Arts & Entertainment

'Suicide Squad' comic book shoots for better reviews than the movie

Art from the cover of
Art from the cover of "Suicide Squad #1," as drawn by Jim Lee.
Jim Lee/DC Comics
Art from the cover of
A still of the Suicide Squad team from the "Suicide Squad" film.
Clay Enos/Warner Brothers
Art from the cover of
Art showing the Suicide Squad.
DC Comics

The new film based on DC Comics' "Suicide Squad" is out, and the critics are unamused. The movie has a 33 percent rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, a 44 percent on Metacritic.

The hope for fans of these characters may lie back in the print world from which they came — DC's relaunching the comic this week with "Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1." The book features an art tag team, with comic book legend Jim Lee — who's also co-publisher of DC Comics — teaming up with artist Philip Tan to trade off art duties.

Lee told KPCC that they were influenced by the movie as they worked on the book, particularly pulling from the movie's fun trailers to establish the vibe. Those trailers were well received even if the film hasn't been, so that vibe may scratch fans' itch for the movie they've been sold and critics say the studio didn't deliver. Lee said he and Tan also drew from the comic book history of the Squad, making the comic book its own thing.

"[Writer Rob Williams] went back and read everything. But we're also influenced by what we see in the trailers and the fun approach to the team that they're taking," Lee said. "So it's a lot of fun to draw maybe not the most compassionate characters. It's fun to draw characters that are very different from your normal, more traditional superhero characters."

Suicide Squad trailer

Juggling the duties of artist with being a company executive means Lee has had to make some sacrifices.

"I've dropped a lot of my other hobbies, like sports," Lee said. "Last year I didn't watch a single football game or a single baseball game. Which is kind of sad, but I mean, at the end of the day, the things that are most important to me are time with family and doing the creative work. And if I can catch an occasional live event, that's great, but that's how you do it."

Lee has some help in the form of his partnership on "Suicide Squad's" art with Tan.

"I'm not drawing a monthly book month-in, month-out. I do take periods of downtime between runs on books," Lee said.

One of Lee's key responsibilities is finding artistic talent like Tan who can bring something to each book. He works with other DC execs like Geoff Johns and Dan DiDio to scout the best creators.

"We'll pass around pages, copies of pages, or designs that we've seen, and just talk about what we love about them, what we don't like about them. But I think that the trick is, when you're trying to guide the ship creatively, on an artistic level, it's not all about my aesthetic. In fact, you'll smother and kill the line," Lee said.

DC Comics had a particular look when they relaunched their stable of characters in 2011, with many costumes redesigned by Lee himself. Now they've made a point to pull back from some of the more extreme redesigns and try something new with their most recent relaunch, which they're dubbing "Rebirth."

"It's all about, find the best look for the characters and find the artist that can best pull off that look, and then encouraging them and helping them become the best versions of those artists that can deliver those goods," Lee said. "And so it's not about finding people that just draw in a particular style or to my taste. In fact, it's the complete opposite. So that part is fun to me, because I have pretty catholic tastes in terms of art, and it's always fun when you see an artist break out."

He cited Greg Capullo, who became a superstar artist after joining writer Scott Snyder in the 2011 relaunch of "Batman." Lee said fans should keep an eye on Tan, Liam Sharpe on "Wonder Woman" and Tony Daniels on "Justice League" as potential breakout artists.

Tan told KPCC about what it's like working alongside Lee.

"I will kill for this job," Tan said. "We live fairly close to each other, and I can come over and go through with the artwork and say, 'OK, let's address this,' or 'let's do that,' or 'this is good."

The cover of
The cover of "Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1," drawn by Philip Tan.
Philip Tan/DC Comics

Lee praised Tan's work ethic.

"Phillip's the hardest working guy I know, artwise. He did a cover for 'Rebirth Special #1,' and I asked him just to move elements over maybe a centimeter over, maybe two centimeters over, and I figured he would do it in post-production, just Photoshop it, and he redrew the entire cover. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I feel so bad,' but at the same time, the end result look kicked ass."

Lee teased that, given the nature of the "Suicide" Squad, some characters may not survive in the comic. That gives the book more of an on-edge feel that you get in many superhero books, where you know even if they kill off Superman, he's probably coming back.

Tan offered what he sees as the heart of the Squad.

"It's about hope and redemption, and it's about us telling the story about a fun group of bad guys who have no choice but, through the missions they do, maybe find the humanity in them," Tan said.

Now DC is hoping that viewers enjoy the movie despite the reviews, and that the characters can be redeemed by their new comics and upcoming movies.

Watch more from DC Comics talking about what's in "Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1":

DC interview