John Ostrander, known for his iconic ’80s indie character Grimjack and a number of Dark Horse Comics’s hit “Star Wars,” made a name for himself at DC Comics when he was tapped to plot 1986’s crossover event series “Legends,” which was scripted by Len Wein and penciled by John Byrne.
“Legends” featured an updated version of the Suicide Squad, originally conceived by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru in 1959 for “The Brave and the Bold” #25, and most famously introduced the team’s leader Amanda Waller. Over the years, Ostrander has told dozens of stories about the Squad, but it’s been nearly a decade since the release of his last go-round with the team, “Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag.”
Now, Ostrander returns to the Waller-led team of anti-heroic supervillains for the 48-page “Suicide Squad: War Crimes” Special #1, illustrated by Gus Vazquez. CBR News connected with the fan-favorite writer to discuss the story, the Squad’s long-serving members Deadshot and Boomerang and relative newcomer Harley Quinn. Ostrander also shared his thoughts on the recently released “Suicide Squad” movie; in particular, the performance of Viola Davis as Waller, and Hollywood heavyweight Will Smith’s take on Deadshot.
CBR News: Thomas Wolfe would have us believe that you can’t go home again, but after reading “Suicide Squad: War Crimes,” I don’t think he was talking about you writing Amanda Waller, Deadshot and Boomerang.
John Ostrander: [Laughs] Agreed. It was easier than even I thought it was going to be, particularly with Amanda. When you’re a writer, you worry if after you have been away from characters for a while, will you be able to find their voice. Will it sound right? Amanda is one of two characters that I have ever worked with, the other one being John Gaunt/Grimjack, that every time I come back, she’s been there waiting for me. She didn’t know where I was, but she’s been there. She comes back immediately.
Your Waller, here, is pitch perfect. I love her, and I love you writing her. She’s surrounded by these villains, murderers and scoundrels, and yet, she may be the most dangerous — and suicidal — of them all.
In some ways, yes. She’s the one that gets them all and keeps them all together and forces them to do things that they may not want to do. And she can be ruthless in terms of dealing with them. I think one of the secrets about Amanda is that she does not like bad guys. She suffered and her family suffered because of the bad guys in her neighborhood, so she has no compunction about using them, misusing them, and tossing them under the bus.
The Suicide Squad, in terms of players, has changed over the years from the original team that you introduced in “Legends” #2, but two mainstays have been Deadshot and Boomerang. Floyd Lawton and George Harkness play major roles in “War Crimes” — like Amanda, what makes these two tick?
In a way, Amanda, Boomerang and Deadshot are like the unholy trinity of the Suicide Squad. [Laughs] The big thing was, when I got a hold of them, I was able to keep a hold of them. They weren’t being taken away to go to other comic books; they were Squad property. As a result, I was able to look into them, delve into them, which allowed me to keep as close to continuity as established, but I always wanted to go beyond that, too, and see what else we could do. Obviously, there are parts of me that resonate with them. I don’t know if that scares anyone else, but it certainly scares me. [Laughs]
In many ways, Boomerang is the best adjusted member of the Squad in that he knows that he is scum, and he’s perfectly happy with that. He knows what he is. The others may have complexes about what they are, but not Boomerang. If he can take the low road, he’ll take the low road.
In an odd way, Deadshot is almost the polar opposite. One is an introvert, and one is an extrovert. Deadshot doesn’t really care what you think of him. In that way, I guess that he is sort of well-adjusted. He does what he does. And in that way, I think they are very similar. Others may not feel the same about themselves, but those two seem to have a good handle on who they are and what they do.
Was this story one you had been waiting to tell with the Squad for a while, or did you conceive it when the project came together?
It’s actually new and fresh. It came out of the fact that I and my better half, Mary Mitchell, were talking about how we had read reports that George Bush and [Dick] Cheney and [Donald] Rumsfeld really couldn’t travel outside of the United States because there were other countries that wanted to put them on trial for war crimes. I took that idea, and I created a new character that was none of those three people but may be reminiscent of them in some ways, and then I had him grabbed by Strikeforce Europa to take him over to the Hague, and the International Criminal Court to be tried for war crimes. Of course, the U.S. can’t allow that. Short of sending in the military to invade and get him back — this is a job for the Suicide Squad! And, of course, as is typical with the Suicide Squad, the mission goes south pretty quick.
She’s not an original member of the Suicide Squad, but Harley Quinn has become a wildly popular character for DC Comics the past couple of years. Why does she work so well within this team?
I loved playing with Harley for this story. She’s another character who just came alive for me and almost did her own thing. Like the movie, she steals almost every scene that she’s in.
I’m glad you mentioned the movie, as I know you were feted on the red carpet at the “Suicide Squad” premiere. What did you think of the performances, specifically of Viola Davis, Will Smith and Jai Courtney?
I’ll start with Ms. Davis — I think she just killed it, which I guess is a good phrase to use for the Suicide Squad. [Laughs] I love what she did. I knew from the moment that she was announced that she would be great in it. The moment that I saw the first trailer, it was so good. She looked like Amanda Waller. She sounds like Amanda. She’s got Amanda’s attitude. And the lines that she was saying in the trailer could have come straight out of the comics. I couldn’t have been happier. I actually got a chance to say “Hi” to her at the premiere and tell her how much I really, really enjoyed her portrayal.
With Deadshot, no it’s not my Deadshot, but that’s okay because I adapted Deadshot for my use, so I have no problem with anyone adapting Deadshot for their use. In any story, from one medium to another, there is going to certainly be some changes. In this case, they were able to get Will Smith — one of the biggest stars in the world — so by all means, make sure the character fits him.
As for Boomerang, I think the portrayal was mostly like Boomerang. I saw my Boomerang in there. If anything, I would have liked to see more of him in it. But I’m afraid, like Harley, he would have tried to steal whole the show.
“Suicide Squad: War Crimes” Special #1 by John Ostrander and Gus Vazquez arrives on August 31.
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