Flashback Review: Suicide Squad: The Janus Directive TPB
Our foray into the currently published John Ostrander and Kim Yale’s Suicide Squad trade collections ends with Suicide Squad: The Janus Directive.
This is an awkward chapter of the Suicide Squad’s history to end. The Janus Directive ‘s less about the Squad but instead an inter-connected storyline going through the book along with Checkmate!, Manhunter, Firestorm, and Captain Atom. While Suicide Squad makes up a majority of the issues of this trade, The Janus Directive‘s story and themes are not congruent with the Squad’s.
The story, written dominantly by John Ostrander, Kim Yale, and Paul Kupperberg opens with Amanda Waller contacting the secret sister agency of the Suicide Squad, Checkmate, informing them of a plan called, well, the Janus Directive. One of the American government agencies utilizing superhumans has been a sleeper cell and is making it’s move against the others. Little does anyone know that Waller has been replaced by a doppelganger, and Checkmate and the Suicide Squad’s preemptive measures begin a secret war on American soil. Meanwhile, another secretive faction is picking off members of Checkmate, provoking more conflict.
As said before, The Janus Imperative is an odd entry in the history of Suicide Squad. As crossover events tend to do, the larger scale story tends to sideline what is going on in any individual book; because of this, the Squad tends to hang around on the sidelines save for the parts they become central to the story and the big final brawl. Honestly, this story reads more like something out of G.I. Joe which seems to be one of the major borrowing points of Checkmate! It’s a romp, a fun one no doubt that allows for a lot of fun and weird moments as seeing how the Squad interacts with the larger DC universe, The time the story ever really drags is during the Firestorm and Captain Atom tie-in issues. The former is mostly unrelated to The Janus Directive‘s story beyond a few supporting characters and reasoning for why Firestorm shows up to the final act. The latter is an epilogue issue which beyond two pages of Nightshade could have been dropped entirely.
The main art teams in the trade are penciller John K. Snyder III, inker Pablo Marcos, and colorist Carl Gafford on the Suicide Squad issues with pencillers Steve Erwin and Rick Hoberg, inker Al Vey, and colorist Julianna Gerriter for Checkmate! Snyder takes a far more exaggerated approach than previous penciller Luke McDonnell. There is greater grimace on character faces and looser use of proportions. (This is only one year before the 1990’s after all) He also makes fantastic use of shadowing, including a magnificent opening to an issue where two agents are being chased through the alleys of New York by an unseen menace. Erwin and Hoberg on the other hand are a shocking contrast to Suicide Squad with a much tamer style that doesn’t go for extreme angles or points of view. It’s a fascinating way to contrast the two teams. Despite giving the reader little to no knowledge of Checkmate! prior, the styles convey what type of relationship these two have. Checkmate! issues have a cleaner cut to them which mirrors the titular organization. They are much more organized and functional than the Suicide Squad with better resources. While the Squad’s headquarters is a grungy prison (which Gafford conveys expertly with colors that read with humidity and grime), Checkmate has a well maintained fashionable office headquarters that looks more like James Bond crossed with Men in Black.
Overall, Suicide Squad: The Janus Directive is an enjoyable big superhero crossover. I’ll give it credit for being subtly self-aware of such crossovers. Such stories are often derided as cheap excuses for hero vs. hero fights. In this case the conflict is actually a villain’s plot to distract the various teams while they fulfill their own agenda. It’s the concept that could have saved far grander versions like Civil War (the comic, not the movie) from being nearly as contrived and irritating. The Janus Directive might be a big explosive paramilitary story, but it’s a far more enjoyable version than many other attempts. Also, this might just be my take, but it’s fun to see various American government agencies get into a contrived battle due to paranoia and egotism. Though The Janus Directive notably derails Suicide Squad, it offers a less reflective though still fun blockbuster comic and well worth picking up.