Suicide Squad 101: An Introduction to Task Force X

An Introduction to Task Force X

by Randy Krinsky

David Ayer's new DCEU film, Suicide Squad, is finally upon us, set to introduce the movie-going audience to some of the most iconic villains that DC has to offer. With high hopes of grossing at least $800 million and becoming one of the hottest films of the year, DC needs this film to offset its extended universe’s rocky start with Batman V Superman. Not to play favorites, but as a fan of comics in general, I figured I’d help them out a little with a bit of an introduction to the squad of anti-heroes and their new film.

Over the years, in the comics, the Suicide Squad has consisted of fluctuating roster. This film will focus on ten villains, if you count non-member Joker (Jared Leto). Without being spoiler-y about the new film, I’ll just give you a rundown of some key points to remember that will help get you through the screening (and just might help you answer those pesky questions your brother keeps asking during the film!).

First, a bit of history. The squad was the work of writer Robert Kanigher and artist Ross Andru, debuting in The Brave and the Bold #25 (1959). Originally they were non-powered individuals, scientists and military personnel, fighting super-powered monsters after World War II, when many super heroes of the 1930s and 1940s retired. The incarnation that most people are familiar with is when John Ostrander wrote Legends #3 (1987). Ostrander created Amanda Waller, who in turn assembled Task Force X, consisting of a who’s who of bad guys to conduct covert ops that the government could deny having taken part. Now, how does the government get these supervillains to play nice and do what they’re told? It’s simple, blackmail and coercion. You see, everyone has something to lose. Most get the promise of a reduced or commuted prison sentence, others, like Deadshot, is threatened with the possibility of never seeing his daughter again. Since most are looking at lifetime prison sentences anyway, why not play along for a chance to get back out into the free world.

In order to get into the whole “prison” mentality, and to foster some unity among the cast, many of the Suicide Squad cast members got “inked’ with the tattoo “SKWAD.” Rumor has it that the tattoos were even applied by cast members Will Smith and Margot Robbie (but, I can neither confirm nor deny this). Another nice little tidbit before we get started is that the mercenary Deathstroke was reportedly slated at one point to appear in the film, with Joe Manganiello being considered for the role. If that was true, his role was cut because he ain’t in it! But, would’ve been cool if he was! So, without further ado, let’s get started:

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  1. The Suicide Squad can be seen on the small screen as well

If you just can’t get your fill of squad-mania, you might be interested to know that there are actually several other incarnations of the Suicide Squad you can watch. There have been versions of Task Force X featured on the television series, “Smallville”,”Justice League: Unlimited”, “Arrow,” the animated film, Batman: Assault on Arkham, as well as some members turning up in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.” Each version had a similar roster but my favorite was the version seen in Season 2 (2014) of the series, “Arrow.” That featured Deadshot (Michael Rowe), Bronze Tiger (Michael Jai White) and Shrapnel (Sean Maher), with John Diggle (David Ramsey) running the squad, as overseen by Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson). That version saw A.R.G.U.S. put together the task force to stop a warlord known by Diggle from his time serving in Afghanistan. That’s my fav, you might have your own. Most of them are viewable on Netflix.

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  1. Jared Leto didn’t break character while on-set

When it comes to the character of The Joker, as an actor you have to go to a pretty creepy place to channel that kind of madness. Leto went all-in for his portrayal of the character. They say he never broke character while he was on the set, not even when he wasn’t filming. He even sent Joker-appropriate gifts to his fellow cast mates: a love letter with a live rat to Margot Robbie, a similar love letter with a cache of bullets for Will Smith, and a while dead hog for the crew to enjoy. There was no questioning Leto’s commitment to the role!

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  1. Ryan Gosling and Tom Hardy almost had starring roles!

Gosling was linked early in pre-production to the role of The Joker, but backed off when the prospect of the role becoming a multi-picture deal. Luke Evans, Mark Wahlberg, Tom Cruise, Joel Edgerton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Bradley Cooper, and even Jon Bernthal were all under consideration for the role of Rick Flagg, but it was Tom Hardy who was originally cast. Unfortunately, Hardy had to drop out due to his commitment to filming The Revenant (2015).

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  1. Not only did David Ayer direct this film, he wrote it too

The man has written some good films. Besides Fury (2014), he has written The Fast and the Furious (2001), U-571 (2000), and Training Day (2001), among many others. Not too bad. He also directed Fury, so he knows his way around an action drama.

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  1. Suicide Squad might be a David Ayer film, but John Ostrander is its Godfather

Over the years, the guiding force behind the characters central to the Suicide Squad has been John Ostrander. He recreated Task Force X in 1987 and unleashed them into the DC Comics world. After having stepped away for fifteen years, he made a glorious return for the Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag mini-series in 2007. Many see his biggest contribution being the creation of the ruthless Amanda Waller. A gentle nod to the Godfather is given in Ayer’s film by naming by setting up Waller’s headquarters inside the John Ostrander Federal Building.

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  1. Deadshot, the World’s Deadliest Marksman

He’s been an antagonist to Batman since the 1950s. Considered the best shooter in DC comics, with a little help from his cybernetic eye enhancement, he’s also an exceptional hand-to-hand combatant. Deadshot, a.k.a. Floyd Lawton, suffered psychological trauma when he accidentally killed his own brother while attempting to kill his abusive father. He never forgave himself for the accident and has no problems putting himself in seemingly hopeless situations. Not suicidal, but he definitely has a disregard for his own life. Finding no real reason to live, he hopes to go out in an impressive blaze of glory (one reason why he continues going on impossible missions with the Squad).

Deadshot has always been one of the Squad’s most reliable members and is immensely popular with comic readers. His only motivation for staying with the Squad, besides hoping for a spectacular death, is the possibility of seeing his daughter one last time, earning enough money to set her and his ex-wife up for life. The other members of the Squad look up to Deadshot and he has become the de facto leader of the group, leading to a natural rivalry between him and Rick Flagg.

Brad Pitt, Daniel Craig, Matthew McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Keanu Reeves, Oscar Isaac, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Matt Damon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Alexander Skarsgård, Robert Pattinson, Jon Hamm, Ewan McGregor, Joel Kinnaman, and Michael Fassbender were all considered for the role, before it ultimately went to Will Smith. To prepare for his role as Deadshot, Smith shaved his head and spent a considerable amount of time training with Army Rangers and Navy SEALs. Rumor has it he became quite proficient with his Glock 9mm and AR-15.

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  1. The Joker

This might a no-brainer. Most know who The Joker is. He could quite possibly be the most famous villain in superhero history. He’s been the Yang to Batman’s Ying for generations. But if you’ve been living under a rock, or just not one of the comic-initiated, have no fear, I’ll fill you in. The Joker is a nut job, simply put; criminally insane; a criminal mastermind with no redeemable qualities. He’ll use poison, weapons, your own desires, or even family and friends to get to you. Just to make a point, he shot and paralyzed Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) and even beat to death with a crowbar young Jason Todd (Robin #2). Jared Leto’s version looks to be a different take than all incarnations that came before, yet still demented and sadistic.

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  1. The Enchantress

As if Harley Quinn wasn’t crazy enough, Enchantress is straight out of left field. An ancient witch with darn-near unlimited magical abilities? A loose cannon, at that, with very little control. You got the makings of a pretty potent villain. Cara Delevingne is portraying the character in the film and you can expect her to be quite the handful. She’s with the Squad in order for her boyfriend, Col. Flagg, to keep her in check and not let her get out of control, because if she does, Heaven help her foes, and her friends.

Before Delevingne won the role, Blake Lively turned it down. Others considered initially included Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, Krysten Ritter, Emma Stone, Alicia Vikander, Shailene Woodley, and Emilia Clarke.

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  1. Killer Croc

A truly terrifying individual. Physically intimidating, with immense strength, Waylon Jones was born with traits and an appearance reminiscent of a reptile. His disfigurement drew taunts and drove him to violence and eventually fully embracing his reptilian features. He’s basically a crocodile that walks on two feet. So that means you need to stay away from his claws and his teeth (because he will eat you!). Portrayed in Suicide Squad by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, he has no real loyalty initially but he soon accepts this Squad as his team. He should be fun to watch for pure violence and action fun!

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  1. Katana

She’s not really a member of the Squad, not a criminal, more like Rick Flagg’s bodyguard; she’s got his back. She’s a mysterious samurai with a sword that has the ability to capture the soul of anyone killed with it. She knows how to use that sword and also to communicate with the souls trapped inside her sword. Portrayed by Karen Fukuhara, Katana’s job is to protect Flagg from any wayward Squad members, or other baddies.

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  1. Amanda Waller

Viola Davis brings it in this film, portraying the baddest, vilest, most ruthless government official that ever served, Amanda Waller. Driven to create a team of powerful individuals to fight the fights, mere humans are unable to; she organizes Task Force X for use as a covert operations team that is expendable should it be discovered. Intelligent and intimidating, she is accustomed to getting her way and getting results. When she threatens to kill a Squad member for insubordination, they better believe it. She’s proven a formidable adversary, even against the likes of Batman.

Kerry Washington, Octavia Spencer, and even Oprah Winfrey were reportedly considered for the role Amanda Waller.

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  1. Harley Quinn

Dr. Harleen F. Quinzel, Arkham Asylum psychiatrist, makes the mistake of taking on the case of the deranged maniac, The Joker. His mind games and twisted nature got the better of her and she fell madly in love with him. He warped her mind and even convinces her to willingly subject herself to an acid bath, permanently bleaching her skin (in the film, at least). She wants nothing more than to be with “Mr. J.” She’s beautiful, wild, completely insane, and unpredictable. Portrayed by Margot Robbie, expect her to be the wild card.

Reportedly, Emma Roberts was offered the role initially, but turned it down. Imogen Poots, Alison Brie, Rooney Mara, Emma Watson, Zooey Deschanel, Amanda Seyfried, and Evan Rachel Wood were all considered for the role, as well.

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  1. Remember, everyone is expendable

One thing to remember when watching Suicide Squad is that no one is safe. No character is off-limits when it comes to be killed, whether by an adversary or by Flagg or Waller, herself. A small explosive charge is placed inside each Squad member’s neck when they are recruited. Insubordination or an attempt to escape will result in their head being blown off. Over the years, dozens of members have attempted to break free of Waller’s control, making for some interesting deaths. Don’t expect this film’s incarnation to be any different; expect some cast members not to live through to the end of the film (I’m just sayin’). One more reason you just don’t mess with Amanda Waller.

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  1. They aren’t all supervillains

The Suicide Squad is known for being an exclusive all-villain team, but some of the most memorable members have actually been good guys. I’ve already mentioned Katana, and Rick Flagg is a professional soldier, not a criminal. Heroes have joined the team of the years to assist when missions involved them. Many times those heroes have outright ties to the government or their abilities are specifically needed for that particular mission. These have included heroes such as Power Girl, Sergeant Steel, and Unknown Soldier. The most notable hero to have joined the Squad would be the former Batgirl herself, Barbara Gordon. After being paralyzed by The Joker, Gordon becomes The Oracle, using her technical skills to benefit the team, including hacking servers or routing building blueprints.

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  1. Dead members don’t have to stay dead

Oh yes, that’s right. I’m not talking about the cinematic type where writers just bring you back using movie magic. In the comics, Amanda Waller develops the Samsara serum. You see, even Waller understood that losing Squad members all the time, either by her own hand or in the course of the mission, wasn’t good for business. This serum allowed her to resurrect fallen members so they could rejoin the team and fight another day (how utilitarian of her…). Of course this was also a great to keep some of our favorite members on the Squad. This is classic Waller! If anyone was deranged to kill you for insubordination and then bring you back to life to teach you a lesson, it would be her. Don’t look for the Samsara serum to be featured in the film (but don’t count it out for future installments, if there are any).

So there you have it, a basic overview of the Suicide Squad. I hope this gives you a little insight as you head to theaters to check out the DCEU’s (DC Extended Universe) third installment. Don’t forget to stay after the credits to catch a little extra scene further setting up the formation of the Justice League. Also, there might be a cameo or two within the film to watch out for. Have fun and see you at the movies!

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