Review: Suicide Squad Vol. 2: Ambushed! trade paperback (DC Comics)

March 22, 2023

Robbie Thompson was part of a creative team that took an unlikely group of Teen Titans and made that title as compelling as its been in decades. Thompson’s Suicide Squad, which ends with Suicide Squad Vol. 2: Ambushed!, is not quite at the level of his Teen Titans, but evidence of the same kind of strong character work is also present.

For all the villains that Thompson spotlights in Squad, there’s a handful more with promising cameos who then disappear in the background. Whether that’s just unfortunate, or whether it’s a function of how quickly Squad’s cancellation might have come about is hard to say. Muddying it is that Suicide Squad factors heavily in the War for Earth-3 crossover — it’s basically extra issues of Suicide Squad on either side of the series' issue #13 — and it seems unusual for a cancelled title to have that kind of resources going for it.

Ultimately, speaking to the same potential causes and effects, Ambushed struggles the longer it goes on (if indeed Thompson had to elongate or jettison some storylines). But again, toward the beginning, there’s the same kind of magical coalescing that we saw in Thompson and Adam Glass’s Teen Titans — characters new, irreverent, and potential uninteresting, suddenly causing the audience to root for them. This has all along felt like a substitute Suicide Squad between more major teams, but Thompson makes their time in the sun shine.

[Review contains spoilers]

I’ll note that Ambushed lacks War for Earth-3 #1 and #2, which really ought have been in here. It wasn’t in DC’s interest to collect it that way — if the War issues had been here, then there’d be no reason to buy the War for Earth-3 collection (the related Flash and Teen Titans Academy issues are in their own trades too).

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

But instead, Ambushed lacks its climax — issue #12 is a cliffhanger, picked up in War #1, then issue #13 follows from there, then War #2 resolves it all (issues #14–15, by Dennis Hopeless, are a near-unrelated epilogue). So someone reading Ambushed really has to buy War (or track down the bookend issues thereof); otherwise issue #13 picks up with the characters in much different circumstances than in issue #12, and in #14 the conflict is already over and Amanda Waller is off the scene.

That’s the end, however. In the beginning, Thompson pens three two-part stories that are in large part filler — none contributes more to the main plot that couldn’t be accomplished in less space — but make up for it in character development, guest stars, and setting. In order, the Squad goes to hell, outer space, and Earth-8 (the Multiversal Marvel analogue) and encounter the Hell Squad (a team of deceased Squad-ers), Green Lantern Jo Mullein (!), and both “the Retaliators” and “the Lightning Strikes” respectively (read: Avengers and Thunderbolts). If there’s a forumla here, it at least delivers a lot of comic book-y fun.

And again, Thompson’s strength is in the characters. Among Suicide Squads we’ve seen before, this is hardly the most villainous — an alt-Earth Nocturna, whose crimes we can’t judge because neither she nor we ever know who she actually is; Match, the kidnapped clone of Superboy; Culebra, experimented on and forced to do crimes by Spyral (also for reasons never clear), and so on, not to mention Ambush Bug. If killers, the characters are neither the bloodthirsty nor traitorous Squad-ers we’ve seen before, and when the overtly nasty Major Force comes into their midsts, the team is united in their disgust for him.

Culebra charmingly makes unlikely friends with the Court of Owls Talon William Cobb, and when discovering herself condemned to hell for (coerced) bad deeds, we feel genuinely sorry for this brand new, otherwise somewhat silly character Thompson created. Nocturna and Match fall in love, and their various meet-cutes are also affecting even despite Nocturna’s lack of any real backstory. Thompson even manages to keep Ambush Bug’s fourth wall-breaking within mostly tolerable limits and to integrate the Bug’s “power” of metatextual knowledge into the story in a way I don’t think we normally see.

At the same time, as mentioned, all of this would be even better if we knew what Culebra did for Spyral or why, or who Nocturna was before all of this. Too, in the course of Amanda Waller recruiting across the Multiverse and Rick Flag forming his own alternate Suicide Squad, Thompson presents others — Lor-Zod, classic Aquaman villain Fisherman, Black Hand, a skull-headed alien dubbed “Yorick” — but for as dramatically as they’re introduced, Thompson never does anything with them. Again, we don’t know if any of this is a function of the book’s cancellation or not.

Following the War for Earth-3 crossover, Dennis Hopeless' two-parter feels thin, if only because it’s clearly meant to close the book out and without the writer who got the series this far. At the same time, the final issue is particularly smart in playing on the Squad’s reputation as screw-ups to lure Lex Luthor into a trap (though “Task Force Lex” is so self-satisfyingly clever as to make one wonder which came first, the story plot or the joke). I wouldn’t bet on a follow-up, though; surely DC’s winning strategy for Suicide Squad is not Mirror Master, Ambush Bug, and a civilian doctor who can now turn to sand.

So it remains to be seen where Suicide Squad goes next. Ostensibly this Infinite Frontier era of the title, culminating in Suicide Squad Vol. 2: Ambushed!, was meant to coincide with James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, hence Bloodsport and Peacemaker, though their non-movie teammates really took most of the air time.

2.25

Rating

My druthers, DC would return to a classic (and not wholly movie-unfriendly) lineup, letting synergy go by the wayside: Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Rick Flag — though surely I know the pull of synergy is strong. Or let the Suicide Squad live on in DC Black Label miniseries, where it’s been having some luck — or would this be the time for the first ever Black Label ongoing?

[Includes original and variant covers]

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