Secret Origins #14: Suicide Squad

Ryan Daly and guest Aaron Head Moss review the Suicide Squad’s evolution and Amanda Waller’s rise to power from Secret Origins #14.

Listen to Episode 14!

Subscribe to Secret Origins Podcast on iTunes!

Sample pages from Secret Origins #14, written by John Ostrander with art by Luke McDonnell and Dave Hunt, and a cover by McDonnell and Dick Giordano.

#14cover #14page5 #14page13 #14page20 #14page23 #14page35

Check out Aaron’s Task Force X Podcast at: http://taskforcex.headspeaks.com

And G.I. Joe: A Real American Headcast at: http://gijoe.headspeaks.com

“Premonition” (Theme for Secret Origins Podcast) written and performed by Neil Daly.

Additional music this episode: “Sure Shot” by The Beastie Boys; “Kill Your Heroes” by AWOLNATION.

Leave a comment, Secret Admirers!

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21 thoughts on “Secret Origins #14: Suicide Squad

  1. This was the first issue of Secret Origins that I really, really enjoyed. I was hooked by the concept of the Suicide Squad, in legends and this filled in the background, mixing several different comics into one narrative. John Ostrander does a great job here, mixing old and new, with equal measure, something that Roy’s stories often failed to do well. I enjoyed how Ostrander turned the original Squad into a government response to the disappearance of the JSA, a thread handled quite well in DC: The New Frontier (in fact, most of the stuff here ends up in New Frontier). I would love to see more adventures of those guys. It reminds me of some of the ITV adventure series, from the UK, in the 60s, like The Champions and The Avengers, not to mention the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who (with UNIT). It also brings to mind old favorite comics, like Wally Wood’s MARS Patrol, at Gold Key.
    This is where I always felt Luke McDonnell excelled. His sketchy, gritty style was meant for Suicide Squad and this shows why. he handles the period stuff well, the action, the details of the vehicles and all of the little elements that make the story great.
    Ostrander also gives us a compelling backstory to Amanda Waller, which helps humanize a character who hit you like a thunderbolt, when she first appeared, in Legends. Ostrander was really cooking in this era, both here and in Grimjack.
    It took a while to play out the Argent thread, though it was always hovering in the background of the series. Again, this was a nice reuse of the Control character, from the OSS “series” that was aborted, after one appearance in the final issue of Showcase.
    I have a slight bone to pick, in regards to Ronald Reagan. He was a B-movie star, and was never quite at the level of what I would label a “movie star,” which tends to describe the stars of the main features. Reagan was better suited as Errol Flynn’s buddy, like is Desperate Journey (a great film for any Suicide Squad fan, where Flynn and his crew kick Nazi butt across Europe).
    Cabrini Green was a notorious area of Chicago and was synonymous with Hell. It is also used effectively in Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons’ Martha Washington stories. I live in downstate Illinois and Cabrini Green was often in the state news. Ostrander, being a Chicagoan, was very familiar with the locale.
    There is no Rick Flag Sr in the War That Time Forgot stories, in Star Spangled War. In fact, in the first couple of issues, a PT boat skipper is the senior officer of the group of soldiers on Dinosaur Island. I believe he is created here. This story ends up combining The War That Time Forgot (Star Spangled War), Blackhawk, Haunted Tank (via Jeb Stuart), Suicide Squad (Brave and the Bold), OSS (Showcase #104). About the only properties missing are The Losers, Sgt Rock, and the Unknown Soldier. Also, the post-war Task Force X appears to include Mam’selle Marie, the French Maquis character, from the DC war comics, a thread picked up, again, by Darwyn Cooke, in New Frontier.

    Great comic, great episode.

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  2. Great issue and another great episode. It occurs to me that the contrived aspects of Rick Flagg’s story were intentional because his origin was an artificial memory. This was revealed in the 2008 miniseries (originally called ‘Raise The Flag’ and collected as ‘From The Ashes’) by John Ostrander which retconned Rick Flagg’s origin to be a memory implant by General Eiling. His sense of duty, guilt and dedication were all deliberately engineered.

    Did Ostrander always intend this? It wouldn’t surprise me.

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    1. I don’t think so, as there were never any hints to that in Suicide Squad. I suspect that it was an idea that came to Ostrander later. Ostrander wasn’t the type of writer to leave something like that completely dormant for 20 years. If he intended it, it would have been addressed before the original series wrapped. It sounds more like he was trying to revisit the characters; but, was forced to shoehorn it into the then-current DC style and continuity. Conspiracy theories and manipulation were the big deal, which seems to be why modern comic writers seem to want to link every character, in some fashion, in both past and present.

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  3. Thanks for a typically great show. I enjoyed hearing opinions on the origin of one of my favourite teams. It’s great to hear about the forthcoming second and third trades, and have you tried the current comic? Writer Sean Ryan is finally capturing an Ostrander/Yale vibe, and new artist Philippe Briones is a real find. Oh, and – whisper it – the svelte-since-2011 Amanda Waller is pigging out on pulled pork and burgers…

    Is that a running gag, calling Waiting For Doomers Paul and Mike English? That’s adorable.

    (Talking of gags, did you really miss my ‘basking in Robins’ pun? I rather liked that one!)

    Ostrander definitely liked to reference Cabrini Green, basing Hawkman and Hawkwoman there in the Hawkworld ongoing. And his Earth One counterpart was, of course, Linda Danvers’ neighbour in Chicago’s Rogers’ Park.

    Talking of Mlle Marie, as Jeff was above, I miss her being the mother or Alfred’s daughter Julia Remarque.

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  4. Nice show fellas. I never followed Suicide Squad, other than a few crossovers here and there. That type of series just wasn’t my cup of tea at the time. I now regret that, and may have to look into these TPBs you speak of. I had no idea that this Secret Origin worked somewhat like James Robinson’s Starman…but with the war comic characters. Jeb Stuart! I had no idea anyone did anything with him outside of WWII.

    I enjoyed the Suicide Squad (or Task Force X) and Amanda Waller on JLU. From what I knew of the character, CCH Pounder really nailed “The Wall”. The creators really seemed to take to her, even tying her into Batman Beyond, retroactively. Not bad for a Nell Carter-lookalike.

    I agree it’s ridiculous that Waller can’t be the overweight, middle-aged woman she was meant to be, nowadays. I thought some artists went too far with her weight; John Byrne drew her like Jabba the Hut, but McDonnel got her just right, and his art was fare more suitable on the Squad than JLA (or JLDetroit if you will).

    Chris

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    1. Jeb Stuart and the Haunted Tank were dusted off and taken for a spin in the Garth Ennis/John McCrea underrated Demon run in the late 90’s. It was an exuberantly fun outing that I highly recommend. It’s collected in The Demon: Hell’s Hitman trade which is released the December

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    2. We’ve discussed this in the past, Chris; but, I really think you could do an awesome maxi-series with the classic DC war comic characters, kind of The World at War (the classic documentary series, from the 70s) meets Robert Kanigher.

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      1. I didn’t know about Jeb and the Demon! And yes Jeff, that’s a great idea for a maxi-series. Sounds right up Darwyn Cooke’s alley. The New Frontier for the DC war comics, only.

        Chris

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  5. I was in pure collecting mode when the Ostrander Suicide Squad came out, collecting titles monthly, bagging, etc.

    Interesting, while the Suicide Squad never officially made it onto my pull list, it was the one book that I often would re-try, picking up random issues here and there. It had Deadshot. It had Nightshade. It had Oracle. It had The Duchess/Lashina. While now I would love to have had bought the series, I am left with looking through bargain bins for the issues to fill in the rather long gaps. And I curse the younger Anj for not recognizing the book for the solid title it was.

    I did buy this Secret Origins issue which led to me buying the first 6 issues or so of the main book before ditching it. I definitely liked the delivery of this issue as the ‘old’ and ‘new’ origin of the team kept up the flavor of an older and newer origin that I had come to like in the book.

    I first heard of the Suicide Squad in the Best of Brave and Bold digest that also introduced me to Viking Prince, Silent Knight, etc. So seeing the concept in Legends really fit the creative explosion happening at DC at the time.

    Anyways, it was great to hear the review of the issue and the further background of the team. Count me in for buying the new trades when they come out!

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  6. Anyone read DC Bombshells yet? I picked up issue #1, and I’m not spoiling anything, but there may be an appearance by certain plump, female government official in there. Just sayin’.

    Chris

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  7. I’m only a little bit into the podcast – so far so great, guys – but I had to comment before i forgot (it’s hard, I’m often listening to these while doing work and if I don’t comment then I might forget!), I have to talk about the Cabrini-Green-Candyman reference. If you guys wound up discussing this later in the podcast, forgive me. Here goes: Candyman was a 1992 horror flick set in Cabrini-Green and about an urban legend named Candyman. But it’s based on the Clive Barker short story “The Forbidden” which was actually set in England. And of course this issue of Secret Origins is from the 1980s. So is it pure coincidence that there is a Cabrini-Green Candyman character in the Amanda Waller origin – several years before the film Candyman came out? Does anyone know?

    I’ll also say that with DC releasing the Ostrander Suicide Squad run in new paperbacks currently (either one or two have come out so far, with another on the way, so it looks good for the run to be fully collected, finally), now might be the time for me to jump on board with this series. Better late than never. It’s easily one of the most lauded series of my youth that I never read. People online today talk of it in elevated terms and I’ve rarely ever seen a bad word about it. My expectations are very high. I might have to grab the trades.

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  8. So I’m watching the Green Lantern movie (it’s on FX) and I just noticed something that I missed or didn’t pay attention to the first time.
    When Hector Hammond touches Amanda Waller, he sees a glimpse in to her mind/past, and he see’s her with her husband Joe, her three kids (actually I think she had 4 or 5 in the comic), three gunshots with pictures of two kids and her hubby, and so on.
    I just now thought how much these flashes remind me of the Suicide Squad secret origin in the pages of Secret Origins.
    While this movie does have it’s problems, seeing The Wall’s “origin” revealed this way was a nice touch and a tip of the hat to the fans (in my opinion).
    And thinking about it, I may have seen this previously, I may have just noticed, having read that secret origins story twice in the last 6 months (once for my podcast Task Force X) and once for Ryan Daly’s Secret Origins Podcast, more recently).
    Anyways… just something I noticed and figured I’d post about.

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  9. Super late on this, sorry! I’m a big Suicide Squad fan – at least, Ostrander’s – and I fear I would go on and on and on if I let myself run away with this comments section. Man, the movie is not going to be anything like it, is it?

    For now, I’ll just say about the listener feedback that “Basking in Robins” is the best unacknowledged pun the show has ever produced.

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  10. I don’t have a ton to say about this issue because it had an interesting subject that was well handled by the creative team with clear themes rather than unintentional subtext to speculate upon. The elevator pitch for the most famous version of the Suicide Squad was “Dirty Dozen with super-villains,” so it’s appropriate that Rick Flagg Sr. was retroactively made to have led a group exactly like their inspiration. John Ostrander takes the time to connect a slew of disparate DC properties that make perfect sense being associated with one another, unlike Roy Thomas’ pro-fic fixations. Luke McDonnell brings the grit, while Dave Hunt’s inks give the art in the flashback sequences the rich yet simple look of old war comics that turned Roy Lichenstein on. I dig the fascistic Argent being used to explain away the disappearance of super-villains with the JSA’s retirement, and making clear the necessity of all these governmental agents when a War Wheel turns up (as one did serendipitously on the Fire & Water Podcast released the same week as you guys.)

    I always figured Darwyn Cooke owed a huge debt to Steve Englehart’s “The Origin of the Justice League–Minus One,” but now I see that it was a 40/40 split with this yarn’s material. Even if it wasn’t a direct swipe, the same ground is trod. I like Rick Flagg better for this one tale than anything else featuring him I’ve ever read. About the only thing I took issue with was the insertion of Amanda Waller’s life story, which felt extraneous and indulgent, plus the bleakness of those pages is ill-served by Hunt’s lighthearted embellishment. I’m fond of The Wall, but she needed more time, space, and a creative team tweak. Waller’s jab at The Gipper reminded me once again that while Geoff Johns is sometimes very insightful, he simply did not get Amanda Waller at all, and a Johns-inflicted viscous conservative streak has contaminated her portrayal in outside media. She’s LBJ, not G. Gordon Liddy. Still, a good introduction to the property ahead of the series and continuity porn for fanboys like me.

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  11. Just after catching up on all of the Secret Origin podcasts and just wanted to say how much I am enjoying them. In the Suicide Squad episode, you posed the question whether Rick Flag Senior had been involved in the Suicide Squad stories from “The War that time forgot” and asked if anyone who had the Showcase could comment. I actually have that Showcase Presents volume and can confirm that there is no Rick Flag Senior in the Suicide Squad stories therein. Apart from the name, there is very little that would link it back to the post-Crisis depiction of the WW2 Suicide Squad, and the stories generally focussed on just 1 or 2 charcters. The two that turned up the most were a former Olympic tobaggon athlete (Mace) who’s fear during a race cost America the gold and the life of his tobaggon partner (Morgan). Morgan’s brother would blame Mace for costing his brother’s life and for letting down his country in losing the race. Both would become members of the Suicide Squad (Mace joined to try and make things right after the accident) and both would be paired on missions, Morgan going to ensure Mace would not let down his country again. He would ensure this by always pointing a .45 at Mace and saying he would kill him if he failed his duty. Even when Morgan broke his legs, and dinasaurs attacked the pair, he would still have the gun trained at Mace!

    I am a big fan of the Showcase Presents volumes and would think this would be a great vehicle for DC to reprint a lot of these stories. Unfortunately, they were poised to reprint the Who’s Who issues through this but that fell through. Ah well, one can dream!

    Anyway, congratulations on a great podcast and am looking forward to the next one.

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  12. I loved the 1980s Suicide Squad book. It was on my weekly pull list. And I hate the slim new Amanda Waller. I like my Wallers like I like my wallet – fat!

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