This year has been a big one for fans of DC Comics' Suicide Squad, a team of villains brought together to carry out suicide missions under the auspices of the U.S. government and the amoral Amanda Waller.
Besides getting a soft reboot under the pen of writer Sean Ryan and artist Jeremy Roberts -- the ongoing series relaunching as "New Suicide Squad" earlier this year -- a "Suicide Squad" movie was announced as part of DC and Warner Brothers' new film slate. Shortly thereafter casting was confirmed for Will Smith (Deadshot), Jared Leto (The Joker), Cara Delevingne (Enchantress), Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Tom Hardy (Rick Flagg) and Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang). Rumors also surfaced of "How To Get Away With Murder" star Viola Davis potentially playing Amanda Waller.
With Task Force X making serious headlines, CBR spoke to "New Suicide Squad" writer Ryan about the movie news, his own plans for the book and returning Waller to her bureaucratic roots.
CBR News: You made your "Suicide Squad" debut this year, and looking back on the past few months, what were your feelings on taking the job? Do you think you've accomplished what you set out to do in terms of the book's "New" soft reboot?
Sean Ryan: A lot of it was a good mix of excitement and also intimidation and fear because this is the first ongoing book that I've ever written. So it was a big exciting thing to be able to do but I've wanted to write comics forever -- so exciting, but also, "Crap, now I have to do it!" But it was great to have "Suicide Squad" be the first thing I have to write because it had a lot of aspects of things I really like and feel I can do well. For me it was a perfect first thing to be able to do. We're five issues in and so far I'm pretty pleased with how it's been coming out, the tone of it and all that; we've been able to set up some of the things we have for big picture things later and I'm happy with the character interactions. Five issues in, I'm happy where it's going. I don't read a lot of reviews and such, so I hope in general people are liking it. We'll see! [Laughs]
You mentioned that this first ongoing book plays well to some of your favorite aspects as a writer. What would you say those are? How does "New Suicide Squad" allow you to write to your strengths?
I like being able to write villains. I think they're very interesting to write because you get to try to turn them into real people. If you write a hero they always generally have to be good, even the bad sides of them. But with the villain, they do bad things but you can also try to show them as people. At the same time I like in this book we get to do big international stories. I like reading international news and what's going on in the world, so I like to take that knowledge and interest and bring it to the book with the story of Russia, then the story in China and some of the other stuff we have planned. Also, I like reading about the CIA and things like that, and that's part of the book as well: secret government stuff and operations around the world. All those things I like reading about I can funnel that information into this book, which is really nice.
It's funny you talk about the CIA because one of the strongest threads in the book has been investigating Waller; she's gotten a little more humanized, we got to see what makes her tick, and then with Vic Sage there's a bureaucratic in-fight between them about the direction the Squad goes.
In the New 52 people have been emphasizing Waller as more of an action hero, but with this are you trying to get back to Waller and Task Force X as the bureaucratic, amoral government noman's land?
Yeah! [Laughs] My take on Waller is I like her as this take-charge kind of woman, but she's also in charge of this operation, for me anyways -- maybe at some point she's someone who has to run around and do action stuff, but right now she's in charge of this organization. I'm not sure I've said this before, but I like the idea that this is a government thing and that the government is paying attention to it, so there's more responsibility on her to keep this together. Then at the same time they put someone in charge above her. I like the idea of giving her a boss, someone she has to deal with, because no one really likes dealing with a boss and being told what to do, especially Amanda Waller who is used to doing her own thing all the time. The idea of someone above her saying, "Well, let's do this," would just be infuriating to her! Especially Vic Sage who doesn't really think things through and when he has an idea says, "Let's just do that!" He seemed like the perfect kind of person to come into contact with and give her a bunch of conflict.
I want to say, and maybe I'm reading too much into it as the child of government workers, but with Vic and Waller it's felt like Waller is the policy-wonk, looking at the numbers, old-school bureaucracy, while Vic is the slick, "Let's jazz this team up and make them accountable," guy.
So it's government versus privatization with this fight between the two of them.
[Laughs] Yes, very much so! She's very much -- I would say it's less in an old stogy way and more she's a competent person who knows how to do this, let's do this the right way. Then he's coming in, and I feel like a lot of places and companies deal with that; someone comes in and says, "I know how to fix this place, let's do this and this," and he's not really thinking things through. "Let's throw these people in here, it'll be great!" He's someone who doesn't think through what he's doing. To use a sports metaphor, he's like an owner or general manager who just throws flashy players into a team without thinking that doesn't work for team chemistry. It's a team that has a lot of stars on it but they can't play together and lose, rather than thinking about how things actually work.
Talking about Waller in that vein, if you've been keeping up with the news about the "Suicide Squad" movie right now they are talking about Viola Davis as Waller, which I don't know if you've been watching "How To Get Away With Murder" but her character on that and this Waller feel like they could definitely go toe to toe. I don't know you you've seen the show--
But you've been seeing all the cast announcements?
Yeah, I've been following it as much as anyone else is; I saw the casting new last week. To me it's kind of crazy that there's a "Suicide Squad" movie. For me it's gone from me writing the book and telling people who don't read comics what I do, from me saying, "I write 'Suicide Squad'" and them being confused and not knowing what that is to all of sudden people think I'm now best friends with Will Smith and hanging out on weekends. I'm like, "No, no, no! [Laughs] I have nothing to do with that, I have nothing to do with the movie, no one tells me anything about that."
But it's pretty neat that it's a huge thing with Will Smith and Jared Leto. With the casting it's nice to see what characters are going to be in the movie, just to see if moving forward in "Suicide Squad" we could try to maybe try to work some of the characters in the movie into the book. We'll see. The Joker's a tricky character to pin down.
Even in the comic Vic's been saying, "Let's bring the Joker in!" And everyone around is much less sure that's a good idea, though now he is in the movie--
Yeah! [Laughter] I very much agree that putting the Joker on any sort of team can be a dicey move, so I'll be interested to see how they do that in the movie.
And then you've got things like the new "Star Wars" movies coming out where the new comic tying into it just sold a million copies. Like you said, you're the guy who had to go from explaining what the team was to claiming you're not best friends with Jared Leto--
Definitely not! [Laughs]
So is that attention or the events around the book affecting the stories you want to do? Or have you talked about maybe doing something that specifically does tie-into the film version, other than just using some of the characters?
I haven't talked too much with DC about legit tie-ins. With the cast, I know as much about this movie as you; I know who this cast is and that's about it. The only way it's affected is trying to see if I can work in characters in the movie and into the book, and doing that would affect storylines just because I don't want them to just suddenly show up and be on the team. Especially someone like the Joker. If you work him in things have to change, so trying to work in characters will kind of affect some future plans for the book and shake things up, if we can do it. They kind of work into a big plan we have anyway, but it's interesting to try to see if we can work that in, kind of a creative test.
To talk about characters, in the China arc in "New Suicide Squad" we've seen characters like Reverse Flash come in. I know you were talking about how with Joker it's hard to bring in that big a character, but characters like Reverse Flash are an equally huge deal. How do you find the balance between how big a villain has to be versus how well they'd fit into the team? What's your metric for Task Force X members?
I should develop some sort of equation for it! To bring them in they need to be cool enough that people are excited they show up; at the same time, you can't have someone who is so wildly independent and insane. The Joker is so crazy that it's going to be hard to control him, even with a bomb in his neck. Or someone who is really powerful, because they're not going to be that easily controlled either. I'm trying to think of a good example, you can't go crazy -- like, you can't have Darkseid show up in the book because that's madness.
But we even saw that a little in the first arc with Deathstroke. Deathstroke is someone who is not going to work, in my opinion, as someone on the team because he's such a lone wolf and does his own thing. The way I wrote Deathstroke is he thought he was above the team; he was willing to do it for the money but then was also like, "I'm better than this." But someone like Reverse Flash I think he works because he's fairly new to -- he doesn't have that big of an ego, you can put a bomb in him, you can control him in that regard. Definitely Boomerang because he's a longtime Suicide Squad member, he's perfect. I love Captain Boomerang.
Sounds like part of the requirements are also that the villains who stick around don't think they're better than this.
Yeah! In "Suicide Squad" I feel like a big part of the story is that they're upset or trying to get out of it, they're almost mad that they have to go on these missions. I haven't really been doing that in the book because part of what I'm doing is that the criminals -- I don't know if they like going on these missions, but these missions give them something to do. Someone like Deadshot, in the book he's in prison and so he's like, "I'm good at shooting people, I kind of like going on these missions because they give me something to do, they're exciting, they're fun." That's what I like, that these characters aren't necessarily angry they are being made to do this. It makes them feel like they are doing something rather than rotting away in a prison cell. You see that in issue #5 when Deadshot is injured and he's like, "Well I'll get better and I'll go on these missions again." Waller's like, "Well, we'll see if you do." The idea of him not being needed by somebody freaks him out.
You said that you're a huge Boomerang fan; you're getting to put together the team for the book, but have you ever put any thought into what your perfect team of characters for a movie, TV show, whatever, of "Suicide Squad?"
That's a good question. I don't know, I'm sort of partial to the old school Suicide Squad. I like Deadshot and I like Boomerang together, I like Rick Flagg as well, having a straight-laced military guy in there. Harley is good because she's a good crazy person to have around. But like I said, I like the core team of Waller, Deadshot, Boomerang, Harley -- if you told me I could use any characters, those would be the main ones I'd want.
You started out with artist Jeremy Roberts but for the last few issues we've had fill-in artists. Will Jeremy be returning in the near future?
I don't believe so, I think he's left the book permanently so he won't be coming back. I think he decided to move, unfortunately because I was a big fan of what he was doing on the book. It's a bummer, but I think he needed to move on to something else.
Then to wrap up, like we said there's a lot of attention being paid to this cast of characters right now because of the movie -- with all that, how do you keep "New Suicide Squad" true to your voice? And what are you goals for the New Year in terms of what you want fans to take away from the book moving into 2015?
[Laughs] I guess it's hard not to; even when there's stuff thrown at you that you would not necessarily want to do or wouldn't be exactly how you would do things, I feel it's impossible to not have things in your own voice when you sit down and start writing it. For example, there were characters in that first arc I didn't necessarily want to use or ideas from elsewhere that maybe wouldn't have been the way I'd gone, but once you actually sit down and start writing the panel-by-panel dialogue, it's impossible not to have it in your own voice. Which is a nice feeling, I think. If suddenly the next cast had to be all New Gods I'd be like, "That's insane," but I'd figure it out and find a way to write them the way I see them.
Like I said, I don't know what people think of the book; what I hope they get out of it is what I get out of a book, which is interesting characters that you want to keep reading about to see what happens. Moving forward I'd like to delve into these characters a lot more and see what makes them tick. I can't say too much of the arc coming after "Convergence," but hopefully that'll be a dark story arc. I'm really hoping we'll dive into exactly what makes these people bad people. With superheroes something happened to them or they are generally good and want to help people. What motivates or what keeps these characters being bad people who like killing or getting revenge? What continues them down that path? Hopefully we can explore that aspect, and then the pieces can come together for the big thing we're planning that's been moving in the background of the whole book. There have been hints throughout the first couple of issues that there's something bigger behind the scenes, so I'll continue to seed that. And the big goal is hopefully people like it and hopefully I don't get fired! [Laughter] That's the long-term goal!
And hit the government stuff with Waller.
I don't know if you saw the Rumsfeld documentary, "The Known Unknown," but that was definitely an inspiration for Waller. People who are absolutely convinced they're right are terrifying.
"New Suicide Squad" #6 goes on sale Jan. 14, 2015. Stay tuned to CBR News for more on the upcoming "Suicide Squad" movie.