Interview: Rob Williams and Philip Tan Rebirth SUICIDE SQUAD

You might have heard — if you’re living in the world — that there’s a little movie coming this week from DC Entertainment called Suicide Squad. Far be it from the comics to let movies take all the glory, as Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1 hits stores this Wednesday in anticipation of this rag tag criminal team taking over the world. Writer Rob Williams and artist Philip Tan joined Comicosity for a chat about the relaunch of everyone’s favorite bad guys, talking about the return of a hero, a change in master manipulator Amanda Waller, and what it’s like to relaunch a book in the shadow of the summer’s big movie.

Suicide-Squad-Rebirth-1Matt Santori: Your Rebirth issue is coming out two days before the world sees the Suicide Squad on the big screen for the first time. How has this impacted you or the book we’ll be reading?

Rob Williams: Well, neither of us have seen the movie, and we haven’t really been told too much. We’ve been told bits of what is in it, but really it was just more of the tone of the trailers that I felt were fantastic. They are brilliant, and really nailed down the concept. They make it clear that these are dark characters — “the worst of the worst” as Waller says — but they’re still a lot of fun. It’s just a visceral blast, and that’s exactly what the Suicide Squad should be.

So, in terms of tone, it’s influenced us. But in terms of plot, not at all, because we’ve been kept very in the dark about the majority of the movie’s plot. We’ll be telling a very different story. But our hope is that if people love the movie, they’ll go into a comic shop and pick up our comic. They’ll hopefully see we’re coming from the same place.

Philip Tan: Even in terms of the artwork, a lot of how the squad looks and how they’re portrayed is very different from the movie. As Rob says, if anything influenced us directly, it may be what we’ve seen of the trailers. I feel like they really allow casual fans, on top of existing fans of the book, to get interested — and hopefully really like it!


MSG: The big piece of this Rebirth issue is the reintroduction of Rick Flag. Tell me a little about your concept of this guy and what role he plays in the book moving forward.

RW: In a way, Rick is the perfect person to be in charge of the Suicide Squad, because he feels unimpeachable. He’s this clean-cut Navy SEAL — this perfect soldier. But as you find out in the Rebirth issues, things have turned cold for him. Some things have occurred in his life that left him in a position where he’s not where we expect to find him. So Waller offers him a deal.

It’s anathema for someone like him to be in charge of a group like the Suicide Squad. It’s nothing he believes in, but it’s his one shot at freedom and salvation. It’s also his one shot at putting right something that went wrong in the past. He lost people on a mission and that haunts him. As you’re going to see moving forward, the Suicide Squad may be the worst scum the DC Universe has to offer, his job is to make sure he brings them home. And he’s going to use everything in his power to make sure that’s what he does.

PT: He’s also the heart of the team. He is what humanity is, when faced with egregious loss or the worst of the worst. I was not familiar with Rick Flag in the past, but after reading up and doing my research, I found there’s a lot lot of fun in portraying that visually.

He’s going to pretty much differ his look in every mission. I think that’s exciting. There’s this sense that he’s really versatile and it’s a lot of fun to draw. I think people are going to like this idea that he adapts to what’s needed for every single mission.

RW: When we got the gig and went back to read all the original John Ostrander stories, they became the touchstone for us. It was John’s concept and Flag was a huge part of that and all of those missions. We did want to do something that felt a tiny bit new, and in the New 52, we haven’t seen Rick Flag before. It just brought an extra angle to the book. He fits really well and is just a great character.


MSG: One of the things we mention is Rick’s move for redemption. Looking back at Ostrander’s run, there were tons of different motivations for joining the Squad. How much do those back stories play into your motivations for the cast?

RW: You’re going to see with the Personnel Files that we’re doing, you’re going to see more of those back stories outside of the core mission. The real pivotal moments in their lives. If we’re lucky, hopefully they’ll make you laugh or make you feel sad for them. And then just when you think, “Hey, I kind of like these guys!” they’ll do something horrendous. Because they’re super-villains — the “worst of the worst.” You can never forget that.

But we need to humanize all of these characters. Everyone thinks they’re the hero in their own story. It’s a nice contrast when you see issue #1. Jim Lee has done the first 13 pages, which is all-action. And then we let it breathe a little more with the Deadshot back-up which Jason Fabok has drawn beautifully.

And that’s another thing: these Personnel Files allow us to bring in different artists, some superstar artists. Some really exciting names have been mentioned in the office. And if you have Jim Lee and Philip and Jason Fabok (and some other people), you’re guaranteed a fantastic looking comic as well.


MSG: How is the process of working with Jim Lee working for both of you?

PT: Yay! Jim is really hands on with art and is a really amazing creator with a distinct vision for what he wants the book to look like. Without heavy-handedly directing or changing how I draw, he’s really guiding us with how he wants the book to feel visually. He’s making sure that the story flows a little better from issue to issue.

As an artist and a fan, I know very few people who don’t look up to Jim Lee. Visually, he’s influencing me a lot on how I’m handling the book.

RW: Jim is enormously open in terms of the collaboration. He’s taken almost a Marvel-style approach to the scenes, coming in with some of his own ideas in the drawing process. So, it’s more than me just writing full script and Jim drawing it. A lot of it is collaborative. You’re going to see some of Jim’s ideas and my ideas mixed, and then I’ll come in and dialogue over the top of it. It’s been surprisingly open in terms of collaboration.


MSG: I want to shift gears a little and chat about Amanda Waller. Her first scene in Rebirth is really reminiscent of her first appearance, and in more ways than one. Waller is inching back toward her more robust body type after a distinct change in the New 52. Can you talk a bit about that progression back to her classic look?

RW: Philip, in terms of the physicality, were you given any guide on how to draw Amanda?

PT: No, actually. I don’t think there was any official decision to draw her a particular way, but Jim did provide a few character sketches.

I do feel like trying to mold her into a classic super-hero look in body type is really taking a lot away from her character. She’s a very strong woman and a powerful character. Delivering those things in the way she traditionally looked shouldn’t be an issue. I think that’s what Jim was trying to do in the April Fool’s special and his sketches.

RW: I can only speak for me, but I prefer this look for Waller. She was so striking in the John Ostrander/Luke McDonnell stories. She looked human. That’s the interesting thing about her: she has no powers. She’s a woman of color in this prominent position. She’s not the norm, and her body type is not that classic super-hero style. And yet she completely runs the show through strength of will and strength of mind. She manipulates these characters and she’s going to hold the line to protect as many innocent people as she can. And she’s going to use any means at her disposal to do it. She’s one of the more formidable and memorable characters of the entire DCU.

She’s called “The Wall,” and she always had that look about her in the old stories. For DC, Rebirth is this opportunity to go back to core concepts, and it’s nice to see Waller going back to looking like Waller.


MSG: Any teases you want to throw out there for fans to be watching out for — characters connected to the movie or not?

RW: It will be interesting to see what characters come to the fore. There’s been this feeling as we work on the book that Killer Croc might be a bit of a breakout character. I’m not sure that’s what I would have expected.

And the other surprise is with these Personnel Files. We’ve been asking some big name artists who they’d like to draw. Croc has won that popularity poll. Everyone wants to draw a Killer Croc story.

But yeah, without giving too much away, the Suicide Squad are going to be getting a new member pretty quickly — hopefully someone you never would have expected to join. They’re going to drive the story forward in a lot of interesting kind of way. It’ll be powering up the team in a sense, but also opening a Pandora’s box. That’s going to be our driving force going forward.


DC Comics’ latest relaunch, Suicide Squad: Rebirth, arrives in stores this Wednesday. Check back tomorrow for a check-in with the writers behind another big release this week — Harley Quinn #1!



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