This review is based off a volume that collects Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1 and Suicide Squad #1-4.
Whether you loved, hated or thought the Suicide Squad movie was just okay, you have to admit its mainstream prominence did wonders for the comics. In the past – and even during the days of the New 52 – some great names had worked on the books, but until Rebirth came along, never before had DC made a deliberate effort to assign such A-list creators to the title. I mean, seriously, this isn’t normally a book you’d expect to see Jim Lee’s name on.
To further assure crossover appeal, the lineup found in the film is the same you’ll find here: Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Katana, Killer Croc, Enchantress and Rick Flag. What’s beautiful about this is that writer Rob Williams isn’t shackled by the notion of having to repeat what’s been seen on the big screen, therefore he has much more freedom to explore these characters as he sees fit. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Enchantress betrays the team, effectively serving as the main villain. But here, she’s most assuredly part of the group.
Getting back to Jim Lee, he’s who you would call the primary artist on this volume. Although Philip Tan drew the Rebirth one-shot that acts as a prologue, it’s Lee’s pencils that bring the main narrative to glorious life. Just be ready to encounter several backup stories, as these provided a way for him to meet the rigors of a twice-monthly schedule. At least someone had the good foresight to separate the backups from the main story in the trade paperback as not to hinder the flow of anyone’s reading experience. Trust me, it’s for the better.
As for that opening one-shot, it does what one would expect: Introduces readers to the concept of Task Force X – a covertly run team of supervillains operating at the behest of the U.S. government, lest Amanda Waller activate bombs implanted in their brains – in addition to a few of the core members, and explains just why a by the book guy like Colonel Rick Flag would even lead this motley crew. To his credit, Williams does each of these believably, all the while displaying his knack for writing an ice cold, methodical Waller who actually makes some sense.
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Once the latest constellation of the gang is rounded up, they’re sent to Siberia of all places to retrieve a “cosmic item.” Along the way, each member’s personality is swiftly and capably established. But the one thing that continually causes me to scratch my head is just how this and the solo Harley Quinn series can possibly coexist on the current timeline. I mean, when Batman or Superman want to get involved in some Justice League adventures, we just assume they take some time out from their busy schedules whenever the bigger picture requires they do so. But here, Harley is incarcerated in a highly secured black site prison in Louisiana, when at the same time, she’s a landlord in New York in her own book. My advice: Try not to think about it.
Anyway, it’s not long before we see what they’re there to collect: The Phantom Zone, from which General Zod escapes. It’s kind of baffling as to how someone can think they can control someone of his power level, but I guess it’s important to set goals for yourself. Furthermore, it’s quickly established that neither the Kryptonian militant nor this creative team are messing around before Zod wastes one of the Squad faster than anyone can blink. I won’t spoil who gets turned to ash, but I will say their death was overturned not long after the events collected into this volume. Hey, we are talking about comic books here.
Lamentably, before you know it, the main narrative concludes. While DC did choose a good point at which to leave off, I really think a few more issues could’ve been squeezed into this collection. Suicide Squad is arguably one of the better team-up books they currently publish, and the decision to include less material makes it look less substantial than it actually is. Believe me, less is not more in this case.
What’s kind of funny is that the backup stories made for better, deeper reads. In short, each are drawn by a different top drawer artist and offer some backstory on a particular Squad member: Jason Fabok tackles Deadshot, Ivan Reis lends his pencils to Captain Boomerang, Philip Tan handles Katana and Gary Frank draws Harley Quinn. While I’m being honest, I’ll say that I really dig Frank’s rendition of the Joker and hope DC uses it as a blueprint for his look going forward.
Considering that the supplemental material makes up for so much of the page count, I couldn’t not talk about it. This series – more specifically, the first issue – was afforded no shortage of variant covers, and each magnificent one is presented here. In addition to all that good stuff, a sizable gallery of Tan and Lee’s pencils are included. Suffice it to say, this is a real treat for fans of the graphic medium.
Overall, Suicide Squad Vol. 1: The Black Vault is pure popcorn fun on the printed page. It’s just too bad that consumers were somehow shortchanged when it came to story content, at least in my opinion. Had this been beefed up by a few issues worth of material, it’d probably have been awarded an extra star.
While The Black Vault material is good in and of itself, it's the meat this sandwich lacks that prevents if from being one of the great Suicide Squad collections.