Belle Reve Federal Penitentiary is the infamous prison that houses some of the worst criminals in DC Comics history. Ever since it was first revealed as the headquarters for the Suicide Squad, it has been mentioned in at least 182 comic issues.
In addition to the comics, Belle Reve has also appeared on other television series and animations. But due to its detainees being mainly super-powered criminal metahumans, it frequently comes under attack. For the most part though, it’s able to keep its inmates in check and in line with its many secret maximum security levels and devices used to control the powers of the prisoners.
It is the place that the members of the Suicide Squad call home. Even though they’re sent out on missions that are supposed to kill them, they keep coming back to Belle Reve – which interestingly, means “beautiful dream” in Cajun French. Find out a bit more about the dreams the Suicide Squad have when they come home in this list of 15 Things You Need To Know About Belle Reve.
15. It was first mentioned in Suicide Squad #1
The very first issue of Suicide Squad not only breathed new life into the anti-heroes put together by Amanda Waller for Task Force X, but also contained the first mention of the metahuman prison where they were detained.
Although the Suicide Squad has been around in some fashion since they were first introduced in The Brave And The Bold #25 in 1959, Belle Reve was established as the base of operations for this strike team of super-powered incarcerated criminals, in 1987. Most of its inmates are serving multiple life sentences or are on death row
The facility was chosen by Amanda “The Wall” Waller herself as the team’s headquarters. In The New 52, it was shown that she subjected each of her choices for Task Force X to undergo rigorous testing that included torture scenarios to evaluate their suitability as Squad members and their loyalty.
14. Amanda Waller served time at Belle Reve as a warden, an inmate, and as a prisoner
Although it has undergone many incarnations throughout the years, one of the mainstays of the Suicide Squad is Amanda Waller, who put together Task Force X.
When Belle Reve was featured on the animated series Young Justice, Waller was voiced by Sheryl Lee Ralph and she was the warden of the high security prison. She had to keep her cool as Mr. Freeze tried to stage a breakout. Although the plan to escape did not succeed, thanks to the help of Superboy and Miss Martian, Waller still lost her job and was replaced by Hugo Strange.
She also served time at Belle Reve, when she was incarcerated on charges connected to her Task Force X operations.
Another time, Waller had an explosive collar placed around her neck when the Crime Syndicate and some inmates took control of the prison. But Waller had the advantage of being on home turf and she knew every nook and crany of Belle Reve – even those not on the official blueprints – so she still had more than a few tricks up her sleeve.
13. It has multiple secret and maximum security levels
Waller used one of Belle Reve’s secrets to her advantage at the end of Suicide Squad #25 when a mysterious creature was unleashed from Level 7. As she went deeper and deeper in the the levels of the prison, she had to release a prisoner so dangerous that only she knew it was in Belle Reve.
The Suicide Squad and New 52 comics established that there was more to the prison than what the general tour could show. And even just the upper levels had their share of interesting inmates.
D-Block was where inmates not cleared for field missions were locked up. One of the frequent visitors of this prison block was Captain Boomerang, who had the annoying habit of always trying to escape.
A-Block was where active duty inmates from Task Force X were kept. The inmates here had better access to treatments and therapies to keep them fresh and ready to be deployed on a mission at any moment.
12. John Economos was Belle Reve’s first Warden
Hardly anything is known about John Economos, the first warden of Belle Reve. By all accounts, he was just a normal human being who was competent as a leader and as a warden. He was the head of Belle Reve as a figurehead only. The real powers behind the show was, of course, Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad. But it was he who faced the press to distract the public from what was really going on behind their maximum security walls.
It is unclear if he was the same warden who turned away reporter Lois Lane when she tried to investigate the prison for a story.
Although he helped the Suicide Squad with their missions, he at one point became disillusioned with the team and resigned from his post as warden. He eventually returned to resume his post.
11. It appeared in the series Smallville as an asylum
Although it is more widely known as the headquarters of the Suicide Squad, a version of Belle Reve also existed in the television series Smallville. On the show, it was pronounced as “Bell Reev.” (It is also worth nothing that in The New 52 reboot of DC Comics, the prison is spelled “Belle Reeve.”)
Belle Reve Sanitarium was a mental institution run by the United States government. Many of its patients were metahumans and the worst of the worst of villains that the young Clark Kent had to face.
Among its many infamous patients were both Lionel and Lex Luthor, Alicia Baker, who was was a sociopathic metahuman with the power to teleport, Desaad, a minion of Darkseid, and the Twins, who could generate force fields when they came into contact with each other.
Many patients in the Belle Reve Sanitarium tried to escape frequently. They succeeded quite often because, as observed by many fans, the facility lacked the security to lock up metahumans. Also, the staff of the sanitarium were so corrupt that they would often smuggle patients out themselves.
10. Some of the Justice League were incarcerated at Belle Reve
In an episode of the animated series, Justice League Unlimited, entitled “Panic in The Sky,” the core members of the Justice League (Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Marian Manhunter, and Hawkgirl) turned themselves in as a gesture of cooperation, after the Binary Fusion Generator of The Watchtower somehow malfunctioned and fired on the abandoned Project Cadmus. Batman did not join the team in turning themselves in until their innocence could be proven.
While the rest of the team was in Belle Reve, Batman continued his investigation on who was really behind the blast.
Eventually, it is discovered that the actual culprit behind the firing of the cannon was Lex Luthor. As Amanda Waller declared for him to be placed under arrest for attempting to kill everyone at Cadmus and for framing the Justice League, another mastermind made himself seen – Brainiac, who had taken over the body of Luthor.
9. In Young Justice, the inmates wear collars which negate their abilities
Waller kept the members of the Suicide Squad in check by implanting their necks with an explosive device that she could detonate at any time they tried to cross her or escape. Originally, she had used bracelets, but these proved too easy to dismantle and remove. Explosive collars were also used extensively inside the prison walls and were even used against Waller herself.
The Belle Reve in Young Justice made use of collars too. But instead of threatening the inmates with losing their heads, they were used to neutralize the power of the metahumans and deliver an electric shock if they misbehaved.
As part of his escape plan in the episode “Terrors,” Mr. Freeze managed to incapacitate Waller so he could deactivate all the collars in the prison and break out all the inmates. But Superboy reactivated the collars and helped foil the supervillains’ plans of mass escape. Still, the bigger part of their plan, in fact, was completed successfully.
Waller was fired as the warden of Belle Reve and was replaced by the prison psychiatrist, Hugo Strange, who was working in league with The Light, a council of self-proclaimed enlightened beings. The Light wanted Strange to secretly let inmates out of prison who were useful to them.
8. It’s strong enough to withstand Superman
Belle Reve Penitentiary, as it appeared in Young Justice, was an inescapable prison with walls strong enough to withstand even Superman. It’s no wonder that Mr. Freeze had to go to extreme lengths to get as many ice and cold powered villains into the prison to stage a breakout from the inside.
But Belle Reve was still susceptible to other forms of assault. As the Suicide Squad movie showed, The Joker was able to blast through the walls to rescue Harley Quinn from her cell.
In Justice League #47, Mister Miracle was able to bypass all the prison’s security systems quite easily. He and other members of the Justice League were able to break into different cells.
And with Strange secure in his position as warden of Belle Reve in Young Justice, he was able to cover up many inmates’ crimes outside of the penitentiary and even showed fake security footage showing inmates still in their cells when various attacks happened.
7. It was blown up by Genosyde
Kingdom Come was a 4-issue mini-series published in 1996. The story arc involved a future where traditional super heroes were at odds with an emerging breed of amoral vigilantes who saw the previous generation of supers as old fashioned and out of touch.
Superman put together his Justice League team, which held fast to the ideals that all life was sacred, including superhuman life. Meanwhile, Batman assembled a team of Outsiders, many of whom were second-generation superheroes themselves, to combat the Justice League as well as the Mankind Liberation Front. The MLF was put together by Lex Luthor and composed of villains from the Golden Age.
One of the themes explored in the comic book mini-series was the in-fighting between the anti-heroes who were incarcerated by the Justice League. Many of them said that the old fashioned superheroes should have killed off their more dangerous adversaries instead of putting them in asylums or penitentiaries. But, as pointed out by Batman, Genosyde, was a vigilante like them, because he destroyed Belle Reve and other prisons which housed some of the worlds most dangerous criminals.
6. It was once near a portal to Hell
In 1999, DC Comics published a limited series crossover comic called Day of Judgement. In this storyline, Etrigan the Demon conspired to bond Spectre with the angel Asmodel so they could use his powers to cause hell to freeze over and release hordes of demons into earth.
Earth’s superheroes were powerless against these escaped demons, and portals from hell were popping up all over earth, including one near Belle Reve Penitentiary.
The supers and a newly formed team called the Sentinels of Magic had to work on three fronts to keep the demons at bay and to defeat Spectre/Asmodel – one team had to stay on earth to fight off the escaped souls, one had to go into hell, and another had to go to heaven to recruit a new pure soul to be Spectre’s host. Meanwhile, Plastic Man and other prisoners who were in Belle Reve had to work from the inside to keep the situation at the prison contained.
5. Belle Reve was mentioned in Arrow
Yet another version of Belle Reve was also depicted in the Arrowverse. On both Arrow and The Flash series, it is mentioned as being a maximum security prison. Nathan Bliss was one of the prison’s inmates, however, he was able to escape and killed two people in the process.
Bliss was the former owner of Central City Circus. As a child, he ran away from a home where his parents seemed more focused on fighting with each other than taking care of him, and became the ringleader of the circus, known to audiences as Mr. Bliss.
After the circus was hit by an explosion for S.T.A.R. Labs particle accelerator, many of the circus performers gained strange abilities. Mr. Bliss was able to control people’s feelings, and even caused The Flash to hallucinate his mother.
4. It’s featured In Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
Belle Reve was also recreated in the video game Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. In the Downloadable Content (DLC): The Squad, the gameplay takes the player to Belle Reve, where an intruder was spotted breaking into the compound. Suicide Squad members Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, El Diablo, and Katana are the first to assemble to find their teammates and investigate the break-in.
A lockdown procedure was initiated so the player needs to force their way out and fight other prisoners as they progress through the levels.
Aside from the insides of the prison, the game also gives players a look at Belle Reve’s basketball court, which also has some exercise equipment for the inmates to use.
A “Wardens of Belle Reve” achievement is unlocked in the game by holding Y to change character: one to Amanda Waller and another as Harley Quinn. This achievement can be unlocked at any point in the game.
3. It is located in Louisiana, surrounded by miles of swamp
Most versions of Belle Reve have the prison located in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, near the Gulf of Mexico. It is surrounded by miles and miles of swamp, which makes just reaching the maximum security facility a feat.
Terrebonne Parish is described as the center of Cajun culture since the 18th century and reportedly, more than 10 per cent of residents from the area speak French at home. Even the name of Belle Reve is translated from Cajun French, meaning “beautiful dream.”
Aside from DC Comics, the location has also been featured in the movies. The Pelican Brief, starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, was about a controversy surrounding the petroleum rich resources of Terrebonne Parish which lead to the murders of two Supreme Court justices. The movie was based on the novel by John Grisham.
2. The name is taken from plantation in A Streetcar Named Desire
Besides being a beautiful dream, the name of Belle Reve was inspired by the play A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s the name of the old plantation house where Stella and Blanche DuBois grew up. The play, originally written by Tennessee Williams in 1947, was turned into a motion picture in 1951 starring Vivien Leigh and Kim Hunter as the sisters, and Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski.
The loss of the sisters’ ancestral home due to high mortgage is a significant event in the plot, because it is the trigger event that causes Stanley to suspect Stella of telling lies.
It is also very symbolic of a central theme in the play. Belle Reve represented the “good life” Blanche used to enjoy in the Old South and felt entitled to. It’s a life that she wants to have again. The loss of the plantation Belle Reve – the beautiful dream – is also the loss of the dreams that Blanche’s character possessed.
1. The original Suicide Squad movie script had more time in Belle Reve
Although Belle Reve was not given much screen time in the Suicide Squad movie, according to director David Ayer, this was not supposed to be the case.
Ayer said in an interview that the original script for the film was more linear and more time was spent filming the Suicide Squad members as they were incarcerated in Belle Reve. This would have allowed more time to flesh out each of the characters’ back stories rather than the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them, flashy dossiers that were used in the final cut. Many fans noted that these scenes in Belle Reve, as well as extended scenes with Jared Leto as the Joker, were present in the theatrical trailer and even in the film’s official novelization, but were absent from the theatrical release of the movie.
Reportedly, the studio ordered many cuts, reshoots, and edits to the film which many critics said may have weakened the overall narrative. Hopefully there’ll be more Belle Reve in future DCEU films.
Suicide Squad is in theaters now. Wonder Woman opens on June 2, 2017; Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash, the Batman solo movie and Man of Steel 2 are currently without release dates.