Tuesday, April 22, 2008

William Hell 1987 - 2008

SUICIDE SQUAD #4, DC Comics, August 1987
William Hell was just killed as the new White Dragon in the pages of last week's issue of Suicide Squad. Didn't know him? He was in my very first issue of Suicide Squad (don't worry, I completed the set), so I can tell you.

Suicide Squad is one of my favorite comics, ever. The premise is a simple one: If you're a supervillain and you want a get-out-of-jail-free card, you can go on a mission for the government and if you survive, you can go. There are some obscure good guys to keep an eye on you, but even they're not guaranteed to make it back. And indeed, the death toll was high, even for cool characters.

#4 is a stand-alone issue that makes a great introduction to the Squad. And though many SS missions are full-on attacks on terrorist strong bases and such, this one feels a lot more like Mission Impossible (the tv show, not Tom Cruise's solo special effects orgasms). Cheers to John Ostrander, Luke McDonnell and Bob Lewis.

It's a tight thriller about a new "hero for the people" called William Hell, who's cleaning up the city streets. Except have you noticed he never beats on a white guy? That's right, the guy is really James Heller, Aryan race neo-nazi activist. In fact, William Hell always lets the whiteys go, sending them to join the Aryan Empire instead ("that or jail"). So the Squad is mobilized to discredit him and get him jailed before he starts a riot.

Now the Squad is half made up of criminals, so you always get these moments where, despite the mission objectives, they've got other ideas. Captain Boomerang is a right racist too, for example. "It's a well-known fact they do most of the crime, innit?" But Bronze Tiger (he's black in spite of the name) rightly tells him: "The only known criminals I see here, m'man, are white." Oh but supervillainy, you see, is a white man's game. As for the coolest criminal in the Squad, super-marksman Deadshot, his solution is to just shoot Heller. But the government is afraid of creating a martyr, so we have a much more convoluted operation, made all the more interesting because we're not clued into it.

It involves a lot of disguises, even bringing back the Black Orchid from the deepest obscurity (she's a mysterious disguise artist). During a James Heller hate-speech, Deadshot swings in dressed as William Hell with a pro-integration discourse. Heller goes behind the bushes, has a quick change of costume, and now it's the ol' "I'm William Hell," "No, I'm William Hell" comedy bit. Boomerang's infiltrated the Aryan Empire by being white (it's that easy, folks) and offers this solution:
"This ain't in the script!" I can believe it. Boomer's the guy you love to hate, and the only reason a character like this can work is if he always gets his comeuppance in the end. It's a sure bet Deadshot is having his fun with him. Deadshot could make this shot with his eyes closed... and hilariously DOES! Then William Hell misses thanks to a little super-powered interference. Deadshot unmasks him: He's that racist James Heller! And then...
That's Deadshot, the faux-Hell, getting it through the back. All it took was a well-placed squib and the "real" William Hell is dead forever. No one actually dies this issue, but I'm not sorry. It's a small-scale, relatively quiet story, but it has the same intensity you find in the issues where they take down the Jihad.


De said...

After years of just picking up the odd crossover issue here or there, I finally began reading Suicide Squad in earnest a couple of months ago when I managed to snag issues 1-36 at a local comic show.

The Jihad opener was pretty damn cool but I kind of liked this story a bit better.

SallyP said...

Suicide Squad is awfully good. I have to admit to being something of a Deadshot fan, and Capt. Boomerange Sr. was always so delightfully smarmy.

chris said...

So is Showcase Presents: Suicide Squad going to happen or what? Or will I have to hit up Ebay for a stack of cheap back issues?

My SS experience is sorely lacking.

De said...

I was looking through the current miniseries last night and was wondering if you were by chance planning a tribute to the dickotry of the late, great Captain Boomerang.

Siskoid said...

I could be convinced to do an entire Suicide Week!

(Ooh, that doesn't sound right at all.)

Doctor Mi said...


Make it "Kamikaze Week" and it sounds much better, (and opens up new possibilities to boot!)