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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What the Hell? - A review of Suicide Squad v1 #4 (1987) by Jason Brown

[Who is Jason Brown and why is he reviewing Suicide Squad #4 (1987)? Find out here. Read his previous review here. -J]

We’re back with issue #4 of Suicide Squad and William Hellar. What’s that you say? It’s William Hell? Oh I see, like 15th century Swiss legend, William Tell. Right, the cross bow, the apple... I get it. And The man behind the mask is James Hellar. Ok, I’m glad we cleared that up. But William Hell is kind of a strange name for a superhero isn’t it? Sounds like he could be another anti-hero to me. Or maybe a villain? From the opening frame of a dark downtown street corner, this story is layered with subtleties that draw in the reader in a powerful way that is as welcome as it is unexpected. This is a really quality piece of social fiction. Having said that, William Hell is anything but subtle. I think the outfit is as much of an eyesore as the name William Hell is awkward. And the character is basically racist Batman. But I can overlook my personal biases here as the character actually fits the story really well.

Suicide Squad #4 (1987)

I need to get this off my chest though. I think we can all agree that most comic books back the reader into a corner of suspended disbelief to some degree from time to time by their very nature, being tales about superhuman beings and all. But I think the powers are the easy part to get behind. For me it’s more often the comic book universe in general that throws me off. And it’s here William Hell does not disappoint. The first thing that crossed my mind after Hell beat up the first batch of thugs was that he better get the hell – sorry - out of there before the police show up. Oh. Wait. No, the police are cool with this guy dressed for a costume party doing there jobs for them, no questions asked? What’s that punk? There were five of you and not three? Ahhh, put a sock in it, punk. We’re not interested in anyone’s statements, or details of a crime where a shopkeeper got gunned down. If William Hell says there were three, that’s all we need to know. I know over in the Marvel Universe Spider-Man has to stay pretty mobile to keep his ass out of jail. And didn’t Batman have to build up trust over time to work with Gordon? (I’m not going to pretend to know his evolution in the comics, but in the Christopher Nolan version I guess it depends on whether he is being what the city needs, or deserves, or thinks it needs to deserve, or whatever. ) Point being I think it’s hilarious that William Hell just hands over the crooks no questions asked and then... what? Shoots a freakin' crossbow into the top of a building and swings up and away with the proportionate strength and agility of a... crossbowman, and the cops are like, "ho hum... just another regular night"? I don’t know where you live, but here in Ottawa, Canada where I live I’m pretty sure walking around with a crossbow in public would get me arrested, and dressed like I’m walking home from my job at Medieval Times, arrested extra-fast style. Don’t get me wrong, I love comics, but these comic book universes are like caricatures of our own. (See, I chain-watch CinemaSins and Honest Trailers and end up writing paragraphs like this.)

William Hell swings away to fight another day

Now back to the story...

So we cut to the squad back at Belle Reve and Deadshot gives us the exposition on Nazi-Batman, James Hellar. Yep, it’s all there; high society... rich, dead parents... swastikas... If you don’t believe me just read the issue. I’m trying to remember the social climate concerning racism in the 80s and I’m drawing a blank. All I remember is listening to Whitesnake and doing whatever it took to score my next hit. Oh relax, I was only a teenager at the time and a pretty clean cut one at that. (And I listened to thrash metal, not hair metal - nothing against Cinderella, Justin.) I guess it’s obvious that things were less politically correct back then and the way people talked was more plain. In that sense I find the tone of this story refreshing. People are just saying what they mean, meaning what they say. I just wish I knew what the hell (and roll credits) a bloody "Abo" is. Oh it’s just an offensive reference to Aboriginal Australians – I thought it was something bad. I truly cant understand half of what Boomerang says and that’s awesome. So the gang is all up in Hellar’s business thanks to Black Orchid and the plan is set in motion.

Ok, so I want to address the Chronos in the room. Kudos to the writers ‘cause this is a great story. I'm not a huge fan of time travel in fiction, but I find its use here plausible enough and quite brilliant. Again, it’s not the powers that I have an issue with, it’s the believability of the world itself. Chronos is offering not just his services but the use of his device as well? Where is that? Sitting in a plastic box under the front desk at reception? In the guy’s cell under his bed? It’s a goddamn time machine. Shouldn’t Chronos be somewhere a mile deep in Area 51 right now being tortured for the secrets behind his device? This is kind of a theme in this comic and I think it’s downright hilarious. Ahhh well, you overlook it. Chronos has his time device. Sure thing. I think it’s better that we at least talked about it. When it comes to healing the comic book soul, one step is always better than none.


I love the dialogue between Bronze Tiger and Boomerang. Boomerang’s cardboard acting is the best. So as the plan unfolds you are kind of left guessing. Between the racial conflict and the orchestrated plan to discredit Hellar, a nice tension builds. I’m not going to spell out what happens here; you’ll enjoy the story much more hearing it from the original storytellers. I will tell you there is a great scene where Boomerang gets an apple shot off his head with a crossbow bolt. The caper all comes together in a way I’m not shy to say is masterful and finishes up with some idealistic words from Bronze Tiger about fighting the battles one by one being the best any of us can do. ( I think I made it clear last article that the first battle Bronze Tiger needs to win is with his wardrobe – the wipeout duds would be a huge improvement.)

Next time, same Hell time, same Hell channel... Task Force X – Disavowed Agents of International Intrigue and Danger! (or, Pingu’s Big Adventure!)

I am a just-starting-out fiction writer and musician living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. If you would like to contact me with work or collaboration opportunities, or just to make arrangements to send me cash, please email me. Cheers!

-Jason Brown 

All content in this article entry [except for the editor's note] written by Jason Brown. If you want to attribute any of this work, please credit Jason Brown.

1 comment:

  1. Hell has the advantage of the US government's crackdown on heroes being proven to be driven by an alien god in Legends months before this and Central City desperately flailing for a new hero after the loss of the Flash. Those make Hell's rise a little less questionable.