The Suicide Squad – Legends

February 6, 2016 Author: Jon Johnson (Sir)

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LEGENDS, the six-issue series printed in 1987 from DC Comics, was the essential sequel to the world-changing CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. It was meant to be a reintroduction to the DC Universe as well as a stand alone series that might be a primer to the characters and groups DC was publishing at the time.

John Ostrander, then writer of comic book series outside of DC or Marvel, was the creative genius behind the new, improved version of the Suicide Squad. LEGENDS, the series following up the life-changing series CRISIS, broke new ground by being a real thought-provoking creation on top of a showcase for the upcoming DC Universe, which it essentially was.

Len Wein, co-creator of Swamp Thing, wrote LEGENDS. The whole series, which is an overlaying story to integrate the iconic characters of the DC Universe to the forefront of 1987 readership, works beyond that small focus. The basic premise is that Darkseid, lord of Apokalips, has had enough of the heroic figures of the DCU, such as Superman. He and his minions devise a subversive and clandestine plan to undermine the heroes, in a most inventive and wholly modern way. Glorious Gordon Godfrey, minion of the evil Darkseid, is sent to Earth to sow seeds of dissent amongst the populace, which he does quite well. As a reader, it’s difficult not to hate him, as it’s obvious what he’s doing.

The generously exciting LEGENDS plot derives directly from story developments in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. While deferential to the series, it didn’t specifically reference it, which was the way of series of the time. LEGENDS invokes the work of John Byrne, then late of Marvel, to eschew the dynamic look of each and every major player in the DCU. This is an artist that grasps the concept of the iconic imagery that the characters have since invoked, making them immediate focus wherever they appear on a page. Love him or hate him John Byrne draws the eye to the characters, making you love them each time you see them drawn by him.

Flash, the then-specific Wally West, former Kid Flash, is an integral component to LEGENDS. Through him, the reader learns the concept of the legendary figures that the costumed mystery men have become over the years, particularly with the ridiculously massive history the DCU had at that time. Wally, as Kid Flash, has a long and amazing history making those that costumed heroes that have come later less than genuine. As a replacement of his mentor and predecessor Barry Allen, Wally explains the need for the costume and general love of the Flash. It sets the tone for the entire series, which is integral to the overall storyline, a massive undertaking for the evil and manipulative Darkseid.

Six issues are all that are needed to tell the tale of LEGENDS, an extremely well-orchestrated book by Editor Mike Gold. Mike, as the exceptionally well-written editor he was/is, explains the genesis of LEGENDS in two separate editorials within the comics. Those alone are well worth the read, regardless of the costume dramas they sit within. He so fully pulls off the series that reintroduces long-suffering readers of the DC Universe to the continuity as well as introducing new readers to a now comprehensive comic book world; it amazes me that he is not still working at DC.

LEGENDS introduced a number of series at the time. According to the letters page and editorials, five series spun off directly from LEGENDS. Two were mini-series, three were ongoing. One was the newest version of the Justice League, which had fallen on hard times, readership and direction-wise. One, of the most import to this column, was the re-imagined SUICIDE SQUAD.

LEGENDS introduced the DCU to the unequivocal Amanda Waller, as well as reorganizing post WWII stories to explain the reintegration of Task Force X, the group in charge of what would become the Suicide Squad. It’s slightly dated in form due to the excessive need to use President Ronald Reagan as a character, but it still works within the story. Regardless of how dated the material might be, the story itself is quite modern and relevant, making LEGENDS more than the insular publisher event it might have seen at the time.

Within the story, which focuses on the ‘legendary’ costumed characters of the reimagined, single history DCU, President Ronald Reagan issues an executive order demanding all costumed heroes to remain incognito. Because of this edict, it allows the new Suicide Squad to activate. Rick Flag, holdover from the previous unit known as the “Suicide Squad”, is tasked to recruit costumed heroes and villains by the powerful Amanda Waller. The first, witnessed in the LEGENDS series, is Floyd Lawton, former Batman villain known as Deadshot. By the time we get to the third issue of LEGENDS, the whole team is introduced. Enchantress, an old DC character seen in numerous titles, Captain Boomerang, a long-lambasted Flash villain, Blockbuster, a boring meathead character seen in the Flash, Superman and Batman titles, Bronze Tiger, a pseudo-villain from a multitude of old 70’s titles, Deadshot and Rick Flag rounds out the group.

Immediately, the Suicide Squad gets its name, as Blockbuster doesn’t survive the first mission against one of Darkseid’s minions on Earth. Why Blockbuster was part of the team was never revealed, as he was a volunteer as opposed to a recruit, like Deadshot. With this first mission, the entirety of the upcoming Suicide Squad series is detailed – criminals get their sentences commuted if they server their country and survive, heroes that volunteer get assistance they want or need as directed by their commander, Amanda Waller.

Die-hard DC Universe fans couldn’t have asked for a better series. The Suicide Squad bridged both older stories with a legacy as well as integrating newer, lesser known villains seen in a variety of DC titles over the years. Giving the characters and series a showcase within a mini-series event proved that DC hoped for great things with the upcoming publication, which I jumped on with aplomb. LEGENDS did a lot for DC at the time, least of which was a springboard for an integrated, reformed DC Universe. Suicide Squad was to be the bottom level, concrete wall of that, which will be seen with the first few issues of the new series.

Coming soon, a retro-review and retrospective of Suicide Squad #1-6.

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