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Book Review: Suicide Squad: The Silver Age by Robert Kanigher, with Howard Liss

July 22, 2017

Suicide Squad: The Silver Age (Suicide Squad Omnibus, #1)Suicide Squad: The Silver Age by Robert Kanigher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is some really nostalgic fun, particularly with the old fashioned renditions of the dinosaurs that pervade most of the stories, but after the first six issues, nothing at all ties them to the later iteration of the Squad, which seems to go from present day (at time of original publication–1959-1966) to World War II (a late story is clearly set there, since we see a Japanese naval crew). The artwork, which is all by Ross Andru apart from one story by Joe Kubert and one by John Buscema is stupendous. It gets annoyingly repetitive as the formula of one guy wanting to shoot the other guy gets carried through several sets of characters, but when you’re reading the stories months apart as originally published, it might have been a bit refreshing. Morgan and Mace are the first pair, but then we get the Wild One who wants to shoot the Sheriff. Toward the end we get a tryout of the G.I. Robot concept, although the robot itself is destroyed.

The first team consists of Rick Flag, Karin Davies/Grace (her surname is given only twice; the latter was used in the later stories), Dr. Evans, and his assistant Jess Bright. These characters are more interesting than the later G.I.s, but it’s a bit farfetched. Rick won’t make public his love for Karin because Jess and Dr. Evans both love her, and Flag fears it will interfere with team solidarity. Part of the problem is that after they encounter giant monsters (sometimes referred to as dinosaurs, but they often don’t look like any known species), they still seem to think that it’s impossible any more such creatures could have survived, which seems to be an attempt to build suspense that doesn’t really work since the reader even then had to be ahead of the story. Kanigher’s writing appears in all except the John Buscema-illustrated story that closes the volume. Early on, the multiple uses of the word “lovely,” especially to describe Karin, stick out as bad writing. This isn’t as bad in the second trilogy as it is in the first, though.

The next team we get is Skipper Allan and the Professor, the former looking a lot like Flag and the latter looking like a bald version of Evans, and they take us through several stories.

The third version of Suicide Squad we get is Vic Morgan and Andy Mace (initially called Barry). The former keeps his gun trained on the latter because the latter accidentally cause the death of Bill Morgan, Vic’s brother. They take us through several stories, and it gets all the more farfetched as we go along that Morgan would get to keep his .45 pointed at Mace the entire time on mission after mission without someone finding out it was more than Mace’s word against Morgan’s. Over the course of their adventures, they meet a baby pterosaur Mace imaginatively calls “Baby Dino,” and Morgan remains convinced through each subsequent story that Baby Dino is not their friend and should be killed. I didn’t like seeing so many dinosaurs getting killed every issue, and I’m not sure why dinosaur loving kids would go for that so much, especially since it often seemed overkill in the most literal sense. In the last of these stories we meet the even more imaginatively named Caveboy.

After that, none of the Suicide Squad members appear in more than one story. Kanigher seems to have liked Mace as a surname because there is a Dr. Mace in one of the Flag-era stories. Mac the Second is also the name of the G.I. Robot.

There is a Showcase Presents volume of The War that Time Forgot that includes many of these stories. Presumably the only ones reprinted here are those that actually use the term “Suicide Squad” or “Suicide Squadron,” since that volume reprints stories from nearly every issue of Star Spangled War Stories back to #90. I’m particularly amused by the cover copy of #125, p. 289, “The ‘secret war’ that no one will admit is being fought!” I can’t help wondering if Jim Shooter read this issue. Both of these end volumes end with the story from #128, and as ’60s comics in low grade tend to be pricey and hard to come by, I’m not sure if the volume 1 on the cover has any meaning. All the golden age Doctor Fate stories were collected in one volume, but it was still called volume 1 even though there was nothing else from that period to collect.

It’s true that Secret Origins #14, which appears in the first trade volume of the 1987 series does connect all these versions of the Suicide Squad, but it’s quite tenuous here beyond the name.

This volume is printed somewhat larger than comics of the time, which were about an eighth of an inch wider than today, and with much smaller margins than were the norm at the time, which enhances the experience slightly.

View all my reviews

One Comment
  1. Here is my unedited initial response: I love Ross Andru’s art, but the writing is bad! How many times is Kanigher going to call Karin “lovely” in each story, and when did she become known as Karin Grace (the one mention of her last name I’ve encountered so far says it’s Davies)? The stories are such idiot plots because the team keeps assuming what is going to happen can’t happen. Why are thy on this team?

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