Comic creators giveth life, and they taketh life away. And, in the case of John Ostrander, those actions happen to be of particular note within the canon of DC Comics.
Although Ostrander has an extensive oeuvre that includes an impressive collection of Star Wars comics, X-Men and Batman titles, Ostrander is best known for creating the modern incarnation of the Suicide Squad (with Len Wein and John Byrne) and for creating the Barbara Gordon alias of Oracle with his late wife Kim Yale.
Now, in the midst of the Suicide Squad movie – which has topped the box office for three weeks in a row despite negative critical reaction – and a renewed conversation surrounding Babs, and the character’s treatment in The Killing Joke animated movie (where, like the graphic novel, she is left paralyzed), Ostrander’s contributions to comics could not be more relevant.
Additionally, Ostrander returns to the title he made famous with Suicide Squad: War Crimes Special #1, available Aug. 31. In the new upcoming comic, the squad are charged by their boss Amanda Waller – Ostrander’s most popular creation – to retrieve a former U.S. Secretary of Defense who is seized by another super team, Strikeforce Europa, and about to be put on trial for war crimes. Per usual with a Waller mission, all is not as it seems with Task Force X’s mission, and things go sideways for the team.
With War Crimes, not only does Ostrander return to his beloved character Amanda Waller, he also gets to script Harely Quinn for the first time. I discuss this with him – and whether Waller is a villain -- as well as how the premise of Suicide Squad remains fresh. Ostrander also details more of his thoughts about the David Ayer-directed Squad movie (with story and character suggestions for the sequel). He likewise shares thoughts on the current state of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl/Oracle -- and which version he wants to see on the big screen.
Amanda Waller seems just as "bad" as the bad guys, except in some ways worse because she's supposed to be on our side. So did you create Waller to be a kind of villain? And if she isn't a villain, what separates her from villainy?
I’ve always seen her as an anti-hero rather than an out-and-out villain. She’s ruthless, to be sure. She herself has suffered at the hands of villains, bad guys, so she doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for them.
I think her motivations are different from the villains. She’s not looking to make money. She does want to control things and that could lead her down a very dark path. I think she walks the line between villain and anti-hero. However, she believes she’s doing this in the country’s interests --- although some (many?) would question if they are this country’s best interests.
How important is it for members of the Suicide Squad to remain villainous instead of "bad-ish" guys who do good?
For me, it’s real important that they remain villains. There are reasons why people want to read them, and it’s not because they’re reforming. They are bad people who do bad things in a (supposedly) good cause.
Will you share thoughts about your first experience of writing Harley?
Yeah, first time writing Harley and I loved it. She’s a great blend of sexy, crazy and lethal. She’s reckless, which suits the Squad to a T. Great addition.
You have a federal building named after you in the Suicide Squad movie. Do you think comic creators are finally getting the due they deserve, or is there more road to hoe?
I think it’s getting better. It could get better still. Recognition is good; recognition with money is better.
Speaking of the movie, I know you enjoyed it. Why did it work for you, what could have been better, and what do you say to the fans or critics who didn't respond? And is it a problem when these movies have big openings but don't stay strong on subsequent weekends?
Well, there’s almost always a drop-off these days, in my opinion. How big is the potential audience and did most of them see it the first weekend? That said, the movie has been No. 1 at the box office for three weeks.
If someone, a fan or a critic, didn’t like it, then that’s their opinion and I have no problem with that so long as they went into the movie theater with an open mind. As I’ve said elsewhere, some critics had an agenda: “I’m sick of these superhero movies!”
In some cases, I wonder if they saw the same movie that I did.
I give the movie a good solid three stars. Not perfect by a long shot but fun, interesting, and it keeps your attention. It worked for me because it had the essential Squad DNA – bad guys forced to do covert ops for the government.
I liked the characterization in the films and some – such as Will Smith, Margot Robbie, and Viola Davis – stood out, although I will say there was no one that I didn’t like. There were some plotholes here and there, and the main plot was a “we have to save the world” story that felt generic to me. We didn’t do that in the comic much; War Crimes doesn’t have that kind of plot. But overall I really enjoyed the film; I’ve seen it three times so far.
If you were to pitch a movie sequel, what squad members would be in it, and which of your plotlines from the original run would you love to see adapted (or borrowed from)?
Of course, I’d have the Unholy Trinity -- Waller, Deadshot, Boomerang. Flag. Harley – absolutely. I liked Killer Croc. I’d add Bronze Tiger and Nightshade – real useful characters. As for which of my plotlines – honestly, I don’t know. An adaptation of the Jihad [the super villain team of terrorists, renamed The Onslaught] could be interesting, although I’m not sure you could do it these days. Having the Squad go up against the Justice League would be interesting, although that’s a lot of characters. Actually, the plot of War Crimes would work pretty well, I think. I don’t know; I’d like to see what they came up with and maybe use some of these stories as reference rather than a direct adaptation.
Obviously you and Kim Yale had an enormous impact on bringing back Barbara Gordon, and turning her into Oracle. Are you happy to see her back as Batgirl, and do you have thoughts on the Batgirl of Burnside?
Barbara is DC’s character and property and they have a right to do as they see fit. I think Babs had certain unique aspects as Oracle and would have worked better had she stayed Oracle but, that said, Gail Simone did a great job of bringing her back as Batgirl.
Did the animated The Killing Joke clear up the problems of Barbara from the original source material?
Haven’t seen it so I can’t comment.
Moreover, in the live-action movie world, which version of Babs would you like to see: Batgirl or Oracle? Would you have an interest in being involved in that live-action story?
Well, I’m prejudiced towards Oracle. If DC/Warner Bros were interested in my being involved, I’m sure we could work something out.
How is this iteration of the squad in War Crimes different than your original run, and what is the overall theme or story you want to set up in this issue?
There’s a lot of the same members with the addition of Mad Dog, Harley, and El Diablo. The Squad is tasked with rescuing a former U.S., Secretary of State who has been nabbed and is going to be put on trial for alleged war crimes. Big problem – he’s guilty as sin. The closest things to heroes in this story is the Strikeforce Europa who put the grab on this guy. So the story is ethically a bit murky – which is about right for a Squad story, I think.
Talk about the use of Strikeforce Europa, and if you wanted to paint them as the good guys.
They are a law-enforcement division and appear to be attached to the World Court and the International Criminal Court. They are the good guys but they ain’t that good. They do whatever they feel is necessary to do the job.
The threat of the squad is constant death by Waller, but how do you use that device effectively after all these years without it becoming a stunt, and while preserving the impact?
That’s the trick, isn’t it? It has to be there, it’s part of Squad lore and the reader is sort of waiting for it. The key is how it is used and when and not more than once a story.
Who are the unkillable members, and was it easier to get approval to kill off squad members more when you began compared to now? For instance, Deadshot is arguably going to be more popular now than ever before.
Let’s say there are members who have a low probability of being offed but let’s not say anyone is unkillable. Besides, if DC can kill off Superman, who can’t they kill off? There’s a tradition of killing a character and then bringing them back although I prefer not to do it. There are exceptions. In the early days, it was easier but that was because I usually went after the B, C, and D list characters. We chopped away at the deadwood although we tended to do something with them first.
Which classic squad member's voice do you slip into the easiest?
Amanda Waller. Without question. I go to write her and I don’t even have to look. It’s like she’s telling me, “I been right here. Where you been?”
Finally, what is the origin of the Boomerang’s nickname Boomerbutt from your original run, and how great was it to use it again?
As I recall, Waller was the first one to use it. It gets under his skin real fast. Always fun to use it; Harley does a variation when she calls him, “Boomiebutt”. You don’t want to overdo it but, for me, it’s a joke that never gets old.