Monday, August 15, 2016

Real Name: Floyd Lawton
First Appearance: Batman #59 (June, 1950)
Fight Club Ranking: #95

Featured Fights:
- vs FLASH: Legends #1 (Nov 1986)
- vs BRIMSTONE: Legends #3 (Jan 1987)
- vs MANTICORE: Suicide Squad #2 (Jun 1987)
- vs BATMAN: Suicide Squad #10 (Feb 1988)
- vs INJUSTICE LEAGUE: Justice League of America #15 (Jan 2008)

When I think of the Suicide Squad, I generally think of three characters: Rick Flag, Bronze Tiger and above all - Deadshot! Only two of those made it to the big screen version released in theatres this month, but only one hit the bullseye as our Hero of the Week!

Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers deserve credit for digging Deadshot out of mothballs. They reinvented the character in their landmark late seventies run on Batman, but it was John Ostrander who defined Floyd Lawton as an icon for the early post-Crisis era! He was nonchalant: A willing participant in the suicide missions dished out by callous government manipulator Amanda Waller.

From his appearances in Legends, through to the launch of the original Suicide Squad series, Deadshot was a character on the rise. A fast developed rogue meeting every deadly encounter with a pinch of dashing, a splash of dry with, helpings of self-serving, and a bit of a death wish.

This charm could've made Deadshot a strong foundational introduction to the DC Comics cinematic universe, but that seems unlikely now that the movie is here. How Hollywood saw Will Smith in the character is more than a little bit mystifying, but I'm not sure I'd pin the problems exclusively on him.

Organization of their DC film properties - or lack thereof - is clearly working against Warner Brothers. While characters like Harley Quinn and The Joker have given uninitiated audiances a couple of characters to anticipate (even if they're unrecognizable) - the film might have been better served by having another familiar face introduced ahead of time. As an original Batman villain, Deadshot might have given Ben Affleck a nice focused aside to deal with during the long, shambolic feature episode of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Rearranging both films - an attractive idea.

Suicide Squad packs in a late scene alluding to Batman and the Justice League. If Deadshot factored in to Dawn of Justice in a B-plot reminiscent of his battle with The Flash in Legends #1, it could've been interesting to feature his recruitment in prison by Rick Flag. As a character with deep ties to Task Force X, Flag himself could have been a logical addition in the Doomsday Third Act of Dawn of Justice, as well. The only man missing, his first recruit - Bronze Tiger!

Race is a hot button issue at the moment, exported from the United States to the rest of the world. It's not really a topic I have enough passion to venture too deeply into, but I'm sympathetic to the ideals that have made American popular culture something of a clumsy battleground. George Takei recently expressed some disappointment toward the Star Trek reboot films incorporating his sexual orientation into the make-up of the character he made famous. In the rush to support social change, or at least be seen to be involved, the construction and maintenance of consistent creative worlds has suffered. I tend to think of it as an insult to the people its pandering to. Clumsy tokenism highlighted by the disruption to the iconic image associated with the property being adapted.

Once upon a time, Will Smith would just be thought of as bad casting. Something superhero movies have had to weather for decades, not just casting against race, but also type. A basic misrepresentation of a character decades old. Joel Kinnamen isn't much better as Rick Flag. Strung out and moustached, looking more like the Floyd Lawton of the comics than the man standing next to him. It's all especially galling when the potential to build on a very strong African-American character was passed up: Bronze Tiger! I almost wonder if, in the ever confused Hollywood approach, the two characters were blended together. Social conscience comics movie cake and eating it too? Wishful thinking.

Comics and movies could do so much more for social representation and quality brand management by utilizing the characters that are there, and by working to create new ones. Not just half-arsed offcasts, or sudden changes to the race of characters sixty or seventy years old. Genuine investment in icons that reflect society in broader roles. Bronze Tiger could have done that for Suicide Squad, not that I'd really advocate Will Smith for the tiger masked martial artist, either. Assuming the mask would even have a chance in a Hollywood production.

Among the many half measures taken - the eternal struggle to embrace comic book design and iconography! Admittedly, the Marshall Rogers update design for Deadshot is a tough ask. It made enough sense in the GI Joe-esque, superhero periphery of the Suicide Squad comics, but it is a bit of an oddball. Their attempts to costume the Suicide Squad fall generally short. Deadshot's iconic mask is reinvented as a really weird looking pseudo-helmet. His armor - a little cheap and cumbersome, but by not too offensive. They kept the red. That's something!

I admire Warner Brothers' willingness to gamble on somewhat untested properties. I'm also pleased audiences have taken enough interest to venture out to the cinema to give it a try. I just wish it was all-in and a high-quality, rewarding experience. Perhaps better results next time.

We can always find better results by venturing into the source world of the comic books! August on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths is all about the characters of the Suicide Squad! You can hit the Issue Index Archive to jump straight to classic issues you know, use character links to see more of your favorites, and jump back to HOTW features like Harley Quinn and Joker for more!

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