Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Kobra Week! SUICIDE SQUAD #45, 46, 47 DC Comics, 1990



All right, this is one of my favorite Kobra stories ever in one of my favorite comic books ever, so if you expect The Mockery, look elsewhere. Let’s just get that out of the way now.

The “Serpent of Chaos” storyline ran through issues 45-47 of Suicide Squad, and let me tell you, writers John Ostrander and Kim Yale - They Know Kobra. They Do Kobra Right. The only things that would have made this comic better is a) breasts, and b) Alan Davis art. Don’t get me wrong, I like artist Geoff Isherwood just fine, but sometimes his characters look a little distorted to me, and I find it distracting.

I’m nitpicking though; let me show you how frickin’ cool these comics are. Let me share my love with you -- all night long.

This storyline takes place during the “plain clothes” incarnation of Suicide Squad, when Task Force X mastermind Amanda “The Wall” Waller and her group of super-misfits hit the road and sells their services, sans costume, to the highest bidder. This newer, leaner Squad consists of field leader Bronze Tiger, strangle-happy assassin Ravan, animal-powered heroine Vixen, ice cold gunman Deadshot, the shifty Captain Boomerang, and a man who may or may not be the original Atom.

We start off with Kobra, also in plain clothes, strolling the streets of shell-shocked Beirut with an undercover federal agent who is pretending to sell Kobra some weapons of mass destruction. Kobra breathes in the ambience of war-ravaged Lebanon and he likes what he smells – death and chaos. Take a look (click for a bigger picture):



The undercover agent in the Hawaiian shirt springs his trap, and government commandos pop out of the rubble to arrest Kobra. But the King of Evil is no dummy, and he springs a trap of his own on the unsuspecting agent.

Things don’t go well for the guy in the Hawaiian shirt, as we find out in this panel (below) where Amanda Waller chats with her new client, an Egyptian intelligence official:



Amputated the guy’s limbs and removed his eyes? That’s Kobra Kold!

Most of the Squad heads to Israel to track down Kobra. We learn that a team of Israeli super-agents are hunting him as well, and that Israel has developed a Jewish version of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL. This sentient computer program, named Dybbuk, factors heavily into the story.

Deadshot and Captain Boomerang are conspicuously absent from these issues because of a mix-up with their luggage. It seems that Boomerang decides to pound back a few drinks in an airport lounge and as a result, they miss their flight. Their luggage, however, goes to Israel without them – including all of Boomerang’s boomerangs and Deadshot’s signature wrist-magnums. Deadshot is pissed – if they lose their luggage, Boomerang loses his life. He’s serious, too.

Boomerang realizes this:



I think everybody can relate to that panel (above). Sometimes the crushing weight of mortality, the existential angst and futility of it all, is just too much to bear. Sometimes it’s just that Taco Bell you had late last night working its way through your system. Either way, we’ve all been there.

Moving on. Bronze Tiger and Ravan infiltrate Israel by boat as they are both not welcome in the country. BT worked for an African super-merc firm called The Janissaries and Ravan was a member of a little club called The Jihad, so they’re not getting Israeli visas anytime soon. The two men have a hate/hate relationship ever since Bronze Tiger broke Ravan’s back way back in the day. Ravan informs Bronze Tiger that his ultimate goal in life is killing Kobra. You see, Ravan is a Thugee (the guys Indiana Jones fought in Temple of Doom) and he dedicates each kill to the Indian goddess Kali in an effort to forestall the Kali-Yuga, which is sort of like the Hindu version of the End Times. Kobra, on the other hand, is very much interested in bringing about the The Age of Chaos, so Ravan and Kobra are pretty much on opposite sides of the whole Kali-Yuga issue.

Here’s Ravan telling Bronze Tiger, “You think you’re bad? You ain’t so bad.”



Ravan is so cool.

Anyway, Kobra ends up getting captured by the aforementioned Mossad super-agents, and thrown in a Jerusalem jail cell. The King of Evil goes down pretty easy, though – suspiciously easy. The Mossad chief gloats when he shows Amanda Waller their captive prize…



Waller has had some experience with Kobra before (in the “Janus Directive” storyline) and she knows something is wrong. Somehow, getting captured is precisely what Kobra had in mind – but WHY? Why damn it?

If there was any doubt in Waller’s mind that Kobra is up to No Damn Good, this panel should confirm her suspicions. Here’s Kobra doing his best Hannibal Lecter:



"I once ate a Checkmate agent's liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."

Remember I mentioned Dybbuk, the Israeli super-computer? Kobra is aware of Dybbuk and knows that it will be monitoring his cell. He uses the opportunity to engage in a philosophical dialogue with the powerful but naïve computer program in an attempt to sway Dybbuk over to his side. Talk about confidence. The guy’s so sure of himself that he gets captured, knowing that he’s smart enough and eloquent enough to sway Dybbuk into doing his bidding. Cheeky!

Here’s Kobra holding forth while Dybbuk listens and absorbs:



Waller doesn’t share her Israeli counterpart’s overconfidence and knows that Kobra is up to something. She sends The Atom to spy on Kobra’s cell in miniature form. Kobra somehow siccs some scorpions after The Atom, but he overcomes and figures out Kobra’s ultimate plan.

Here’s a panel where The Atom, up in a ventilation panel, figures everything out:



That’s right, Kobra has convinced Dybbuk that The Dome of the Rock must be destroyed! The computer has electronically taken over a flight of Israeli jets (I’m a little unclear as to how) and is going to use them to bomb the mosque so that the original Temple of Solomon can be rebuilt. This, of course, will start a huge war in the Middle East and “ignite the Kali-Yuga.”

Bastard!

I’d like to take a moment to say how much I love writer John Ostrander’s work. He always threw real-world politics and a cynical world-view into the mix on Suicide Squad and other titles like Hawkworld and Firestorm. His plotting is always dead-on and well-paced, and over time he developed memorable characters like Amanda Waller and Boomerang that really grew on you, even if they were total bastards. The great thing about Suicide Squad is that the possibility of a major character dying was always present – you just never knew who was going to bite it next. God, I loved that series.

Speaking of dying… As the plot heats up and the jets are on their way to bomb The Dome of the Rock, Kobra easily escapes his cell, only to be confronted by Ravan.

Finally, Ravan’s lifelong goal of slaying Kobra is within his reach:



Kobra is not to be fucked with lightly, as Ravan discovers. His staff carries enough poison to put down an adult rhino, and he’s not afraid to use it.



Kobra pretty much kicks the ever-lovin’ shit out of Ravan, and gives him a double-shot of lethal poison for good measure. The Atom arrives at the Israeli prison in time to stop Kobra before he escapes, but it’s too late for our man Ravan.

Dying, Ravan begs The Atom to kill the now unconscious Kobra, but The Atom refuses.

Ravan does not take this well:



You can keep your Supergirl/Anti-Monitor death, I vote Ravan’s demise as the Best Death Ever.

For the past year or so the readers had been getting slowly attached to Ravan, who despite being an unrepentant terrorist, was actually kind of a mellow guy. Just when you think Ravan has made it to the Inner Circle of the Suicide Squad, safe from death because he’s too popular… Ostrander yanks the Kashmir rug right out from under the reader and kills him BIG STYLE! Plus, the guy dies unfulfilled. His life’s dream is within his grasp, and just as he dies, he realizes that his quest will remain incomplete, all because of this frickin’ Atom guy.

D’oh!

If you can read these comics and walk away thinking Kobra is not cool… well, you suck.

“The Serpent of Chaos” storyline: Kobra and Ostrander at their finest.

35 comments:

DougBot said...

Aw, man. You make an excellent case for both Kobra AND Suicide Squad.

Remind me again why this title isn't in trade? Is it the New Cruelty?

Anonymous said...

Hey right, on the JLU show they have Admanda Waller and they even have a version of Task Force X, who managed to sneak into the Watchtower and out smart pretty much everyone. A very awesome episode.

Anonymous said...

That looks awesome, I had no idea.

kelvingreen said...

Yeah, I see what you mean about the distortion in the art. Kobra's face looks like it's melting in that close-up.

But wow, this storyline single-handedly lifts Kobra out of goofy villaindom doesn't it? And there's me thinking that DC's books have always been cheerful silliness where heroes call each other "chum", but this is dark.

It is quite funny though that Kobra still wears green, even in his civvies. And where was Jason Burr during all this?

SW said...

I was turned on to SS years a few years after its cancellation.

I found most of the series in a quarter box, grabbed some of them, and have been kicking myself for not having grabbed all of them ever since.

I never realized how cool this series was, and for the life of me I can't think of what was in the shops at the time that I thought was a superior buy. I know I wasted a lot of dough on Web of Spider-Man....

Winterteeth said...

Let me sing the praises of Suicide Squad for a mo. I started reading it around issue 50 and backtracked, eventually getting the complete run and all the crossovers. Hot heavenly damn, was this book great! Oddly, the new Manhunter series really reminds me of it with all the deaths and twists.

Ostrander/Yale were a great husband/wife team. I was very sad when Yale died of cancer back in the early nineties. I feel like that was probably when Ostrander lost some of his edge (it seemed like he was always trying to impress her or one up her with his work, in a fun kind of way).

At any rate, any series that starts off its first issue with an airport full of people being slaughtered by Middle Eastern terrorists, you know you are in for something more complex than Superman. If you want more Squad goodness, read the Russian mission (with the Penguin!), anything with the Jihad, and (my favorite) their mission to Apokolips where a whole buncha members get killed (and the Kanto vs. Count Vertigo scene rules!). This series should definitely be collected, ASAP.

Greg said...

Sigh. My Suicide Squad comics are sitting in Pennsylvania, 2000 miles away, until Christmas, when my parents will bring them to me. I'm looking forward to reading them after a break of about 12 years.

Ostrander lost his edge? I'm sorry, but The Spectre was outstanding - and completely different from SS. And he just wrote the best mini-series of the year - GrimJack.

Oh, this is a Kobra post? Kobra is cool. How's that?

hito said...

The suicide squad and kobra post was your best one until now! (the second would be daredevil #172)
Man, I love when you love the comic you're reviewing.

Anonymous said...

I always thought the Janus Directive (the one where Checkmate and the Squad and Captain Atom are being played by Kobra) was one of the better crossovers DC has done. Partly because as a crossover, it didn't feel like a crossover if you get my drift.

Bart Jarmusch said...

The entire run of Suicide Squad (plus related minis and specials) was one the highlights of the late 1908s. A few months ago I reread the first few issues, and within three days I had flown through the entire run! The stories and writing still hold up. Ostrander nailed this series, and his reboot within the series by having Waller privatize the squad was brilliant. It amazes me that DC has yet to ask Ostrander to relaunch the series. The series was about more than villains getting killed off, which was a big part, but nearly every character that survived more than three issues had some kind of story arc. Rick Flagg, Bronze Tiger, Deadshot and the Wall all experienced major transformations during this series. While I thought the artists all helped establish a certain atmosphere, it's the writing that carried this series, and it's one of the best DC put out. It's a shame Ostrander isn't writing more comics. His Grimjack, Spectre and Martian Manhunter were all great runs and his sensibilities would fit in well with the current mature themes in the DCU.

David Campbell said...

You said it, Bart.

Shane Bailey said...

Maybe Ravan's curse was the reason Jean Loring went nuts.

Kitty said...

Holy freaking crap. I have to read these stories now. They sound AWESOME!

Edward Liu said...

DC!!!! GIVE US OSTRANDER/YALE SUICIDE SQUAD ARCHIVE EDITIONS RIGHT NOW, DAMMIT!!!!!

If you fail us in this, may the CURSE of KOBRA be upon you! FOREVER!!!!!

While we're on the subject, I always loved the Hayoth, the Israeli Justice League who worked for the Mossad. If I remember the lineup right, it was Ramban, a Kabbalistic mystic/magician, Golem (who was exactly what he sounded like), and Judith, the Israeli ninja chick with the rotten code name unless there's a reference there I'm not getting. Ramban, especially, gets super mad props for being the anti-Kobra, saving the day by talking his way out of a bad situation while sounding like your Uncle Morty from Bensonhurst.

It is probably a mercy that the Hayoth were never used by anybody other than Ostrander (or, if they were, that I don't know about it).

Edward Liu said...

Great post, BTW.

tigran andrew said...

Ahhh, the Suicide Squad. Just plain great reading. To think the this fine series was spawned in one of those "gotta get em all issues" crossover LEGENDS. Ostrander wrote LEGENDS. This fine crossover spawned the Justice League, Flash and of course Suicide Squad. Probaly the best spin offs ever in Comic History.

The only other comes the God-Awful; please burn-my-comics crossover ZERO HOUR. The only bright spot from than Jurgens Lotion mess was of STARMAN.

Soon, Kali-va will rule the world...

Chris said...

If DC thinks Archive editions would be too much for the market to bear, the entire series and its spinoffs and crossovers would all probably fit in maybe three volumes of the new Showcase B&B reprints.

Anonymous said...

"Judith" is from the Book of Judith found in the Apocrypha section of the Old Testament in Catholic Bibles. She was a widow who went calling on an enemy general; she used her feminine wiles to relax him and then cut off his head.

Sounds like a ninja to me...

Chris said...

And by "B&B" I mean "B&W," of course...

Dan Coyle said...

Wait, no breasts? Whaddabout that hot shot of Poison Ivy in a bikini? ;-)

Anyway, yeah, I got on the Ostrander DC train last year with Hawkworld and Suicide Squad. The Kobra storyline wasn't my favorite, but it was pretty damn good. Isherwood really gave the series a shot in the arm when he took over on art.

kelvingreen said...

It amazes me that DC has yet to ask Ostrander to relaunch the series.
They tried in 2001 with Giffen writing, but as I recall, it didn't go down too well.

Jeff R. said...

The guy what wrote the recent Deadshot miniseries is interested in having a go at another Squad revival attempt.

(If Deadshot is really a hot character right now, would it kill DC to do a trade of Ostrander's Deadshot mini? Ideally a bigger trade also containing the Suicide Squad 'Senator Cray' plotline into which it nested...)

Chris Arndt said...

Okay, one thing you said was just so goshdamn ridiculous I have to take you to task for it.

OF COURSE WE KNEW THAT RAVAN was going to die!

Let's see....there's Kobra, a DC standard.... and Ravan, a dude who has only ever appeared in Suicide Squad.

Who will die? Ostrander's pet or the King of Evil who would and could actually appear in other titles.

Ravan was going to die and everyone who knew about all of this saw what was coming.

Only you.... thought that Ravan might survive such an encounter.

Beyond that, even.... there's this thing. Ostrander never had an anything goes policy with killing characters. He was polite enough to ask or inform Bat-editors when he would do something odd like kill Deadshot. He never killed Deadshot. He killed Dr Light; no one was using him. No one was disposed of lightly.

Anyway, Ravan was going to die and it was obvious.

zack soto said...

heh, he also brought Dr. Light back from the dead.

chris-
I was thinking SS would probably be best served by some Showcase volumes anyhow.. The coloring was awful then, and would probably be badly recreated now (considering the way reprints look these days), but all the artists involved were really strong B&W stylists in their own ways.. JW3's run in particular would probably look RADICAL in B&W.

Oldsmoblogger said...

You make out a good case. I read only an issue or two back in the day, and never got caught up in it. Same thing with Marvel's Strikeforce: Morituri, which I thought had potential but never seemed to quite get over.

Chris Arndt said...

Two:

1) Kobra beat up Batman

2) Batman stalemated Bronze Tiger

3) Bronze Tiger beat up Ravan

4) Ravan is not going to kill Kobra

suedenim said...

The more I think about it, Suicide Squad and some concurrent "Badass Federal Government Guys" books like Checkmate, Captain Atom, and... another one or two I'm not remembering (basically, they all were in that "Janus Directive" crossover) are the real lineal ancestors to the current Identity Crisis and related series.

Basically the same general approach, looking at the seamier underside of the super-hero universe, though not diving all the way into "grim-n-gritty" muck....

Quilty said...

Ravan was a kick-ass character. I was disappointed that he was killed off, and I have always held out hope that DC would introduce a new version of the character (maybe his son; the first SS story hinted that Ravan was a playa).

Ivan Linares, from Recife (Brazil) said...

(First and foremost, I would like to apologize for any ortography mistake or sentence construction problem, since English is not my native language.)

Some paragraphs above, the user Shane Bailey said: "Maybe Ravan's curse was the reason Jean Loring went nuts."

I would like, with your permossion, to correct that. Actually, the Atom featured in these issues isn't the well-known Ray Palmer: this one is Adam Cray, a government agent (at least I believe he was; not all the "Suicide Squad" stories were published in my country, Brazil) who took the hero's mantle while Palmer was hiding after faking his own death.

It seems Cray's agency borrowed the equipment from Atom/Ray Palmer in exchange of helping him to solve a murdering scheme which had Palmer as target. This mistery's solving was shown in later issues of "Suicide Squad".

However, if there was really a "Ravan's Curse" directed to Adam Cray, he indeed could have been a victim of it: Cray was killed in the aforementioned issues, while facing the people who wanted to see Palmer dead.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that the "israeli HAL" is named Dibbyk.
If I recall correctly, a Dibbyk is a kind of demon in middle eastern culture that possesses inert objects, like boxes and such. Ghost in the machine, indeed.

/Johan Åberg

Sven said...

Good Job! :)

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