Filmmaker and series regular writer of DC's New 52 Suicide Squad, Adam Glass, offers a sincere, focused and above-all revolutionary reinterpretation of the action-thriller genre in a PopMatters Exclusive conversation.
By the end of the conversation I'm filled with the deepest sense of restriction. This conversation isn't nearly enough, a phone line isn't enough. It's mid-morning in LA, filmmaker Adam Glass talks his way on towards some distant concept, something on the horizon that we will all eventually gather around in wonder, and I'm elsewhere in time, beginning to feel untethered like no amount of time can ever be enough to soak in the energy and the passion and the pure intellect of Adam, and what he puts into crafting arguably the finest Suicide Squads ever. Hearing Adam talk about the Suicide Squad feels exactly like having that very first thought that will eventually cascade you free from what you foolishly believed to be The Impossible. It's like walking home in the rain you knew had to fall on Southland. Like the morning you realized you no longer needed permission.
And that sense of restriction is a physical feeling and it hurts in a physical way. Because time here, is not enough. And because a phone line is not enough. How can it be? This conversation demands so much more of geography than satellites and cabling and speakerphones can supply. The revolutionary moment that Adam just spoke of, the revolution in not only thinking about the Squad, but a wholesale validation of the action genre as "high" art, demands greatness from our geography. This conversation needs to have played out in some Himalayan wonderhell, a pit of a place where we stare up at the skies as a meteor storm is compounded solar flares striking the Earth's magneto-sphere. We drink butter tea to keep warm, as we navigate graceful ruins at the top of the world. Or needs to have played out on Easter Island, silent sentinel heads bearing down on us as the forbidding of the monsoon off in the distance is suggested but never fully hits.
"Your influences are your influences", Adam says and it hits like the moment right before the final montage of the movie, the moment where all plot-points are finally concluded and the narrative threads are finally tied down. How can conversation like this not demand more from this technological geography of a phone line that currently ties us together?
When this began it felt easier, like we both would know our roles. I knew I'd be asking questions about the Adam's take on the Suicide Squad, on the evolution of his creativity, on his unique insights as a filmmaker and an executive producer and how these skillsets where brought to bear on the task of writing DC's New 52 Suicide Squad. I got all of this, but then, about a third the way through, I was given an invitation into a higher place--what would it look like if the action genre could become a manifesto for something far greater, something wholly unexpected. This is the invitation I was offered when Adam began speaking freely about his own ideas and insights and drives. All I had to do was ask the three of four right questions, and then step out of the way. Easiest. Interview. Ever. And also one of the best, there's a freedom of thought and of form with Adam that's nearly impossible to pin down with any kind of prepared line of questioning. His creativity lies in the art of articulating the momentary, and protracting that long after it should linger.
Our interview begins with a confession of sorts, on my part. Suicide Squad almost uniquely captured the tone and the tension of my generation. It was the Last Of Days for the familiar, and by this time reassuring, paradigm of the Cold War. There was Soviet bluster, naturally, but already the idea of a second Cuban Missile Crisis was beginning to seem farfetched. The Cold War was just a dated paradigm we had been born into. Reaganomics began to make us feel safe, after a fashion. Safe to a point where DC, celebrating its 50th anniversary just a few years prior, could undertake the large task of reinventing itself.
The book that did this was of course Crisis on Infinite Earths, remember Harbinger, Pariah, the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor. The twist in the tale was of course, that by the end of the Crisis there would no longer be Infinite Earths--just the one. No more team up between the Justice League of Earth-One and the Justice Society of Earth-Two. Now the two Justices were from one, single planet. But the earlier generation of the Justice Society would mysteriously have vanished. And culturally this made sense, the disaffection we began to feel, that loss of connection with our grandparent generation who'd fought in the Second World War. Complexity it seemed was on the rise.
And from this wealth of storytelling, it really wouldn't be the missing generation of the Justice Society, the generation that, postwar, simply returned to a ubiquity of increased financial means and faded anonymously into that backdrop, it really wouldn't be the Justice League Detroit that would rise to the occasion (the Justice League of America had been disbanded in the wake of the Earth-Mars war, and the new Justice League, headed by Aquaman, was run out of a bunker in Detroit). Instead, the newly-minted Suicide Squad would seem to be the team-book that would set the cultural tone of that moment. The book was a risk even then.
What's the worst thing about Batman? Honestly the worst of it all is how Blackgate Penitentiary never offers inmates an opportunity at penitence, how Arkham Asylum proves to be far less than an asylum for the "Criminally Insane" from their own inner demons. The worst thing about Batman?…Invariably Batman is a growth industry. Now imagine taking that very worst thing about Batman, his failing to institute a greater social paradigm that would simply invalidate supervillainy (As A Brief Note: writers like Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Chris Nolan, Denny O'Neill have always been able to articulate a broader vision for the Batman, but that era back then made Batman and Flash particularly feel like inundated), and turning it into a convincing and thorough narrative. This is what Suicide Squad meant. The idea villains were dragooned into serving the unofficial interests of the state, the idea that sometimes you needed to make deals with familiar bad guys, to take down larger and more violent threats.
In the immensely capable hands of John Ostrander, this was what would the Suicide Squad would become. An off-the-books, wetwork team that could go anywhere, effect any sanction and remain perfectly deniable. And even better…while the "heroes" of the Squad were familiar faces, the Squad itself and even these characters that populated it to a lesser degree, weren't weighted down by the 50-plus years of continuity. The Deadshot that appeared in the pages of Detective Comics certainly wasn't subject to an ongoing publication narrative in the same way the Batman himself was. This Deadshot was more or less a cipher. The same for Captain Boomerang ripped from the pages of the Flash or for Bronze Tiger, or Nightshade.
When Adam comments on this, he comments as a fan of John Ostrander's Squads, but also as a keen intellect in the midsts of shaping a unique Suicide Squad. "I agree by the way, I grew up loving Ostrander's books", Adam begins, "Y'know I've said this before, but it's funny how John crafted these great stories that not only inspired me as a comicbook writer, but inspired me as a writer on the whole. I'm living in a different time where I have to tell these stories very quick. I don't have as many pages and I have to have some splash pages, so one of the first thing's I discussed with Pat McCallum, the editor, was, 'We got to jump, we don't have time, we have to jump, every story we have to be in the middle of the adventure'. We're right there…open up, action! And we're right in the middle of it. Usually in a story you do the…okay, here's the plan, then let's get there, then let's take out the thing…then let's observe from outside, then we take turns at surveillance. We don't have time for that, we so want to get to the juicy stuff, so our books have to move, so we have tighter panels, and dialogue that's a little more sparse. Nothing better, but just different".
It's the shifting tone of Adam's enthusiasm that catches my ear first. There's that energy that's so hard to capture, but his voice rises and falls, and the tension builds. Adam is clearly a gifted storyteller, even his ability to capture the mood of his own boyhood engagement and how that evolved into a critical creativity around the Squad is captivating.
The easiness and the flow of the conversation is everything I need to surrender my earlier expectations. Even a mythic geography wouldn't be enough. Because it's what Adam says next that will allow for an even deeper understanding on my part…of his creativity, of his vision for the Squad, of his engaging complexity of thought. This isn't about the mythic in any kind of abstract sense. This Squad isn't about the situational. The real, deep exceptional articulation that Adam brings to the Squad, is how readily it reflects the tropes and the contestations we've been struggling with through literature almost since the very beginning.
Easter Island, the Himalaya just wouldn't be up to the task. Instead, we'd need something like Schipol International. Something at the edge of Amsterdam, perhaps one of the last remaining global capitals that allows seems shaped around the lost arts of the flâneur. But we wouldn't get that, instead we'd get the airport, we'd get that sushi restaurant in the round, where that severe Japanese man oversees a hapless-looking Dutchman, we'd get that neat, clean, bar that seems to resistant to there being pictures of the patrons on the walls, we'd get that bookstore, the one with the DVDs of popular movies and TV shows with the Dutch subtitles. And somewhere in that infinite waiting-room-ness of it all, somewhere around the corner from the computer terminals arranged open-plan in some sort of 70s-era throwback jammed with millennium era tech, somewhere on the general terminal floor, well away from the departure lounge where Chinese-produced flatscreens show Dutch soccer interspersed with commercials for Dutch lager, Adam will say in a confessional tone that it's not the "Suicide" Squad because of the suicide missions, but because you really need to already be trapped in a long, slow spiral of suicide to be found by the Squad in the first place.
The Suicide Squad itself as a mythic force that hunts you down and finds you. And that's where the conversation would really begin…