Let’s not mince words. The only reason Justice League vs. Suicide Squad (hereafter shortened to just JLVSS) exists is because there are prominent movies each bearing the title teams’ names; one of them released to financial success and critical panning, the other due in a few months and with all kinds of negative expectations. Having read the full book, I can’t consider JLVSS as anything other than a cash-grab crossover rather than a meaningful character piece. Much like the similarly ill-conceived Avengers vs. X-Men crossover, the book grabs attention from its title and offers nothing to back it up; succinctly, its ego writes cheques that its body can’t cash.
The story begins fairly rote, with morally dubious ARGUS chief Amanda Waller serving as the catalyst for a battle between the Suicide Squad and the Justice League. The former are carrying out a covert operation that the latter manage to curtail, leading to the title fight of the book. After the League are roundly defeated by the Squad – and the means of said defeat are bound to spark vigorous debate, even by comic book standards – Waller reveals that she engineered this battle to bring both teams together. It seems that the original Suicide Squad, long thought dead after a mission gone wrong, are making moves to take over the world. The only solution is for the titular teams to band together and save the day through teeth-clenched teamwork.
But once the first act concludes, JLVSS pulls something of a magic trick. What was already a bland, flavourless punch-up with the flimsiest of plots becomes something more horrific, when it transpires that the story has some franchise cross-pollination in mind. The book doesn’t just pair the League and Squad for some superheroics, but goes a step further by installing the likes of Lobo, Harley Quinn and Deadshot as Justice League members. No, not just interim partners in the battle against the original Squad, but full-fledged members of the team (installed by Batman, of all people).
There are seeds of interesting ideas within JLVSS‘s miasma of tangled nonsense. The notion of bad guys or less-than-heroes being allowed in premier teams is a concept which has, in the past, led to Venom being an Avenger and the New 52 having a JLA filled with League rejects (and Catwoman). But any invitation to explore the moral and ethical dimensions of turning villains into potential heroes is rejected, the book preferring instead to excise nuance and paint the team-up as a necessity (not to mention a publicity stunt for real world fans of both teams). Once the second act gets going, any character work is discarded while JLVSS proceeds to bludgeon the audience with faux political subtext, including uncomfortable allusions to impending war with North Korea – here rebranded as the fictional nation of “Jangsun” – and the installation of an American autocrat who deigns to protect the country through fear and authoritarian control. The latter is literally embodied in the book’s use of body-hopping supervillain Eclipso, who possesses most of the populace and turns them to rage and violence across the country. To say JLVSS prefers didacticism over subtlety is a gross understatement.
The problems are compounded by the book’s insistence on being bright and eye-catching for most of its page count. JLVSS employs an array of artists and colorists whose styles gel reasonably well with one another; for instance, I didn’t realise when we’d switched from Howard Porter’s pencils to Jason Fabok’s, then to Tony S. Daniel’s, then back again. That kind of flow is good for keeping the book visually consistent (where past examples, like the aforementioned AvX, are artistically erratic), but it dulls the respective impacts each visual team has by diluting their personal styles. The result is the art comes out looking quite generic, crippling the usually standout illustrators (like Fabok) whilst elevating those who are lacking (like Daniel). It’s also hard to take Eclipso’s possession seriously, given that his victims’ faces all resemble blue geodes.
A lone spot of interest in a book otherwise bereft of it is the one-shot story near the book’s midpoint, where Steve Trevor crosses a ravaged city to save his extended family from Eclipso’s control. The chapter reminded me of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis tie-in issue Submit, though handled here with less finesse and far too much exposition. The best books in the DC Rebirth stable have acquitted themselves well when remembering the humanity of their characters, both super and standard; Steve’s story is the closest JLVSS comes to recognising that its characters have depth and a modicum of emotional complexity.
One could make an argument for the futility of analysing JLVSS with any kind of critical eye. The book is clearly going to break no boundaries or move any mountains. It’s not even the worst crossover in recent memory; that distinction goes to the ill-advised Night of the Monster Men Bat-family crossover. There is little deeper meaning to the text, no substance to be negotiated and no strong threads to pull upon. It’s a product of a corporate comic book culture which favours Debordian spectacle over meaningful impact and produces a lackluster crossover which would have been inoffensive if it weren’t for some truly awful scriptwork – predominantly from current Flash scribe Joshua Williamson – and an almost complete lack of stakes, body-hopping supervillain and American autocrat apocalypse notwithstanding.
The discerning reader could probably grasp that the book is dreck from the title alone, a dead giveaway that spectacle rather than substance lies within. Though the army of artists produce reasonably structured work, and some smaller character beats land well – including a few brief scenes which flesh out Arctic-themed supervillain Killer Frost – they’re not enough to save the story. Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is a hackneyed, cheap as chips reason to get a raft of popular characters to fight each other, eminently forgettable and wholly unsatisfying. In that regard, it’s a bit like the latter team’s film debut; time will tell if the former’s follows suit.
PUBLISHER: DC COMICS
BEST DIALOGUE: [to Superman] “I remembered the first time I ever saw you… before I became Killer Frost. I was in Metropolis. You weren’t fighting anyone. You just flew over me. It was a real Metropolis moment. I was there for a symposium with a research group. A professor on the trip with us had just told me he didn’t think I had what it took to gain my PhD…that I’d never make it. I was about to call it quits and go home…but then I saw you…and I thought…if a man could fly, I could stay in college.” – Killer Frost