Saturday, June 14, 2014

Favorite DC Characters #7 - Amanda Waller

Character: THE WALL (Amanda Waller)

Creators: John Byrne, John Ostrander, Len Wein. Really tempted to say to hell with my alphabetical rule and put Ostrander first.

First appearance: Legends #1

First encounter: Probably the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, where she was so ably voiced by CCH Pounder. Then I wandered into the comics blogowhatchamacallit, and oh there were so many posts extolling the virtues of Suicide Squad. Dave Campbell, Chris Sims, so many others. That got me on the lookout for her, and the first comic encounter was probably the Suicide Squad: From the Ashes mini-series Ostrander wrote in late 2007 - early 2008.

Definitive writer: John Ostrander, and probably also Kim Yale since they wrote a lot of that together.

Definitive artist: Jerry Bingham. Now, so far as I recall, Bingham didn't draw a single issue of Suicide Squad. He did, however, draw that cover right over there, of Waller putting Batman in the corner. When I think of the Wall, that's what I see. Batman can be "I AM THE NIGHT!" all he wants, but guess what? Walls don't care whether the sun's up or not. They do what they do 24-7-365.

Favorite moment or story: Jeez, where do you even start? Waller taking no crap from Rick Flag, or setting Boomerang straight on who runs this show (those are both from Legends, judging by the art)? Her revenge on Boomerbutt for being the mystery pie thrower (Suicide Squad #37)? I know her smacking Granny Goodness is quite popular, though I think the more impressive moments come later, both when she blows off Darkseid's offer to resurrect her dead niece (knowing he would then be able to control Flo, Suicide Squad #34-36), and that after Granny threw her into the ground hard enough to make an impact crater, Amanda got up. She doesn't have actually super-powers you know; she's just that tough. There was the time Deadshot came in looking to kill her and she calmly talked him out of it, and hired him. Or the time he did shoot her in the chest and she shrugged it off, because if he wanted to kill her, he would have. Now they were square and he might accept a job next time she asked (Secret Six #18).

But there are two I really like, one silly, one not. The first is from a backup story in Suicide Squad Annual #1, when Waller comes home to find her daughter waiting in her apartment, complaining her husband is too controlling. Said football playing husband soon arrives (drawn by Keith Giffen as filling the doorway), and the couple bickers as Waller calls up the doorman and tell his he's doubly-fired for allowing another person up here without her say-so. When her daughter announces she'll be staying with Amanda, it's over. The Wall hits the roof, informing them they will work out their differences and respect each other's opinions, or she will retire and move in with them to make their lives miserable. At one point, while giving R.J. the straight talk, he tries to retort that she can't speak to him like that, he's a trained professional athlete. Waller blows that off with, 'You'll be chump change if you mess with me!' I like that for how completely unimpressed she is with him, and how irate she is at having her home disturbed by noisy children. I really wanted to find a scan of that, but the Internet failed me.

The other is from issue #39. After Lashina hijacked half the Squad and dragged them to Apokolips, Waller's out. She's played too many things too close to the vest, the Squad's being shut down. But there's the matter of the Loa, a drug cartel who has placed an additive in their drugs which will turns users into zombies they control, which they will use to extort the government. Waller's not having any of that, so under the table she recruits Ravan, Poison Ivy, and Deadshot. They'll all be getting locked up when the Squad's shut down, but if they help her, she'll let them go. They do, and the four cut a swath through the Loa's forces, right to their office. Once there, the drug pushers attempt to surrender, figuring they can afford lawyers to get out of jail. But Amanda has no official standing, this isn't a sanctioned mission, and she and Deadshot gun them down. That's pretty badass on it's own, and a valuable reminder that taking power away from Amanda Waller is as dangerous as giving it to her, but what I liked is she kept her word and released Floyd and the others. Probably not the best thing she he and Ravan would go out and kill people, while Ivy would grab control of Count Vertigo and set herself up like a prince, but she made a deal, and she kept it. Then she stayed behind to take the fall.

What I like about her: Everyone likes Amanda Waller. Well, except Captain Boomerang. She's not comic book super-scientist smart (ala Luthor), but she's still smart. She'll fight dirty when she needs to, play it honorably when she can (or has to). Like when Batman sneaks into Belle Reve to gain evidence to shut down the Squad, Waller is willing to threaten using the fingerprints he left to determine his identity and out him to the world. And Bats knows she not only would do it, she can do it. So he agrees to return the information he took, and she promises not to. And each knows the other will keep their word.

I don't like it when Waller is portrayed as Government Person Who Doesn't Like Super-Heroes. She's not DC's answer to Peter Gyrich (she's not incompetent for one thing). She can be an antagonist, certainly, and a good one, but it shouldn't be her default state, for a couple of reasons. One, Waller is smart enough to know placing yourself in direct opposition to super-heroes never ends well. She has a prison full of people - that she sends on dangerous missions in exchange for early release - who are proof of that. It can be unavoidable, but it's not the best route to take. Beyond that, Waller's pretty perceptive, and she knows most of these costumed heroes are actually trying to do good, and she respects it. Unless they make themselves an immediate threat, she's not going to concentrate on them. Making contingency plans for someone who might become a problem, someday, down the line, is for people with too much free time on their hands. Amanda Waller has dozens of threats right now that need taking care of.

I see Waller as not being on a constant collision course with the other heroes, but more a diagonal course. Sometimes their goals will intersect, sometimes their methods will differ, or their interests in a person will differ, and yeah, sometimes they'll be in direct conflict. But it can vary.

Beyond the fact she's crafty and vicious if need be, there's the simple fact she's tough. If she can't outsmart you or beat you fighting dirty, she may just roll right over you. She takes no crap from anybody. Even when she was pitching the idea of reviving Task Force X to Reagan, she took time to chide him for cutting a lot of the social welfare programs that had been so valuable to people in tough circumstances, such as Amanda Waller. She can give as good as she gets in an argument with Batman, survive a fight with mind-controlled Ted Kord, or talk calmly with a complete loon like Deadshot when he's just kicked in the door and said he's there to kill her.

She has her flaws. She takes on too much, she plays things too close to the vest, and sometimes she just makes rash decisions. She figured out Duchess was actually Lashina, but didn't tell much of anyone else, and whatever provisions she'd made were clearly not enough. And Flo died as a result. She gets a little too in love with the power she wields, which means she makes decisions based on holding on to that power, rather than using it well. She keeps people around to act as a check on her, but she makes that so difficult they tend to leave. Nemesis left, Dr. Lagrieve left, Rick Flag went off the deep end, killed a sleazeball Senator, and eventually blew himself up in nuclear fire (he got better, because comics). Nightshade left, Bronze Tiger had a nervous breakdown, Vixen left, came back, left again. Not all of that was because of Waller, but it's notable the people most likely to check her have trouble lasting, and it isn't because they die. Mostly.

Which is maybe the most important thing about Amanda Waller. Beyond how clever she is, how good she is at fighting dirty both politically and literally fighting, she endures. That's what a wall does. It stands in the face of all sorts of hardships, and it holds up whatever it's meant to hold. Amanda Waller believes she can help make the world safer, and she keeps moving forward along that path. Sometimes she makes a bad choice, alienates an ally, creates a new enemy, but she keeps going forward, learning from that, changing her methods. When she felt being part of the U.S. government was hampering the Squad (because of all the official oversight, and the stupid p.r. missions they occasionally had to do, like rescuing that writer in Russia), she took them freelance. If you can find them, and you can afford them, maybe you can hire the Suicide Squad. It gave her more freedom to decide which missions they took, and how they accomplished them. She adapts, but is always moving toward that same basic goal.


SallyP said...

I too am an Amanda Waller fan. In fact, I can't think of too many people who aren't Waller fans. She's amazing after all.

And I miss her. The REAL Amanda Waller that is. The one flouncing around at DC now, isn't the Wall at all.

She was smart, ruthless and sneaky...but she had her own sense of honor. And sometimes you need someone like that.

CalvinPitt said...

Exactly. I hope the new 52 version has at least started to resemble the classic version in personality in competence, if not in look. Didn't seem much like it from the few issues of the new Suicide Squad I read, though.