There was a time when superhero stories were thought to be just for kids, but titles like Suicide Squad helped tear that stereotype apart. People who’ve seen Margot Robbie portray Harley Quinn on the big screen might be familiar with the Suicide Squad, a group of lesser-known villains coerced to work for the government in exchange for lighter sentences. Many of these missions have high fatality rates, hence the group’s name, but mainstays like Quinn and Captain Boomerang have stayed alive, largely due to their popularity. However, that makes Suicide Squad: Blaze, written by Simon Spurrier and illustrated by Aaron Campbell, and its focus on people other than its regular roster an adult-rated anomaly.
Yes, the shark man King Shark, the boomerang-tossing Australian Captain Boomerang, and the John Cena vehicle Peacemaker are not the true stars of this book; that dubious honor goes to a group of convicts. They become part of a government experiment that grants normal people superpowers that will eventually kill them, but this group feels they have nothing left to live for, anyway. These newly-powered individuals are the last line of defense against a super-powered individual murdering and devouring people. Even stalwarts like Superman and the Justice League are unable to defeat him, so odds are that planet Earth will burn.
Some might be familiar with Spurrier and Campbell’s collaborations on Hellblazer, and the same violent yet bleak tone is present here. One of Suicide Squad’s appeals is the fact that the roster, apart from a few core characters, is constantly in flux as B-list villains often meet gruesome, and sometimes comedic, ends. Blaze ups the ante by having a twist with these newly superpowered people: when one of them dies, their power gets divided up among the remaining convicts, so it’s guaranteed that their number will diminish and those who survive will steadily become more powerful. One of those who might be the last superperson standing is Michael Van Zandt, who wants to get back together with the love of his life before his powers kill him. But this might be too hopeful (and a deep misunderstanding of this book’s themes) to think there’s any chance of a happy ending.
Campbell’s art is well-suited to showcase this dark universe where even Superman can be gravely injured and the Justice League are cannon fodder. Deaths and dismemberments are shown in graphic detail, and the powers that exist in this world are far from phenomena resembling Renaissance artwork of angels. The powers summoned by these people burn their bodies and distort their dimensions. In case Spurrier’s morally bankrupt characters haven’t clued readers into the book’s worldview, Campbell’s depiction of powers and what they do to a person’s anatomy will show these people to be fundamentally cursed.
The characters from the classic Suicide Squad roster, like King Shark and Quinn, have some shining character moments, but mostly this is a title to see who is left standing while the world burns. It’s a superhero book that has a inky black view of superheroes, which might be up the alley of readers who enjoyed Suicide Squad movies but think they could have gone darker.
Suicide Squad: Blaze
By Simon Spurrier
Art by Aaron Campbell
DC Black Label, 2023
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: British