Novelization by Marv Wolfman | based on the teleplay by David Ayer
A big part of the reason that I chose to review the official novelization of this summer’s blockbuster Suicide Squad is because I enjoyed the film. In a day and age when superhero movies are either lauded or universally panned, I walked out of the theater feeling light-hearted and entertained while still scratching my head about some of the directorial and plot choices that were made by writer/director David Ayers. It’s hard to discuss a novelization and not make it simply a comparison or an inventory of what was missing from the screen, but this review will attempt to discuss the merits of the story on its own, as well as where it fleshes out what made it to screen.
The book is written by venerated comic writer Marv Wolfman. Wolfman is the creator of the Marvel character, Blade, and wrote the Crisis on Infinite Earths series so he’s no stranger to the comic or film world. Like the film, the book is broken down into three major arcs: The Search, The War, and The Gods. The bulk of the book is the backstory and the formation of the team focusing mostly on Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and the Joker, as well as Rick Flag and June Moone/Enchantress. Killer Croc also receives a bit more character development throughout the novel, especially during the second act where Wolfman develops a nice rapport between him and Harley as they trade innocent potshots and one-liners.
Wolfman also creates lots of tension in the second act as the Squad moves through the city and encounters Enchantress’s minions. As the story progresses the team slowly comes together as they realize the horror of what they’re facing and the consequences if they don’t succeed. This is where the book really elevates the material of the screenplay. The various members of the squad interact in pairs, coming together to plot their escape or discuss their motivations or simply to test the mettle and convictions of their fellow psychos. There’s an illuminating exchange between Katana and Harley when Harley asks the sword-wielder how much she gets paid for being a hero and Katana puts her in her place with a terse reply saying, “One does not get paid to do what is right”. Small exchanges like that truly strengthen our understanding of these characters. In the film, any deeper understanding of Katana’s character only comes through Rick Flag’s exposition, so subtle moments like this allow development of the character that actually comes from their own words.
One thing the novel also excels at is keeping the bulk of Enchantress’s involvement in the story to the third act. Although June and Rick’s relationship is explored right up front, once she goes rogue, Enchantress largely disappears from the story until the lead up to the big fight. I have my qualms with Enchantress being the Big Bad in the first place, but since that seems to have been the intent from the beginning, I think the novelization does a great job of holding her back until the story calls for her. The same could be said for the Joker. While he is used throughout the story, the novelization brings him in and out as a counterpoint to Harley’s character. Even as they try to get back to each other, both Harley and her Mr. J are often questioning the validity of their relationship. The Joker is definitely reluctantly in love, though always obsessed with getting his woman back. His ambivalence, anger, and obsession lend a complexity to the story that is lacking in the film.
As a whole, the novelization is another avenue for fans who enjoy these characters to get inside their heads and Wolfman skillfully translates the action from the screen to the novel. However, if you’re looking for answers to the questions you had leaving the film you won’t find them here. And if you’re hoping for that version of the story you have in your head, you’d be better off writing fan fiction. The novelization stays relatively true to what Ayers showed on the screen with only a few short interactions that I believe were either cut for time or clarity. And that is a shame because many of those interactions happened between characters like Katana, Croc, and Boomerang, who were woefully underused. I’m sure we’ll get a director’s cut that will be closer to the novelization and include some of those missing pieces, and since Suicide Squad held strong at the box office, Ayer may have a second shot to bring his vision to the screen and give these characters their due.