“Batman” #9 kicks off “I Am Suicide,” as Batman forms his own Suicide Squad in order to begin an attack on Santa Prisca to retrieve the Psycho Pirate from Bane’s clutches, and save the life of Gotham Girl. Tom King and Mikel Janin guide the reader through Batman’s choices for the team, and there are some old favorites alongside some new surprises.
Three of the members of Batman’s Suicide Squad will be very familiar to anyone who read the series from the ’80s and ’90s written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale. Front and center is Bronze Tiger, one of the core characters of the classic 66-issue “Suicide Squad” series. Bronze Tiger first appeared in comics back in the 1970s as Ben Turner, a partner to the title character of, “Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter.” Kidnapped and brainwashed by the League of Assassins, he ultimately breaks free of their influence by forcing all of those thoughts into the separate personality of the Bronze Tiger. In the “Legends” miniseries event after “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” he’s introduced as a member of the new Suicide Squad and made the second-in-command of the team.
A mainstay of the entire run of the series, even as he struggles with resisting his programming, Ben is one of the few genuinely honorable and good people on the team. He’s often the voice of morality, a balance to both Amanda Waller and the criminals on the team. He has a long-running relationship with teammate and former Justice League member Vixen, and he survived the series to appear in several reunions and in similar series like “Checkmate.”
In the New 52 continuity, Bronze Tiger appeared for six issues of “Red Hood and the Outlaws,” working for Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Assassins. There, he has a mystical talisman that allows him to shapeshift into a tiger-headed man; when questioned about the ability, he notes that every time he uses it, it destroys a little more of his soul. In “Batman” #9, though, there’s no mention of the talisman. Instead the narration refers to his membership in the League of Assassins as being a delusion; there’s also a mention of that delusion including being part of intel agencies that have all denied his membership. Whatever his true history, he’s in Arkham Asylum on two counts of manslaughter, is formidable enough to beat Batman in a physical fight, and is also seemingly on friendly terms with the caped crusader. For the moment, he appears to be fulfilling the role once more of the only trustworthy member of this squad.
The other two old-school members are Punch and Jewlee, a duo of villains. The characters (the latter spelled Jewelee prior to the New 52) come from the Charleston Comics group of titles that were acquired by DC Comics, debuting in a 1967 issue of “Captain Atom.” Integrated into the DC Universe as part of “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” their major appearances were as a slightly insane addition to the Suicide Squad. Prone to using gadgets and weaponry (with everything from hypnotic gems and air-walking shoes, to old-fashioned mallets to whack villains with), their erratic behavior just as easily caused comedy as it would danger. For example, they were two of the members who cheerfully agreed to help rise up against the rest of the Squad when Female Furies member Lashina co-opted the Squad in order to travel to Apokolips. The duo finally retired from the Squad when Jewelee became pregnant, although they were rolled out for the occasional guest-appearance since then, often using their child as an excuse to commit new crimes.
In their first New 52 appearance, we learn that Jewlee is being held on four counts of murder, but has been a catatonic state since being brought to arkham two years earlier. Punch has been missing all of this time, but is revealed to have disguises as part of his new modus operandi. Batman uses his decision to add Jewlee to the Squad as a way to lure Punch out of hiding, and unmasks the hidden Punch (posing as Jim Gordon) so both will be part of his new Squad. Punch’s presence is also what brings Jewlee’s mental state back to normal, and Batman notes that Punch’s devotion to Jewlee is particularly admirable. Presumably, though, that tight bond between the pair could cause as much harm to Batman’s mission as it could be beneficial.
King’s story doesn’t limit itself to pre-“Flashpoint” members of the Suicide Squad, though, as two brand-new members are thrown into the mix. The first is the Ventriloquist, but not the version that has dominated the New 52 under that title. This Ventriloquist is based off the original version of the character first introduced in the 1980s as Arnold Wesker, a mild-mannered balding man who uses a foul-talking, violent ventriloquist dummy named Scarface to express his rage and other dark emotions. Over the years the Ventriloquist would often claim that he was innocent and that Scarface was the real villain of the duo. That was put to the test after Wesker’s death, when a new Ventriloquist (Peyton Riley) wielded Scarface for the final four years of the DC Universe before “Flashpoint” reset the universe.
In the New 52, however, this version of the character has only appeared once, in “Batman: The Dark Knight” where the Ventriloquist is bulked up on the super-steroid drug known as Venom. Nightwing and Red Robin tangle with this Ventriloquist, but after this singular encounter, the five years of the New 52 instead focused on a new Ventriloquist named Shauna that regularly appeared in “Batgirl” and “Secret Six.” Here, Ventriloquist’s name is slightly altered to Arnold Weskler, and we learn that he’s been in jail for years following an event referred to as, “The War of Jokes and Riddles.” Weskler has been forcefully separated from his Scarface dummy and is reportedly a model prisoner. Weskler seems uncertain about Batman’s offer, but when told that he’s without Scarface and has to make his own decision, a broad grin comes over Weskler’s face with the comment, “Oh, oh yes. Whatever you say.” Could this mean that the Ventriloquist wants to take orders from Batman in the same way that he supposedly took orders from Scarface? Or worse, is this the start of a much darker, unfettered Weskler who’s no longer resorting to the fiction of a wooden dummy telling him what to do? Also, is King pretending that the “Batman: The Dark Knight” #2 appearance never happened? Or will Weskler’s journey to the place where Venom comes from have a dangerous temptation in store for this super-villain?
It’s the final member of this Squad that will definitely raise the most eyebrows, though. It’s a prisoner being held for 237 counts of murder, sentenced to death by lethal injection, and apparently so dangerous that a full-face mask and a straightjacket are needed to keep the menace contained. Despite being told that this prisoner is not an option, Batman is determined to include this person on his squad. Who is it? Catwoman, whom we haven’t seen since her series ended in early 2016. The last we knew, she was heading a crime family within Gotham and a force to be reckoned with; more importantly, she was also a free woman. Whatever the reason for her imprisonment and death sentence, it will surely unfold in the months ahead.
Easter Egg Hunt
King and Janin include several Easter eggs for readers to discover as Batman heads through Arkham Asylum. Some familiar villains are shown locked up here, like the Calendar Man and the duo of Tweedledee and Tweedledum. More obscure ones like Kite Man and the Condiment King also make appearances, plumbing the depths of Batman villains. It’s one face in particular that might excite readers, though. It’s a blond-haired woman whose last name is given as Doe (presumably Jane Doe), and who breathes on the glass and traces out a symbol. Specifically, the emblem of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Most readers believe the blond-haired woman being questioned by the police in “DC Universe: Rebirth” #1 was Saturn Girl of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and it appears that she’s been locked up as a direct result of that interview. It’s not unlike the Legion to send members into the past — after all, their first appearances were all time travel jaunts to the 20th Century — and we’ve even seen members hiding in plain sight in the present day so that they would be present when needed. (James Robinson’s “Superman” run being one of the more recent occurrences of that strategy.) While her presence in the 21st century is still a mystery, could it somehow be connected to Calendar Man and his cameo one page earlier, since the character could easily be associated with time? Or is there a larger, more expansive story waiting to be told? Either way, “Legion of Super-Heroes” fans will do well to keep an eye on “Batman” in the months ahead.
With Batman’s own Suicide Squad assembled, the only question next is: how long until dissension in the ranks breaks out? After all, with this crew of villains, it’s not a question of if, but when. After all, that’s part of the fun of a Suicide Squad story. With a strong line-up of characters and lots of story hooks carefully planted, it’s almost certainly a rocky but entertaining road ahead.