In the heat of a bonkers presidential election season, modern Suicide Squad creator John Ostrander hit upon a wacky idea for their next adventure.
“I was talking with my better half Mary Mitchell about reports we’d read that [Dick] Cheney and [Donald] Rumsfeld and George W. Bush can’t really travel overseas because there are those who think they would be arrested for alleged war crimes,” he says. “Whether you believe that or not, it can make an interesting story.”
Thus, Ostrander found his base for Suicide Squad: War Crimes, a new one-off story that opens with George Carmody, a defense secretary, swept off his safe city streets by Strikeforce Europa and dragged to the International Criminal Court in The Hague — tapping into a geopolitical paradox that would undoubtedly result in American citizens decrying the kidnapping of one of our government leaders and clamoring for us to invade a European ally.
Ostrander tells me, “As long as Donald Trump isn’t in charge, that’s not something I think anyone wants to have happen.”
Cue the old newsreel footage. This looks like a job for the Suicide Squad.
It also looks like the perfect job for Ostrander, who wanted to send his ragamuffin crew — now top tier enough to have their own DCEU movie — on an old school, Dirty Dozen-style death mission. He’s a veteran at this kind of storytelling, a keen master of distilling the chaos into understandable, thrilling panels that make you question how a group of idiots can possibly get the nuclear football into the end zone when they keep fumbling it. The answer is that they often don’t.
“I guess you could always say there was a certain nihilist aspect to the Squad,” Ostrander says. “For many of the missions, they failed almost as often as they succeeded. Some of the best stories were where the mission went completely into the dumper. And, yes, there’s one moment [in War Crimes] where Boomer says, ‘And the mission goes into the toilet…right on schedule.’ It’s part of the make-up of the Squad.”
There’s an old saying in the military: No plan survives first contact with the enemy. It means that even something perfect on paper is destined to change (or go right into the dumper) as soon as the opposing forces meet, and it might as well be etched into each Suicide Squad member’s tombstone.
“If the Squad went picture perfect, it just wouldn’t be the Squad to my mind,” Ostrander says. “You put someone into a stress situation and see how they respond. That tells you something of who they are. Also, you have to know what the plan is before the plan goes wrong, so if the plan had gone all according to plan, it would be real quick — in and out — but since it doesn’t go that way, you have to figure out what complicates it and changes it, how it changes it, and if they recover.
War Crimes is essentially a frenetic, evolving chase sequence replete with witty banter and trademarked insanity from a particular, infamous, bat-wielding jester. And while Ostrander’s plot catalyst puts Bush-era torture politics firmly in its sites, the writer still sees the group as the perfect heroic symbols of 2016.
“The thing about the Squad from the earliest days is that they’re all very flawed,” he says. “With the villains, that’s a little more on display, and even though we don’t always want to admit it, we may identify with them a little bit more. In many ways, they’re better suited for these days where there’s distrust of authority figures. People are questioning, ‘How good are you?’ and these are characters that fit right into that.”
If nothing else, the chaos and smiling brutality of the Squad mirrors the wacky game show of a current political news cycle filled with taco bowls, deleted emails and Scott Baio. It’s impossible, however, not to get a throwback feel while reading War Crimes. After all, Ostrander has rarely been at the helm of the team since their major late-80s run, and the direct aggression of the wobbly mission evokes Charles Bronson more than Jai Courtney. David Ayer’s movie version has saturated these characters in candy paint and tied them into a multi-movie universe whose complexity doesn’t invade Ostrander’s War Crimes.
For what it’s worth, he’s optimistic about the comic and filmic incarnations of the crew that he isn’t in charge of. He doesn’t read other creators’ takes ahead of publication because he doesn’t want them to feel like he’s perched on their shoulders. He wants everyone to feel the freedom he’s felt with the Squad.
“It’s sort of like if you’re a parent, and your child grows up to do things you never thought they were going to do,” he says with a zen-like tone of voice, not belying any sense of concern over whether that child can ultimately get into any trouble. In other words, the voice of a seasoned comic book writer.
So what role would Ostrander play if he joined the Squad himself?
“One of the Squad’s talents is figuring how to get through the shit and come back again. I suppose, given what I do, [my talent] would be in the tactical realm,” he says, chuckling. “It would be in my plotting. To try to see where this will go and try to anticipate it. If I were to bring something to the Squad, it would be that aspect.”
John Ostrander, everyone. A master tactician in a world where even the best plans don’t survive first contact. When everything goes sideways, he’s the one to call.
Suicide Squad: War Crimes is on comic store bookshelves now.