Can you really blame the general population for never hearing of the Suicide Squad? The premise of the comic book follows a government-sponsored group of super villains forced into going on dangerous black-ops missions where survival isn’t just in doubt, it’s not even welcome.

However, thanks to the upcoming movie, the Squad has turned from an obscure DC property into one of the most intriguing brands in all of comics. It doesn’t hurt when Will Smith, Margot Robbie and a severely inked-up Jared Leto all join the cast, but it’s more than that.

The Suicide Squad is an anarchistic look at the superhero world from the point of view of the very rouges they put their lives on the line to defeat. It’s bleak, it’s twisted and it’s a welcome change of pace from the optimistic stories about capes and tights.

So now your interest is piqued, right? But where to start? The modern Suicide Squad debuted all the way back in 1987 — there have been countless storylines, reboots and relaunches since then, so it’s no easy task to brush up on the essential reads. But, again, the Suicide Squad isn’t about doing things the easy way, so take a look at our Ultimate Suicide Squad Reading Guide.

Suicide Squad: Trial By Fire

Collects: Secret Origins #14, Suicide Squad #1-8
This collection that DC put out has the first eight issues of writer John Ostrander’s original Suicide Squad run, as well as the story behind the team’s formation from Secret Origins #14. These stories are politically charged, hard-boiled and incredibly violent — they read like smash mouth counter-culture compared to the superhero books of the time.

Also, despite the ever-changing roster of the Suicide Squad, this book does feature many of the characters you’ll see in the movie, including Amanda Waller, Deadshot, Rick Flag, Enchantress and Captain Boomerang. The Trial by Fire book is currently out of print, so you might be heading to eBay for it; however, a new edition is due out from DC in September, so you could save a few bucks waiting for that.

Deadshot: Beginnings

Collects: Deadshot #1-4, Detective Comics #474, #518
No one captures the character of Deadshot quite like writer John Ostrander. He’s the man who revitalized Deadshot by putting him on the Suicide Squad roster in the first place, and he also wrote the character’s very own miniseries.

This book helps to flesh out Deadshot’s character, evolving him from a one-note Batman villain into a fully fleshed-out and very cold-blooded gun for hire. In these stories, we find out what really makes this precise assassin tick and how tragedy and family have shaped his career. Plus, there’s some Batman action in this, and we all know you can’t go wrong with a little Caped Crusader in your reading diet.

Suicide Squad: From The Ashes

Collects: Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #1-8
In the mid-2000s, John Ostrander (seeing a pattern yet?) returned to the Squad with a 21st century reboot after years of dormancy. This book sees the return of Rick Flag — who was transported to the dinosaur-infested island of Skartaris after he was presumed killed in action — and the reformation of the Squad, including Deadshot, Captain Boomerang and Bronze Tiger.

The plot here is more outlandish than other Suicide Squad books, but it’s the interplay between the group members and the fiendish Amanda Waller that Ostrander completely nails. From the Ashes is a bit heavy on the DC continuity, so it might not be palatable for newbies, but for everyone else, this is an integral part of the team’s history.

Suicide Squad: Kicked in the Teeth

Collects: Suicide Squad #1-7
This book collects the first seven issues of the Suicide Squad’s New 52 debut and, to put it mildly, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The writing tends to be uneven, bordering on low-brow mostly, and there is a disturbing emphasis on raunchiness and sex throughout. However, the Suicide Squad’s attitude and interplay are still here and still pretty much just as John Ostrander envisioned it in ’87.

Writer Adam Glass mixes these psychotic personalities well, and while he doesn’t quite nail the black-ops/political beats of some of the best Squad books, he does nail the group’s twisted sense of style. Plus, it seems that, for the most part, the movie roster takes quite a few cues from this run, especially the inclusion of Harley Quinn.

Batman Adventures: Mad Love

Collects: Batman Adventures: Mad Love One-Shot
With both Harley Quinn and The Joker featuring prominently in the Suicide Squad movie, it’s important to go straight to the source of their relationship - Batman Adventures: Mad Love. Harley was originally created solely for Batman: The Animated Series, but she proved so popular that she eventually moved into the comic book continuity, starting with this story.

Here we get a glimpse into the twisted relationship of these two as we witness how Harley went from a promising intern at Arkham Asylum to the Joker’s right-hand gal. It’s twisted, yet poignant; sardonically humorous, yet strangely tragic. Love can do funny things to a person, and when both characters wear a permanent Cheshire grin, you can count on a strange ride.

Writers Bruce Timm and Paul Dini portray both Harley and the Joker better than anyone before or since — don’t let the cartoonish art fool you, this is as sophisticated a Batman comic as you’ll ever find and the perfect window into the disturbing world of Harley Quinn and her lovely Puddin’.

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