Task Force X chief Amanda Waller’s mission to enlist/kidnap Teen Titans Academy speedster Blur has failed, but her team has brought in Red X. The wild card who has been haunting the school for supers is in custody at Belle Reve prison, stripped down with only his mask unable to be removed.
Field leader Peacemaker isn’t down with trying to ‘persuade’ Red X – whom Waller characterises as ‘a Batman-level intellect’ – bringing a predictable response.
Soon, she’s trying the same tactics on Red X, but the tough teen takes the pain. Elsewhere, the recovering Peacemaker has gathered his teammates in a dead spot that doesn’t allow Waller to listen in – the prison laundry. There, Peacemaker drops a bombshell that disturbs Superboy, who has been forced to work with Waller and is trying to keep his hands clean.
The meeting is interrupted by news of a breakout – engineered by Red X. It’s up to Peacemaker, Superboy, Nocturna, Talon and Culabra to calm things down as Red X uses the melee to allow him to have words with Waller. The real Waller – the woman who was talking to him through prison bars was a hologram.
This is quite the action issue as villains and heroes and anti-heroes fight for supremacy – or just survival – in Waller’s web of lies and pain. Usually I’d moan about how a character who seems like a baseline human could hold out against the likes of Superboy, but we don’t know Red X doesn’t possess meta-abilities. Also, he’s been compared favourably to Batman, and the Caped Crusader, according to DC, can hold his own against anyone.
For the first time since he debuted in Teen Titans Academy, I like Red X. He’s obviously on the side of right, I love that he’s foiling the schemes of the frankly horrible version of Waller we’ve been seeing, and I get to play ‘who’s behind the mask?’ A Gotham person seems most likely, given the level of intellectual and physical skills on display, but all the regular faces are very busy in Bat-books. So who is it? Who’s smart enough to see behind the masks – figurative and literal – of the Task Force X members, taunting and teasing them as he cuts a swathe through Belle Reve?
He’s talking a lot like Leviathan, but writer Brian Michael Bendis has a mini-series coming up starring Manhunter-turned-madman Mark Shaw, so let’s take him off the table. But how about…
… Anarky, brilliant, a superb combatant, enemy of oppression and order. That sounds like someone who would want to, and likely could, take Waller down. He even has a teleportation system, which would explain his Titans Tower comings and goings.
We shall see. For now, I’m happy to say this is the best issue of the new Suicide Squad series yet. Writer Robbie Thompson is a declared fan of classic series co-creator John Ostrander’s work, and he’s certainly getting some original flavour intrigue in here. I still can’t accept this version of Waller, and that no one is trying to kill her, but surely she’ll be made to pay for her brutality? I can’t see her being allowed to continue her casual torture and killing. It is a shame, though, that in a series made to star scumbags, someone who was previously one of my favourite DC characters is the worst person in it.
And extra points go to Thompson for this issue’s title… the story began in Teen Titans Academy, Red X is running the show, so it has to be ‘X-Over’.
The art continues to be dazzling. Eduardo Pansica doesn’t do his usual full pencils for the whole book, but where he hasn’t, the breakdowns are his. Regular inker Julio Ferreira handles all but one of the fully pencilled pages, while Joe Prado steps in to make the breakdowns-only sequences into fully finished work, as well as completing page one. With the striking colours of Marcelo Maiolo knitting things together, the art throughout looks pretty consistent. The fight layouts are dramatic, the conversations are tense… it’s perfect Suicide Squad art.
There’s an especially great spread showing the prison riot and yes, it’s bonkers that everyone seems to have their costumes and equipment, but it’s likely Waller was playing head games – they look the part, but thanks to special cells and power dampeners, they’re impotent.
Until Red X cuts the power, and everyone cuts loose.
If you can identity a few mystery characters for me, I’d be very grateful. Is the be-turbaned lady Golden Age Wonder Woman baddie Hypnota, or maybe a female Sargon? Is that Eclipso with the leaf on his head? Who’s the bearded muscleman at the bottom?
And while Culebra has been the wacky character in this book – her ‘conversation’ with the monosyllabic Talon here is a classic – there’s one page on which the artists make her truly terrifying.
Wes Abbott provides the sharp lettering, ensuring things read well, while the suspense-packed cover comes from Pansica, Ferreira and Maiolo
Add in a last page reveal that makes me very happy and you have one terrific comic.