made to suffer through the muck of Ghost Rider, Catwoman, and Green Lantern. And in all of those cases, it’s seemingly impossible for the nerd masses to unite in love. And even sometimes when the creators totally get it right — Scott Pilgrim, American Splendor, or Ghost World — it doesn’t always spell mind-blowing blockbuster. Which in turn causes the studios to intervene and hire writers and directors to apply their “Hollywood Magic,” and thus we get Batsad v. SuperSerious: Dawn of RainFights or the recently released Batman: The Killing Joke of Barbara Gordon Having Sex With Batman, WTF!
So, how do we deal? Well, I’d say you take a page right out of John Ostrander’s book. No, please don’t tear up the man’s comics! John’s review of Suicide Squad was the best review of the film a fan could ask for. Why? Because John proved that one can love the source material separated from the film is winds up inspiring. What a novel idea! Taken without the source material in mind, Suicide Squad is a loud-brash-loud-angry-loud-bright-loud action flick. A decent one, in fact. Is it Hamlet? No. But it’s a good popcorn flick where things go boom, and the one-liners make you giggle. Are there better comic book adaptations? Yup. Plenty. But taken for what it is — an action movie that will tie-in to future action movies — it was a nifty romp.
This, of course, leads to my unanswered question of the week. How can we, the nerdiest of the nerds, separate ourselves from the horded minutiae of the pulpy roots we commit to memory that now morph into multiple new media? I am truly of two minds on the subject. I think immediately of an adolescent girl who sees Suicide Squad without any knowledge of the source material. I think how she walks away loving Harley Quinn. And I bristle at the thought. “How could you like that vapid one-liner spouting Hot Topic walking advertisement!” I chortle in my mind. But then, the counterpoint seeps in creepily behind the bluster. “If she truly loves the character, she might seek out more information, with which she might partake of Mad Love, or several other better interpretations of the character and come to love Harley more wholly!” And that my friends may end up being the grey answer out of our world of black and white.
We simply can’t blame Hollywood for attempting (and failing) to stick closely to the roots of any license they gobble up. They are in it to make money. That means casting Will Smith and writing Deadshot less like John Ostrander did and more in line with what puts butts in seats instead of eyes at the local comic shoppe. At the end of the day, the character is able to live in infinite iterations. The cream will always rise to the top. Lest we forget: Harley Quinn was made for a cartoon long before she was comic cannon. Starlord as a wise-cracking anthropologist with a love for scoundrels just looks and feels cooler than an uptight space-Nazi.
In a world where every comic has potential to become a great TV show or movie, we are actually allowed to have our cake and eat it too… so long as what makes it to screen is treated with depth, clarity, and care.
Quick – who is the more interesting character, Superman or Batman? Batman, right? Supes is the Big Blue Boy Scout. He’s the quintessential “good guy.” He’s all bright colors and kid friendly. Batman is all dark and angsty. We could never be Superman with all those powers but, if we really worked hard at it, I mean if we had sufficient motivation and tons of money, we could be Batman.
That’s the common opinion. It’s not true, of course, but that’s the myth.
We always assume that Superman will do the right thing because, well, he’s Superman. That’s who he is. Doing the right thing, making the right choice just comes natural to him, like breathing. Good guys do the right thing. That’s what makes them good guys.
I’ve given a lot of interviews lately for the Suicide Squad Special: War Crimes that comes out this Wednesday and I’ve talked a lot about why I really enjoy writing bad guys, or at least anti-heroes. I find them more interesting, more complex. Take a look at my career – GrimJack, Amanda Waller, even Jim Corrigan a.k.a. the Spectre. They are all morally conflicted characters and only marginally “heroes” in that they are (usually) better than the people they oppose.
The flaw in this line of thought is that being “good” is something that comes naturally. That it’s not really a choice; it’s so basic to a character or a person that doing the right thing is something that s/he does automatically.
I usually find that isn’t the case especially when there is some kind of cost, big or small, connected with doing what’s “right.” Then it becomes a choice and what we choose is what ultimately defines us. Nobody – repeat, nobody – makes the right choice 100% of the time or the wrong choice every single time. Not the Pope, not your Aunt Petunia, not Donald Trump. That’s because the process of making that decision is usually a complex equation filled with lots of variables of different desires, needs, and thoughts. Perhaps there is one over-riding motivation but there will be lots of other factors looking to horn in, e.g. I want to lose weight, I need to lose weight, I need chocolate right now.
There is also the question of what the right thing is – and who is it right for. Is it right for the country, is it in my own self-interests, is it the right thing at the moment and will that moment change and therefore change what is the right choice? What might be an easy choice for one person might be a difficult one for another with roughly the same choice. Who would you die for? Would they die for you?
This decision can take nano-seconds or the person making the choice can agonize a long time over it. If this is true of us, and I submit that it is, then it should be true of our characters. Habit can also play a large part in making these decisions; if you’re accustomed to making the choice confronting you in a certain way, you are more likely to choose that way again. But not always. No guarantees.
If Superman is to be a convincing character to us as a person, then he must also face these decisions, confront fears, deal with doubts. He should have conflicting desires. For all his powers and his alien origin, this is what makes him human.
That’s what we want from our stories – humans making (sometimes difficult) decisions. If Superman is facing death he must also want to live; that makes his choice mean something and that choice defines him as a hero.
No one can deny Geek Culture has gotten bigger, broader and more mainstream. It’s cool to know about comics and comic characters’ history. It’s now cool to wear shirts with superhero images no matter what your age. And even mainstream retailer Bed Bath and Beyond is getting into the act, borrowing the soon-to-be unveiled Captain America statue for the grand opening of a new store before it makes a permanent home in Brooklyn.
Just a few short years ago, telling the world at large that you were planning to attend the San Diego Comic-Con was met with eye rolls and snickers. Now that very same travel announcement is invariably met with envy, excitement and the inevitable “You’re so lucky! Can you get me a Dr. Strange poster?”
This all leads us to the excitement and unique fan passion for the new Suicide Squad movie. I don’t think it’s all about that mainstream geek passion. It’s something different.
A Different Passion
Now, as a long time fan, I’ve dragged my family to many fan-focused movies. They’ve always been great sports, but my daughters never really caught the bug. They’d sit through a superhero movie, eat popcorn with dad, and then promptly move onto the next thing after the show was over. Oh, they’d always find cool superhero presents for old dad for birthdays and holidays, but that was just them being kind rather than being passionate fans.
So you can imagine my surprise when my middle daughter, Tessa (who just graduated from college a year ago and is working in New York City) said “Hey Dad, what’s this Suicide Squad about? Maybe we should go see that.” I wasn’t sitting down when she said that, but if I had been, I would’ve fallen off out of my chair.
Who They Are And How They Came To Be
The Suicide Squad was a DC comic series that debuted with a half-hearted tryout as spy-espionage series. It really took off in the mid-80s when it was rebooted as comics’ version of The Dirty Dozen. Some of my favorite comic creators were behind this incarnation: John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Mike Gold, Luke McDonnell, Karl Kesel, Robert Greenberger and more.
More recently, the Suicide Squad bolted on one of the most popular new comic characters, Harley Quinn. At the core of it, she’s the Joker’s insane girlfriend, but she’s grown to be so much more. She’s kind of like the comic version of Chelsea Handler mixed with the irreverent, bisexual Bugs Bunny. She’s fresh, effervescent and lot of fun.
And today’s Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad seem to stand for something special, and passionate fans are embracing and protecting it all. As the ultimate “bad boys/girls” of the superhero world, the Suicide Squad members are edgy and frightening. They are poor role models for kids. But I think that in many ways, they represent a mindset that so many fans have.
These characters certainly aren’t super-characters like Captain America. They don’t make all the right choices and they don’t do heroic things. They’re grungy and disrespectful. Authority figures despise them, but they are very comfortable with who they are.
And they co-opted the prettiest girl in the class as one of their own. Margot Robbie, a stunning actress who gave us all a reason to sit through the failed caper movie, Focus, plays Harley Quinn. She’s scary and insane and riveting in every trailer. It’s as if America’s Sweetheart (Spoiler alert: She’s not really American) started hanging out with the bad kids in high school.
All of this was thrown into a Geek Culture pot and stirred until it became a fresh stew of validation, alienation, and a unique kind of anti-establishment celebration.
Don’t Stomp On Someone Else’s Validation
And that’s whey when early movie reviews started slamming the movie, faithful Suicide Squad fans rushed to the movie’s defense… before they could even see the movie. Some fans tried to turn the tables on Rotten Tomatoes as payback for dissing their movie, and by proxy, dissing what these fans hold dear and their opportunity for validation.
Not everyone gets it, of course. Slate, that mostly-political site, scratched their head in a story all about the authentic and creative Suicide Squad licensed merchandise on sale at Urban Outfitters. You could almost hear the (usually hip) Slate shaking an aged fist and grumbling “You damn kids, get offa my industry of licensed movie products!”
Geek Culture has grown big – and now the tent is so big that there are areas within it for so many different groups. The Suicide Squad represents another unique segment, and they are vociferously passionate about what’s important to them.
In the holiday classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Yukon Cornelius famously tells his friends “Even among misfits, you’re misfits.” And as many comic nerds have become the cool kids, they’ve left behind many who feel disenfranchised. Or, more accurately, some who feel disenfranchised.
That’s why I believe Suicide Squad is making a connection. It’s telling those who aren’t sitting at the cool kids table that they have value. They are unique. They are special and here’s a movie for you. And many folks just don’t hear that much or certainly not enough.
This isn’t really “my 80s Suicide Squad” – and I don’t think it should be.
But I am excited that so many of the creators* can see what their ideas have become on the big screen.
And I’m really excited that folks who dig arm bands and shop at Hot Topic and may feel like misfits amongst society’s beautiful people have a summer superhero movie all their own. And that we can all enjoy.
And I hope it becomes a franchise.
*One aside: Kim Yale, a trailblazing comics writer who worked on so many Suicide Squad stories, passed away years ago. She gone but she’s far from forgotten. NPR just did a wonderful piece on her and you can give it a listen here.
Last week I gave a review of the Suicide Squad movie. This week, I’m talking about my trip to NYC for the premiere.
I got in to the East Coast on 7/31 and stayed with my friends Tam and Kev English over in New Jersey, near to where I used to live. Tom Mandrake and Jan Duursema, who also live in the area, were going to be in town Sunday night before going on a trip so we all got together for a nice meal. Hilarity ensued.
Tom and Jan also gave me a box full of Kros: Hallowed Ground booty. This is stuff that will be going out to our subscribers and it is killer cool.
I took the train into Manhattan on Monday to join my old bud and oft-time editor and my date for the evening, the lovely and effervescent Mike Gold. We were meeting for a pre-festivities lunch. Among many other projects, Mike edited Legends, which is where my version of the Suicide Squad first appeared. True to form, I screwed up both the time and the location but eventually wound up where I was supposed to be, a little hot, a lot sweaty, but there.
It was a nice meal at Virgil’s BBQ (when with Mike, you’re quite likely to wind up eating barbecue) and then it was time to head out to the pre-premiere party being hosted by Dan Didio and DC Entertainment. On our way to a taxi (Mike suggested the subway but I was already overheated), we went to the heart of Times Square and there – lo and behold – was a huge frickin’ ad for the movie up on a building. It was at least four stories tall and wrapped around the building on either side. I was staggered.
On to the DC pre-party up at Pappardella on the upper west side. We were met outside by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor; seeing Jimmy always guarantees a good time and Amanda graces the company of wherever she is.
All sorts of DC stalwarts were inside including some old friends like Paul Levitz, Mike Barr, and Keith Giffen. Was also joined by Adam Glass and his wife at our table in the corner. Adam had written the initial issues of the New 52 edition of the Squad and we were able to chat Squad shop. Great guy, good writer, and a fun table companion.
I also got to meet Geoff Johns face-to-face for the first time. We’ve traded more than a few emails but have never been able to be in the same place at the same time. Geoff has recently been promoted to President as well as Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment and I had a chance to congratulate him. He sat down and we had just a really good chat. In addition to being a really good writer, Geoff is a hell of as nice guy.
They got some group photos of all of us at Pappardella and then it was time to walk over to the nearby Beacon Theater for the premiere. We got off the buses and it was amazing: there was major security, both private and city, and barriers and people behind barriers looking for stars and celebrities. I was dazzled and dazed. I started to follow the herd towards the theater until I heard someone calling my name. It was Dan Didio as well as my date gesturing me over to a large air conditioned tent right there on Amsterdam Avenue. I mean, the air conditioning units were huge. I was supposed to go in that way. I wasn’t sure why but I went there.
Inside there was a backdrop and lots of press and photographers. I was in a spotlight and, swear to God, they were calling “John, look over here.” “John. Over this way.” “John, look straight ahead.” Flashes flashed and I had on my best deer caught in the headlights look. It was weird.
My baptism by strobes completed, I was escorted out of the tent and to the theater and given my assigned seat. The Beacon is no small theater (albeit a beautiful one) and every seat was assigned. I sat in the middle of the DC row and settled in. Geoff Johns was two seats to my right but the one right next to me was vacant. I decided that seat belonged to my late wife and frequent Squad co-writer, Kim Yale. Knowing Kim, she was having a blast.
Pete Tomasi, my one-time editor on a lot of The Spectre, Martian Manhunter, and The Kents, came over for a chat. It was great to see him; it’s been far too long. Pete‘s also a freelance writer these days and a good one.
I’ll admit to being dazzled. A lot of fuss was being made over me and more than a few people came up and said that this was my night as well; that none of this would have been happening without me. I guess that’s technically true but it’s a little hard for me to wrap my brain around.
Anyway, it comes time for the movie and the director, David Ayer, comes out to say a few words and he brings out the entire cast of the movie. Loud cheers all around. The cast walks off and the movie begins.
I reviewed the movie last week and I’ll double down on it. I’ve seen it again since then, with My Mary (who couldn’t make it to the premiere) at IMAX and in 3-D and I liked it even more. I understand that there’s people who don’t agree with me and that’s fine; different tastes for different folks. For example, Mary likes broccoli and I can’t stand it, referring to it as “tiny trees”. But I loved the Squad movie and I’ll see it still again.
One note about it and it’s a very minor spoiler. I knew ahead of time that they had named a building used in the movie the John F. Ostrander Federal Building. I knew it was there, I knew it was coming up and yet, somehow, I missed seeing it. The DC row cheered but I didn’t see it until we went to the IMAX. Go figure.
There were cheers when the movie was over and then it was time to get onto the buses and go to the after-party. It was held in a huge hall with parts of it made up to look like Belle Reve (I’m told it was on display at SDCC and then moved east). There was food, there was drink, there was a DJ and loud music; DC had a private area off to one side. I understood the stars of the movie were in attendance and had their own area as well.
This may surprise some folks but not, I think, those who know me well. I sometimes get a case of the shys; I feel awkward where I feel somewhat out of place. I saw Kevin Smith there and wanted to go up and talk with him but he was talking to someone else so I wandered off. I didn’t want to bother him.
The one person I did want to meet was Viola Davis who played Amanda Waller. Amanda is special to me and Ms. Davis did a superb job, IMO, and I just wanted to tell her so. First, I had to deal with security. I walked up to a guy guarding the artist’s area; the Hulk is smaller than this guy. Real tall, shoulders the size of a football field – nobody was getting past him. Nobody.
I went straight to him, explained who I was and why I wanted to see Ms. Davis. He was polite, got a hold of someone who had to go check on me. While I waited, he deflected two or three others. The guy was good at his job.
Finally, someone came up to take me back the handful of steps to –. I introduced myself and then told her how much I enjoyed her performance. She was very gracious and lovely. I think, although I’m not certain, that I did not babble unduly.
And then I was done.
I might have liked to say hello to some of the other actors and especially the director but, plain and simple, I’d run out of nerve. My date had already left to catch a train and it was time for me to do the same. Penn Station was only a block or two away and that’s where I need to go to get back to Tam and Kev.
I’m reasonably certain in my heart that Kim was there at the party. She would have been in her element. She was an extrovert and she would have been dancing and drinking and chatting with the stars and flashing that megawatt smile. I’m also reasonably certain she’s still there; at many a Con, Kim would still be partying while I went to bed. I couldn’t keep up with her.
I said goodbye to Geoff Johns, got to Penn Station and went back to my friends in Jersey.
It was an experience totally unlike anything I’ve ever had. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another one like it. Even if I went to another movie premiere, this was my first one. As they say, you never forget your first.
I was a temporary celebrity. I’ve done lots of interviews connected with the event and I’ll probably do a few more, told the same stories or given the same answers a lot of times. I’ve been dipped in the waters of fame. There were faces on the other side of the barriers in front of the theater or the after party, looking at me, wondering who I was. I must have been Somebody. For the moment, maybe I was.
I’m home now. The dishes need washing, this column has to be finished, and one of the cats wants attention. That’s who I am and I’m happy with that. The rest will fade as it should. I’ll tell you this, though – it sure as hell was fun while it lasted! For that night, I was John Fucking Ostrander with my name of the side of a building in a big ass movie..
Hello all. As I’m sure nearly everyone else here on ComicMix has given their two cents on the recent release of SuicideSquad (with the most important among us, John Ostrander, being the end-all-be-all in his review), I’d be remiss if I didn’t also drop a few opinionated pennies in the bucket.
My opinion of the flick, sadly, isn’t a high one. Had John – someone I admire so much as a writer, and cherish as a (dare I say it) personal friend – not been one of the sources by which David Ayer and his team built the Squad around? I’d really be inclined to say I left the theater unsurprisingly disgruntled. But I left at least with a snicker and some joy for the good things buried in the layers of bad.
Walking in, admittedly, my expectations were low. Given the bar to clear thanks to Batman v. Superman, all I really wanted was a film that could at least take a step back now and again to have a laugh and/or human moment. I didn’t need to see Deadshot and his dirty dozen eat gyros in Central City mind you, but I needed to be reminded now and again that the DC Movie Universe wasn’t all angsty rainstorms and mommy issues.
Walking out, I felt I’d been treated to – as my friend and comic shop owner Eric Garneau quipped — a two hour music video. Stuff exploded. One liners were dropped. A little depth and human emotion permeated a few of the Wall’s wicked wrongdoers. And I didn’t leave exhausted by most of the ham-fistedness of it all.
If I’m allowed to file some complaints… (And, duh, SPOILERS be ahead, matey)
Jared Leto may had thought going method was the way to really capture the Joker. But the inked and lovelorn desperate putz they paraded out during the film was hardly the clown prince of crime I personally love to loathe. As presented, he was a chalk white gangster without a soul. If it’s one thing every Joker before him has shown (and much of that comes with the script) is a depth beyond the forced smile and purple pants. In Suicide Squad, he served only one purpose: to grant us our Harley Quinn, the sexpot screwloose heart-of-the-team.
A secondary concern would pop up when it came to the obvious screen time of Will Smith’s Deadshot as well as the aforementioned Dr. Quinzelle. Clearly the studio loved how marketable each would be; Deadshot is basically a living action figure, and Harley is Hot Topic made flesh. But with each of them getting considerably longer stretches to dominate the film, the more interesting members of the team were left to fill fodder roles.
Had we not seen Captain Boomerang stuff the pink unicorn into his jacket several dozen times, would there even be much to the character as given to us? He was funny as he continually opted to try to half escape or drink beer, sure… But there’s far more to Digger than the movie opted to offer.
And what of Killer Croc or El Diablo? To me, Diablo stole the film, with his well-paced slow burn (natch) arc. It left me wanting to know far more about him. While Croc apparently was happy to be the muscle of the team who was always relegated to wide shots due to the budget clearly being spent on Enchantresses’ CGI maelstrom.
Which leads me to the last nit to pick. From the second she was introduced, Enchantress was truly used as nothing more than a deus ex machinsquad. Overpowered, over CGI’ed, and under-acted, I never believed for a second that the June Moon inside wanted our Not-Tom-Hardy Rick Flag. But the point is moot. She was there to give us a squad and produce yet-another-army of expendable computer monsters to bash. Meh.
For what it’s worth, I feel the need to end on an uplifting note. Much as John himself pointed out, so much of the success of this film would rest on Amanda Waller. As the Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury of the DCU (who predates that actual character by several decades… thank you, John), Viola Davis was everything I wanted in the Wall and more. In fact, I hope we catch her rooting around every DC movie from here to the eventual Kingdom Come.
Ultimately, if someone were to ask me about Task Force X I’d pop in my DVD of Justice League Unlimited and show them how it was done as a masterstroke. Otherwise, I suggest switching your brain to mute, getting a large greasy bucket of popcorn, and just enjoy the madness. Suicide Squad is, to date, the best DC’s movie makers have yet to offer. Enough glints of hope exist for the casual fans to have a good time.
And hey, should the Squad return? Well, if it drops a few shekels of credit to John Ostrander… my next ticket will be bought in advance.
I usually try to avoid reading reviews of movies before I go see them but the explosion of negativity that came out as soon as the embargo dropped last week made it utterly impossible to see Suicide Squad completely untainted. Combined with some scheduling snafus that kept me from seeing the film until Monday morning I walked into the theater with a strong preconception that this was going to be a bad movie. And it was— Suicide Squad is a bad movie, but it isn’t the end of western cinema, it isn’t the worst superhero movie ever made, it isn’t even the worst superhero movie released this year from Warner Bros that Ben Affleck is in. At some points it’s even endearingly bad, the kind of movie that could end up with a cult following. I doubt it will because of all the times it’s just a bland kind of bad and the crushing weight of the perpetual DC cinematic failures, but there are traces of a spark here.
Suicide Squad is an aggressively bland movie. Everything but Harley Quinn seems to be colored in various shades of grey or, at best, muted colors. The sets are drab and the exteriors are very obviously studio back lots pumped in with a smoke machine. Even the most common bad guys are an endless supply of vaguely human cannon fodder made out of black goo. There’s no personality to the environments, the objectives, or most of the characters. I just can’t care about this team of warriors killing wave after wave of generic nothing henchmen to foil an evil plot that looks menacing, but has no established stakes until the movie is 90% over. I get that the government has a vested interest in not having mysterious interdimensional entities establishing swirling vortexes above major cities, but if you don’t tell me what it does it becomes entirely generic.
Even if Suicide Squad were, somehow, a more interesting movie it wouldn’t save it because it’s a stunningly misogynist and racist movie. I might be at odds with some others in the comics community by saying this but I never thought Harley Quinn started as a particularly progressive character. She got there when they teamed her with Poison Ivy and there have been more and less good depictions of her over the years but this is definitely a bottom-of-the-barrel portrayal. Harley is a living breathing failure of the Bechdel Test because literally every action she takes is about a man, usually The Joker but sometimes Deadshot. It’s challenging to give this critique because Margot Robbie does such a good job taking the poorly-written character she’s given and wringing every bit of character she can out of it. There’s a moment where she turns to bow when she exits a scene that I swear is frame-for-frame perfect with an appearance on Batman: The Animated Series and that’s quite a commitment to the character.
If we want to hit sexism and racism in one character it would be in El Diablo. I’m not familiar with this version of the character at all, he must be from after my time as a regular comic book reader, but I sincerely hope that he has origins more distinct than this Mexican gangster caricature. It’s like David Ayer learned five things about Mexican gangs when he was writing Training Day and decided that he would put those things in every movie he wrote from then on. The movie also very much wants us to believe that El Diablo is the real victim of the time he got mad and incinerated his entire family in a scene that was several notches over my comfort zone in terms of similarity to real-world domestic violence. I understand that they’re trying for a metaphor here, but there’s basically no way the family man character they expect me to believe Deadpool is would be cool with what El Diablo did. Oh, and when El Diablo gets to his most powerful level, he inexplicably turns in to a giant flaming Aztec caricature, it’s very strange juxtaposed with his seemingly Catholic world view up until then. It’s as if they decided if they treated Will Smith and Viola Davis well, they could just do the rest of their minority characters as rough ethnic sketches.
I suppose I can’t get out of this without talking about Jared Leto’s performance as The Joker because of how it dominated the hype campaign for this movie despite being a vanishingly small part, all things considered. Leto does not do good work. He seems to be doing an impression of Heath Ledger’s performance from The Dark Knight but with all of the subtlety replaced by the kind of grunting you would get if you asked a 12 year-old what sex sounded like. He’s easily the worst live action depiction of the character, but you can tell that every time they called “cut” he was convinced that he nailed it. There are good acting performances in this movie, I’ve already shouted out Robbie, and think Viola Davis deserves kudos for taking a part that in another era would have faded in to the background and created one of the scariest characters in a movie that includes a crocodile monster. Will Smith is also doing good work, although we’re clearly getting “action movie” Will Smith and not “actually trying his hardest” Will Smith, but it doesn’t matter. Smith is a sublime talent as a movie star because he makes action nonsense seem serious and he nails the quiet moments as well as the funny ones.
At this point I don’t know what needs to change at DC Entertainment before they start putting out movies that aren’t dreary disasters. I suppose they would have to stop making quite so much money, but they hold their opening weekend numbers very badly and the critical derision has got to hurt especially when Marvel puts out bigger numbers and gets better reviews. I’ve heard over and over that there are shakeups internally and that things are going to get better, but it never does. The Comic Con footage of Justice League looked good but after seeing this and Batman v Superman how am I supposed to believe that the people who signed off on those movies even have any idea what a good movie looks like? It’s time for a change, but does anyone who could make that change care as long as the money comes in?
Here’s our take on the movie trailers released at San Diego Comic Con last month.
Anya: Eh. It doesn’t look that good and there’s nothing that sets it apart from other superhero movies. I’ve noticed lately when watching the trailer that it’s the same thing for every movie. Some dramatic music plays and then one of the main characters gives an inspirational speech. Then, while he’s still talking, the trailer cuts to clips of people fighting, training, and making out. Then, the music cuts out for the comic relief to make one or two jokes. Finally, the music intensifies and a bunch of clips are cut together an play really fast. Then, the character finishes his face and the movie info appears on the screen.
Maddy: It looks okay but I’m probably not gonna go see it. Also, when Bruce Wayne is Batman he grows more stubble and his voice gets deeper? What’s up with that? Also, I like how Wonder Woman was in it twice. Just twice.
Anya: This one looks better, but I’m not super excited for it. I might go see it but it’s not getting me hyped as a 13 year old girl. Really the only thing intriguing to me about it is that it’s Wonder Woman because honestly it looks like the other 20 superhero movies that have come out in the past ten years.
Maddy: I am super excited for this actually. This is I think the first major movie starring a female superhero and it’s really groundbreaking. The costumes look fantastic and Gal Gadot looks like she will be phenomenal.
Anya: First of all, TWENTY ONE PILOTS!!!!!!! I think theSuicide Squad soundtrack is probably one of the best summer albums. Second, this is the movie I’m looking forward too the most. It just looks better than the other movies we’ve seen so far because it just seems so different.
Maddy:ASDJEFHUWHUIHJYEGW!I’M SO EXCITED!!!!!!!! I’ve been hyped about this movie since it was first announced and I’ve pre-ordered the soundtrack and I know all the words to everything except “Purple Lamborghini” because that just came out. I’m genuinely OBSESSED. I’ll be wearing a Daddy’s Little Monster shirt when I see it opening day!
The Lego Batman Movie
Anya: So, this movie just looks like it’s the story of Robin told by Legos, I guess? It looks good and it looks like something I’ll probably see while babysitting but not something I’d rush to the theater to see.
Maddy: I agree, it looks pretty good, maybe not for your teenage girl demographic.Also, these type of movies are super impressive because they’re so hard to make. Good job, technical team!
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Anya: It looks so good! I cannot wait to see this one. I think that the costumes are really good. I like the 1920’s. They had great clothes back then.
Maddy: I’m gonna be walking into the theatre chanting NEWT SCAMANDER! NEWT SCAMANDER! NEWT SCAMANDER! and some people will be like “Oh yeah, me too!” but others will be like, “Who is she and what is her damage?”I’m so excited to see a J.K. Rowling movie in theaters!
Anya: I might be more hyped for this than Suicide Squad, but I don’t know. The whole thing is so trippy, it looks so cool!Also, Benedict Cumberbatch is amazing and I’m so excited for everything except the beard. It makes him look so scraggly.
Maddy: WHOOOOOHOOO! IT’S BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH!!!! This movie looks trip, like Anya said. I’m really excited. I love optical illusions and stuff so this’ll be cool. AND THE CAPE THING WAS SO COOL. It just snapped on like “whoa.”
Some of you who read my Facebook posts might have already seen this, but I think that it’s important enough to repeat the story. It’s from the “See Something, Say Something” school.
Yesterday I was walking down the block to the store and I passed a parked car with two dogs in it and all the windows closed, including the sunroof. It was 95 degrees here in Bayonne, which meant that inside the car it must have been at least 10 degrees hotter. I went into the restaurant on the corner and asked if anyone owned this car. No. So, what to do? I waited about five minutes to see if the owner came back – nope. So I called the police. I’m happy to say they showed up immediately. They went from door-to-door up and down the street, and to the storefronts to see if they could find the owner. I asked them if I should wait by the car, but they said no, they could track down the bitch or bastard who had left the dogs with the license plate if need be, and, if worse came to worse, they would open the car. So I went home, but I am still wondering – no, really hoping – that they gave the unfeeling owner a summons.
I have a bunch of comics sitting on my kitchen table that I just haven’t had time to read. They include the “rebirthed” Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka (writer), Liam Sharp (artist), Laura Martin (colors) and Jodi Wynne (letters); Liam and Laura’s work on the covers alone is just amazingly beautiful. Tomorrow I am bring this comic plus the others (Superman: American Alien by Max Landis and Francis Manapul; Betty & Veronica by Adam Hughes; Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, and VC’s Joe Caramagna; The Amazing Spider-Man by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Guiseppe li, Cam Smith, Marte Gracia, and VC’s Joe Caramagna; and the “rebirthed” Superman by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, John Kalisz, and Rob Leigh) to work to read at break and at lunch…if I get a break and lunch.
I have discovered a new tactic when defending Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump, thanks to the New York Times. (Again, some of you may have already seen this on my Facebook page.) It is a video from the Times’ website, and it’s called “Voices From Donald Trump’s Rallies, Uncensored.” And boy, is it! It’s more than uncensored, people, it’s downright sickening. After the various people who are against Hillary watch this, I say, “Do you really want to be associated with people like this?” And then I add, “This time it’s not about politics, it’s about love of our country.” I have gotten various reactions, from nervous laughter to “Oh, shit,” to shrugs.
Seriously, folks…check it out.
Like I said, if you see something, say something.
And before I sign off for the week, I want to give a ginormous hug to my fellow columnist and beloved friend, Mr. John (Johnny-O) Ostrander. Last week John and his bromance-for-ever main man Mike Gold attended the World Premiere of Suicide Squad in the Big Apple, where Mr. Ostrander received accolade and so-long-deserved R-E-S-P-E-C-T, as Aretha sang it. I am so happy for you, John! I am kicking up my heels! I am dancing in the streets….
Warning! Danger! Spoilers! I saw the movie, I’m going to talk about the movie, there may be some plot spillage. Yadda yadda yadda.
As we start, I think you should know my biases. I think you should know any critics’ bias. Myself, I use them mostly as consumer reporters. If I find a critic whose tastes largely coincide with mine, I tend to trust them more. The late great Roger Ebert was one. Knowing who is giving you their opinion is important; what does their opinion matter if you don’t trust them?
Regarding the Suicide Squad movie, well, I’m biased. I’m prejudiced. I have a vested interest in its success. I want it to succeed. However, if I didn’t like it, I’d be more likely just to keep my trap shut.
My trap is open.
I really liked the film. Not perfect by a long shot, but a really good time in the movie theater. And for me a lot of it was just amazing. The look, the detail, the feel of the film is not something I’ve seen in superhero movies before.
Chief for me were the performances, starting with Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. All the other characters in the Squad, both the comic and the movie, were created by others. In the comic especially I would re-define and expand on them but they were established characters. Amanda Waller was my creation and Viola Davis embodied her to perfection. I was happy when she was cast, I was delighted when I saw her in the trailers, and I was ecstatic when I saw her in the film. Davis has Amanda’s voice, her look, and her attitude. I was delighted at the after-party when I got a chance to see her face-to-face and tell her how much I enjoyed her performance.
Next up is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. She is sexy, innocent, funny, lethal, crazy and dangerous. And she’s a thief – she steals just about every scene she’s in.
Let’s look at Will Smith as Deadshot. Some folks have objected that he’s not my Deadshot. No, he isn’t and that’s just fine by me. My Deadshot was not the character as he had been created or portrayed prior to my appropriating him for the Squad. Gail Simone’s version was not exactly my version either. You don’t expect two actors who play the same character in different versions to be identical so why expect those versions in different stories to be identical? Smith did a great job – intense, cynical, with a weak spot for his daughter (although I thought their last scene together had a disturbing element). Smith is a fine actor and one of the world’s biggest stars; he sure as hell wasn’t slumming here and he made Deadshot his own – which is exactly what he was supposed to do.
Last paragraph, I talked about you wouldn’t expect two actors playing the same character in different stories to give identical performances. That really applies to Jared Leto as the Joker. He crafted an entirely new version of the character from the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal in The Dark Knight. That’s absolutely necessary and it’s a different look. Like Pygmalion, he creates a woman that he can love; in this case, it’s Harley Quinn. If we accept his love for her (and her love for him) as genuine, does that make him less of a sociopath? Ledger’s Joker loved no one except, perhaps, Batman. He’s no less strange or deadly but his entire plotline revolves around being re-united with Harley.
Jay Hernandez has a significant role as Diablo and I would have liked to see more of the character. He has a terrific and horrifying back-story but this is a character who is trying to do good even as (I think) he believes he is beyond redemption.
Likewise, I would have liked to see more of Jai Courtney as Boomerang. As Christopher Walken says of cowbell, you can never have too much Boomerang. He’s very much as I wrote him in the Squad – he knows what he is and he likes it. In that respect, Boomerang is very well adjusted. Which is scary.
There’s a surprising theme running through the movie; there is a lot about love. Joker and Harley’s love, yes; Deadshot’s love for his daughter; Diablo’s love (and guilt and remorse) for his family; Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman)’s love for June Moone (Cara Delevingne) while June’s alter ego, the Enchantress, appears to love her brother. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) loves her dead husband and carries his soul in her blade (OK, a lot of the relationships are not the healthiest in this film). Even with Amanda there’s a brief phone call and there’s tenderness and love for whoever she’s speaking with. Love shapes and forms a lot of the characters and they, in turn, mold the story.
Are their problems with the film? Sure. The antagonist(s) are not well defined and, to my mind, you need a good antagonist to help define the protagonist(s). It’s the antagonist who usually sets the plot in motion and it is defined by what they want. The story is a little more generic “we have to save the world” than I usually did; I always liked having one foot squarely in reality.
I also liked having a political and/or social edge in my Squad stories. That would also give a greater feel of reality and I don’t see that here.
That said, my artistic DNA is all over the place. This is The Dirty Dozen with supervillains and that’s my concept. They did that and did it well.
I know some of the critics, both in print and online, do not like the movie. That’s okay; everyone has a right to their own opinion even when it’s wrong. My problem is that, at least with some of the media reviews, is that the critic is also tired of superhero and “tentpole” films and, overtly or covertly, would like to see their end. Look, I get it – they have to see all the films out there and they must be tired of all the blockbusters.
If every superhero film is not The Dark Knight, they’ll bitch. I think that’s going on here to a certain degree. Just as I came prepared to love the movie, they came prepared to hate it.
My late wife, Kim Yale, was a movie critic for a while for a small suburban newspaper in the Chicago area and I went with her to some of the movie screenings. Don’t tell me that some of the critics didn’t come with pre-conceived attitudes to some films. I know better. I saw and heard it.
As for some of the online haters – if a film doesn’t fit their pre-conceived notion, it is wrong. Female Ghostbusters, a black Deadshot, Ben Affleck as Batman (Affleck, by the way, does cameos as both Batman and Bruce Wayne in Suicide Squad and is terrific) – these are all sins and must be decried.
Give me a fucking break.
Look, you can be the most important critic on Suicide Squad. In this case, your voice is your money. You decide if you want to see the movie and then go. If you like it, tell others. I guess you could also tell them if you didn’t like it but you don’t have to. I won’t mind.
If the film is financially successful (and, from what I’ve seen as this review is being written, it’s on track for a pretty good opening weekend), then Warners will be encouraged to do a sequel. And I hope they do. They made a good film this time and I believe they’ll do it even better next time around.