The Belle Reve Files – A Look Back at John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad: Suicide Squad #3 by Jordan Edwards

Welcome back inmates to the fourth entry in my series on John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad run. Today we’ll be looking at the first of many “filler” issues. This run has a lot of action packed, massive globe trotting stories so there needs to be time to breathe and cool off,  both as a reader and for the cast. These are commonly used in this series to delve deeper into the characters and how their missions are impacting them. However, they are also sometimes used to showcase some fun one and done stories which is the case with Suicide Squad #3.

Like Dave and many people here at Comfort Food Comics I have a real love for Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. Some of comics’ greatest characters and ideas reside here all wrapped up in a unique and fascinating mythology. I always love it whenever any of these Fourth World characters show up in other books. 

The issue starts straight into the Fourth World stuff with Darkseid commanding his Female Furies to infiltrate Belle Reve prison and break out Glorious Godfrey. Godfrey’s gotta be one of my favourite Apokoliptian characters. One: he was played by the always great Tim Curry in the second season of Young Justice and Two: he is responsible for carrying out Darkseid’s brainwashing commands. He’s charming and charismatic and uses those charms to indoctrinate new forces for Darkseid. He’s in Belle Reve because of his role in the Legends event. In that he took on the role of G. Gordon Godfrey and convinced the populace that superhumans were a threat. While you don’t get much of his appeal in this story, he’s still a great character and works really well with the Apokolips fascist analogy. 

Regardless, this first scene is great if only because it has one of my absolute favourite Darkseid moments ever. He’s just such a petty bastard that gets everything he wants regardless of the mission’s actual usefulness. It’s such a small moment but it’s a perfect display of Darkseid’s enduring character. 

This opening scene also sets up this conflict between Lashina and Bernadeth, a conflict spurred on by the deceitful Desaad. Ostrander is doing such a great job here of illustrating what these characters are and what their whole deal is. He’s using broad strokes for sure, but in ways that help you to understand a character instantly. 

Following this we move back to good ol Belle Reve as Rick Flag digs into a hefty monologue. I’ll be honest I think this panel is less than graceful. For the most part this book excels at digging into its characters’ psyche through its supporting characters. It’s a good way for these characters to speak their mind in natural and honest ways. This panel here however, is mainly just a massive info dump as Flag wanders aimlessly down a hallway. It’s important information about his thoughts on the mission but it also just kind of feels tacked on instead of an integral part of the story. 

What this does do well however is set up Flag’s disgust at Plastiques mindwiping operation. It’s a shocking scene and it’s the kind of thing you see in a lot of superhero media, like Superman 2’s famous memory wiping kiss. There isn’t anything wrong with memory wiping mechanics in stories but they can often feel like a cheap way out which Ostrander seems to realize here as he finds it more interesting to have a character directly challenge this. It makes for some compelling drama and shows that Suicide Squad isn’t going to be taking the easy way out. Here, memory wiping isn’t some innocent thing that saves the day, it’s a moral dilemma that the characters have to grapple with. It’s brief but it still helps to sell the more grounded and ambiguous tone this series is going for. 

The headbutting continues into an argument between Nemesis, Nightshade and Waller about the events of the last story. I think there’s a good contrast here with Nightshade and Nemesis feeling guilt over their actions or lack thereof and Waller’s stone cold commitment to the mission. Following a Nemesis flashback, Boomer walks in and demands better living conditions before being interrupted by Flag storming in to confront Waller about Plastique’s memory wipe. It’s just argument after argument at this point. We’re about halfway through the issue and it’s been mostly characters screaming at each other. It’s funny looking at it all lined up but it’s also effective showing that this “team” is not well coordinated at all. This issue is mostly a breather between two big arcs, the kind of throwaway issue you get a lot in superhero comics but I think it does what most should really be doing. 

It reflects on the previous story and its impact on the characters and compounds that into friction within the team. It’s a breather for sure but it also developing so much for the characters which helps to set up future stories. 

All of this friction is brought to a halt when the Furies boom tube in and just start tearing the place apart. Here we get another great moment continuing that growing tension within the team. Flag calls Bronze Tiger and Deadshot to his aid only for Deadshot to turn him down because it’s not part of the “deal” as he destroys the TV with a coin. So good, always makes me laugh and of course Boomerang sneaks away as well. 

So now we have a compelling premise for this book. How does a divided team at each other throats take down a group of New Gods? Well not terribly well as it turns out. From here the rest of the issue is just all action with some pretty fun fights. Bronze Tiger faces off against Stompa to no avail. I may be reaching here but I think McDonnell uses the panel layout here very deliberately. It’s the same full page format that you get when he fights someone like Ravan, this time however he is thoroughly out of his depth. It’s an effective way of showing that Tiger really doesn’t stand a chance here.

Following this we get to see the Belle Reve security team in action with their adorable lil tank thing. I don’t think we’ll ever see it again but I applaud it’s appearance here. Anyway Mad Harriet just tears through all these guys like it’s nothing while the Penguin watches from his cell. It’s some fun set up for a future arc. 

Ostrander moves from that conflict to Bernadeth as she plots a way to usurp Lashina and take her place as leader. I love this moment because it just shows how insignificant everyone is to these New Gods. Bernadeth is breaking into one of the most secure prisons in the United States and isn’t even focused. She’s just thinking about how to betray her teammate and running through scenarios in her head. It’s all so little to her, like she’s just hanging out the washing or something. It’s here where Bernadeth is ambushed by Nightshade monologuing about darkness only for Bernadeth to pull a Dark Knight Rises Bane moment. 

Now that we’ve seen all the Furies it’s time to catch up with Lashina. She manages to break out Godfrey before being confronted by Nemesis and more tiny tanks. I don’t know why but these little itty bitty combat drones make me laugh. Probably because they get taken out just by Lashina throwing Godfrey at them.

 Lashina absolutely swats Nemesis and leaves with the rest of the Furies but before Bernadeth tries to make her move, there’s laserfire and explosions and someone or something is blasted outside of the prison into the swamp. Again this is a bit of set up that comes up later in this run, Ostrander really gets how to effectively plant seeds for future stories.

The issue ends with our “heroes”  debriefing the situation. It’s here where I think we get this issue’s most crucial bit of character work. Waller apologizes to Flag and thanks him for his input on Plastique’s memory wiping. It’s a great small moment that could be easily missed but it pushes both Waller and Flag’s characters forward. Waller, as well as the reader, understand what Flag’s role is, he is there to counter anything that goes just a step over the line. But we also get a softer side of Waller as she backs down and admits that she sometimes scares herself. It’s a very human moment that effectively tells us a lot about these characters and their ongoing relationship. Of course this is immediately followed with Boomerang walking through the door acting like he was trying to help. Good good stuff. 

That’s issue 3! What could have been a filler issue about the rescue of a character we hadn’t seen yet turned out to be a pretty entertaining story that showed different shades of our characters and also some fun lil tanks.

See you next time. 

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