Review: Suicide Squad Vol. 5: Walled In trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 03, 2014

I'm a fan of writer Matt Kindt's brainy Dark Horse series Mind MGMT, but I was critical of his Justice League of America Vol. 2: Survivors of Evil, finding it lackluster, repetitious, and predictable. The covert-ops Justice League of America would have seemed to have been a lock for Kindt based on his Mind MGMT work; even more apropos would be his run on Suicide Squad, but after Justice League of America I admit I got a little nervous.

Thankfully, Kindt's Suicide Squad Vol. 5: Walled In is pretty good, especially in the parts that spotlight Squad leader Amanda Waller. Kindt's story did not perhaps need six issues to tell (collected here plus Jim Zub's Amanda Waller special and Sean Ryan's issue #30 that kicks off the New Suicide Squad series), though for some of that we can lay the blame with the book's need to keep pace with the Forever Evil crossover. The initial issues with artist Patrick Zircher are surely the best, as the latter ones -- perhaps in expectance of the title's cancellation -- have a string of guest artists whose inconsistent style hurts the flow of the story. But in all, Kindt's Suicide Squad story has shades of the spy mystery I would have expected, and it leaves me curious to see what a Kindt Suicide Squad story not tied to a larger crossover would look like.

[Review contains spoilers]

At the outset, Kindt's tale integrates at least three different storylines -- Amanda Waller, trapped at Belle Reve; the Suicide Squad, hunting a mysterious weapon; and a ragtag group of heroes, including Steel and Power Girl, sent to stop them. The result is that the issues feel nicely full; they focus on Waller for a while, then they go to the two super-teams, then they pick up with Waller again, to the point that I looked back once or twice, surprised to see that I'd read so much material all within the confines of just one issue.

Kindt has the unenviable task of telling an Amanda Waller story with the character all but confined to Belle Reve and still having to make the character "active." (This contrasts nicely with Zub's "in the field" Waller story that starts off the book.) Kindt highlights what's great about Waller in that she basically just sits in a chair for the first two issues, but she's at the same time pulling the strings on operatives near and far. Kindt's revelation via Waller that Task Force "X" is just the latest in a string of Task Force teams is a concept done already at Marvel, but the other teams that Kindt and Zircher posit -- including super-intelligent monkeys and what looks like a prototype of Booster Gold's Skeets -- hold a lot of interesting possibilities.

In the Waller storyline, Kindt offers a variety of continuity with the earlier issues of this series. Given that Kindt is here to write a six-part tie-in to Forever Evil before this series is cancelled, it's understandable he might go his own way (as Sean Ryan does, to an extent, in the end). Instead, speaking of the old Task Forces, Kindt finally tie up the long-running King Shark thread, introducing King Shark's even-more-fearsome father and explaining how King Shark came to Amanda Waller's custody. Kindt also writes a likably creepy James Gordon Jr. here, continuing really without hiccup from Ales Kot's Suicide Squad Vol. 4: Discipline and Punish previous.

Part of the historic joy of books like Suicide Squad and Justice League Task Force is the random teaming of characters, and Kindt accomplishes this with Squad stalwarts Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and Captain Boomerang, plus unlikely foes-turned-allies Steel, Power Girl, and Unknown Soldier. I'm always glad to see Steel, who's been missing lately from the Superman titles; I'm not sure if Kindt's conception of John Henry and Natasha matches what Grant Morrison and Sholly Fisch set up, but good to have Steel on the page nonetheless. And then of course one of the book's biggest thrills is Kindt's use of Dan DiDio's OMAC Kevin Kho.

Less effective is Kindt's new character Warrant, who dies before he really makes an impression; given Kindt's Mind MGMT background, I had thought maybe Warrant would turn out to be some other hero in disguise. The book's early twist, however, that the heroes aren't working for the "real" Waller as they believe, is good, as is the ultimate revelation of the Unknown Solider as a double-agent. These were the kinds of elements I was expecting from a Matt Kindt Suicide Squad series, and it didn't disappoint.

But issue #27, halfway through Kindt's story, marks a turning point for the book. Zircher departs, replaced first by Rafa Sandoval, whose art I liked on Catwoman but who draws an awkwardly gratuitous Power Girl right off the bat, distracting from the story at hand. Kindt fills the issue with short profiles of the Squad team, which might be fine enough for a first issue but here -- especially after we just read Harley and Deadshot's origins in the last volume -- it slows the story and feels like Kindt is pacing himself to stay right with Forever Evil.

Different artists draw the following two issues, and at times the art veers too much toward DC's standard superheroics house style, a far cry from Zircher's dark and moody lines early on. Inasmuch as I liked seeing OMAC's Kevin Kho here, artist Jim Fern is pretty off-model from the character's earlier appearances. Also there's a gaffe between issues #28 and #29 where the artist or letterer depict Kho's words on Waller's computer screen in the earlier issues, and then he's able to actually talk to her in the last.

Walled In is bookended by the Jim Zub Suicide Squad: Amanda Waller special, with suitably bombastic art by Andre Coelho, that gives a nice insight into Waller's mixed feelings over the hard choices she makes. Sean Ryan's closing issue, leading into New Suicide Squad, sets out the team's new status quo clearly (maybe too clearly), though it's a little confusing why Deadshot is suddenly locked up again after Waller pardoned him, and in all I didn't feel Ryan had Deadshot's voice quite right. Coelho draws this issue, too, though the coloring of Coelho's art in Zub's issue is superior to the coloring in Ryan's issue.

Given my concerns over how Matt Kindt's Suicide Squad Vol. 5: Walled In would turn out, the result is quite enjoyable, and most of the book's difficulties seem to stem from where most comics have their difficulties: tying-in to crossovers and the paucity of a title closing its doors. Again, I'd be happy to see what Kindt could do with Suicide Squad or another DC title not so tied to current events; Suicide Squad: Earth One by Matt Kindt would certainly earn my purchase.

[Includes original covers]

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