Joining Captain Flag for his monthly dose of suicidal black-ops missions are heavyweight anti-heroes Harley Quinn and Deadshot, plus classic Flash Rogue Boomerang (no longer a Captain, apparently), Batman villain Killer Croc, Enchantress and Katana, all of whom feature prominently in the “Suicide Squad” movie.
CBR connected with Williams and Tan to discuss Flag’s latest tour of duty and the creative team shared that the disgraced soldier’s past is not entirely as it seems. The creative duo provided insight into the role Harley Quinn, who was arguably the breakout star of The New 52, will play in the series, and explain why Amanda Waller is bigger and stronger — literally and figuratively — than ever, even when the director of Task Force X stands face-to-face with the leader of the free world, President Barack Obama.
CBR News: The opening sequence of your first issue pits Amanda Waller up against Barack Obama. Forget Donald Trump — the leader of the free world may have met his match, here.
Philip Tan: [Laughs] Yes! Rob did an excellent job of opening the series with that scene. You’ll notice as we go through the first issue, we go back and forth to that scene, but it doesn’t feel like it’s jumping back and forth.
Amanda Waller is presented, visually and physically, in a more traditional way than her New 52 makeover. Was this an editorial decision or your own choice?
Tan:I don’t think there was a conscious visual direction for my part, but I felt like the way that Jim [Lee] has drawn her has set up a really powerful character. Not just in terms of story with Rob, but also visually. I don’t think that comic book characters should only look a certain way, so it was not a big decision to consciously change the way that she looked versus the more recent one or the older one. We didn’t feel like she needed to look a certain way. The way she acts and conducts herself with other characters is what really demonstrates her power as a character. She was powerful enough.
Despite him being team leader, Rick Flag often takes a back seat to some of the more dynamic members of the Squad. In fact, he wasn’t a player at all during the New 52. In “Suicide Squad: Rebirth” #1, you thrust him right back into the forefront as the team’s new leader. What traits does Captain Flag possess that allows him to stand before other characters like Harley Quinn, Deadshot and Boomerang, who crave the spotlight, and usually get it?
Tan:I don’t think it’s easy to categorize him as a supporting character instead of the main guy pulling the team together. He’s not only the one that ensures that all of these evil, horrible people who are working for the government are doing their job, but at the same time, even though most of their missions are suicide missions, Rick wants to bring all of them back. Part of the character is that even though this is the Suicide Squad, and they are these terrible people, and no one expects any of them to come back, he wants to bring every one back, every single time, every single mission, because he’s a soldier, and no one is left behind.
A big part of drawing him is making sure that he is interesting enough, visually. Like a lot of the characters in this series, as the story continues, they are going to be in just one costume. He’s not as exciting visually as all of these other fantastic characters, but I felt like, if he has a different costume for every mission, and that’s how Jim is going to do it, you’ll distinguish him a bit better among all of these fantastic characters like Killer Croc and Deadshot and Katana.
Rob Williams: As you see in the Rebirth issue, this is kind of Waller’s story — but it’s Rick’s story, too. If we were going to re-introduce him to the DC Universe, which was something that we were excited about, we very much wanted to make sure that he was front and center. You get a sense of why he’s here and what’s gone wrong in his life to bring him to the point where, even though he’s a decorated Navy SEAL, the only chance that he has for freedom is to take this sort of poison chalice of being in charge of the Suicide Squad. As with all of these characters, they’ve all got backgrounds, and as you’ll see with Rick, something went wrong in his past, and that’s what drives him moving forward. He was in charge of a squad, and decisions were made — and he lost the squad. As you’ll see in future issues, even though he hates the Suicide Squad in a lot of ways, they’re now his squad, and he has to make sure that he brings them back, no matter what.
Harley Quinn. Deadshot. Boomerang. There are so many great characters in Suicide Squad, but is there one or two that you have really connected with and tapped into?
Tan:I’m a big Killer Croc fan, but Rob has absolutely convinced me on Deadshot, and the new looks from Jim are amazing. It doesn’t look like the Deadshot that we’ve seen before. It’s a cross somewhere between the traditional Deadshot, and elements from the movie version.
I don’t think we’re consciously allowing the movie to influence us. As a matter of fact, I haven’t watched it yet, and based on a chat we had yesterday, I don’t think Rob’s seen it yet either. We love what we’ve saw from the trailers, but I don’t think that’s what’s influencing us on which characters we’re putting focus on in the series. I think those three that you mentioned — Harley Quinn, Deadshot and Boomerang — are just a better fit for the introduction story and for that particular mission.
Williams:With the “Rebirth” issue, we were aware that we had a short space to show the team in the field because first half of the issue concentrated more on Rick Flag. It made sense to show the core in the sense of those three members. We broaden the team out in Jim’s “Suicide Squad” #1.
As to your original questions, certain characters just sort of leap off the page. The relationship between Killer Croc and June Moone, the alter ego of the Enchantress, is something that’s been a lot of fun to write. There is a very skewed, budding romance between them, which is kind of sweet and very messed up all at the same time. At one point, June says, “Why did you protect me?” And Croc says, “Because I want to eat everyone, and I don’t want to eat you.” [Laughs] Little things like that come out through the writing. Going in, I would have never said, “Oh, I’m sure Killer Croc and June Moone will be the highlight of the book for me.”
I also like Boomerang. He’s so funny and fantastic. He can say all of things that other characters can’t. He doesn’t care, and he’s morally reprehensible. And Harley is fun, because she’s just chaos. She can make any decision at any given point. She’s larger than life. It’s a great cast.
What I love about Katana is that she’s the exact opposite. She barely says anything, and she’s terrifying because of that. We introduce her in Jim’s first issue. They all get their own little identifier tags and Katana’s says: “Badass.” They’ve all got different flavors, and that’s what makes the book so colorful and so much fun.
Tan:I think what’s going to let people see what Rob really does really well is that you have all of these different characters and they have all of these really interesting things about them that you don’t normally see in a regular superhero book. But you’re not going to feel like you are jumping all over the place. It just all flows really well together.
Harley Quinn was truly the breakout star of the New 52, and her role in the upcoming “Suicide Squad” movie, at least based on the trailers, it looks like she will be front and center there, too. How do you make sure this doesn’t become another Harley book, and the focus remains on the team?
Williams:It’s definitely a team book and the trick is giving all of the cast a moment. You’ve got 20 pages. You’ve got the setup, and an action-packed, adventure book by the very nature of the concept of the Suicide Squad. Making sure that they all stand out at some point or another is the tricky bit. No one has said to us at any point that, “You need to make it as Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad.” It’s not like that. Harley is part of the Suicide Squad — and Harley’s great. In a future story, we do focus on her a bit more, but that’s down the line. For the most part, they’re all so strong. When you write them, their voices pop off the page. For me, it’s not a case of asking the question, “Do they all stand up to Harley?” I think that they all more than hold their own. That’s why they’re such a good team.
Tan:I never really thought about putting more focus on Harley, either. Or thinking that people are going to like Harley more, so I should put her in the book more. What makes a team book better is when you have the dynamics of each character interacting with each other, or to the situations around them. That’s what showcases them. Visually, in a team book, I don’t just want to draw one character over and over again. That’s not a way to tell a story.
Back when this series was announced, Rob, you teased that Doomsday, General Zod or Mister Mxyzptlk would be joining the Suicide Squad. Care to set the record straight?
Tan:I would love to draw that! [Laughs]
Williams:As I revealed at San Diego Comic-Con, it turns out that I was lying, and Donald Trump is joining the Suicide Squad. [Laughs] That’s the big cliff hanger at the end of second issue. [Laughs] As for the others, as always, you’ll have to wait and see. I’m not giving anything away at this point.
One thing that I will say is that one intent going in was that, there have been some great Suicide Squad stories over the past few years, but I think there was a feeling that perhaps the Squad was a little peripheral to the core of the DCU. One thing that we definitely wanted to do with this book as it continues is, tell a story that affects other parts of the DCU — a story that makes “Suicide Squad” a core DC book. Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but where we’re going, you will see certain things occur that definitely make that happen. You’ll see that there is a threat that the Suicide Squad has to counter, and it’s going to have ramifications elsewhere.
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