READ MY LIBRARY Entry 52: A Saturday Afternoon with Deadshot

Max takes the afternoon off to read & write about one of DC Comics’ coolest minor villains, Deadshot of Suicide Squad and Secret Six fame, after spending some time with Deadshot’s very own trade paperback collection, Deadshot Beginnings.

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After writing a full blog article just the other day,  I didn’t want to stop the momentum, and since I had a little time this afternoon (a lazy Saturday in early January 2014), I figured I’d tried to write about a book I was able to read in one sitting today and rather enjoyed quite a bit.  The book in question is Deadshot Beginnings and collects the 4 issue Deadshot mini-series from 1988 written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale and drawn by Luke McDonnell, as well as many of Deadshot’s early contemporary appearances (or rather, his first few appearances in his silver, red and yellow get up with the wrist cannons) facing off against Batman.

You see, while Deadshot is perhaps best known as a member of various iterations of the Suicide Squad and Gail Simone’s super awesome Secret Six, he began as a Batman villain.  Originally, appearing in Batman #59 in 1950 and co-created by Bob Kane, David Vern Reed, and Lew Sayre Schwartz, Deadshot’s origin was that he was Floyd Lawton, a wealthy playboy bored with the socialite life. Inspired by the Batman, Lawton dressed up in a tuxedo and tails, top hat, gun belt and domino mask and became a gun slinging “hero” called Deadshot determined to take out crime with trick shots and show Batman up.  However, in trying to chase Batman out of town, his real plan of trying to take over the criminal rackets is revealed.  Knowing Deadshot plans to murder him, Batman alters Deadshot’s gun sights so he can’t aim accurately, and therefore is unable to fire killing shots at Batman and Robin and is thus thwarted.  Now, it may sound like this origin story would be included as I’ve told it so vividly, but it is in fact not a part of this collection.  However, Batman himself also retells the story at length to where I feel I have the gist of it pretty well now, so you will too once you get to that point in the book.  At any rate, after Batman stops Deadshot the first time, Lawton is jailed…Where he remained seemingly for some twenty seven real world years until he pops up again in Detective Comics # 474 in 1977 in a story written by Steven Englehart and Marshall Rogers (which is nicely included in Deadshot Beginnings!) wearing his now signature silver, red and yellow costume with wrist guns.

Deadshot Beginnings

Deadshot Beginnings features the gun toting villain in a series of stories

Deadshot would have only a couple appearances more until he was selected to become a member of the new Suicide Squad book written by John Ostrander in 1987.  For those of you who don’t know, the Suicide Squad franchise at DC since the 80s has been about a team of super villains given black op missions in exchange for their freedom from prison, all the while with countermeasures such as explosive microchips implanted in the base of their necks set to explode if they defect.  Deadshot was a founding member of Ostrader’s team and has remained a member in most other iterations of the series.  Since before Infinite Crisis and up to the New 52, Deadshot was part of the brilliant Gail Simone written series Secret Six, about a group of criminals who weren’t sure if they were bad or good, and look out anyone who got in their way.  Many still miss Simone’s Secret Six (myself included!).  However, Deadshot lives on in the New 52 Suicide Squad.

Back in the 80s though, while Ostrander’s Suicide Squad was at the height of its popularity, Deadshot got his own 4 issue mini-series exploring his time on and off the Suicide Squad. This is what the bulk of Deadshot Beginnings collects, and it’s a great story.  Deadshot is a ruthless killer, who “never misses”—that is, unless he’s around the Batman and seemingly pulls his shots as not to kill him.  Deadshot also has a non-stop death wish, so signing up for a group called the “Suicide Squad” is just fine for him.  But while Deadshot is doing dangerous missions for Squad leader Amanda “The Wall” Waller, Deadshot’s therapist, Marnie Herrs starts to get emotionally connected to Lawton, the man behind Deadshot, and wants to help him.  Herrs gets a little too close to Lawton during one session and shares a fateful kiss with him.  After a particularly ruthless solo mission, Deadshot receives word from his ex-wife and departs immediately, telling Waller he only goes on missions when he feels like it and doesn’t feel like it right now.  Elsewhere in the Suicide Squad facility, Marnie Herrs has been removed from counseling Lawton, and angered by this, she decides to take some time off to learn all she can about Floyd Lawton.

Upon reconnecting with his ex-wife, Deadshot learns that their son Eddie has been kidnapped by a party who will return Eddie when Deadshot “finishes the job he started twenty years ago.”  While Deadshot’s wife doesn’t know what to make of this, Deadshot does and sets out immediately.  What follows is a journey of vengeance, murder and mystery as Deadshot gets closer to finding his son and killing the people responsible for taking him, and the journey of Marnie Herrs as she tries to learn everything she can about the man who became Deadshot and his past.  I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that both Deadshot’s and Herrs’ objectives become intertwined at the end…But I won’t say anything more than that!

There are a lot of great moments in the series, but some uncomfortable ones as well, as it is implied one of Eddie’s kidnappers is a child molester.  However, Deadshot makes sure no one goes unpunished.  Marnie Herrs investigation is also compelling as the closer she gets to the truth, the more resistance she receives.  Overall, it’s an impressive work for a four issue mini starring such a C or even D list villain, but it’s a testament to Ostrander and Yale’s writing chops.

The Deadshot mini-series ends with another look at the character of Deadshot.  Did he kill those people for revenge or was it all for his rep? Did he ever really give a damn about his kid?  Later additions to the mythology (particularly Simone’s) would suggest that there *is* a heart under Floyd Lawton’s Deadshot armor, but we don’t see it here.  It’s overall a great read, and I powered through it. But wait! There’s MORE!

Yes, DC Comics could have gone the cheap route and just packaged the Deadshot 4 issue mini-series in a TPB and call it a day, but they were in a good mood when putting this package together and therefore decided to include three bonus stories, all featuring Batman’s various tussles with Deadshot in the late 70s and early 80s by great creators such as Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, Doug Moench writing and Marhsall Rogers, Terry Austin, Don Newton, Bruce Patterson, and Alfredo Alcala on art.  These three tales detail how Deadshot makes a comeback after a few decades and upgrades his top hat, tux and tails into an armored killing machine with wrist guns, that are, as I found out from this volume wrist magnums.  Ouch!  Those would have to hurt!  I also learned Deadshot could do other cool stuff with his gauntlets, such as fire a grapple line from them.  And of course (while I’m giving notes about the costume here) he can see through the silver mask, but the one eye is just infrared and his sighting eye.

At any rate, these three Batman tales are classics, the first one in particular as it begins with Batman and Robin (the Teen Wonder here, thank you very much!) horsing around and laughing about old times, until Robin gets called away by the Teen Titans.  Batman playfully nudges Robin about the ladies in the Titans, Wonder Girl and Harlequin, though Robin taunts back that Bats had better stop trying to move in on his turf to rob the cradle (not really) and concentrate on Silver St. Cloud.  Sure enough, Bruce Wayne has his hands full dealing with old love interest Silver St. Cloud (who Kevin Smith recently brought back in Batman: Widening Gyre) and while Deadshot is the main draw, there are other enemies on the edges such as the Penguin, Joker and Boss Rupert Thorne, the latter who was a big you know what in Batman’s side for a while in the comics, but I know him best from his appearances on the 90s Batman: The Animated Series.  Regardless of where I know him, Thorne’s there, being haunted by Hugo Strange’s ghost, something covered in more detail in the Batman Strange Apparitions trade.  The first Deadshot armor story even has Batman fighting Deadshot on a giant typewriter! Talk about nostalgia!  This story really made me yearn to read more Bronze Age Batman, as it was a great yarn.  The story ends with Silver St. Cloud recognizing Batman’s jawline as Bruce Wayne’s!  GASP! Well, that story won’t be continued here, so it’s off for more Deadshot! (And lucky for me, it’s more Bronze Age Batman!)

Batman vs Deadshot on a giant typewriter!

Batman and Deadshot duel on a giant typewriter at one point! (Scan taken from Detective #474 and not from Deadshot Beginnings)

The second Batman story is a little more interesting, as it features Batman and Robin just recovering from being turned into Vampires.  Meanwhile Deadshot is on the loose again and Rupert Thorne has it on good authority that Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same guy!  Deadshot is hired to kill Bruce Wayne, taking care of the Batman problem—permanently!  Vicki Vale meanwhile is the lady love of the moment, and wouldn’t you know it? She suspects Bruce is Batman too; but Dick Grayson (Robin) and Alfred have thought up a plan to thwart Vicki though, and hired the Human Target (he had his own show on Fox a couple years back, remember?) to impersonate Bruce Wayne at a gala affair.  “Bruce” and Batman work together to stop Deadshot, and Bruce’s secret is safe, again.

The final story is from the mid 80s, when Jason Todd was Robin (though he’s not in this story at all) and DC had just introduced Julia, a French woman who was Alfred the butler’s long lost biological daughter.  Crazy, I know, and she’s been retconned away since, or killed, I’m sure, but it was something they did for a while back then.  So she and Alfred are out talking about the mysterious death of her adoptive father, while all these trickshots are causing things like broken glass shattering and nearly cutting their throats, or while they’re on a train, someone starts shooting a track signal so it breaks and obstructs the rail and derails the train they’re on, and so on.  While Julia wants to pull a gun and fight like her freedom fighter French resistance mother would have done in WWII, Alfred says it’s better they contact the Batman and not commit any murders themselves (good ol’ sensible Alfred!).  Batman arrives, deducts the shots could only be coming from Deadshot and has a deadly showdown with him.  Along the way, Batman mainstay Detective Harvey Bullock makes an appearance as probably the dirtiest cop on the force, but hey, I guess that’s how he was back in the day.  Not just a dirty slob, but a dirty cop too.  Batman does the impossible (doesn’t he always?) and Deadshot reveals the identity of who hired to kill him…BUT IT COULDN’T BE!  But again, this story isn’t getting finished here either, as it’s the end of Deadshot Beginnings.

Overall, this book is a fantastic buy at $14.99, especially if you’re a fan at all of the character or Suicide Squad or Secret Six.  Deadshot is a unique villain with a crazy set of beliefs (or lack thereof) and I’ve always found him interesting. I think it’s great that if they’re not going to continue reprinting the excellent John Ostrander Suicide Squad series from the 80s in TPB form (and they should!), that they at least throw us fans a bone like this every once in a while.  And you know it’s crazy: for a minor DC villain, Deadshot has made the habit of popping up in just about every DC show or cartoon, and many DC video games to boot—just check his Wikipedia page.  Hollywood is shopping around a Suicide Squad movie script right now, and Deadshot is definitely a part of that.  Deadshot is probably a bigger part of the DCU than any of us realize.  So why not give Deadshot Beginnings a try?

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