Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is almost a prototypical modern comic book event. For better or worse.
Mash-up limited series that pit two key franchises against one another are par for the course for comic book publishers these days. As such, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad was a good choice for the first “event” of the Rebirth era. At its best, it delivers the kind of “what would happen if this character fought that character” fun that speaks to the inner kid of even the most jaded genre fan. You mix in a small army of high profile artists so that the company can release it in expedited fashion, cross over into the two teams’ ongoing books, and there you have it. The production works hard to “matter.” And the story can be quite enjoyable spectacle.
On the other hand, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is shockingly transparent that it has a lot of business to conduct. Some of it is about branding and positioning two franchises that are valuable multimedia properties. Others are actually about moving pieces around the board of the comic book world as part of the larger Rebirth initiative. Being so upfront about the story’s practical function makes it oddly easy to take.
Because this is an exercise in franchise promotion. Both the blue chip Justice League and upstart Suicide Squad are crucial to DC’s multimedia ambitions, including movies, video games, television and merchandising. Last summer’s Suicide Squad movie was a hit, in spite of lethal reviews. The upcoming Justice League movie is the crux of DC’s cinematic game plan. Mixing the two in a highly promoted comic book vehicle was nothing more than a smart move, producing a piece of product that can appeal to fans from outside the comic world while playing to the home base.
Justice League vs. Suicide Squad serves to reposition several key players. Harley Quinn is one of DC’s hottest characters in recent years. Suicide Squad has basically been refocused as a vehicle for the anti-heroine, albeit one whose status quo is shockingly out of step with the character’s popular solo series. As the breakout star of the Suicide Squad movie and the focal point of the planned Gotham Sirens spin-off, DC needs to keep Harley’s profile as high as possible. So a cross-over event that mixes her with icons like Superman and Wonder Woman, in addition to her traditional foil Batman, makes sense.
At the time the book was released in single issue form, DC was setting up the solo Wonder Woman movie. Last winter, that was seen by many as both a risky proposition and a do-or-die moment for DC’s film universe. Putting the Amazon warrior front and center in a high profile event helped bolster her image. Justice League vs. Suicide Squad likely had minimal impact on the success of the Wonder Woman movie. But keeping the heroine as prominent as possible is a must for DC, especially now that her corner of the DC film world is deemed its most valuable real estate.
The cross-over was also crucial to repositioning Killer Frost. A long-time villain, her alter ego, Caitlin Snow, has been a beloved supporting character on the CW’s hit Flash series for three seasons now. That television profile all but cried out for some alignment of her comic book counterpart. Hence, Killer Frost was given a more complicated back story and presented as a damaged anti-heroine seeking redemption for her past crimes. It’s a viable narrative direction for the character, but one clearly influenced by the success of her TV iteration.
Not all of the moves of Justice League vs. Suicide Squad were in service to other media (at least, not as obviously). The event redefined key villains Maxwell Lord and Eclipso for the Rebirth era. It jettisoned the wildly unpopular Lobo redesign from the New 52 years and brought back the classic “Main Man.” The climax set up the new Justice League of America ongoing and pushed forward some plot points for the Suicide Squad book.
Moreover, the event nudged forward, at least in the most incremental sense, some Rebirth plot points that fans are eager to see develop. The inclusion of Legion of Super-Heroes villainess Emerald Empress, and allusions to her being on the hunt for the time-displaced Saturn Girl (who’s turned up in the background of some Batman issues), gives LSH fans hope that the promised revival is on the horizon. Ditto for the placement of Justice Society villain Johnny Sorrow, whose oblique references to altered universes and his old foes give that franchise’s fans something onto which to latch while waiting for the bigger story to bust open. There are enough Easter eggs referencing DC’s current meta-story to make the book of interest to dedicated fans.
Normally, that kind of moving of the chess pieces could be cynical and offputting. That Justice League vs. Suicide Squad doesn’t bother pretending it doesn’t have business to get done, and that it delivers an enjoyable, old school character slugfest, make it easier to take. Results may vary, of course, depending on your tolerance for that sort of thing.
But there are far worse examples of corporate synergy in a multimedia franchise world.