This article is part of The Reading List, a recurring column where we encourage you to take your enthusiasm for a particularly groovy movie or TV series and direct it into a wide array of extracurricular studies. This entry ranks the best Suicide Squad comics and then supplies a few bonus tales representing the movie’s maniac vibe.
The freak is off the leash. James Gunn, the madman behind Slither, Super, and Guardians of the Galaxy, drips over every inch of The Suicide Squad. He’s smashing sensibilities, assaulting taste, and somehow offering empathy to the utterly repulsive. The movie joyfully embraces the nastiest and weirdest characters from DC Comics, layering relatability and heart over their depravity.
It will be too much for some, but for the cult that will form around it, The Suicide Squad will rank as their very favorite comic book movie. And it’s the kind of flick that will send you screaming for the racks at your local comic book shop. Harley Quinn, you already love, but you’ll want so much more from King Shark, Peacemaker, and the Polka-Dot Man. Well, we’ve got your hookup.
This month’s Reading List is a celebration of DC’s most notorious “superhero” team. What you’ll find below are the best books featuring Task Force X with a strong focus on the John Ostrander era. Gunn clearly adores Ostrander’s time on the books. He goes so far as to place the comic book scribe in the movie itself. And supply him with a killer line-reading.
The Ostrander Suicide Squad comics are as comic book-y as you can get, catapulting plots from insane heights and matching those peaks with overblown melodrama. But the longer you stay in those clouds, the more infected by its charms you’ll become.
After you come crashing down from the Ostrander comics, we’ll swing you over to the more modern age with The New 52 and beyond. From there, you’ll find recommendations that extend from the movie’s characters and tone. And even Gunn’s radical ability to blend the grotesque with profound compassion. These are heroes and antiheroes who defy likability, yet we can’t help but give ourselves to them.
The Suicide Squad: Trial By Fire
Start here and don’t stop. The Suicide Squad: Trial by Fire contains the set-up you probably already know. Federal agent Amanda Waller needs a team of super-criminals to do the deeds Batman and Superman would never touch because of their foolish morality. You won’t recognize every Task Force X member, but you’ll clock a few on the cover: Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, Deadshot (Will Smith’s character in the David Ayer iteration of Suicide Squad, and that’s the last time we’ll mention that).
The Trial by Fire trade paperback is designed to give you a taste but leave you wanting more. John Ostrander, along with artist Luke McDonnell, delivers oddity and violence, but the joy comes from how these treacherous teammates interact with each other. From here, you’ll probably want to move right into the second paperback, or you could jump to…
The Suicide Squad: Apokolips Now
Want to get nuts? Let’s get nuts. The Suicide Squad: Apokolips Now is where the book flies off the hinges. Shortly before this storyline, John Ostrander was joined by his wife, Kim Yale, and they crafted some of the most hellbent comics DC has ever published.
Here we witness what happens when Amanda Waller loses control of the team. She’s pushed out, and an incompetent jackass moves in. This allows the team to implode from within and get sucked up into a galactic civil war. What can Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and Poison Ivy do against the despotic psycho Darkseid? If you were left a little curious by Zack Snyder‘s Justice League climax, The Suicide Squad: Apokolips Now will deeply satisfy you.
The Suicide Squad: The Phoenix Gambit
The Suicide Squad: The Phoenix Gambit picks up immediately after Apokolips Now. Amanda Waller needs a new Task Force X, and she turns to Batman for help. He’s reluctant, but he complies, and together they find some controllable criminals for their roster. However, what’s most exciting about this chapter is the characterization of Barbara Gordon, the former Batgirl.
As you may or may not know, Barbara was paralyzed by the Joker thanks to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke. Kim Yale did not appreciate how Moore and Bolland fridged Barbara to further Batman’s character, so she got to work. In The Phoenix Gambit, Barbara Gordon confronts her trauma and finds a new purpose from her wheelchair. Gotham’s new vigilante, Oracle, is born.
Suicide Squad: Bad Blood
As great as the Ostrander and Yale Suicide Squad comics are, they lack a few fan favorites: Harley Quinn and King Shark. The Joker’s former moll didn’t join the team until The New 52 rebrand. But since then, she’s held a recurring role in the series, and the best of her best is, without a doubt, Suicide Squad: Bad Blood.
As James Gunn does, writer Tom Taylor revels in the disputes between team members. These are gleefully hateful individuals who do not want to socialize with anyone, let alone the similarly hateful. Making matters worse, the team needs to take down an equally powerful terrorist organization known as The Revolutionaries. After each conflict, their opponents are asked to join the Squad. Tensions rise with each issue, as does the bloodshed.
Harley Quinn by Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti
No two writers have contributed more to Harley Quinn’s character than Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. The second husband/wife creative duo to appear on this list, Conner and Palmiotti transformed Quinn from Joker’s put-upon fling to the devastatingly capable and certifiable badass that we see in both Birds of Prey and The Suicide Squad.
Where to start with their comics? You must read them all, which is not an impossible task. The Conner/Palmiotti Harley Quinn comics are handsomely collected in three large omnibuses. They’ll set you back a few coins, but you won’t miss a penny.
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