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The Original Writer of 'Suicide Squad' Breaks Down His Thoughts On the Film

Our comic book fan Jeffrey Taylor sat down with the with John Ostrander, the original writer of the Suicide Squad comics (1987-1992) for his thoughts on what director David Ayer and Warner Bros. did with a team he first created decades ago. How did the original Suicide Squad comic series first come into existence?

John Ostrander: It was close to the start of my career. I had been doing most of my work with First Comics starting with Grimjack and Starslayer. I had been looking to expand a bit and had just started making my living off of writing, so any additional work would help that. I had been talking with Bob Greenberger over at DC Comics. We had met through some conventions and had struck up a nice relationship. Bob also thought I should be a writer for DC, so we started talking about what titles were available.

Again, this was really early in my career and I was making a mark with Grimjack, but I was not yet a big commodity. He asked what I’d like to take a stab at, and I said Challengers of the Unknown, because I love that title. I think it’s one of the best titles in comics. But he said, “Somebody else already has dibs on that, but we have this other title that had only appeared in five issues of Brave and the Bold back in the 1950’s and you can do anything you want with it. It’s called Suicide Squad.”

[Note: This turned out to be Challengers of the Unknown with Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, which became a powerhouse team in comics.]

I said, “Suicide Squad? What a stupid name.” Who in their right minds would be in a group that called themselves Suicide Squad? I thought they might have to be suicidal and that wouldn’t be a very healthy title. But then I started to think about it and thought, “Who would join this thing?” Maybe people who don’t have any other choice. Who doesn’t have a choice? Prisoners. And I thought I was on to something. Prisoners in the DC Universe are generally super villains. I thought, “Ooo, I like super villains. They’re fun to play with.”

I was a big fan of a book called The Secret Society of Super Villains, that was all bad guys all the time with maybe one or two other people. The Joker even had his own title for a while and I enjoyed the heck out of that too. So that’s what I proposed. Basically it was the Dirty Dozen but with superheroes. But I also liked spy fiction, so let’s send them out on covert actions. And the great thing is that if the mission goes wrong, it can just be disavowed, which of course brings in Mission: Impossible as well. So it came from a little bit of everything.

So I wrapped this all up and they agreed to it. Then Mike Gold, who was a good friend and my editor over at First Comics had moved over to DC and wanted to bring me along. He was in charge of the company-wide crossovers after Crisis on Infinite Earths. He suggested we introduce Suicide Squad in one of the Crossovers (Called Legends) and then follow it up with the series. That would get a lot of people into it and it would be the first time John Byrne would be drawing the DC characters, so there will be a lot of focus on it and you’ll have a good launch platform. Two weeks after Legends, there was a Secret Origins issue with the Suicide Squad and then two weeks after that we launched the first issue. So it was a really good launch. I love Amanda Waller. What is the story behind the creation of “The Wall?”

Ostrander: For any spy group, you need someone who’s in charge, and I wanted someone who didn’t have super powers. I wanted her to be tough, ruthless and to not have any problems throwing people under the bus. I knew I wanted her to be African American because there weren’t many African American characters in comics at the time. I wanted the character to be female for the same reason. As that started to come together, I had the idea to make her more mature, older, at least middle aged, and stout, which would give off the will that she had. I mean if her nickname is going to be “The Wall,” I wanted her look to go with that. There had to be heft to her.

Also at the same time, my paternal grandmother when I was growing up scared the bejaggers out of me. She also was a heavy set woman and if you screwed around, she could just fix you with a look that could pin you to the wall. I knew she loved me. I’m not sure she always liked me. So I borrowed things from her.

Then in terms of Amanda’s background, I figured who and what she is. Living in Chicago I knew a lot about the Cabrini-Green housing projects so I used that as part of her back story and gave her a family. I wanted her to have a reason why she’s not fond of criminals. I mean she works with them, but she doesn’t like them very much. What did you think of Viola Davis as Amanda Waller in the film?

Ostrander: I loved her. From the moment I saw her in the trailer, I thought oh my god. She looks like Amanda. She sounds like Amanda. She has Amanda’s attitude. And her line from the trailer could have been taken straight from the comic.

I was lucky enough to go to the premiere and at the after party, I got to meet Ms. Davis and tell her who I was and how much I really enjoyed her performance, and I really did. She was one of the highlights of the movie.

In other media (Smallvlle, Justice League Unlimited, Green Lantern), there’s a slightly different interpretation of Amanda, which to my mind is an indication that there’s some depth to the character. Each actress brings something else to the role. One of my favorites is CCH Pounder in the animated series. And vocally she was just right there. How did the film stack up against your expectations?

Ostrander: As I said in my review, I admit up front that I’m prejudiced and biased. I wanted it to be good when I went in to see it. And in my mind it was. I loved it. Was it perfect? No. By no means. Are there flaws in it? You bet. But I didn’t see it the way those did that hated it or badmouthed it, because that’s not what I saw. I had a really good time and I’ve seen it again in IMAX and I enjoyed it again the second time.

And there are differences from the way that I wrote the Squad, but I’m fine with that because they had to adapt it from one medium to another, and then they have to make changes in order for it to work in that medium. And I had a free hand to interpret these characters as I saw fit when I was writing them, so I see no reason why somebody else couldn’t do that as well. But I felt that my creative DNA was all over it because of the villains and the Mission: Impossible kind of story. That all came from me. Are there any specific things that you would have done differently?

Ostrander: There’s always things you could do differently. Most of the Squad stories I did were somewhat “real world.” There were politics in it that I would liked to have seen more of. I don’t think that the antagonists were very well defined in the film, as far as what they’re planning to do. That became a little generic save-the-world stuff. And I don’t know if I had the Squad do anything like that in my run other than their participation in Legends which introduced them. It’s just not something I did with those guys.

But again, this is a tentpole movie and these are things you have to do if it’s going to sell and be a platform for the audience. It had to have a lot of special effects, which you need to have these days if you’re going to make a successful film. How did you feel about some of the character changes from the comics to the film. We can go through one at a time.

Joker: To begin with, he has to be different from Heath Ledger’s performance, which was incredible. It won the Academy Award. It’s indelible. But he’s dead and you can’t have someone else imitating it. So as a result they got Academy Award winner Jared Leto, and as soon as I heard that, I said ok, they’re really serious about this. It was a very different version of Joker because they had to do it that way. Anything else would have seemed like an imitation. It would justifiably get reamed. Either he or someone else said the Joker is like Hamlet, in that each actor can adapt it to their version. This was a different variation and perfectly valid. It’s different aspects that have appeared over the years in comics.

Amanda Waller: She’s mostly my Amanda. Of course she shot those people, and that makes her a bit more of a sociopath than I would have written her. But it works in the movie because then you have a sociopath leading sociopaths, and that’s a bit scarier.

Deadshot: Will Smith’s Deadshot is a little closer to one Gail Simone wrote in the Secret Six series and she did a wonderful job. But it was a different Deadshot. And black or white, so many people can play that part.

Enchantress: I wrote a very standard Enchantress from the comics I’d read with her before I started. But the movie expanded on that, although they kept elements of what we did.

Harley Quinn: I didn’t work with Harley in my run because she didn’t exist yet, except for an upcoming Suicide Squad special that I wrote. I thought Margot Robbie stole as much of the film as she could fit in her … well I guess she probably didn’t have pockets. I thought she was wonderful and a lot of fun to watch. Again, you have to adapt things from one medium to the next, but I think they obviously did their homework and love the characters. They just tweaked them for the movie. Are there any characters from your run that you wish had been included or might want to see in a sequel?

Ostrander: I liked their selection in terms of the team. That whole routine that Captain Boomerang pulls on Slipknot is straight out of my run. Boomerang does the same thing in my comics, and to the same character. He talks him into trying to run to test if this stuff was real and turns out oops yes it was. Too bad.

I think a character that would be very useful is Nightshade. And using a couple more established characters would be good. But they had a lot of characters as it was, so I’m not actually complaining.

In terms of a plotline, I really couldn’t say. We did so many plots over the series that it’s up to them to say which ones would make the best movie. In a sequel it depends on the mission. The characters I chose all depended on what the mission was and who was available to me.

We used Poison Ivy, which was fun. And we had The Atom, who makes good sense for doing spy stuff. I’d like to see Dr. Kramer. I like the idea of having a spiritual advisor to a team of psychopaths. And I’d like to see more of Captain Boomerang because he’s such a fun character. At first I didn’t want to use him, but Bob Greenberger convinced me and he turned out to be one of my favorites in the team. I also think the Deadshot miniseries would make a good film by itself.

I never used the Joker in the Squad because he was too high profile. I like to have characters in the Squad that I could have some control over, and even kill. From time to time we would kill characters, all with the intention of them never ever coming back. That was important to keeping it feel real. And for any character that high profile, I wouldn’t be allowed to do that.

After the first couple of years on the run, my wife Kim Yale came on and wrote most of the issues with me. And we created Oracle out of what happened with Barbara Gordon in Batman: The Killing Joke. Oracle became a very important character in the DCU. We kept her in a wheelchair because we felt that was important. That created a really vital character for that community that we hadn’t seen before. Even though she’s stuck in a wheelchair, she’s still a hero. And I’m very very proud of what we did with her.

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