Review: New Suicide Squad Vol. 2: Monsters trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

After reading a couple trades lately collecting two or more stories -- including Sean Ryan's own inaugural New Suicide Squad volume -- New Suicide Squad Vol. 2: Monsters is kind of a shock to the system. On one hand, it left me wanting, with a sense there ought to be more to the book than just the one story; on the other hand, the unexpectedly long-form single-focus story reads almost like a graphic novel. And Ryan does well by the book, an improvement over New Suicide Squad Vol. 1: Pure Insanity -- more intrigue, less satire, less humor that doesn't land. Ryan writes these characters well, especially breakout star Black Manta, though I did feel Ryan posits some characters as will best fit his plot rather than how they've appeared elsewhere. Nonetheless, Monsters is interesting, with unexpected heart, and I'm curious to see where Ryan goes with this.

[Review contains spoilers]

Monsters sees a Squad consisting of Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Black Manta, Harley Quinn, Reverse Flash, and the Parasite sent to Turkey to infiltrate an offshoot of Ra's al Ghul's League of Assassins, essentially a cross between a terrorist cult and an extremist force. Deadshot, Boomerang, and Manta go undercover as League faithful, but things go awry when Boomerang violates the League's rules and Manta seems to go over to the League's side.

Ryan spotlights Manta again, and as I said in my review of New Suicide Squad Vol. 1: Pure Insanity, if Ryan ever wrote a Black Manta series, I'd be first in line to read it. Manta's arc here is perfectly in line with what Ryan has set up for the character and believably carries from Geoff Johns's work -- Manta has bristled until now under the Squad's chaotic leadership, as obsessed with order as he is with vengeance against Aquaman, and his embracing of the League's concrete vision makes perfect sense.

So much so, that I think Ryan purposefully keeps us guessing whether Manta really had been undercover the whole time or if he just switched sides and back again once he fell out with the League's leader -- and even whether Manta actually killed the League's leader like he said he did or not. That's an impressive amount of subterfuge in this story and it keeps the reader guessing for many a page -- it is not "the best" Suicide Squad I've ever read, but it's good, and head and shoulders better than everything that's preceded it since the New 52 began.

Sharing much of the spotlight is Deadshot Floyd Lawton, who serves not for the first time as the Squad's shaky moral compass. In trying to draw Manta away from the League's vision of order, Lawton -- intentionally on Ryan's part or not -- embraces the advice that Deathstroke gave him last volume (after torturing him significantly) that life lacks meaning and one must just "embrace the insanity." Yet in trying to save Boomerang's life, Lawton betrays his purported laissez-faire outlook; really Lawton stands in the middle between Manta's order and Boomerang's chaos, though to an extent I think Ryan writes Boomerang more naive (and artist Philippe Briones draws him physically smaller) than Boomerang actually is, just for the purposes of the parallel.

Writer Chris Sims, back in the day at Comics Alliance, had a good write-up examination of whether Ryan's New Suicide Squad Vol. 1: Pure Insanity was actually a meta-commentary on the Squad comic title's troubles so far being micro-managed by corporate interests; in re-reading Insanity I thought too that perhaps the Vic Sage character is meant as a stand-in for Ryan himself, with the characters stubbornly refusing to behave how he wants. There's less of that in Monsters, which is both good and bad; it was a distraction to an extent, and what we needed more of is what we got this time -- DC villains in paramilitary intrigue situations. At the same time, I didn't think Ryan quite got his point made in Insanity -- his choice to use Vic Sage specifically remains a question mark, no pun intended -- and so I was sorry not to see it expanded on that much here.

Ryan's got another volume or so to go with this book, and I continue to think the character to watch  is Amanda Waller's secretary, Bonnie. In Insanity, Ryan was quite pointed in recognizing Bonnie as the "normal" one; while Waller lives in isolation and Sage rails to his superiors, Bonnie goes home to her husband and children. She lies to her family about her work, but seemed in Insanity to have a cogent understanding of the Squad's situation; it was surprising to me in Monsters that Sage was able to manipulate her the way he did. At the end, Waller tasks Bonnie with foiling Sage and I'll be curious to see how this plays out; themes of this series have been bad leadership, confusing mission parameters, and the general inability of higher-ups to understand what their subordinates are doing, and my guess is Ryan might bring that to a head with Bonnie.

Also depicted well here is Reverse Flash Daniel West, the somewhat second-rate New 52 reinterpretation of the classic Flash villain, who ends up this book's hero by the end. (It seems clear to me that Ryan leaves an out to resurrect the seemingly-dead West should Flash writers ever need him again.) West seems to have good intentions from this book's start, which I'm not convinced is in line with how Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato left him, but Ryan still makes him compelling. Ryan's Harley Quinn is also interesting, beginning to question her own bloodthirstiness, but here again I think Ryan is bending the Harley Quinn character to his own ends. There tends not to be much suspense in Harley Quinn "finding herself" arcs since we ultimately know the character can't be allowed to stray too far from her roots on a permanent basis, a leeway that all the other characters have in greater sum.

Toward the middle of New Suicide Squad Vol. 2: Monsters, when the League attacks a souped-up force sponsored by the mysterious Pearl Group, Sean Ryan seems to suggest not much difference between two groups of combatants, whether homegrown aggressors or occupying saviors; war, as has been said before, is hell. Into the middle of that, Ryan drops the Suicide Squad, so-called bad guys but better, it seems, than the bad guys around them. That's the perfect Suicide Squad scenario in a nutshell and Ryan pulls it off well; again, I'm eager to see what he does next time around.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary

Review Date
Reviewed Item
New Suicide Squad Vol. 2: Monsters
Author Rating
4.5 (out of 5)
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