A wide range of writers have worked on Task Force X over the years, making for many interesting differences between each volume throughout the Suicide Squad’s history. The original group of criminals joining together under as Task Force X probably wouldn’t recognize most of the ones doing so now. For each creative team, there was a different way of handling plot, characters, and art and each take has its strengths and weaknesses.

Way Back When

The first proper SUICIDE SQUAD series, written by John Ostrander, started in 1987. His taken went on for about 66 issues, making it the longest run in the Squad’s history so far. Yet it’s not just the length that sets the first volume apart from the rest. It’s distinctive in featuring Rick Flag Jr. as the leader and bringing considerable attention to (at the time) previously unknown characters, like Deadshot. With it, Ostrander crafted a genuine and brutal story.

Squad's History
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

This series feels really familiar. It was like any other gritty superhero story with action abound, but it gave the characters a great deal of development by putting them under frequent psychological evaluations. Personally, I find this original, especially given the time period Ostrander wrote it in. Even now, most characters simply get flashbacks or open with a monologue. Yet this series delivered more than just flashy fight scenes, it gave substance. It succeeded in being an antihero equivalent to the stereotypical superhero group. Most of its edge relied on the fact that these people were criminals, trying to redeem themselves by doing things that were only a little less morally questionable than what landed them in Belle Reve in the first place.

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It’s worth noting that, in 2007, John Ostrander returned to the Squad in the SUICIDE SQUAD: RAISE THE FLAG miniseries. Spanning eight issues, the plot mostly revolves around the team — along with some new members — saving Rick Flag Jr. Despite its brevity, some consider this the true third volume in the Suicide Squad’s history.

Under New Management

Keith Giffen took on the next iteration of SUICIDE SQUAD in 2001. True to the ever-changing nature of the Suicide Squad’s history, the only returning character from the original series was Deadshot. Its time was short-lived, as it only lasted twelve issues.

Squad's History
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Between how brief and comedic this series was, it’s difficult to take it seriously. Even the art style contributes to this, considering it’s softer lines and cartoonish attention to detail. The group dynamic was less cohesive, especially considering how nearly everyone dies at the beginning, necessitating an entirely new group. Even with that aside, the writing barely fleshes out the characters. There’s more time given to plot than anything else. Because of this, it’s hard to get attached to the characters, and therefore the series as a whole. These factors make volume two one of the weaker versions.

Might Be More Than 52 Changes

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Suicide Squad, like many others, received a reboot in 2011 during the New 52 relaunch. Undertaken by Adam Glass, several major changes were made, such as reimagining Deadshot as the leader of the group. After thirty issues, Sean Ryan continued the storyline in NEW SUICIDE SQUAD. Though an even newer version would appear in 2016, the creators of the film took inspiration from the New 52 series.

Squad's history
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

This volume focused more on specific details than pushing past the surface of the story. The abundance of personality and violence throughout the run boosts it over other volumes, but it makes it fall short in some areas. The content reminds me of a cover page. It catches the eye, shocks and provokes, but not much else. Even the characters that make up this series serve as evidence of this; you’re more likely to notice icons like Deathstroke and Harley Quinn than Rick Flag Jr. After all, this series primarily gained notoriety because of Harley Quinn’s inclusion. However, it can’t be totally discredited. Flashiness may not be perfect for plotlines, but that certainly marks impressive artistic skills. The lines were crisp and the color choices were bright. Even if it didn’t reach perfection, it still had its strong points, which I can’t say for many other comics.

The Suicide Squad’s History Repeats Itself

2016 brought about another series of relaunches under the Rebirth initiative. Rob Williams’ take on Task Force X brought Rick Flag Jr. back as the leader, and returned some of the other original members, such as Enchantress. The series is currently on its forty-fifth issue, and still going strong.

Squad's History
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The return of Rick Flag Jr. didn’t mark the return of every detail from the original series. Yet, unlike the New 52, it pays less attention to the shock effect. Though there’s definitely a lack of psychological evaluations, the characters do develop over time. They grow more as people than they did in other volumes. The group gains more direction, and ultimately feels more unified. The multiple personalities aren’t crammed in all together. Instead, each individual complements the other. Sometimes, they even show signs of being functional. Well, as functional as the Suicide Squad can be.

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Born Again and Again and…

The Suicide Squad has come a long way since Ostrander first put the team together. More than most famous supergroups, this cast of characters constantly cycles through each series; making for a tumultuous but nonetheless exciting group dynamic. Consistency didn’t completely throw itself out the window though. The Squad always indulged in a dark joke or two, and could be found doing morally gray government missions. Familiar faces like Amanda Waller and places like Belle Reve prison always appear in each version. 

Once stiff and serious, the Squad has now become a flashy group of strange and superpowered criminals. This isn’t necessarily a change in the quality of the story though. It’s a change in who it appeals to. Not everything DC produces has to be as serious as Batman’s psyche. That’s not to say the content isn’t phenomenal as well, but I believe there needs to be a balance between dark, heavy topics and lighthearted, thoughtless material. Change and growth are wonderful things, and who knows? Maybe in a year or two (or twenty), the Suicide Squad will be entirely different again. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

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