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Robbie Thompson on the future of 'Suicide Squad' in 2021 and beyond

Comic Books

Robbie Thompson on the future of ‘Suicide Squad’ in 2021 and beyond

Plus, writing tips, new projects, and much, much more.

Suicide Squad is a series that’s been in an especially good place in recent years. On the one hand, a lot of them stems from 2016’s mostly entertaining film, with an eagerly-anticipated sequel dropping this August. But it’s also because the series has been in good hands since Robbie Thompson and Eduardo Pansica relaunched it back in February. Featuring a very different team lineup (including Peacemaker as a field leader and Talon from the Court of Owls), the team is as dangerous — and compelling — as ever.

After speaking with Tim Sheridan and Robbie Thompson about their crossover involving Red X, it seemed like a prime time to link up with Thompson to dig deeper into Suicide Squad. In our extensive conversation, we primarily discuss writing Red X, Peacemaker, and Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad #4. From there, we also got into his plans for Suicide Squad #5 and beyond, but also how long this series might play out in a perfect world.

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly comics podcast!

Fans of craft and creating comics can also check out tips that Thompson uses, given to him directly from Mark Waid himself. Plus, Thompson’s Batman pitch, and a few details about an upcoming crossover with Ram V’s Swamp Thing. Oh, and do stick around to see just who evil Thompson would be on Earth Three.

For more, tune into the AIPT Comics podcast this Sunday where we’ll run the entire audio.

AIPT: Suicide Squad #4 is a fun issue. Red X is captured and, I want to call it a puzzle box because you’ve got him trapped in a situation where you don’t think you can ever get out. When you’re approaching a story like this with a trap how do you approach it? Where do you start?

Robbie Thompson on the future of 'Suicide Squad' in 2021 and beyondRobbie Thompson: You know, it’s an interesting question, I think that we kind of talked about it as a group coming from a place of less about beginning and end and more about character. With Red X he is this mysterious person, but he’s got this, I think Waller calls it Batman-level intellect and sense of strategy and stuff like that. So we really wanted it to seem like, like with Rorschach, “you guys are trapped in here with me.” So I guess technically speaking it began with the ending because we knew he was getting out. But really, it kind of came from a place of let’s continue to tease out this character. It was it kind of started from that place, which naturally led to, “Okay, well, we know he’s getting out, we know that at a certain point, he is going to pull the switch and say, I’ve been in control this whole time.” It really kind of comes from character. And then you kind of build the pieces out.

I knew some stuff that Tim had done, obviously, in his book, and we wanted to kind of keep building on top of that.

AIPT: On some level with this breakout of Red X and him fighting he’s always five steps ahead, right. He’s almost like Batman in that way, isn’t he?

RT: Yeah. I’ve only written Batman a couple of times and every time the note is always like, “Batman’s 10 steps ahead.” I want to pitch to the bat-office like “Batman: dumb.” The one day he didn’t have a plan. Like, Batman’s off day.

Red X 100% like Batman in that regard. If you think about it, like as a chess player, like in the Queen’s Gambit he’s thinking several, several steps ahead. That’s sort of an interesting foil for a character like Amanda Waller who prides herself on thinking several steps ahead.

Suicide Squad #4

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: There’s a shot of Red X with a bazillion chains holding them to the walls. Was that your choice? Or Eduardo’s [Pansica]?

RT: I think I said in the script he’s got a bunch of chains. We definitely wanted it to seem like it’s almost like the absurdity of Hannibal Lecter in the hockey mask and strapped to a gurney and being slid across the airplane hangar in the movie. We wanted to definitely seem like Waller and her crew is taking him very, very seriously. But also to show the flip side of that, that Red X had a plan for all this stuff.

AIPT: Something else I’ve really liked in the series, you get to see the laundry room of the Suicide Squad. Do we get to see any other rooms and will we get a full cross-sectional breakdown of a building in Suicide Squad?

RT: We did a cross-section in the Future State that was really fun. The whole idea of a laundry room was kind of inspired by [John] Ostrander’s run, which had, I don’t want to call them like domestic situations, but like, things where you just saw them like hanging out having lunch. I needed a place that Peacemaker had figured out there was a corner of Belle Reve that he could talk secretly to his crew. Sort of combining those two ideas is where it came from.

We don’t have any plans to do a cross-section, but I’m going to be honest with you, now I want to. They will be going to some other sort of secret Task Force layers, I think I can tease in subsequent issues. I love that stuff. I know it’s from the other publisher but I remember as a kid those cross-sections of the Baxter Building or Xavier mansion, and I wanted to live in all those rooms. It was a good way to build out the world.

Future State: Suicide Squad #2

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: It gives you more detail, but somehow it opens up your imagination even more.

RT: I fully agree because you’re oftentimes just seeing like a snapshot, like “here’s where the Fantastic Four eat lunch or whatever.” But then you realize, oh, that’s above a training room. And this is the room where Reed Richard has his lab and like, you realize these are places that they really live in. I think if you really love a book you want to live in that world, too. So it’s kind of like, kind of being invited over for a sleepover or something.

AIPT: Well, it’s so funny in comics, when we don’t know the identity of a character. I’m thinking of Ronan when Brian Michael Bendis introduced that character years ago. And we’re all like reading the dialogue, like, “Oh, we can figure out who it is.” If you write the dialogue, the wrong way will someone tell you?

RT: Of course. Yeah. They all know where they’re going. And I’m sort of teasing. I do too. But the advantage, for me was exactly to your point, Red X has kind of been teased in other books, but it was great to be able to talk to Tim, Mike [Cotton], and the editorial teams on both books, and they knew exactly the voice of it. And to be frank, it’s not dissimilar to when you write Batman or Superman or anything like that, there are times when it doesn’t quite feel right.

I’m working on another crossover with another DC book, Swamp Thing, and being able to work with that crew, like, they know exactly where they’re going much like Tim and the Teen Titans crew. Ram V and I’ve been exchanging DMs, or we do a couple of video calls once in a while, they’ll show me a scene and I can take that dialog and put it in the Suicide Squad book, and that way you can see it from a different perspective.

AIPT: You have an ensemble cast, and I think you do a great job of giving each character something to say or do. Do you approach scripting in a way to ensure you’re giving every character something to say or do, for their line readings?

RT: [Laughs] It’s funny, you say that because I did use to count lines. I would literally count lines, in Final Draft, you can literally do like a little report. It was less about getting yelled at although there can be that too. In TV, sometimes when you have a group scene, you end up in situations where you end up on the day, and the actor isn’t saying anything. And they’re like, “So do I just stand here and look cool?”

The best advice I got on this didn’t actually necessarily come from TV, although, like you said, it’s definitely been a factor. I was working on a book called Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme. And it was my first team book, and I was working on something else, that was not comic-related. And it was in a group of writers. And one of the writers was actually Mark Waid. Mark’s written more comics than I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of comics. He’s in the 1000s. And I said to him, I was like, hey, do you have any advice for team books, and he was like, “Put all the characters names on a card and what you feel their personality is in a short, one or two things, and their powers set that. In every issue and every scene look at those cards, if you have like, four specific characters, make sure that you’re giving them in a moment, whether it’s using their powers or if there’s a character that’s like, sarcastic or whatever.” And it was really, really great advice. And it’s something that I use to this day to make sure that, to your point, that everyone feels like they’re having a moment, not everybody gets that moment.

Certain characters are of the “Hulk Smash” variety. So it’s not like they’re going to have a funny quip or something like that, but I actually use that advice from Mark all the time and it’s a great way to make sure that everybody kind of has a moment. Because if you can get kind of lost in some scenes, especially when there’s exposition and things like that. Another sort of advantage is in a book like Suicide Squad, there’s so much action, there’s always going to be a moment for characters to use their powers. And make sure that power usage is coming from character, as well. It’s always an added bonus when you can.

AIPT: It’s easy to forget, when you’re looking at the comic, you have the visuals right there in front of you, but when you’re scripting it, there’s nothing, it’s just a void.

RT: It’s a total void. For me, I really love to trust the artists that I’m working with. And as you work with each subsequent issue, you get more and more of shorthand, and Eduardo and I have a really great shorthand. A lot of times for the battles, I’ll try to give like a two-page spread or something like that. And I’ll say, like, “Hey, here’s what I think the action is, but by no means should you feel beholden to this.” I’ll tell the story of the fight here’s, here’s the sort of moments that we need to hit. But I want to make sure that he has the freedom to do what he does best, which is exactly what we’re talking about, which is, he truly fills the void.

Suicide Squad #4

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Speaking of a double-page splash that was really impressive in Suicide Squad #4 we see a breakout of sorts, and I just love the sight of Clayface…

RT: …absolute maniac

AIPT: He is, is there any chance we might see the character more in the future?

RT: 100%, but as you may have seen in Future State, and you will see definitely in subsequent issues, not everybody who we’re seeing is necessarily the version that we know. That’s a teaser of coming attractions. But yes, I’m a big fan and we use a sort of an alternate universe or multiversal version of Clayface that we’ll definitely be digging into. He’s got such a great power set, but also speaking selfishly from the art standpoint, he’s such a great visual, to bring into a book.

AIPT: Something I really liked about Suicide Squad is it doesn’t feel like it’s holding back. So I have to ask because we know comics can come and go on a whim. In the perfect world how long is your Suicide Squad run?

RT: Well, I’ll be honest with you, we did want to do exactly what you’re saying. And I’m glad it’s coming across, which is we want it to be dessert first. We wanted to get to the good parts, and we want it to be little to no fat. We talked about what would a rock-solid year-long book look like, and that would include, obviously, the Future State stuff and things like that, and we’re going to do an annual or two, and we kind of looked at our first annual as kind of, to use the TV terminology as our sort of midpoint or our midseason finale. There are some big reveals that happened there and kind of pivot us into the back half. And then there’s just some absolute insanity coming in issue seven. It is the greatest cover in the history of comics.

In this market, you can come and go and it felt like, well, we can definitely get you to, 12 right? My goal was can we get to a really cool, nice, hardcover, Omnibus with our Suicide Squad in it. But it isn’t one of those backbreakers that’s 600 pounds. So we didn’t want to tell something that was years and years and years, because it just didn’t feel like the nature of the Suicide Squad, which is constantly changing and evolving because of the nature of the team that we didn’t want to be sedentary in that regard. We wanted to keep moving in keeping with the tone of the book.

Suicide Squad #5

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Suicide Squad #5, the solicit for that says they’re going to Earth 3, I’m excited. Will there be new members from Earth 3?

RT: You will 100% see some new crew in that book and also we’re going to split them up because of the events of the end of issue four which I will keep as a teaser for people to read. Waller is starting to realize that there’s someone in Belle Rev who’s got it out for her and so she’s going to start splitting the squad up. Some of the crew will end up going to Earth 3 and then the other crew will go into the other book that we’re teaming up with which will be in Swamp Thing.

AIPT: If you lived on Earth 3, what would evil Robbie be doing right now?

RT: Evil Robbie would probably actually be Tim Sheridan. Tim with a goatee.

AIPT: One last question. Obviously, the movies coming and we’re all very excited about it. Do you feel like the film utilizing characters that general audiences don’t know, like, Bloodsport allows you more opportunity? Does it help you inform what you might do with the comic because you know you can take this obscure character and run with it?

RT: Oh, 100%. Something that we talked about early on in the process was like, look the movie is gonna do what the movie is gonna do. I’m not involved with any of that stuff. And I am just like you, I can’t wait to see that movie. It looks amazing. But it was a huge advantage, I think with a character specifically like Peacemaker. Or later on, we knew we wanted Bloodsport. But knowing in your mind in a way that that’s John Cena, or that’s Idris Elba, it definitely opened up the possibilities.

As a fan, of the type of filmmaker James Gunn, is, okay, well, we got to make sure that we’re telling an emotional story, too. And I think you’ll start to see that, particularly as we start to peel back the onion on what’s going on with Connor Kent. And some of our other characters are having a bad day while being trapped in the Dirty Dozen movie.

AIPT: Is there any desire to have Harley Quinn in the book or integrate her anyway? Since she’s so popular?

RT: Yes, I’ll be honest with you. Yes. Because she’s such a great character. From the animated series through Margot Robbie’s performances it’s a character that really pops. So selfishly, yes. But then also, selfishly, as a fan of the character, I’m really excited about the new book, and her being able to tell her own stories.

You can purchase the next issue, Suicide Squad #5, on July 6.

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