Review: Suicide Squad Vol. 4: Discipline and Punish trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 27, 2014

DC only let Ales Kot write four issues of Suicide Squad, and given that the last collection saw the end of Adam Glass's long run on the series and the next volume finishes out the series with a half-dozen issues by Matt Kindt, it's hard to see Suicide Squad Vol. 4: Discipline and Punish as more than a way station before bigger events. But for a series that has sometimes been very good, sometimes been very bad, Kot's short trade is a momentary bright spot. Though I can understand why a reader might just jump to the new Sean Ryan series, Kot's book is worth picking up, and raises my esteem for the writer, if nothing else.

[Review contains spoilers]

Knowing, again, that Suicide Squad has sometimes been good, and sometimes been banal or unnecessarily violent (different than necessarily violent, which Suicide Squad can and probably should be), I was on the watch for the moment when I could determine whether Kot had it under control or not. For the record, that moment is ten pages in: "King Shark is still a virgin, I think." Leaving aside that between Glass and Kot, we now have a couple conflicting mysteries as to who Shark is and why he's there (perhaps never to be resolved), Kot first of all considers the King Shark character in a way no writer has before, and simultaneous with that insight is bit of raunchy, "not an all-ages title"-type humor.

Ditto when Harley Quinn asks a male stalker-turned-fan whether he wants her autograph "on your boobs," it is nonsense, but grown-up nonsense. Sexual innuendo does not a sophisticated story make, but Kot's got a tone here that feels fresher and more mature than Glass's previous volume, Suicide Squad Vol. 3: Death is for Suckers (the last story of which saw the Squad up against Kobra-equivalent Regulus and his lackey Red Orchid, veering pretty far into average superheroics rather than espionage).

Further, Kot's entire first issue -- in which Squad leader Amanda Waller schemes to put the Squad through their psychological paces -- could be seen as a rehash of Glass's first issue, in Suicide Squad Vol. 1: Kicked in the Teeth, where Waller similarly evaluated the Squad. But whereas in Glass's first issue Waller physically tortured the Squad -- in an issue decried by some for its "torture porn" -- in Kot's issue Waller's actions are more psychological (even still with a certain amount of violence). The effect is a story that feels no less like Suicide Squad, but seems to address the reader on a higher level.

An interesting difference, however, is whereas the book's original first issue lead off a story of the Squad doing Waller's bidding, the result of Waller's machinations this time is a stand-off with Harley Quinn in which Harley and crew (kind of) win their independence. This second chapter, issue #21 with art by Patrick Zircher, is the best of Kot's bunch, featuring a much-anticipated meeting between Harley and the equally-psychotic James Gordon Jr. That Harley has been the girlfriend of the freakin' Joker is oft-overlooked in her encounters, I think (Harley being a much higher-level bad guy than she's portrayed, when you think about it), and it's nice to see Kot writing Gordon giving Harley some deference, one Bat-villain to another.

Kot's final two issues are buffeted by the strength of the earlier ones, though comparatively they are not as strong. The single issue of the Squad fighting a hulking behemoth through Las Vegas is entertaining in the spirit of Suicide Squad's more absurd moments (most recently, when Glass's group was almost eaten by cannibals), though it's far from as fraught as the previous issue.

Next, Kot reveals rather out of nowhere that Team 7's John Lynch is behind their recent trouble, and pits the Squad against a forgettable super-team as they try to stop him. Any use of Team 7 grabs my attention, but Kot plays Lynch as a stereotypical scheming bad guy (that Lynch has become a villain at all in the New 52 is slightly off, isn't it?) and in all the chapter equally lacks the first two's emotional resonance.

Still, four fairly above-board issues of Suicide Squad aren't bad. To be sure, the star of Kot's stories is James Gordon; he's crazy as ever, but in Gordon's interactions with Waller, Kot brings some focus to the character that makes the reader better able to appreciate him. I am glad to see that Kindt keeps Gordon around in the next volume; his outward emotionlessness contrasted with the inner monologue that reveals his crush on Waller is wonderfully creepy, and I'm eager to see all of that come to a head.

Discipline and Punish ends with Matt Kindt's Villains' Month Harley Quinn and Deadshot issues, from Detective Comics and Justice League of America respectively. Of these, the Harley issue is the better, and Kindt's positing of a childhood where Harleen was a smart child abused by parents that made fun of her "book learning" is eminently believable; I only thought Kindt gave too short a shrift to the specific reasons Harley "went evil" (it seems, read one way, that it's solely due to a kiss from the Joker). The item-by-item recounting of how Harley put together her costume felt like more explanation than the character needed, but her final acts of terrorism are especially chilling.

The Deadshot issue has notably good art by Sami Basri and Keith Champagne, and by Carmen Carnero and BIT. I liked here that Kindt establishes that Deadshot is an expert marksman in part because he never wastes a bullet, ever, though I did not necessarily think that Kindt's new origin, removing Deadshot Floyd Lawton's idolization of his brother, was better than what came before. (The apartment-shooting scene, however, was pure craziness of the kind to remind me of Kindt's Mind MGMT.

I would note that I think DC collected the two Villains' Month issues in the wrong order, since the Harley Quinn story ends with Deadshot coming to re-recruit her for the Squad, and the Deadshot issue ends with Lawton getting that mission from Waller. Another error here is the inclusion of Patrick Zircher's sketches of Steel John Henry Irons -- I don't sneeze at Steel artwork, but the character never appears in this book.

Overall, I think Suicide Squad fans will like Ales Kot's Suicide Squad Vol. 4: Discipline and Punish. It's a six-issue trade that feels short, and while that's sometimes a bad thing, the done-in-one nature of it left me satisfied. If Matt Kindt's and Sean Ryan's Suicide Squad issues don't measure up, I'll be wondering why DC let Ales Kot slip away so fast.

[Includes original covers, Patrick Zircher "Steel" sketches]

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  1. Kot is the kind of fresh, smart voice DC desperately needs, and I wish they found him another project to work on after they decided to cut his Suicide Squad run short in favor of Kindt's dull Forever Evil tie-in arc. Their loss was Marvel's gain, although they're still wasting him on books that seem destined for cancellation in less than a year.

    1. I know I'm repeating myself, but I like Kindt's Mind MGMT so much, but yet his Justice League of America Forever Evil tie-in was very nearly unreadable. Bummed to hear you say the Suicide Squad run is likewise.

    2. Shag -- Just read Kindt's Suicide Squad and I was pleasantly surprised, actually. Review coming.

    3. Yay, lowered expectations for the win!