[WARNING: This article contains MASSIVE POTENTIAL SPOILERS for Suicide Squad]
When your story has a hero, it's guaranteed to have a villain. When your story's heroes are villains... well, they still need somebody worse to take on. In the case of Suicide Squad, it's an enemy so dangerous the world's most deranged, deadly, or disturbed criminals are the only ones fit for the fight. Their mission? Head into a burned out city devastated by an unknown force... and kill it. We assume.
Unfortunately, the it isn't exactly obvious. Since the unsettling Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) is the only main cast member missing from the shots of the movie's leads, some fans have stated as fact that she's the villain of the movie. But when we visited the set of Suicide Squad - long before marketing began - we got a different story. The movie had a villain, but no name - only the title of 'The Adversary.'
Google the name and you won't find a villain bearing it in DC Comics mythology, which led us to believe it was a new creation spawned from the mind of writer/director David Ayer. Although some in the production confirmed that idea, Ayer revealed that while the villain's forces were his idea, The Adversary's identity was being kept secret for a reason:
"The backbone of this story is right out of canon, and it's one comic book. I'm not going to say which one... eventually people might figure it out."
In the months since, people haven't. But we put that time to use investigating, and believe we've learned for ourselves which comic David Ayer is referring to. It's purely speculation on our part, but if true, it doesn't just identify the villain, the Enchantress' role, or the plot outline - it opens a brand new door in the mythology of the DCEU.
Needless to say, there will be MASSIVE POTENTIAL SPOILERS ahead. We're not looking to ruin the story for any fans, but if the comic book readers can't wait to see where Ayer has turned for inspiration, let's walk you through it.
Enchantress' First Origin Story
Let's begin with what we specifically know about the actual character of Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), since the film's version seems to be a faithful adaptation of the basic comic premise. The character began her career as the everyday woman June Moon in "Strange Adventures" #187 (1966), when a trip to Terror Castle (its actual title) led to her chance encounter - or so she thought - with an unknown, magical, god-like creature who bestowed upon her a great power: if she spoke the word "Enchantress," she transformed into a typical 1960s-era witch (hat included) styled green, blessed with magical abilities.
Able to wield magical attacks and even phase through objects, June used her new powers and title to rid the castle of threats (as the unnamed creature had intended) and, in her following two appearances in "Strange Adventures" saved the day in similar fashion before appearing opposite Supergirl in the Kryptonian's own series. It was only in later stories that her origin was further explained, with the mysterious creature given the name of 'Dhazmor' (later changed to 'Dzamor') and the June Moon/Enchantress identities revealed to be two separate beings in one body.
It was John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell's 1987 launch of the "Suicide Squad" series that fleshed out Enchantress' character, explaining that she had joined up with the team not as a criminal, but willingly, hoping that she could learn how to gain control over the being inside of her. But as she used her magic more and more, and allowed the Enchantress to take the driver's seat for greater periods of time, she feared she would eventually grow too weak to take back control - and would then become a threat few could ever stop (which she did, obviously).
Judging by the evidence in the movie's marketing, the premise of the Enchantress character seems to be the same one Ostrander expanded upon. Based on trailers and information confirmed on the set, June Moon (Delevingne) explores a deep, dark, forgotten cave - looking for what, or who we don't know - and encounters the being known as Enchantress, then possessed by it.
From there, we have shots of a buttoned-up June interacting with her teammates or friends as her normal self (though it's hard to know if they take place before or after her possession), and also with the Enchantress fully in control of her attitude and appearance.
But with The Adversary the mysterious 'big bad,' where does Enchantress fit? The answer walks hand in hand with Ayer's solution to injecting the supernatural/demonic into the Justice League universe. But when we asked him about that on set, his answer turned from fiction to human history:
"Think of it this way: religion, mythology, magic is something that’s been through human history, throughout human history. The belief in the supernatural, belief in transformative abilities and everything. So if you look to the past, how did people understand and think of things? ...All the answers are there."
The answer, then, lies in a mixture of religion, mythology, and comic book history. Thankfully, we've done our homework in each area. But to actually understand the comic story being adapted, and how it's been changed for the movie (judging by the clues that have already been given), we need to follow Ayer's advice and go back to the beginning.
The Archangel Samael
"The Sacrifice of Isaac" by Caravaggio
To get to the bottom of the "Suicide Squad" comic Ayer's referring to as inspiration (we assume, at least), it's worth tracking John Ostrander's own homework, as well (worth noting he trained to join the Catholic priesthood before becoming a writer). It's a story filled with characters rooted in the Old Testament, Jewish lore, the Kabbalah, Gnostic Gospels, Wicca, and too many other religious legends and texts to count. And we're not interesting in clarifying which parts of the story are "canonical" to the Jewish or Christian faiths, since the legends and myths each is based on are varied and largely open to interpretation.
The story begins with the archangel Samael, better known as the literal angel of death. As gloomy as that and the other names given to him - accuser, seducer, destroyer, and at times basically a stand-in for Satan himself - he's still typically viewed as both good and evil. For instance, it's claimed in some literature that it was Samael who stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac (pictured above) in the Old Testament.
What does this have to do with Suicide Squad? Well, Samael is also famous for his physical description in rabbinic literature, as summarized in "The Legends of the Jews" by Lous Ginzberg:
There was another angel in the seventh heaven, different in appearance from all the others... His height was so great, it would have taken five hundred years to cover a distance equal to it, and from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet he was studded with glaring eyes, at the sight of which the beholder fell prostrate in awe. "This one," said Metatron, addressing Moses, "is Samael, who takes the soul away from man."
Keep that description in mind: a massive creature, covered from head to toe in eyeballs. Still, the most important act committed by Samael (to our story) begins in the Garden of Eden... actually, just outside it.
"Lilith," John Collier and "The Fall of Man," Michelangelo
It's his relationship to Lilith, the first wife of Adam that is most relevant. While the Bible states that Eve was Adam's only wife, the stories in Babylonian and Jewish mythology tell a different story, revealing that Adam and Lilith were created at the same time, as equals. But when Lilith refused to bend to Adam's will, she was cast out of Eden. Depending on the story, she may have (knowingly or not) returned to tempt Eve after she had been created from Adam - explaining why she is often depicted in artwork with serpents, or even as the serpent who tempted Eve with the apple.
Whether or not she returned, she definitely ran into Samael on her travels... and by 'ran into' we mean 'mated with and became a form of demonic monster.' After they mated, Lilith eventually became a creature known as a Succubus - lustful creatures who seek men out to seduce for their evil purposes (also described as an "enchantress" *hint* *hint*). But some experts believe the idea of the succubus (or succubi, plural) existed first, and the story of Lilith was created to explain them. The fact that "Lilith" was an existing idea also means we have different versions: one Lilith was the first woman, who later lay with Samael. Another was created alongside Samael, as his mate. And a third was a deity tied to the moon, hence the succubus preferring to act at night.
Either way, it's easy to see why Lilith is hailed by many as one of the most important female figures in mythology: the first 'wicked woman' (femme fatale, black widow, etc.) whose only sin was doing as she pleased, and taking ownership of her sexuality (in a time when neither was exactly a popular idea). But in our story, Lilith didn't eat the forbidden fruit, retaining her immortality, and taking on a new role in mythology...
The Lilin (or Succubi)
Since we're dealing with combined mythology and lore from a dozen faiths and storytelling traditions, we'll continue to keep things simple. Having been transformed into a succubus by her time with Samael, Lilith's offspring - known as the Lilin - were known as night spirits that would seek out men and women as they slept, succubus being the name for female Lilin who would seek out men for sex, and incubus being the same, but for male spirits seeking women. In a parallel story, Lilith's transformation made her one of FOUR Succubi, specifically.
These four were, predictably, others who had lay with Samael to become known as the queens of the demons: Lilith, Mahalath, Naamah and Agrat Bat Mahlat. It isn't all evil, either: these four were also revered as the patron deities of religious rituals that involved sex as a tribute or offering. Now depending on who you ask, you're likely to hear that even with four named, Lilith is still the top dog of the Succubi, and that these other demons are her offspring or actual manifestations of herself given different names (in an effort to simplify contradictory stories).
It's not vital to sort out the details, either: just keep in mind that Lilith was the first fallen woman, seeking power and gaining it through sex, then existing to do the same to unsuspecting men in the millennia that followed. And from here, the story follows another of the demon queens, Agrat bat Mahlat (who may be the daughter of Lilith, or another manifestation). Known as the "mistress of sorcerers" who taught magical secrets, and the "rooftop-dancing demon" who would dance as Lilith howled, Agrat bat Mahlat wound up taking another key figure in Jewish mythology to bed...
Yep, the same King David who defeated the massive soldier known as 'Goliath' before becoming the greatest leader the Jewish people had known. Now for those growing impatient for a physical link between this history lesson and the Suicide Squad movie, the presence of a curious, Renaissance-era painting shown in a previously-released trailer is the first clue. We spotted the painting behind Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) at the time, but couldn't place it. After several weeks of searching, we have an answer: "David and Goliath" by Tritian, painted in 1542-1544.
Now, why would Amanda Waller be discussing King David to a room of high-ranking officials as part of her pitch to assemble a team of the world's worst killers? We suspect it has to do with his mythological offspring born of Agrat bat Mahlat (Lilith?). Since one of David's most well known stories sees him lusting after Bathsheba, then having her husband killed so he could marry her, temptation and costly sex are actually in keeping with his story.
And if you're wondering what creature is spawned by a succubus and a human, let's just say it is not pretty. But it has a name...
Asmodeus, King of Demons
If all this history is getting a little complicated, then Asmodeus simplifies things (and has therefore been adapted in stories from both DC and Marvel Comics). Basically, he's a monstrous lust demon - who actually is mentioned in The Book of Tobit, part of the Catholic and Orthodox Biblical canon. While Asmodeus sat on his throne, rabbis and religious figures sought to weaken his mother's powers, or banish her from man's world for good (or so tradition states).
Fortunately, we don't need to go into any more detail other than Asmodeus' actual name, since it's all writer John Ostrander adapted when he created his own semi-Judeo-Christian origin story for June Moon/Enchantress in the pages of "Suicide Squad." And it all comes to head in the comic we believe David Ayer used for a self-contained, deeply weird mix of horror and magic going back to man's beginning.
The comic is known as "Nightshade Odyssey," contained in Issues #14 & 15.
The Comic Story Being Adapted
Now before comic fans rush out to pick up a copy of the issue to see if we're on the money, there's one key difference in the story being adapted to film. The main player of the two-part story is, as you might guess, 'Nightshade' (another member of the team). It is she who takes the assembled team - including Deadshot, Boomerang, and Enchantress - into a strange dimension from where her powers originate... and containing terrible creatures of darkness that had seized and killed her brother when they were just children.
Still, with her sibling presumed dead (and her next to die) the team battle their way through columns of dark energy and matter-contorting powers until they discover the source: Nightshade's brother, very much alive (in a way). In the classic villain monologue, the man reveals that he has been possessed not by an incubus, but The Incubus. And now that his sister has returned, he can be joined with his-- sorry, the demon's sister, The Succubus - the two children of the demon "Azhmodeus."
Naturally, it's at that point that June Moon decides to throw caution to the wind and let Enchantress come out of hiding, for the sake of her team. But when she does, things take an... unexpected turn.
That's right, it isn't Nightshade carrying The Succubus, but Enchantress. When Dhazmor bestowed the superpower identity upon June, he was actually attempting to foil Azhmodeus' plan by entrusting The Succubus not to the one he planned for, but someone who would use it for good (or try to, anyway). And after passing through horrors to find out how to help their friend and fellow team member, the Squad learns a threat to the entire world has been among them all along. Now, the Incubus and Succubus need only mate, and the King of Demons (the mythological son of King David) will return.
Thankfully, the team saves the day, and all escape to live happily ever after (or endure decades more painful and trying adventures). But in that single comic book, as Ayer claimed, lies the "backbone" of the movie.
The Movie Evidence, Changes & Clues
Obviously, the comic book story isn't easy to adapt directly: at present, there is no actress cast as Nightshade in Suicide Squad. But as the twist of the comic story reveals, it was actually Enchantress who was secretly the key player - yet she never had any idea that the unknown entity that she stumbled upon in that cave would be a potentially world-ending offspring of a demon king. And from what we've been shown of the movie (and learned on set), the pieces are mainly present.
June Moon (Delevingne) explores a deep, dark, forgotten cave - looking for what, or who we don't know - and encounters, most likely, the being known as Enchantress that then enters her body (if the trailers show what they appear to, above). From there, we have shots of June interacting with her teammates or friends as her normal self, though it's hard to know if they take place before or after her possession.
As much as we'd like to think that June got a brief career as a hero, like in the comics, the most telling image from marketing depicts an uneasy scene: June sitting in a bath, surrounded by stalks of panicum capillare (also known as "witch grass," used to ward off or expel evil spirits), looking incredibly worried as the light in the room seems to turn to dusk.
If the scene shows June relying on anecdotal witchcraft tips and tricks for keeping evil spirits at bay, and waiting for... something (the sun to set is as likely an answer as anything), those who've read the mythology to this point should be able to connect the dots. June Moon may not be able to control when she's her normal, glasses-and-bun-sporting self, and when she becomes a mystical, scantily-clad lust demon.
"He didn’t tell me anything about the movie. Instead, he showed me pictures of these amazing, enlightened, powerful, but very evil women. He spoke to me about addiction and mental illness, which are things I find very, very interesting... David asked me to go and try and find a forest and, if it was a full moon, get naked and walk through the woods with my feet in the mud, which I did. There wasn’t a full moon, but I howled like a wolf."
So, powerful, yet 'wicked' women for inspiration? Check. Desire to emerge at night, howling? Check. Still need another hint that this Enchantress is battling The Succubus inside of her? Take a look at the appearance of the previous, female host of the Incubus before she passed it on to Nightshade's brother, and tell us if it looks familiar:
So, is it as simple as replacing Nightshade with Enchantress, giving her a compelling reason to seek out an unknown threat that winds up being her long-thought-dead-brother, and sending the Squad after her? Well, it's a compelling idea, since... that exact plot was rumored months ago.
Plus, we know that in both the lore and comic The Incubus and Succubus are basically interchangeable, meaning it's probably just easier to re-assign the genders to match June Moon. But that still leaves the question of her brother... although given the wealth of mythology being called upon here, the admittedly-weird role of the brother could be removed entirely (since it's really Asmodeus who's the actual threat to be stopped).
So, is a version of Asmodeus threatening to return 'The Adversary' of the movie? Is it The Incubus calling to its mate to usher in the end of the world? Or is 'The Succubus' meant to be the first, as in Lilith, banished from sight but having taken a human host, answering the call to its beloved?
Still not following? Take a look at the enemies spawned from Ayer's nightmares one more time:
Men who once apparently fought whatever the true threat of the movie may be (judging by their military gear), transformed into beings known as 'Eyes of the Adversary'; literal eyepieces for the villain to examine the battlefield. Remember when we mentioned that Samael, lover of Lilith, father of the Succubi, grandfather to Asmodeus was a figure covered from head to toe in eyeballs?
Whether The Adversary is The Succubus, The Incubus, Asmodeus, Echantress, June Moon, or any combination thereof, the ties to the mythology and lore behind the "Nightshade Odyssey" story are clearly more than coincidence. But if any of the fictional demons or angels mentioned in the actual mythology are included in Suicide Squad, then mankind's religious, mythological, and theological history will be declared fair game for the Justice League universe.
If we already know that Zeus and the Olympian gods will be appearing in Justice League, then it only seems fair for the more outlandish/entertaining branches of Judeo-Christian mythology to get a shot, as well.
Again, it's all speculation on our part, but it's backed up by plenty of research and a tease from the director himself. There aren't many single-issue stories from Ostrander and McDonnell's original run that call on the entire film's cast, or work in the evidence offered already. But if you've got your own theory, make sure you let us know in the comments!
Suicide Squad is scheduled to arrive in theaters on August 5, 2016; Wonder Woman is slated for release on June 2, 2017; followed by 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 is currently without a release date.