She’s wearing a grey shirt underneath a blue blazer and it’s tucked into a similarly blue skirt that stops at mid calf. She reminds me of the neighbourhood aunties I used to see leaving for church every Sunday morning. But it’s evening, and Amanda is cutting her way through New Orleans with what’s left of the Squad – Deadshot, Poison Ivy, and Ravan – to take out The Loa.
The organized crime group deals in Haitian vodou, and have operated in secret for years with a plan to create zombies via tainted crack cocaine. Yeah, I know. Amanda is leading this field mission which is unusual. She’s normally calling the shots from her desk at Belle Reve; the Squad’s headquarters. They take out the living dead they were too late to save in the building’s lobby. She makes sure to check her gun in the elevator, and as it opens, she’s greeted by the surprised looks of the Loa leaders. Bocor and Mambo raise their hands in the air. “You have us,” Damballah says raising his as well, “We surrender.” What he, and his colleagues aren’t aware of is a decision has already been made long before Amanda got there. The Suicide Squad has officially been disbanded, and this trip is unsanctioned. She knew what pulling the trigger – and ordering Deadshot to do the same – meant, and did so regardless. “I don’t care.” Her eyes are steely; determined. “I’m not part of the law. Not anymore.” When it’s over, she’s left alone to reap what she’s sown.
She calls the cops, and waits.
The above is from the last few pages of Suicide Squad #39: Dead Issue published in 1990. By this point, John Ostrander was co-writing the series with his now-late wife, Kim Yale, with the art team consisting of Luke McDonnell, Geof Isherwood, Carl Gafford and Todd Klein on letters. I count it among my favourite issues in this run because it follows the culmination of decisions made by Amanda Waller in the last 38 issues to its logical conclusion; her behind bars.
Short, fat, and black, Amanda “The Wall” Waller is respected as well as feared but to her, either is just fine. As long as the job gets done. After losing two of her five kids and her husband to the violence of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighbourhood, Amanda was on her own with three surviving children, and evicted from a home she could longer afford. “What changed her is when she tried to pick up the pieces,” said her older sister, Mary, in issue #31. She went on welfare to ensure her family was fed, and got to work. Her children graduated from college and she earned herself a degree in political science. She convinced idealist Marvin Collins to hire her as his new campaign director, and after winning his congressional seat, he kept her on as his aide. She was effective, and Washington took notice.
After gaining the admiration of political hotshots including the President himself, Amanda used these connections to propose a radical idea: the Suicide Squad. A covert team under the umbrella of Task Force X who would go on missions that will likely get them killed, and led by someone tough enough to keep them in check or put them down. It would be made up of super villains, who’ll be given the choice to participate in exchange for a reduced prison sentence. It was bad people taking risks for a greater good. You can’t help but respect the brilliance of the idea before questioning the ethics, and then issues of transparency start to creep in. The Wall won’t let these things stop her though, and the idea was enticing enough that the President agreed. The Suicide Squad was born.
My mom used to say that you are the company you keep. So what kind of person does it take to keep a variety of bruised, battered, and dangerous personalities in check?
The Squad’s in-house psychiatrist, Simon La Grieve, said in issue #8 that she translated her pain into anger. “Rather than confronting and dealing with her anger, Amanda now uses it as a tool. It has become ingrained; a part of her personality.” She’s someone who strives for how the world should be but understands the realities of what it really is and plays its game. She’s politically savvy. She’s a talented manipulator especially of the non-criminal members of the team. She can be mean – sometimes cruel – and she’s very good at shutting people out to shoulder the burden of responsibility alone. In the first 39 issues, Amanda’s flaws are her undoing. As she pushes away the people she hired to act as a balance, she grasped tighter and tighter to her uncompromised vision of the Suicide Squad despite the constant changes and derailment. Her choices had consequences: the death of Rick Flag, her demotion, employees quitting, and finally, the disbandment of the team. By the time she stood before the Loa leaders, she knew she needed to pay for her actions but not before ensuring the threat was neutralized. If you want the job done, do it yourself, right?
After the death of her niece, Amanda tells Mary that she understands why their cousin, Edna, told her to stay away from the funeral. Flo worked for her and died on her watch. “I know what it’s like to lose a child. You haven’t been there, Mary. It’s hard to stay rational.” She can be compassionate and self reflective. Regardless of being an annoyance, Boomerang makes her laugh (unintentionally and at his expense). For someone like Deadshot, she offers a purpose. The last 27 issues have Amanda rising up from the ashes after a year in jail. Just as she expected, she’s asked to reform the Suicide Squad to deal with a problem in Vlatava but this time, she’s reworked the concept where it’s for hire, and she gets to be team lead in the field. She’s less in her own way – she communicates, her anger isn’t driving her, she’s more receptive of alternative perspective and recognizes when she’s wrong in real time – but she’s still just as scary.
Even if you can’t agree with all of Amanda’s decisions, and I certainly don’t, you still respect her. It’s hard not to. Visually, she doesn’t look like someone who can go up against Granny Goodness – a New God – but she has. She exudes authority and she’s a force of reckoning. She’s given a fully realized story arc in 66 issues that is normally reserved for male characters. She’s fascinating.
Amanda makes me think of my grandmother, Sandra – my daycare teacher right up until I graduated from elementary school – and that auntie a few doors down. Black women who made sure their voices were heard; who garnered admiration from those around them. They laughed, cried, gave a killer side eye and offered some words of wisdom (even if I didn’t think I needed it). I wanted to be them. I wanted to be The Wall. She matters because she’s a badass character in the DC Universe who looks like me.
Oh, and she stared down Batman…and won.