So much is made in mainstream superhero comics of the difference between characters who kill and the ones who don’t but more interesting is often the way creators define, justify or characterize the the heroes and villains who take lives. Three new comics take on homicide in very different ways and end up speaking to a variety of ways in which the medium treats murder and the characters who commit it.
There’s always the real villainous embrace of the act of killing. This generally works best with amoral or villainous characters and is a natural fit for the Suicide Squad. Released to build hype for the upcoming Suicide Squad film, Suicide Squad Most Wanted: Deadshot and Katana #1 focus on two of the movie’s characters, despite one of them never having appeared in the franchise.
The first issue of the miniseries is divided between two stories and two creative teams. In the first, Brian Buccellato and Viktor Bogdanovich focus on Floyd Lawton, who is dispatched to kill a narco kingpin before being teamed up with another sharpshooter. In the second, Mike Barr, who created Katana back in the ‘90s with the late, great Jim Aparo, returns to the character and teamed up with Diogenes Neves, send her into a third-world nation to deal with the threat of Kobra.
While the Katana story is strong, featuring dynamic art and a compelling story tying into the origins of Katana’s mystical blade, the Deadshot story is the real star. Bogdanovich gives the issue a bright, stylish, extremely violent aesthetic, fitting a sociopath like Lawton and the issue frequently references the 1984 Deadshot miniseries. What’s most startling about it, however, is the violence. Bogdanovich’s scratchy pencils recall Greg Capullo’s early work in the best way and give the issue a bracing, ‘90s feel that at least gives a cartoonish sense of disconnection from the many headshots, and blood spurting wounds that punctuate every bullet.
Floyd and new character Will Evans, obviously based off of Will Smith’s appearance in the upcoming film, deal death constantly throughout the issue and despite the cartoonish style, there’s a sense that no one is justifying or excusing what they do here. They kill and they do so brutally, creating an almost numbing feeling. Their actions aren’t necessary, aren’t even justified but they kill, have killed, and will kill again. It’s brash and unapologetic, suiting characters unwilling or unable to make excuses for themselves or their actions.
Marvel tries to do something different with Old Man Logan #1 to mixed results. The book sees the team of writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino reunited for the first time in two years, but the results are considerably less inspired than their landmark run on Green Arrow. Here, after coming to in Manhattan in the wake of Secret Wars, Wolverine from Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s eponymous alt-universe story decides to prevent his future from ever happening again by killing everyone who had a hand in creating it.
It’s not a particularly inspired premise, partially because he’s blaming the wrong people. A last page reveal shows who Logan puts on his hit list but he’s missing a majority of the characters who play a pivotal role in creating the apocalyptic hellscape of the original story and the ones he has chosen obviously aren’t going to be dead come the series’ end. It all just feels a little toothless and uninspired, particularly for a creative team that created something truly original and exciting only a few years ago at DC.
Instead, they couch their premise in borrowed style and homage. Sorrentino’s pencils and design work are as impressive as ever here but it’s all in service to references to everything from The Dark Knight Returns, to Mad Max: Fury Road to the original Old Man Logan storyline and there’s barely enough room to create anything new or memorable here. The violence is certainly brutal and striking but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before out of a violent Wolverine story.
I can’t help but think that so much of this is because it’s trying to justify what Logan does. When he breaks into Black Butcher’s house to murder him in cold blood, the script practically seems to bend over backwards to pretend that this brutal action can be explained away by any reasoning and it just can’t. Like many Wolverine stories, Old Man Logan #1 is desperately crying out for another character to question Logan’s actions, to force him to acknowledge the violence he commits and the damage it’s doing not just to others but to himself as well.
The most outré book on offer also addresses the subject in the most intriguing way. Image Comics’ Cry Havoc #1 is spearheaded by rising comics superstar Si Spurrier and drawn by Ryan Kelly. Before even opening the book, it’s an inspired team for this sort of story, Spurrier has a sterling track record of making bizarre, seemingly unthinkable stories just work with a combination of high concept and genuine heart and Kelly has an artistic style that blends grounded postures, bodies and faces with dreamlike horrors and instantly iconic, yet wholly original monster designs and that’s exactly what he does here. Cry Havoc has been at least somewhat jokingly referred to in previews as being about lesbian werewolves going to war and in broad strokes, that’s what’s here on the page but the nitty-gritty is much more nuanced.
Cry Havoc #1 is almost entirely about the idea of performance. Our protagonist Lou is a busker and occasional violinist in the London music scene, and Spurrier’s script takes every opportunity to compare her sexuality and actions with others whose perceptions mask their true intentions, whether its a hyena at the zoo or a black-ops group of other supernatural killers at an unidentified point in the future.
It’s an issue that suggests, to some degree, that monsters exist to kill and Lou has no choice in the matter once a werewolf bears down on her in a dark alley, but a last page reveal suggests that there may be a different path. Everyone wants her to kill, to be the monster that so many others seem to believe she has to become but the characterization seemingly purposefully isn’t there.
See, a big part of Spurrier’s genius is how his scripts often hide seemingly necessary information from readers and the structure of this issue, dividing it between three loosely defined time periods in Lou’s life, starting with immediately before she’s turned. It’s a solid way to build tension, both in showing where Lou is going as well as showcasing her origin but more importantly, it obscures exactly what kind of monster she is or could be.
The scenes of her in Afghanistan on the trail of a monster only partially resemble the character she is in the first parts of the arc and it’s a fascinating mystery just waiting to be decoded. It’s all in service to that idea of performance. You as the reader are forced to fill in the blanks as to who you think Lou is, what you think she’s capable of, and how she gets into the position she’s in by issue’s end with only her performance to guide you. Is she the mousy, lesbian who ruins another shot at stardom or is she something more?
What works so well in Cry Havoc #1 that is missing in Old Man Logan #1 is a decision to ground who the character is or potentially who she isn’t. It allows Lou to keep her humanity without discounting who she is. In so many ways, both Old Man Logan and Suicide Squad Most Wanted attempt to define their characters in the violence they commit, removing their humanity in favor of something much less compelling and considerably more one-note. It all brings attention to how important humanity is in a book that defines itself with death.