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July 24, 2017

Suicide Squad/The Banana Splits Special #1 (review)


Suicide Squad/The Banana Splits Special #1
DC Comics, March 2017
Writer: Tony Bedard

We swear that this is not an April Fool’s Day review.

American publisher DC Comics is currently publishing a number of comic book single issue publications featuring crossovers between characters from their main line of superhero character properties, and characters from their “Hanna Barbera Beyond” line of comic books. The “Hanna Barbera Beyond” brand consists of comic books based on characters from the animation studio Hanna-Barbera. This currently sits within Warner Bros. Animation, making it a sister company to DC Comics.

As the title makes clear, “Suicide Squad/Banana Splits Special” #1 features a crossover between the Suicide Squad and the Banana Splits. “Suicide Squad” is a gritty super villain title. “The Banana Splits” is something else entirely.

The Suicide Squad is a group of supervillains coerced into performing covert and deadly missions by a Machiavellian high ranking government official Amanda Waller, in exchange for lighter or commuted sentences. Each kept in check by explosive collars that can be detonated if they resist or get compromised. The villains are useful because they are not held back by moral standards that superhero groups conform to, but also offer plausible deniability and are very expendable.

“The Banana Splits”, on the other hand, are a bubblegum rock group consisting of anthropomorphic animals, which are based on the late 1960s American rock band The Monkees. For the average reader, the presence of The Banana Splits will be the biggest hurdle to enjoying the book. These characters do not fit in with the Suicide Squad in terms of narrative tone and continuity. The comic’s concept plainly requires much, much more suspension of disbelief than the average superhero comic book.


The Banana Splits as they appear on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour variety show.

Once a reader navigates the difficult-to-follow premise, there is a rudimentary but functional story in play. The story starts with members of The Suicide Squad separated and in trouble during one of their missions. Amanda Waller is reluctant to send reinforcements as doing so would alert her superiors that the mission has failed. This, as Waller explains, would only make her superiors abandon the mission, activate the explosive collars, and replace the Squad with another batch of inmates from Belle Reve (a prison for super villains.)

Waller’s attention is caught by The Banana Splits, who were mistaken for super villains and after a series of misunderstandings with the police, were arrested and taken to Belle Reve. Waller cannot pick a new batch of supervillains as reinforcements because it will attract her superiors’ attention, but she deduces that The Banana Splits, who are all newly incarcerated and therefore more expendable than the Suicide Squad, can be recruited and sent to help the Squad without making too much noise.

“Suicide Squad” has always featured a dash of sarcastic humor to spice up its narratives, and so the fact that The Banana Splits are naïve, wacky and have no military training is played for laughs. On the other hand, a group consisting of an elephant, a lion, a monkey, and a beagle have among them abilities that are useful in a fight, such as a keen sense of smell and enough brute strength to tear a robot in half. With members of the Squad guiding members of the Banana Splits, they make short work of their enemies.

We then reach a happy ending, with Waller retaining her current roster of Suicide Squad, and the Banana Splits being released with no charges or criminal records. The final gag at the end has the Banana Splits declining the offer to be cleared of charges, on the reasoning that jail time will give them enough “street cred” to shed their bubblegum rock image and relaunch their career as “gangsta” rappers.

It is a little bit unfair to give “The Suicide Squad/Banana Splits” #1 a bad review, because the concept is so oddball and over-the-top. On the other hand, the story is overly simplistic to a fault and plainly a marketing gimmick, but that would be stating the obvious. To its credit, “The Suicide Squad/Banana Splits” manages to rise above the common ruck of crossover marketing gimmicks owing to the “Suicide Squad’s” tendency to be self-conscious and self-effacing. This goofy, surreal story probably would not have worked in most of DC Comics’ titles: it barely works here.

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