Comics Bulletin’s very own Chase Magnett recommended this issue of Suicide Squad to me as an entry point into the series. It had three things I loved: Amanda “The Wall” Waller, Batman, and the two in opposition.
The cover sets the tone and it works well as an introduction to Amanda who – despite her short stature – is a physically intimidating force. The issue’s title, Up Against The Wall, operates on multiple levels: the image of Amanda forcing Batman back against a literal wall as seen above, metaphorically in terms of the way the issue ends (but we’ll get into that later), and the play on Amanda’s nickname, The Wall, which positions her as an obstacle to Batman. All three suggest Batman – a heavyweight in the DCU and a guest in Amanda’s series – is the one who’s met his match.
The story doesn’t start with Amanda or with Batman, but with Reverend Craemer, a new hire. It’s important to note how he’s introduced on the first page. We’re misled into thinking he’s a new inmate at Belle Reve, given how the shadows work to obscure details of the characters as well as the setting. Murph is visually reduced to a lowly prison guard (at odds with his actual rank) and Reverend Craemer is given a sinister silhouette. The blue from the light also recalls a standard blue prison uniform. Once the lights are turned on in the following page, it’s revealed this isn’t the case. The black bars in the final two panels of the second page has the narrative suggesting there isn’t much separating those outside of the bars and those on the other side. Who are these people who choose to work alongside the Squad?
Batman’s recurring criminal cover, Matches Malone, is another instance of the false prisoner, and he uses it to infiltrate the Squad’s headquarters. Batman is silent for most of the comic; this impacts the pacing, his role overall, and his relationship with the other characters. Batman could have overtaken the issue and/or momentarily derailed the series with a story that felt very different from the whole. Instead, Batman is silenced, with only his reputation to do the heavy lifting (which it’s more than capable of doing). In fact, the art leans into the “mythical monster” image he uses to scare cowardly superstitious criminals, as seen with the surveillance monitor that Amanda and company are viewing on page 11.
The art is king in this issue and I loved the way the colour adds to Batman’s mystique in this panel with the black and red contrast. It sent me back to the days of Batman: The Animated Series…
…and the action is fantastic. It’s there to excite the eyes but also doesn’t hinder the pacing. The use of space, specifically the gutter – expanding it in some cases – as an actual location for action or story to take place is wonderful. It gives Batman a little more power when he knocks out Deadshot. The perspective of this page is also delightful as we get to see Batman from all sides, as though the creators are getting as much as they can out of the character before he’s gone (of course, he returns in issue 13).
Batman’s silence throughout the issue says a lot about his relationships with the other characters. He doesn’t speak to the people he fights – the guard, Duchess, Deadshot, and Rick Flag – which doesn’t mean anything until he does speak. To Amanda. He acknowledges her authority, oddly enough, by asserting his: “Shall I tell you how many sealed drums I’ve escaped from, Ms Waller?”
I’m a huge nerd when it comes to real world politics and ethics being used within comics. Batman says the Squad answers to taxpayers as a government sanctioned group, which is interesting coming from a vigilante who isn’t accountable to anyone.
Batman steals information that could bury the Squad, and in response, The Wall leverages what she knows Batman values most: his secret identity. It’s a fitting defeat for someone who spent a chunk of the issue besting everyone in physical combat. But before the issue ends, Rick Flag goes on a rant about fighting someone as noble as Batman all so he could protect “scum”. It snaps him out of the funk he’s been in and recommits him to his work with the Squad. The final panel reminded me of what Viola Davis as Amanda Waller said in the Suicide Squad film: “Getting people to act against their own self interest is what I do for a living.”
Amanda has certainly done that.