On Tuesday, Warner Bros. dropped big news regarding its adaptation of DC Comics's Suicide Squad: Tom Hardy, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie and Will Smith were officially signed to star in the film. Those are high profile names and will no doubt add to the accelerating superhero movie arms race between DC/Warner Bros. and Marvel, a race that will stretch to 2020.
But while we are familiar with those actors — much more so than we are with some of the actors and actresses playing iconic heroes like Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and the Flash (Ezra Miller) — the Suicide Squad doesn't have the pop culture recognition of the Justice League, the Avengers, or even the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Thus, you might have some questions. We have answers:
What is the Suicide Squad? Why are they called the Suicide Squad?
The Suicide Squad is the name of an elite government team in the DC universe that takes on top secret black ops with life-threatening stakes (ergo "suicide") that no one else would dare tackle.
The first incarnation of the Suicide Squad appeared in a comic called The Brave and Bold in 1959. They were a team in charge of saving the world from a red tidal wave that incinerated everything it touched. The issue ends with a giant reptile being sent into space on a rocket. Which, yes, is bonkers.
Hardy, Leto, Robbie, and Smith will be reprising a modification on the Suicide Squad instituted by writer John Ostrander. In this iteration, the Suicide Squad is led by a woman named Amanda Waller, who recruits super-powered villains to carry out these missions. By recruiting villains, the government has an out and can deny any involvement in missions that went south. (There are a lot of character deaths in the Suicide Squad.) And in exchange for completing these missions, the Squad members get reduced sentences. The team made its first official appearance in Legends no. 3.
Stylistically, the Squad is important in that it allows these villains — who didn't seem all that menacing when superheroes were wrecking them and sending them to jail — to show off just how insane, cruel, and grim they truly are. The Squad's members aren't afraid to kill, or exhibit flashes of sociopathic tendencies like, say, idly watching while a teammate they may not particularly like gets a bullet in the back:
Which characters will Hardy, Leto, Robbie, and Smith be playing?
Here's a brief rundown:
— Jared Leto/The Joker Leto will be playing the most familiar character in the movie, a character that we've seen Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger bring to life. So he has some big shoes to fill. In the comics, the Joker isn't seen as part of the Suicide Squad, so seeing how he's brought into the film adaptation is, for now, a mystery.
— Tom Hardy/Rick Flagg Jr (or Flag) Flagg is the field commander of the Suicide Squad and is Waller's point of contact. He isn't a "villain" per se, and there's an ongoing theme in the comics about how he resents the villains he's working with. He is possibly the only current Suicide Squad member who has fought a yeti.
— Margot Robbie/Harley Quinn Quinn is the Joker's mentally unstable, violent sidekick/romantic interest. Out of all the characters in the Suicide Squad (members rotate), Harley Quinn is arguably the most iconic, because she's continually been written as a villain with antihero tendencies — a seamless fit for the Suicide Squad team. In 2011, we see her unwillingly join the Suicide Squad, and she remains a member. This could be an amazing role for Robbie, probably best known for The Wolf of Wall Street, who will get to show off a darkness we haven't yet seen from the actress.
—Will Smith/Deadshot: Deadshot is an expert marksman, hired gun and the other iconic member of the Squad. He's macabre, fatalistic, and has no regard for human life … which is why people are surprised Smith, who is usually seen playing comedy and welcoming people to Miami was chosen.
Wait, Will Smith as Deadshot? That is a surprise!— GAIL SIMONE (@GailSimone) December 2, 2014
Note: I'm not bugged that Will Smith is Deadshot because Will Smith is black. I'm bugged because Will Smith is Will Smith. #SuicideSquad— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) December 3, 2014
Are there going to be more Squad members?
Yes. While Leto, Robbie, and company will be spear-heading the film, that's only three or four members. (My guess is that Joker is an antagonist and isn't actually in the Suicide Squad.) The Squad will be rounded out by Boomerang (Jai Courtney), the Squad's most dysfunctional and less-than-dependable member, and Enchantress, a sorceress played by model Cara Delevingne.
Is there anyone who hasn't been cast yet?
The Suicide Squad's leader, Amanda Waller, hasn't been cast yet and she's integral to the team. According to Variety, Warner Bros. want Oprah Winfrey, Octavia Spencer, or Viola Davis to play the role.
Davis, who plays the snarly, merciless Annalise Keating on How to Get Away with Murder, seems like a perfect fit for Waller, who has to be ruthless enough to send people to their deaths. Though it also seems likely that people would pay upwards of $15 just to see Oprah tell everyone they're getting suicide missions.
When does Suicide Squad come out? What should I read to get familiar with it?
Suicide Squad has a scheduled release date of Aug. 5, 2016, which means you have a lot of time to catch up with the source material. (And, as always, that release date could slip and become a later one.) Ostrander's 66-issue run is comic book gold but, understandably, not everyone will want to read all of that. The truth is, you can't go wrong with any of Ostrander's first 20 issues.
Ostrander's greatness is a double-edged sword. His run became what subsequent reboots and reiterations of the Squad were held up against, and to be quite honest, a lot of those reboots haven't been very good. But there's hope: the comic relaunched in July under writer Sean Ryan, and it's actually become a great, sharp read.