While the Suicide Squad movie has definitely proven divisive, it’s still exciting to get to see moviegoers introduced to a crew of characters who are beloved but relatively obscure beyond die-hard comic fans. Harley Quinn has certainly been a pop culture phenomenon for a while now, but most non-fans would probably think you were joking if you told them there was really a guy who commits crimes with Boomerangs (and also calls himself Captain Boomerang).
But for moviegoers who came away from Suicide Squad wanting more from those awesome characters, there’s so much more to dive into than you might expect. Even without touching the comics themselves, characters such as Amanda Waller, Deadshot, and Killer Croc have been cropping up in cartoons, TV shows, video games, and more for decades now. With that in mind, here’s a primer on some of the more interesting places the Squad has appeared in the years before they got their own summer tentpole.
15. Batman: The Video Game (Nintendo Entertainment System)
Having released for the Nintendo Entertainment System way back in 1990 in North America, Batman: The Video Game is still fondly remembered by many longtime gamers. Loosely based on Tim Burton’s hit 1989 film, Batman: The Video Game allowed a legion of youngsters still gobsmacked by the movie the chance to slip on the Bat’s cape and cowl for themselves. Well, a jerky, heavily pixelated version, anyway.
Just as in the film, the Joker is Batman’s main antagonist in the game, but the Dark Knight also squares off against more obscure DC villains including Heat Wave, Killer Moth…and Deadshot. That’s right, a full quarter century before Will Smith brought the man who never misses to life in the Suicide Squad movie, Deadshot was already trying to put a round in Batman’s dome on the NES. It’s a long way from having the Fresh Prince play him in big summer blockbuster, but man, clearly this rivalry has been going on for a while now.
14. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
Originally intended as a direct-to-video movie bridging the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series, this tale of dual realities was shelved for years, then tweaked and resurrected in 2010. Crisis on Two Earths has the League teaming up with an alternate, heroic version of Lex Luthor to battle their evil counterparts from his reality — the so-called “Crime Syndicate.”
Part of the fun of this sort of story is seeing familiar heroes and villains in unfamiliar forms, and two Squad members make appearances in Crisis. The sword-slinging Katana has a small role, appearing as a lower-level member of the Crime Syndicate, specifically serving Owlman (evil Batman) as one of his “Made Men.” She’s sporting a costume that looks a lot more like DC’s Cheshire than her standard Katana getup, however.
13. Batman: Gotham Knight
This 2008 direct-to-DVD anthology flick tells six tales of Batman and his rogue’s gallery, all told in an anime art style and set in the years between Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight films. Gotham Knight features segments penned by Batman Begins co-writer David S. Goyer, comics staples Brian Azzarello and Greg Rucka, and A History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson, to name a few.
Both Killer Croc and Deadshot appear in Gotham Knight. As you’d expect from the Nolanverse, this incarnation of Croc is a gritty and violent one — a disfigured serial killer who files his teeth and has a taste for human flesh. He teams up with Scarecrow and several other Arkham escapees to kidnap a local Cardinal, which puts him in Batman’s crosshairs. Bad news for the Bat: Croc’s already vicious bite now transmits Scarecrow’s fear toxin, since Dr. Crane has been pumping poor Croc full of the stuff since his days in Arkham.
Deadshot appears in his own self-titled Gotham Knight segment, hired by the Russian mafia to kill the Dark Knight. He lures Batman out by nearly killing Commissioner Gordon, but in the end, his legendary marksmanship isn’t enough to take down his target.
12. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
Another in DC’s long line of direct-to-video animated films, The Flashpoint Paradox is based on the reality-bending story 2011 arc that ushered in DC’s “New 52” relaunch. After The Flash travels back in time to rescue his once-murdered mother from Reverse-Flash, he awakens to a distorted world where the Justice League doesn’t exist, the Atlanteans and Amazons are at war, and Superman has been a prisoner of the U.S. government his whole life. Flash sets out to restore the timeline, but instead winds up creating yet another one — that of the “New 52.”
The Flashpoint Paradox adaptation features minor appearances for both Boomerang and Enchantress — her only TV or film appearance prior to the Suicide Squad movie. She had a slightly bigger role in the comic book storyline, but the film basically reduces her to little more than a cameo. Captain Boomerang fares slightly better, battling The Flash along with his fellow Rogues in the beginning of the movie and then showing up briefly in the distorted Flashpoint timeline as well.
11. Beware the Batman
Running only a single season on Cartoon Network beginning in July 2013, Beware the Batman was a CGI animated series set — like The Batman before it — during the early years of Batman’s never-ending war on crime. After the Silver Age silliness of The Brave and the Bold, Beware the Batman took Gotham’s vigilante back in a darker, more serious direction. It also paired him with a new sidekick in the form of Katana.
The two have a long history of working together in the comics as team members of the Outsiders, but the relationship hasn’t been explored much beyond the comics page. This version of Katana works for the CIA and stole her deadly Soultaker sword from the League of Assassins. Alfred is actually her godfather here, having been friends with Katana’s pop back in his MI-6 days. She initially becomes Bruce Wayne’s bodyguard as a favor to Alfred, before eventually learning Bruce’s secret identity and joining his fight to protect Gotham.
10. The Batman
The Batman had the unenviable task of following up the beloved and critically acclaimed DC Animated Universe that began in 1992 with Batman: The Animated Series. Setting aside over a decade of interconnected continuity, The Batman returned Bruce Wayne to the beginning of his crimefighting career and featured a radically different art style that proved divisive at first. The show eventually proved it could stand on its own, however, earning six Daytime Emmys over its five-season run.
Several members of Batman’s extensive rogues gallery make appearances during The Batman’s run, including a crazy-haired Joker — and where the Joker goes, Harley Quinn can’t be far behind. Sure enough, Harley does indeed turn up with Mr. J. a couple of times in The Batman, this time voiced by Hynden Walch, the same actress who would voice Starfire in the Teen Titans toon. More interesting, however, is the show’s portrayal of Killer Croc. Voiced by Ron “Hellboy” Perlman, this Croc isn’t the brutish lout he’s often portrayed as. Instead he’s got a craftiness and intelligence to complement his strength and ferocity. He even makes plans that are more complicated than “eat Batman.” You gotta appreciate that.
9. The Brave and the Bold
Batman embraced his goofy Silver Age incarnation in The Brave and the Bold, which announced its determination to set itself apart from previous toons by casting Diedrich “That Guy from The Drew Carey Show Who Isn’t Ryan Stiles or Drew Carey” Bader as the voice of Batman. The Dark Knight this is not, with Batman navigating a bright, colorful world full of bonkers characters like Bat-Mite and Starro the Conqueror (a giant, mind-controlling alien starfish, if you’re not in the know).
The Brave and the Bold gives screen time to more of the Squad members than anything on this list thus far. Killer Croc, Katana, Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, and Harley Quinn all show up during the show’s three seasons. Croc (voiced by Stephen Root) teams up with Bane, Blockbuster, and Solomon Grundy. Katana features in an origin story for Batman’s Outsiders, alongside Metamorpho and Black Lightning. Boomerang gets to recreate one of his iconic moments from the comics and strap the Flash to a giant version of his trademark weapon. Deadshot shows up in the same episode as Croc, running amok in a Gotham where Batman has temporarily gone AWOL. Finally, The Brave and the Bold features an almost unrecognizable Harley, who looks more like a 1920s flapper than her standard clownish style.
8. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Based on the opening story arc of Jepf Loeb’s 2003 team-up book Superman/Batman, Public Enemies unites the Last Son of Krypton with The Dark Knight against both an incoming killer meteorite and the machinations of President Lex Luthor. With Luthor in the White House, naturally it’s not long before Superman has been framed for murder and declared…well, a public enemy, with a billion-dollar bounty on his head.
Katana makes some poor career decisions in Public Enemies, signing on as a member of Luthor’s team of government-sanctioned heroes alongside Captain Atom, Power Girl, and others. Deadshot’s mercenary tendencies are in full force, as he becomes one of a legion of bad guys hoping to collect that sweet payday by bringing down Superman. C.C.H. Pounder even reprises her animated Justice League role of Amanda Waller in this one, alongside fellow JL vets Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly as Batman and Superman, respectively.
7. Green Lantern
Green Lantern co-writers Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim have had solid success translating DC’s heroes to the small screen in The CW’s “Arrowverse.” A year before Arrow premiered, however, their attempts to launch a big-screen Lantern franchise amounted to a big green swing-and-a-miss. Still, Green Lantern is noteworthy for one thing: it gave us the live-action debut of Amanda Waller, played by the talented Angela Bassett. But between Hal’s origin story, explaining the history of the Green Lantern Corps, a generic romantic subplot with Blake Lively, and trying to serve two villains comprised of pure infodump, it’s no surprise Waller didn’t have much to do here.
In the Green Lantern film, Waller is a former congressional aide turned vaguely intimidating government agent. She seems to be in the script mainly as pure fan service — and to add another person Peter Sarsgaard’s swollen-headed Hector Hammond to imperil. If Green Lantern had successfully launched the DC Cinematic Universe a few years earlier, we would have gotten to see what this Waller could bring to the table, but here, most of her gravitas comes purely from who’s playing her.
6. Birds of Prey
The WB’s short-lived Birds of Prey series was a failed attempt to cash in on their Smallville success — a gambit The CW would attempt with considerably more success years later with their Arrowverse. But while Birds of Prey was a mostly forgettable foray into DC mythology, it does have one huge bragging point to this day: it gave us our first live-action Harley Quinn, some 14 years before Suicide Squad came along.
Played by Mia Sara (and by Sherilyn Fenn in the pilot), Dr. Harleen Quinzel served as the primary villain of the show’s single season, although her true nature and motives are unknown to Oracle (Dinah Meyer), Huntress (Ashley Scott), and Dinah (Rachel Skarsten) at first. A seemingly respectable psychiatrist, Quinzel has actually returned to New Gotham to take advantage of Batman’s unexplained absence and get revenge on the city for its treatment of her poor Mr. J. We never really get to see her go “full Harley,” but Quinzel does don a dress that evokes her classic costume (see above) at one point, and her insane love for her “puddin” is on full display.
As Smallville entered the home stretch of its decade-long run, the show’s writers began trying to expand their DC Universe in earnest. They introduced Green Arrow as a major recurring character, as well as other future Leaguers like Cyborg and Impulse, and even the Justice Society. It also, during its ninth season, introduced Clark Kent to Amanda Waller, played this time by Pam Grier.
And not just Waller, but her Squad as well, which she assembles as head of the secretive Checkmate organization. She tries to recruit Green Arrow, holds Martian Manhunter captive, and shoots down a disobedient Icicle in cold blood. The full Squad appears in season 10, with a lineup that includes Deadshot, Rick Flag, Plastique, and Warp. In a major departure from the comics, the Squad eventually begins working for Chloe Sullivan, Smallville’s proto-Lois/Oracle stand-in. Sadly, Captain Boomerang never shows up, but Green Arrow at one point does reference a “maniac with boomerangs” in a text to Chloe, so Boomer was out there somewhere.
4. The Batman: Arkham Asylum games
Batman: Arkham Asylum stunned the world back in 2009 simply by managing to be a really damn good video game about Batman. It got the tone right, the combat right, and perhaps most importantly, it got the villains right. Several of the Suicide Squad members have been important parts of the series over the years, none more so than Harley Quinn; she’s been integral since helping Joker take control of Arkham Asylum in that first game. The part was first performed by Arleen Sorkin, who originated the role in Batman: The Animated Series, before passing the torch to voice actress Tara Strong. The spine of the Arkham games is anchored by the relationship between Batman and the Joker, and Harley has been an inseparable part of that all along.
Croc has also surfaced in all three core Arkham games and the Arkham Origins prequel. Deadshot is the focus of a key subplot in Arkham City, and he plays an even larger role in Arkham Origins. Even Rick Flag and Amanda Waller have made their mark on the Arkham universe, with Waller recruiting a defeated Deadshot in an Origins after-credit sequence. Waller, Deadshot, and Harley are then all key figures in the animated tie-in follow-up movie Batman: Assault on Arkham. Flag also appears alongside Waller in Arkham Origins Blackgate.
3. The Arrow/Flash-verse
The multiverse spawned by Arrow continues to thrive on The CW. This fall season will see four interconnected shows — Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl — all airing simultaneously, and it’s even brought John Constantine into the continuity after his NBC series failed. Many of the Suicide Squad characters have played prominent roles in the Arrowverse, including Amanda Waller, Deadshot, Katana, and Captain Boomerang.
Waller and her “Task Force X” have been an integral part of the show, with both Oliver Queen and John Diggle having deep ties to the Wall and her A.R.G.U.S. organization. Cynthia Addai-Robinson may well have the record for most screen time playing Waller, and she’s definitely made the character her own. Deadshot (Michael Rowe) recurred a half dozen times before finding a cause worth dying for, even if he was mostly being killed to pave the way for Will Smith in the public consciousness. Tatsu/Katana played an integral role in Oliver’s past even before she took up the sword, and she returned again this past season having fully embraced her alter ego. Spartacus: Blood and Sand’s Nick Tarabay became one of numerous actors from the Starz series to join the Arrowverse, taking on the role of Captain Boomerang in season 3. He might not be as funny as Jai Courtney’s take, but at least he gets to use his damn boomerangs.
2. Justice League/Justice League Unlimited
The Justice League cartoons did their best to give damn near every DC character out there some time in the spotlight, so naturally that included some familiar Suicide Squadmates. C.C.H. Pounder voiced Waller in perhaps her definitive portrayal prior to the Squad film, first heading up Project Cadmus, later assembling Task Force X (including Rick Flag, Deadshot, and Boomerang), and generally always pulling strings behind the scenes. Her most interesting DCAU appearance may have been in the JLU episode “Epilogue,” when she reveals to Terry McGinnis just how important a role she played in shaping his career as the new Batman, and just how far she was willing to go to make it happen.
It’s worth noting that, while the Justice League toons share a continuity with the final item on our list, they’re very distinct from each other in tone and intent. Their predecessor series also had a massive pop cultural impact beyond simply spawning spinoffs, so we decided it demanded its own entry. Which brings us to…
1. Batman: The Animated Series
The groundbreaking animated series that birthed a decade-long shared continuity across multiple series is a perfect example of what makes comic book storytelling so much fun. Even if none of those spinoffs had ever happened, however, Batman: TAS would still stand as one of the best onscreen representations of The Dark Knight and his world ever created. Among its many, many accomplishments is one that still stands out to this day: Harley Quinn.
Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Harley burst onto the scene in the September 1992 episode “Joker’s Favor.” The notion of a love interest for The Joker seemed either revolutionary or ludicrous, depending on who you asked, but Harley proved to be such a brilliant character that she eventually became an official part of the comics’ continuity. Nowadays, it’s hard to remember or even imagine a time when The Joker existed without Harley, and she’s never been used better than throughout the animated series that first brought her to the world. Nearly all the Harley staples that have defined her over the decades, from her abusive co-dependence on Mr. J to her friendship with Poison Ivy, got their start here. Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley is easily the crowning achievement of the Suicide Squad movie, but it never would have happened without Batman: The Animated Series introducing us to a broken romantic named Dr. Harleen Quinzel.
Did we miss any prior adaptations of Task Force X? Let us know in the comments.
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