Review: Suicide Squad: Get Joker! hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


The same as James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad was a dark, irreverent take on the DC property (perhaps darker and irreverent-er, since Suicide Squad is not usually bright and sunny as a rule), Brian Azzarello and Alex Maleev’s DC Black Label Suicide Squad: Get Joker! is equally a funny, dark take on a dark corner of the DC Universe. It’s a Quentin Tarantino movie by way of a Suicide Squad comic, with similarities — if not outright callouts — to Reservoir Dogs, Clockwork Orange, even a bit of Death in Venice.

More and more what I’ve enjoyed about the DC Black Label titles is that they fall into the category, in the old Elseworlds parlance, of “times and places … [that] shouldn’t exist.” No one particularly wants the Adam Strange of Strange Adventures to be the mainstream Adam Strange, but I’m glad that doesn’t prevent that story from being told. In the same way, bad stuff happens in Get Joker!, things it would be unwise for DC to allow to happen in their main universe, but it also allows for some fine interplay between characters and some ideas to surface that I don’t recall seeing before in Suicide Squad.

Get Joker! is well done but also feels unfinished. I’m unlikely to fault a book for being too subtle, but if even by chance I’ve intuitied Get Joker!’s loose ends right, they perhaps needed more explication. The book turns on so many reversals of fortune that the plot’s original straight line, which might’ve been the most interesting by half, gets lost along the way. Plus a too-swift ending — maybe it’s an Azzarello thing (or an Azzarello/Black Label thing), because Batman: Damned had similar difficulties.

There’s a surprising timeliness to Get Joker! that suggests even a rush to completion, of a kind I’m not sure serves the book that well. But if Black Label’s legacy one day is that it served as a site of ideas — bad ideas, half-baked ideas, ideas that then might emerge more fully formed later on — I think we’re all the better for those having a place to go.

[Review contains spoilers]

It’ll be interesting to see where Red Hood Jason Todd ends up next, because after stints with a couple of Outlaw teams, DC has now twice partnered Jason with the Suicide Squad (the other being Matthew Rosenberg’s undead Task Force Z). It’s a good fit, similar to the way Harley Quinn fit with the Suicide Squad such to feel as though the properties had always been linked — that Jason is a murderous vigilante, but also enough a product of Batman’s tutelage that he’s bound to be the Squad’s moral compass. That’s a good protagonist stand-in for the reader, not unlike Harley before him.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Equally Azzarello pairs Jason and Harley here in a way I don’t think I’ve seen before. Of late Geoff Johns raised the kinship between Barbara Gordon and Jason Todd in Batman: Three Jokers as each having been traumatized by the Joker, and Tom King’s Heroes in Crisis spoke to some of the same between Barbara and Harley, but this is the first time I recall the same between Harley and Jason. As with Azzarello’s Joker graphic novel, his Joker here is less supernatural force of chaos and more criminal kingpin, but I thought Azzarello did well plumbing Harley and Joker’s relationship — she can’t bring herself to kill him when she has the chance (nor, perhaps, can Jason) and she’s self-aware enough to recognize the control Joker might still have over her in a pinch.

Perhaps too not unlike Azzarello’s Joker, Batman is startlingly absent in this book, though his presence looms large. Azzarello begins from a premise of somewhere around Judd Winick’s Batman: Under the Red Hood, where Jason is resurrected angry and vengeful. He directs his ire against the Joker, but the Joker’s most egregious sins could also be Batman’s — a penchant for violence, using children as cannon fodder.

The ambiguity of whether Jason kills himself or the Joker at the end of the book is the ambiguity over a variety of bad options — if Jason does the “right” thing and kills the Joker, he’ll be lauded by the “bad” Suicide Squad but denounced by his “good” father Batman; if he kills himself, he suffers a bad outcome and let’s a bad guy escape, but will ostensibly (if not actually) have done the “right” thing. There’s no good answer, and it’s all tied in to Jason simultaneously seeking and rejecting Batman’s approval.

It is surprising for a book published in August 2021 to already be mentioning the Jan. 6 insurrection, as current events don’t often pop up quite so quickly. Azzarello clearly wants to say something, or at least to ground the book in a certain era; notably the Joker has been employed by the Russian government here simply to “disrupt.” But none of that ever necessarily comes to anything, such that Azzarello’s metaphor seems incomplete; in the rush to relevance, Get Joker! appears to forget to make that relevance relevant.

That holds true for much of Get Joker! Despite being entertaining in total, one of the book’s most salient ideas — that the Joker gets control of Amanda Waller’s “boom box” and can therefore force the Squad to his will — ultimately comes to nothing; the most the whole Squad ever has to do for the Joker is shoot bullets into the ocean. Indeed the Squad goes to kill the Joker; Joker steals the bomb controls; Joker invites the Squad to a party, seemingly to give them a mission — but then another Squad interrupts and everyone goes on the run. Arguably, in the book nothing actually happens; each individual plot is derailed by another such that no idea ever gets fully expressed.

There was a big delay between the publications of Get Joker! #2 and Get Joker! #3; I usually don’t consider that kind of thing in collections reviews, but the chance of some behind-the-scenes changes might help explain Joker!’s strange hanging threads. There is a mole on the team, something that’s never fully resolved — seemingly it’s the Toyman, because the Toyman has been replaced with a robot by the Joker, but the implications aren't clear. At another point, Amanda Waller seems to be making a side-deal with Harley, but that too never comes to anything.



Still, in fine Suicide Squad fashion, Brian Azzarello succeeds in making us care about a handful of brand-new D-list villains in short order, and does well with old favorites, too — I love his Irish-accented Silver Banshee, and the weird Futures End Plastique finally shines for a moment. Suicide Squad: Get Joker! is frenetic, maybe offensive, and often too cool for school (Jason says “That’s tight” one time too many, plus “You make it sound so arch”), but that’s also what to love about it. The first-ever “for mature readers” Suicide Squad story? One wonders why there haven’t been more.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 3 )

  1. Excellent review. I enjoyed this....artwork, but that ending....just felt like there was all this build up and then an abrupt ending. Not sure if thats just Azzarello doing what he does or changes by editorial....the ending for me didnt provide a satisfying conclusion...just kind of limping to the finish line. Is Joker Jason.....who knows....

  2. Your review spurred me to get around to this one. Big fan of Azzarello and Maleev, but it feels a bit like there's a fourth issue of this that we didn't get.

    The Russian thing ends up being a red herring (no pun intended), likely added for topical/timely flavoring and to set up the Red Hood pun -- if there's one thing Azz likes, it's wordplay. I think you're right about the Toyman, but the bigger question here is why Amanda Waller wants to kill Joker in the first place. Is it because he's colluding with the Russians as their agent-of-chaos-for-hire? Does he have some other endgame (or does he ever)?

    And why does the book have to end with Jason or Joker dying? What's the urgency here? I didn't buy that the book abruptly becomes a war for Jason's soul, nor did I believe that any version of Jason /wouldn't/ kill Joker, given the chance. The book starts with Jason doing what the law won't, but then somehow he falls headlong into a Kobayashi Maru that actually seems (from his perspective) pretty winnable.

    But I kept expecting one more shoe to drop. It seemed they were setting up more for Larry than just out-Wallering Waller by sending his own Task Force X (more violent and more movie-centric). And you rightly called out the Harley thing, which doesn't go anywhere. There's a version of this book where the ending works, but I needed a few more pages to get there.

    I was very much entertained by the book overall, but it left me needing a little more.

    1. >> "What's the urgency here?"

      Right, yeah, given the end, I went back some pages in the book (as one does) looking for where the "turn" was — at what point did this become the crisis point that lead to the conclusion? And Jason kind of makes peace with Peacemaker, kind of decides things have gone too far with the kids getting killed, kind of comes to an understanding with Harley -- but yeah, I'm not sure any of that really adds up to a logical equation.


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