“Future State: The Next Batman” introduced the Arkham Knights, a group of heroic villains who are better at the job than the Suicide Squad.
Warning: The following article contains spoilers for “Rise,” a story appearing in Future State: The Next Batman #1 by Paul Jenkins, Jack Herbert, Gabe Eltaeb, and Rob Leigh, on sale now.
While the Suicide Squad has been popular for decades, with new hype brewing due to James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad on track to be released this year, a backup story in the first issue of Future State: The Next Batman illustrates a much better approach to using super-villains in the pursuit of good.
In Gotham’s near future, the city has fallen under the control of The Magistrate, who seek to “protect” the citizens with their no-mask policy, shooting anyone wearing one on sight. While various heroes are struggling against the regime, the Arkham Knights are revealed as an unlikely team of villains fighting against the oppression. Led by Astrid Arkham, daughter of the former warden of Arkham Asylum, she and her band of criminals claim to “fight against tyranny with the light of the sun.” The difference between her and Amanda Waller, the founder and traditional commander of the Suicide Squad, is that she offers her soldiers something that Waller doesn’t: rehabilitation.
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For their first mission, the team is tracking down Killer Croc. After encountering him in the sewers, the Arkham Knight asks him to accept his role as a castoff of society, and join them in what they see as their righteous cause. He asks if he has a choice, to which Astrid responds “yes”, already diverging greatly from Amanda Waller’s “do as I say or die” policy. After the group take up temporary residence in Wayne Manor, Astrid explains how she simply wants all those in her squad to be accepted back into society, and that to do that the regime must fall. Having grown up in Arkham Asylum, Astrid developed sympathy for the incarcerated, and she is now determined to help them in any way she can.
Unlike Waller, Arkham looks for ways to cure the villains she works with. She gives Dr. Phosphorous pain relief to help him deal with his radiation sickness, believes that Killer Croc shouldn’t be feared just because of his reptilian appearance, and thinks that Clayface is just a man struggling to find himself. She even notes that Victor Zsasz, whom she describes as “an irredeemable Goblin” has an admirable sense of loyalty and wit. She takes care to view her new teammates as real people as opposed to simply patients.
Along with her “soldiers,” Astrid Arkham is joined by Ex-District Attorney Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face, who seems to no longer controlled by the flip of a coin. With him seems a much more restrained Anarky, subdued serial killer Humpty Dumpty, and former loner thief/contortionist Copperhead all working alongside Astrid’s Arkham Knight. While many of these have seemed to be at least partially rehabilitated, the team isn’t going to stop The Magistrate through group therapy, and they have to often take the fight to them. Unlike Waller, who watches and orders from afar, Astrid is in the heat of battle with her Knights, acting less like a commander and more like a leader than “The Wall” ever has.
While the Suicide Squad has been around for over sixty years, perhaps something can be learned from Astrid Arkham’s model. While promising reduced sentences may be more tempting for the criminals of Belle Reve, perhaps what they really need is someone who genuinely wants to help them, rather than use them up as expendable means to an end.
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