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Almost Hidden – The Suicide Squad Travels to Apokolips!

Even with this large amount of comic books that have been collected in trade paperbacks, there are still a number of great comic books that have never been reprinted (I’d say roughly 60% of them are DC Comics from the 1980s through the mid-1990s). So every day this month I will spotlight a different cool comic book that is only available as a back issue. Here is an archive of the comic books featured so far.

I want you folks to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com with your suggestions for comics that I should feature this month. I’d like to see what you all would like to see get more attention.

A LOT of you asked for John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad (outside of the issues that have been reprinted already, of course). So here is one of their more famous storylines, when the Squad travels to Apokolips!

This story took place in Suicide Squad #33-36 and was written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale, with art by John Snyder, Geoff Isherwood and Luke McDonnell.

Okay, so early on in the series, the Suicide Squad (a government task force run by Amanda Waller which consisted of super-villains trying to get their sentences reduced and tarnished superheroes) encountered the Female Furies. Lashina, the head of the group, was usurped. Soon after, a mysterious strong woman showed up and joined the Squad. Dubbed “Duchess” (because she was a female John Wayne), she served with the Squad for a time until she revealed that SHE was Lashina (Waller knew this, of course, she just thought it best to keep her close where she could keep an eye on her – a strategy that did not turn out so well).

Now that Duchess remembered her past, she decides to take a bunch of Squad members with her to Apokolips to serve as cannon fodder on her journey to get her position back. She promises Shade the Changing Man that she will help him return home if he aids her (he figures he can get around their deal – he ALSO did not plan his strategy well, either).

Duchess takes advantage of the naivatee of Flo, the support staff member who is the daughter of Waller’s cousin, and therefore has been promised by Waller to never go into combat. Flo has a crush on Bronze Tiger and she thinks proving herself in the field will impress him (her strategy, too, is a flawed one).

Flo realizes too late what a mistake she made…

So a group of the Squad is off to Apokolips, with Bronze Tiger and a few remaining members of the team left behind and stuck with the task of figuring out a way to Apokolips.

Meanwhile, Shade’s conscious gets the best of him while on Apokolips…

Isn’t that a really well-handled scene by Ostrander?

Meanwhile, on Apokolips, the Squad members don’t want to help Lashina, but that is all put aside when they get attacked by a pack of Parademons!!!

Back on Earth, Oracle (in one of her early appearances – not in person, of course) helps put the leftover members of the Squad into contact with the Forever People…

On Apokolips, after dealing with the Parademons, the Squad now has to face Darkseid’s top minions…

Lashina succeeds in defeating the usurper to her title, and is welcomed back by Granny Goodness. When Granny asks what to do with the Squad members, Lashina suggests killing them.

This leads into a brilliant sequence….

How awesome is that?

I won’t tell you how it all ends, but I will say that it is fairly depressing (as was a lot of Suicide Squad).

But really, really well done. John Snyder and Geoff Isherwood did the art for 3 of the 4 issues, with Luke McDonnell doing the 3rd part.

Go find these issues in back issues! They should be available cheap!


“Mortals have slain gods before”

Every single issue of this series has multiple badass moments/lines like this. Suicide Squad has to be one of my favourite series of all time

At least this one theoretically will be collected if things keep going as they are right now. That’s not to say they will – this upcoming 2nd SS trade could be the last one, for all I know – but at least DC is showing SS some respect finally.

Good point, Anthony!

Ostrander is a truly phenomenal writer and this run was one of THE highlights of late-80’s/early 90’s DC for me.

I’d love to know why the upcoming SS relaunch isn’t by him. Maybe it’ll turn out to be good but really, Ostrander IS the SS.

By the way, Ostrander’s Grimjack comic is equally legendary and I give it the highest possible recommendation.

This was one of the Squad’s more bizarre story arcs, brilliantly executed by Ostrander, Yale, Snyder, McDonnell, and Isherwood. This series never lacked in artistic talent, that’s why it’s highly revered to this day. (Although I’m assuming that DC has done away with these characters and their continuity as well.)

I’m hoping to see these issue collected a couple of volumes from now. Great work to be found here, guys.

It’s unfortunate that this respect didn’t exist when Ostrander did his last miniseries, which was trampled and rendered futile with Salvation Run in the thick of it. Which also proved futile etc…

hard to believe with a new suicide squad coming dc still has to reprinted the old run including this espically when it shows that amanda can hold her own even against some one like granny goodness. not to mention love vertigo saying mortals have slain gods.before

randypan the goatboy

August 12, 2011 at 9:24 am

I never could understand why suicide squad never really found its audience. filled to the top with awesome in almost every issue. [i even liked the one issue about the racist superhero….waaaayyyyy back in the start of the book. I think the new lineup for the squad will suck. Deadshot is a must but why oh why are there only 3 members of the group? And its a lineup that looks like someone had a bunch of villains names in a hat and decided to draw 3 while blindfolded. I honestly believe the new squad will be among the first casualties in the comming year.

I have to say this was my favorite book as a teen. I believe that John Ostrander from the late 80’s and early 90’s was what Geoff Johns is today. Ostrander could make you love a character in a matter of pages. I really have to say his work is underrated big time. Ric Flagg is one of the best tragic heros in comics.

I_Captain Blanco

August 12, 2011 at 11:08 am

“By the way, Ostrander’s Grimjack comic is equally legendary and I give it the highest possible recommendation.”

ABSOLUTELY agreed. When it was being published, it was my single favorite comic on the stands. The recent “flashback” mini-series have been excellent, but how I wish Ostrander would take the story of John Gaunt *forward* again….

The Forever People are irredeemably goofy. It always amazed me when they showed up anywhere post-Crisis; they seemed like the kind of thing you sweep under the carpet, like Mopee. But I guess Kirby creations are immune to that.

Even with their goofiness, this was absolutely awesome– and yet not my favorite of the always-awesome multi-issue mission arcs. The Dragon’s Hoard, the hunt for Atom, and the first Mission to Moscow were IMHO even better– and only the Moscow arc has been collected!

Another note: Poison Ivy is one of the most inconsistently-depicted villains among those with lots of appearances. Suicide Squad, which makes up a goodly portion of her appearances, depicted a twitty idiot. She was a glowering monster in Black Orchid. in Batman she’s sometimes a vamp out for a good time, sometimes a nature goddess, sometimes a wrathful psycho who loves her plants a little too much, and sometimes just a gimmick villain with mind control. She was a rare case in which Ostrander didn’t add anything of enduring value to a character.

@ I_Captain Blanco: I spoke to Mike Gold, the Grimjack editor, a few months ago and he said Ostrander was looking into doing the loooong ago mooted “GrimJim in Hell” or the “Grimjack as female twins” stories.

No announcements as yet, but who knows, maybe us fans could be getting at least one of our wishes come true!

bernard the poet

August 12, 2011 at 2:00 pm

@Jacob T Levy – As I remember it, there was a letter in nearly every single issue of the Suicide Squad requesting that Ostrander used Poison Ivy. Then they ran a poll, asking which characters would readers like to see in the comic and I think she won that too. I don’t think Ostrander would have used her otherwise. I certainly agree with you that it was one of his least successful characterisations.
@Randypan the goat boy – I think Ostrander could have made the Suicide Squad twice as popular, but only half as good, if he hadn’t taken title quite so literally. The title was always in perpetual revolution – the reader genuinely never knew what was going to happen next.
Take Lashina, for around twenty issues, he built her up as the team’s ‘badass’ – but then he reveals that she is completely merciless, has her kidnap half the team and tries to kill them all. She is subsequently written out of the series and never seen again. Didn’t anyone tell, Ostrander that comic book readers love ‘badass’ characters, just as long as they are not really ‘badass’. Let’s just say, that I bet Claremont never considered writing a similar story for Wolverine.

I bought a straight run from issue 23 to half way through this story for 5p per issue about two years ago. Great stuff but I never saw how it ended and I can’t even read this article (or the the ones Brian has done about this storyline) in case stuff is given away. I’m just going to assume this was another great post by Brian.

Frankly, the art on pretty much the whole series was extremely unappealing. Colors are crap too (not surprising considering the time period).

The series was brilliantly written and deserved WAY more sucess, but it was an uphill battle with that art team. The JLI series, created at the same time, had Kevin Maguire and later Adam Hughes. No wonder it was much more sucessful, even though both books had mostly a cast of second-stringers.

And there IS a current-day heir to the Suicide Squad tradition: Secret Six! A different take on a similar concept. Pity DC cancelled it for its reboot. The announced new Suicide Squad doesn’t look nearly as interesting…

I’ll third that recommendation for Grimjack and add recommendations for Spectre, Hawkworld, Martian Manhunter, Blaze of Glory, Apache Sky, The Kents, JLA: Incarnations… I don’t think I’ve ever read a bad Ostrander series, even if every issue wasn’t a classic. Suicide Squad is my favorite Ostrander book. The way he mixed characterization with instability was amazing.

I get chills every time I read that “Mortals have slain gods before” line. Probably my favourite moment from the entire series.

Probably the most amazing aspect of Ostrander’s SUICIDE SQUAD was his facility for juggling large casts. A lot of comics fall apart once their casts sprawl past a certain point. Either the characters are not distinct enough from one another, or the writer starts playing favorites, or plot threads go cold, or any one of a dozen other problems.

Somehow, Ostrander gives eleven (11!) different characters a nice moment in the pages that are scanned above. His ability to make you care about everyone (at least a little) was what the book so unpredictable, since Ostrander seemed to be perfectly happy showing you the likable side of someone that was going to die a page later.

Sorry to be picky but this drives me as crazy. It’s Shade’s conscience. Easy to remember if you believe we are overly weighed down with guilt when we’re young and that the resulting desire to follow the rules is a flim-flam perpetrated by society which has perfected the process, i.e., a “con-science.”

A couple of other thoughts. Sadly, I have to agree with the poster who said the early art held the series back. I always found Luke McDonnell’s art dull at best (He didn’t do Iron Man any favors either…) Isherwood was an improvement but by the time he took over, it was probably hard to lure readers in.
Also, I disagree that the end of the arc was “fairly depressing (as was a lot of Suicide Squad).”It’s certainly true that this was no “Hero Hotline” (And how’s *that* for an “Almost Hidden” recommendation..?) but I think Ostrander just put his characters through the wringer so the reader would appreciate just how hard it was for “heroes” (if that term can describe characters like Grimjack or the members of the Suicide Squad) and what it costs to fight the good fight.

Yet another wonderful piece by Ostrander. Simone’s Secret 6 can NEVER come close to touching the SS. NEVER.

Unlike many that are featured in this collumn, I do think there’s a likliehood that this will EVENTUALLY see print. After we got the first 7 or so issues of Suicide Squad in a trade, I have a strong feeling that whole series will be collected in trade, much like how Hitman only recently began being collected in trades.

My vote for the John Ostrander series that should get the trade paperback treatment is the very underrated Martian Manhunter book he did with Tom Mandrake. An all around excellent title that lasted about three years, as I recall. Plus, Ostrander revisits Apokolips a couple of times during the run. There is an excellent scene in #19 that shows he totally gets what Darkseid is all about (one of the few writers who seems to unfortunately). Anyway, the Martian Manhunter title is well worth searching out in the back issue bins.

Suicide Squad was awesome.

I will disagree and say that the art style was very appropriate to the series.

You know, one of the problems I have with some grim and gritty stories is when they get someone like Jim Lee, and everybody looks like a bodybuilder or model, and the scenario is very Hollywood action movie. Flashy art kills the mood they should be going for, by making it look too cool.

But Luke McDonnell, with his “dull”, “unnappealing” art makes the characters and the action closer to earth. I agree that it doesn’t work well with Iron Man, but here it totally works. John Snyder’s the same, only quirkier. Everybody looks a little ugly, and it’s okay, it is as it should be.

So anyone who thinks Luke McDonnell wasn’t a good artist must like Jim Lee, that’s it? For dog’s sake! I’m usually contained on my artistic criticism, but now the gloves are off.

Look at those pages. The characters’ proportions are all over the place. Narrative is disjointed. Characters aren’t so much ugly as they are deformed. If the team hadn’t so incredibly distintive characters (no other comics character looks like Amanda Waller!), they would be hard to distinguish, since their features are so fluid. I could go on.

There are GREAT grim and gritty comic artists out there. Frank Miller, David Lapham, Tim Sale. Pretty much every argentinian comic artist (Eduardo Risso being a good exemple). Half of the italian comic artists (like Giuseppe Camuncoli or Riccardo Burchielli). Quite a lot of spanish ones (Jordi Bernet, José Ortiz). All great artists. All better than anyone who drew the original Suicide Squad series (with the exception of the short Keith Giffen backup on the Annual). And all more adequate for the job than the aforementioned Jim Lee, it goes without saying.

And that’s a very inadequate sequence to claim that a “closer to earth artist” was needed. It happens in THE FRIGGIN’ JACK KIRBY FOURTH WORLD! Everything is colorful and over the top there! Look at the parademons, shock troops of an evil universal despot, they are colored yellow and green! An artist like Keith Giffen, influenced by both Jack Kirby and José Muñoz as he is, could make it look both grim and larger to life at the same time, not the guys shown here. It looks like a low-budget, made-for-TV version of Apokolyps! Jack Kirby’s exquisite character designs look drab. Apokolips looks made of rocks and Lego blocks. Even Kirby Krackle isn’t being used the way it should, looking more like an afterthought (“hey, I should draw some krackle here, we are in Apokolips, after all”).

Drab, ugly, unappealing. That’s what the art of these comics is. No wonder the responsible artists have vanished from comics. The JLI artists I mentioned before are all still working in comics. In Europe, they wouldn’t have even been able to draw comics for a living, since they are well below the minimal standards.

@ Pedro Bouca:

Your points are well taken, but the images above are (mostly) John Snyder and Geoff Isherwood. Whatever his weaknesses, Luke McDonnell could always tell a story.

I am sorry, maybe Keith Giffen could have made it look both grim and larger than life, but I don’t want larger than life in a Suicide Squad story. You call it drab, and I say you are right. And I like it drab just fine for Suicide Squad. These characters have drab lives, and I don’t want them to look even remotely cool. I like Tim Sale, but he would be too stylized for Suicide Squad. Frank Miller? I dunno. The earlier Miller had some ballet-like grace to his violence and it was still cool somehow, and the later Miller is more caricatural. I still prefer Luke McDonnell for this particular title, even though I am not a fan of his work in any other thing he’s ever done.

Dean, I wasn’t sure who worked on which pages of that story and my issues aren’t at hand. That’s why that, except for the comparision with Jim Lee I mentioned above (and that wasn’t done by me to begin with), I didn’t mention names.

Regarding Luke McDonnell, I agree with comments about his Iron Man work, although I haven’t read them in 20 years or so. Maybe my opinion of his work there changes if I read it today. I don’t have Iron Man here at my home. Still at my parents’. But, I felt that his work grew by leaps and bounds in this series, and his works thereafter were great! Check out his art on Deadshot mini. Extremely moody, fitting the character a lot more than any other artist could. The same goes for his work on the Phantom with Mark Verheiden. Wish that he would work on Phantom on Sunday paper today. Graham Nolan is nice, but not moody. His work on Outlaws with M J Friedman started to get a little rough. His style is more of the kind that grows on you after reading a few of his book, rather than love at first sight. I could go on and on, but I gotta go to sleep. :-)

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