You probably know Simon Spurrier and Aaron Campbell from their time together on DC’s John Constantine: Hellblazer series. The pair teamed up to create the best John Constantine stories in years, putting out 12 issues that gave the character back his edge and landed on countless best of the year lists by some of the finest tastemakers in comics journalism. Their working relationship on the book was fantastic, wedding the realistic and the magical beautifully.
“We learned that the two of us can get real weird if we want,” Campbell tells us. So of course they’d keep the band together for some more weirdness: this time with the Suicide Squad.
Suicide Squad: Blaze is a new comic from DC’s mature audiences, prestige format Black Label line coming in February from Campbell and Spurrier, and it promises to be every bit as weird as Hellblazer was. But instead of dancing around the occult side of Constantine’s world, this book gives them a chance to look at the horror inherent in the superhero universe.
“If you had a superpowered individual who just wanted to kill people all over the world, what would you do?” Spurrier says of the book’s hook. “The answer I think is that you would find people who are prepared to die to stop them.”
Those people aren’t the Suicide Squad, though. The book has your standard members of the current Suicide Squad – Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, King Shark, and Peacemaker – but they’re not necessarily the ones putting their lives at risk.
“Rather than being the ones who are putting their necks on the line,” Spurrier tells us, “[the Squad are] playing a role of mentoring a group of new characters who really are utterly expendable.”
The government has put together a new team of five super-powered individuals, each given abilities through a secret procedure called BLAZE. Their powers will burn out inside of six months, and the participants in the procedure know this going in. This Goldman’s Dilemma draws…a certain type of person, as Spurrier demonstrates.
“If you could give somebody superpowers in the knowledge that it would kill them, what sort of people would volunteer for that?” Spurrier asks as the fundamental premise of the story.
“There are obviously going to be the people who do it because they’ve got nothing to live for, the people who do it because they want to go out in a blaze of glory. There’s no great mystery to the fact that this is called Suicide Squad: Blaze for that reason.”
Despite the new faces, the established team is a blast for Spurrier and Campbell to play with. Campbell adores drawing King Shark in particular.
“There’s something about drawing a big hulk of a man, and then putting a little shark head on him and you can still get so much with those dead eyes,” Campbell says.
Harley Quinn is intense and volatile, moving from giggling psychopath to brilliant psychiatrist and back again in the course of a conversation. But it’s a different character who the creative team are particularly drawn to.
“Boomerang is my end of the day guy,” Campbell says, “my let’s go get a whiskey guy.”
Spurrier adds “He’s a perpetually drunk Australian man…Boomerang I can write until the cows come home.”
The toughest nut from the preexisting cast might have been Peacemaker. He’s…intense. “The way that I imagine him is if you’ve ever struck up a conversation with a complete random in a bar, and you think you are having a joke conversation, you think that you are just both being sarcastic about dumb stuff,” Spurrier says. “You think that you’re being silly and then suddenly it occurs to you that this person means everything they say, and the smile falls, and they’re looking at you straight in the eye and they really believe this saying stuff they’re saying to you. That’s Peacemaker.”
“I had that experience many, many years ago in Spain at an Irish pub,” Campbell adds. “I’m pretty sure that guy was in the IRA.”
Suicide Squad: Blaze brings horror into the story through its villain. Most villains have a purpose, a method, some kind of twisted logic to their actions or a measurable, accomplishable goal. Not here.
“Even the craziest of super villains in these fictions, they want to take over the world, they want to rob a bank, they want to do things which are explicable,” Spurrier says. “The antagonist in this story is so beyond anything you’ve seen before and yet at the same time, so horrifyingly ordinary. I couldn’t picture that when I wrote that I wrote it and was like, ‘Ah, that’s not my problem. I don’t have to draw that.’ [Aaron’s] found a way to do it and be genuinely unnerving.”
Horror comics can’t rely on jump scares the way audio or video can: creators have to rely on atmosphere to disturb readers. Campbell says he keeps a copy of Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth in reach when he works on stories like this, citing McKean as a huge influence on how he approaches horror in comics. But he also uses artists from other mediums: Joel Peter Witkin, a photographer who specializes in marrying the mundane and the grotesque and was a huge influence on cult classic Jacob’s Ladder. And Campbell’s general theory for horror is less is more.
“When you really want to do like truly effective horror, you have to hold back,” he tells us. “The second you show everything, then you can start to define it. Once you define it, you take the edge off. It becomes quantifiable. It becomes no longer terrifying, because you have tools now to combat it.”
Here’s the official word on Suicide Squad: Blaze courtesy of DC Comics
SUICIDE SQUAD: BLAZE #1
- Written by SIMON SPURRIER
- Art and cover by AARON CAMPBELL
- Ages 17+
- $6.99 US | 48 pages | 1 of 3 | Prestige Plus | 8 ½” x 10 7/8″
- On sale 2/8/22
The attacks begin without warning. Brutal, sudden…cannibalistic. A metahuman with all the power of Superman but none of his humanity. An unstoppable being ruled only by hunger and instinct, striking at random across the world. To stop this threat, Harley Quinn, Peacemaker, Captain Boomerang, and King Shark have been assigned to corral, nursemaid, and if necessary execute five deadly new recruits: the expendable products of a secret government procedure called BLAZE. They’re ordinary prisoners, endowed with incredible power…in the certain knowledge that it’ll burn through them like wildfire. They have six months to live, maximum. If you’re staring down life in prison, maybe that’s a good deal—especially if you’re Michael Van Zandt, desperate to reunite with the mad lover who forsook you after your Bonnie-and-Clyde crime spree.
But that power? It’s surprisingly transferrable. As each member of the Squad dies…the others get stronger. What would a hardened criminal do with that knowledge? Worse yet: What would a desperate, lovesick idiot do with it? One thing’s certain: this time the Suicide Squad’s bitten off more than it can chew. Win or lose—they all burn.
Simon Spurrier and Aaron Campbell, the creative team behind the critically acclaimed John Constantine: Hellblazer, have been turned loose on the one DC title even more horrific and blackhearted than that one! We suggest you brace yourselves…