This week, fans will meet a new incarnation of the classic DC Comics antihero team The Suicide Squad as they embark on an R-rated adventure that puts them in the path of a dangerous target. But we're not here to talk about James Gunn's much-anticipated new film incarnation of the team. Instead, it's time to take a closer look at the other major Suicide Squad launch this week, the DC Black Label miniseries Suicide Squad: Get Joker.
Arriving in a deluxe, mature readers format and featuring a team of DC Comics mainstays, more obscure villains, and all-new characters, Get Joker sends the Squad up against one of the most dangerous people in the entire DC Universe, with a new field leader at the helm. Bringing the book to life is the all-star creative team of writer Brian Azzarello (Joker, 100 Bullets) and artist Alex Maleev (Checkmate, Event Leviathan), who set out to tell a story in the classic Suicide Squad vein that can please readers eager to see the film while still delivering an entirely different team lineup and mission.
In the gallery below, you'll get just a small taste of what's in store (warning, some NSFW language).
"I didn't want to use any of the characters in that team, for one thing," Azzarello told journalists, including SYFY WIRE, during a press roundtable when asked about the ties between the comic and the film. "Tonally, I would say it's pretty similar. I mean, this book's Rated R. That's different for a lot of DC characters… but so is the film, so tonally it's going to be the same, or similar. But like I said, I wanted to use characters that hadn't been around in a while that I could actually do something with. You know, if you throw some characters that you're more familiar with into the story, I think there's no tension there, because you know they're not going to die. The point of this book is that they could die."
There are at least a few familiar faces in Suicide Squad: Get Joker, even beyond the ever-watchful eye of Task Force X leader Amanda Waller. Chief among them is Jason Todd, aka the Red Hood, whose vigilantism has granted him a stay in Belle Reve prison just in time to be recruited by Waller for a new mission: Take down Joker, the man who killed him years ago. For Azzarello, that meant adding a certain perspective to Jason's personality that convinces him to take the mission on.
"I kind of approached him like: OK if you went through all this and you really didn't know why. 'Cause there's a lot of holes in Jason's story," Azzarello said. "I think he's very sardonic in this sort of like accepting fate, but then not understanding fate, and just thinking 'fate kind of sucks.'"
Though Get Joker certainly has a headliner in Jason Todd, and familiar faces like Harley Quinn will also be part of the devastation, the book's Black Label distinction means that it is untethered from the main DC Comics continuity, which means just about any character is primed for the chopping block. To add to the tension, of course, Azzarello and Maleev also threw in plenty of supporting players, including some all-new characters, and a few old characters used in new ways.
"If they do die, my job is to make you really miss them when they do," Azzarello said. "I've tried to give all these characters a very specific personality. I think in the second issue, there's moments that each one sort of flesh why they are there and what they've done in the past, that kind of stuff. Like I said, new characters and using minor characters, it creates tension within the team that everybody can die. You know, if it were like 'The Penguin's in it,' it's like 'Ah, he's not going to kill the Penguin. Penguin's safe, you know, or if he does die, he's not really dead.' So being able to create new characters and then maybe kill them...I did that for 10 years with 100 Bullets, so I'm pretty well-versed at it."
Of course, at the center of it all is the character who serves as the Squad's target, and because of the Black Label nature of the book, Maleev and Azzarello were once again given a bit of room to play with the Clown Prince of Crime.
"The Joker was a design that we came up with, and that's kinda new, that look," Maleev said. "We had to go around and do some sketches, and see what felt like what we wanted to go with. When we did the first cover, this is when the Joker design came to life, and that's how we kept him."
Their top priority for their version of The Joker: Unpredictability.
"I think it's always important for the Joker to look dangerous, not funny. This Joker... looks really oily, and nasty," Azzarello said. "He's like a stiletto or a switchblade, if I were to pick a weapon. He's got this look to him that he's very sharp and angular. And I like it a lot."
Maleev added, "There's an element of craziness in him that can go off at any moment. He's not as much evil, but he can really lose control. This is the way I see him. The unpredictable nature of his is what makes him scary, I think. And that craziness is what I'm going for when I draw him."
Of course, in the case of Get Joker, the team behind the pages is just as big of a draw as the team on the page. Though they're both industry icons with years of celebrated work to their respective names, this miniseries also marks the first time that Azzarello and Maleev have ever worked together, after years of talking about the possibility. According to Maleev, they came together like jazz musicians who know the tune so well they're able to riff off of each other immediately.
"We're veterans in the business. You throw us together and we'll come up with something just like a good jazz band," Maleev said. "I hope this is a good analogy. I listen to jazz a lot, and I go to a lot of shows. I can see this all the time."
Running three issues in a "Prestige Plus" format of more than 40 pages per issue, Get Joker is designed to be a satisfying, self-contained adventure for readers, whether they're coming out of the new movie or just looking for the next big Squad adventure. It's also a book that, along with its many efforts to move to its own rhythm, retains that classic Squad tone of characters you can't help but be drawn to... at least until the mission takes them.
"That's basically what I wanted to do is update this stuff a little bit, make these characters not so much cannon fodder, but make them human, give them all a real distinct voice beforehand," Azzarello said. "Some of them you're not gonna like, which is great, but I think every one of them is compelling."
Suicide Squad: Get Joker #1 is in stores Tuesday.