Indomitable, But the Wave’s Already Begun to Break: “Suicide Squad #0”

I know where Adam Glass is headed with Suicide Squad, I tell you know lie. Early on in the rollout of the New 52, we spent a long morning talking about his plans for the Squad. Not the specifics mind, the twists and the turns and the discoveries we all make with a turn of each new page are still mine as a reader among other readers. But the larger emotional yield of the book, the overarching themes and the complexity of each character’s psychology was laid bare.

And knowing where’s he’s going has made it easier as a fan, but in some ways harder as a critic. As a critic I’m caught in this thrall of watching him unfold the full emotional and psychological complexity he’d spoken about. It’s the story of watching an artist work, measuring themselves against the abyss, effecting what they hope to effect in the world. And that’s a really hard story to write and still have to write a regular review.

But some nights, you read an issue like “Point of No Return”, and everything just clicks.

“Point of No Return” shows a kind of mastery of form on the part of its writer. The issue sticks not only to the spirit of “the law” but the letter also, when it comes Zero Month. This is not some flashback, not distant-past story that disavows current characters or settings, but an actual story from “Before the New 52”. In Squad terms, it is the story of a woman on the morning of a war; Amanda Waller living down-and-out in Malaysia, recovering from the events that befell Team 7.

The issue feels like deep background at first, the kind of story that will fill in some blanks, offer some insights into character. But as the pages turn, that model quickly unravels. What we’re confronted with as readers is a story that leverages geopolitical complexity to examine both psychological complexity and moral ambiguity.

And the entire issue is constructed around the moment Amanda Waller finally meets Regulus, the main, and (until recently) concealed, villain of the book. Is it by chance that Adam chooses to set this crucial scene atop a hill, at a lookout point for a tidal estuary? It’s a place where ocean waves roll back, it’s a brutal moment in the story, and it’s hard to resist being drawn back into Hunter S. Thompson, into Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas; the memory of Thompson’s vivid writing when he speaks about San Fran in the ’60s as riding the crest of a wave, that’s already just about to crash and break.

It’s beautiful writing, perhaps Thompson’s most beautiful. And it traverses the same ground that Adam attempts so fearlessly–the personal psyche under pressure, one that begins to crack, sliding into the geopolitical. In the contestation between Amanda Waller and Regulus, two incredibly capable characters who clearly live under the long shadow of a shared past, Adam captures HST’s vivid writing perhaps a little too well. Not only HST’s writing’s strengths, but also its imperfections.

There’s clearly a woundedness to the moment HST experiences. A kind of betrayal, abstract in that no agents were directly involved in causing this situation, and complex, in that there’s no single cause here, but the unforeseeable mechanics of a myriad of consequence chains all impacting a single event.

What happens when HST comes down from that hill? It’s a question of either living in the suffering, unable to see it (and never heading up that hill in the first place), or knowing of the suffering and having to live through it.

To overcome this kind of awareness, you’d need to have Alexander on your side. Alexander who came to Delphi for a prophecy at a time when prophesy was still culturally acceptable, only to find the Oracle had closed for the off-season. Alexander who then proceeded to march down the hill, into the Seer’s dormitory and drag her forcefully towards the Oracle Temple itself. At which point, with the moment of her being forced to break her vows and perform a Seeing during the proper months, the Seer herself screamed, “My Lord, let me go, you are indomitable.”

“You are indomitable”, and that’s all it took for Alexander to believe he’d been given his prophesy. “You are indomitable,” and he’d go on to conquer the world. Alexander’s psychology geared around not accepting this as they are, is evident in Amanda Waller when she climbs down from that hill, and goes on to build the Suicide Squad as a direct intervention team against global security threats.

And for Adam’s writing to be able to describe a psychological evolution from HST climbing down that hill, to Alexander climbing down from his, in as terse panels as he does, points to Adam’s (who entered the popular imagination as a filmmaker) own unlikely strength in writing for the medium. Simply put, Suicide Squad #0 deserves to be read.

RATING 8 / 10