The Suicide Squad: Everything you need to know before watching James Gunn’s superhero sequel

It’s less than a month until The Suicide Squad blasts its way into theatres and anticipation levels for James Gunn’s R-rated superhero sequel are high. Diehard fans will already have a pretty good idea of what to expect, however, casual viewers (especially those unfamiliar with the Suicide Squad comics) could probably use a little extra help getting up to speed.

That’s why I’ve created this handy primer. It covers everything you need to know about The Suicide Squad – including what it’s about, who the new and returning characters are, and which comics it’s based on – before the movie comes out on 5 August.

What is The Suicide Squad about?

The first thing you need to know about The Suicide Squad is that it’s more of a standalone outing than a direct sequel to David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad. Yes, it features many of the same characters as that movie and it more or less jibes with the continuity Ayer established, but overall, The Suicide Squad is more interested in being its own thing than tying into the wider DC Extended Universe.

With that out of the way, what is The Suicide Squad about? The basic premise is identical to the first movie: a group of B-list supervillain prison inmates are recruited by shadowy government organisation A.R.G.U.S. to complete a high-risk mission in exchange for reduced sentences. This time around, the team – officially known as Task Force X – has been charged with destroying a Nazi prison lab in South America, but they’ll soon find themselves confronted by an enemy far more dangerous than they could have imagined…

Which characters are returning from the first Suicide Squad movie?

So, which of your favourite antiheroes from the first Suicide Squad are onboard for this latest exercise in near-certain death? The team line-up is filled with familiar faces, including:

  • Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie): The first movie’s breakout star, psychiatrist turned psychotic criminal Harley Quinn is now a lone agent (after breaking up with Joker in Birds of Prey) sporting a new look.
  • Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman): Rick Flag is back as team field leader, and while he remains a straight arrow, expect a funnier, less cynical incarnation of the crack Special Forces soldier this time around.
  • Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney): Unlike Flag and Harley, deranged Aussie thief Captain Boomerang will appear virtually unchanged from his debut appearance – so be prepared for him to let fly with dubious, profanity-laden remarks and culturally-appropriated throwing weapons in equal measure.
  • Amanda Waller (Viola Davis): Rounding out the returning headliners is A.R.G.U.S. director (and Task Force X’s boss) Amanda Waller, who’s as ruthless and Machiavellian as ever (if the trailers are anything to go by, at least).

What new characters are introduced in The Suicide Squad?

Of course, there are also a few notable absences from the Suicide Squad roster. The most notable of these is Will Smith’s Deadshot, who’s been replaced by Bloodsport – another gun-toting mercenary, played by Idris Elba.

Funnily enough, Elba was initially set to replace Smith as Deadshot before the decision was made not to recast the role, leaving the door open for Smith to star in future DCEU films. Because of this eleventh hour reshuffle, Bloodsport will essentially serve as a Deadshot stand-in, however, his ability to pluck weaponry out of thin air – achieved through gadgets and a tricked-out costume in the movie, not teleportation like the comics – should help set him apart from his 2016 counterpart.

Bloodsport isn’t the only Task Force X rookie in the The Suicide Squad, though. A comprehensive round-up of the full roster (courtesy of Polygon) is available here, but the major new players you should be aware of are:

  • Peacemaker (John Cena): Uber-patriot Peacemaker has devoted his life to ensuring peace – even if it means killing everybody around him! This hilarious lack of self-awareness makes Peacemaker a slyly subversive spin on the flag-waving super-soldier superhero archetype.
  • The Thinker (Peter Capaldi): The Thinker is (as his name suggests) a genius, to the extent he borders on clairvoyant. Unfortunately, the Thinker’s envious brainpower comes with a decidedly unenvious trade-off: the tremendous amount of energy his mind draws from the rest of his body has left him prematurely aged.
  • King Shark (vocals by Sylvester Stallone; motion capture by Steve Agee): A dim-witted shark man, King Shark subs in for previous human/animal hybrid team member Killer Croc. This shake-up brings the franchise full circle, since King Shark was originally slated to appear in 2016’s Suicide Squad before Ayer settled on the less CGI-reliant Croc, instead.
  • Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior): The “heart” of the movie according to Gunn, Ratcatcher II is a second generation supervillain who (like her late father, the first Ratcatcher) can make rats do her bidding. Despite her criminal legacy and sinister superpower, Ratcatcher II is also the most innocent of the Task Force X gang – unlike them, she’s never killed anyone – creating an interesting dynamic between her and the rest of team.
  • Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian): Comic book supervillains don’t get much goofier than Polka-Dot Man. After all, he’s a guy who commits crimes by lobbing the coloured dots that cover his outfit into the air, where they transform into weapons, gadgets, and vehicles (seriously!). It was this inherent silliness that drew Gunn to Polka-Dot Man, with the director promising to reveal a new, tragic side to this ostensibly one-note character.
  • Savant (Michael Rooker): Savant adds even more intellectual horsepower to Task Force X’s ranks – and his fighting skills are nothing to sneeze at, either! That’s right: not only is Savant a highly adept hacker, he’s also a world-class martial artist, too. That said, Savant’s mental abilities aren’t without their shortcomings, as the poor guy suffers from short-term memory loss (something Gunn will almost certainly have a field day with).

Lastly, there’s baddie Starro the Conqueror: a gigantic alien starfish that releases mind control spores – basically, a kaiju monster on steroids!

Which comics should you read in the lead-up to The Suicide Squad?

In interviews, Gunn has confirmed that The Suicide Squad (like most superhero movies) isn’t a direct adaptation of a specific Suicide Squad story arc. He has, however, pointed to John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell’s highly influential run – still widely considered the creative highpoint for the title – as the source material he drew most from, so those keen to brush up on the comics should start here.

Other stories worth checking out ahead of The Suicide Squad’s release include:

  • The Brave and the Bold #25 – “The Three Waves of Doom”: Go back to where it all began with this 1959 yarn by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru, which marks the team’s first appearance. “The Three Waves of Doom” might seem a little quaint by modern standards and the key “convicts on a mission” component wasn’t yet in place – which makes sense, since this element was inspired by classic WWII joint The Dirty Dozen (which didn’t come out until 1967). Nevertheless, the core concept of a team taking on borderline-impossible missions is introduced here, as is Rick Flag (although this early version of the character is later retconned as Rick’s grandfather!).
  • Superman (Vol. 2) #4 – “Bloodsport!”: In case the title wasn’t a giveaway, this is the first appearance of Bloodsport. That alone would make this John Byrne/Karl Kesel tale worth reading, but there’s an even better reason: “Bloodsport” sees its titular villain shoot Superman with a Kryptonite bullet, an event explicitly referenced in The Suicide Squad!
  • Peacemaker: This short-lived series published in 1967 touches on everything you need to know about Peacemaker. Admittedly, Gunn and Cena appear to have a wildly different take on the character’s personality, but this five-issue run is still worthwhile for those keen to get a sense of Peacemaker’s history.
  • The Brave and the Bold #28 – “Starro the Conqueror”: Another story from the pages of The Brave and the Bold, “Starro the Conqueror” is famous as the first appearance of premier DC supergroup the Justice League of America – but it also gave us Starro. Writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky turn in a vintage Silver Age epic, with Starro proving a near-unbeatable adversary, even for the combined might of DC’s Big Seven!

Like I said, don’t expect to see these books translated to the big screen in a literal sense, although some bits might be (like Bloodsport’s run-in with the Man of Steel). But hey, if the worst thing that happens is you read a truckload of great comics for no reason, you’re doing far better than the guys and gals headlining The Suicide Squad this August!

Looking forward to The Suicide Squad? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook!

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