CBM Profile: Amanda Waller

Posted: August 17, 2016 in CBM Profile
Tags: , , ,

Who would you consider to be the biggest badass in the DC Universe? Would it be a dark, brooding hero like Batman? Maybe an unflinchingly cool mercenary like Deathstroke? Both are decent choices and both are wrong. There is, in fact, a simple and objective answer to this question.
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Ok, so maybe “objective” is a bit of a stretch. However, when you look at all of the evidence it seems pretty clear that The Wall is one of the coolest and most unflinchingly tough characters that DC Comics has ever published. Created by John Ostrander, Len Wein, and John Byrne (with Kim Yale adding a lot to her early appearances) she is the ultimate chess-master in a world full of super-powered heroes and villains.

amandaHer origin story fits very neatly into the superhero mold: while living in the projects of Chicago, her husband and child were murdered. After that, she dedicated her life to creating order from the top down. She quickly rose the ranks in the US Government and eventually became the one of the leads of Checkmate (a multi-national peacekeeping agency) and the sole overseer of Task Force X, the deadly black ops strike-force nicknamed the Suicide Squad. Operating out of Belle Reve Penitentiary in the swamps of Louisiana, they’re a team of supervillains forced to work off prison sentences on exceedingly dangerous missions.

wall52Waller’s abrasive personality and willingness to do anything or sacrifice anyone to get the job done have lead her into plenty of moral grey areas. Over the years, she’s been an interesting outlier in an industry that typically equates chiseled physiques with power. Which made it all the more strange when DC Comics relaunched the Suicide Squad in 2011 as part of their “New 52” reboot and the character was introduced looking nothing like how she is traditionally portrayed. The reaction was mixed, to say the least, and in 2016 the original version of the character was once again brought into the spotlight during the “Rebirth” event.

walltoonIt took a little bit of time for popular media to catch on to just how cool Waller is. Her first appearance in any medium was on Justice League Unlimited. Within the show, she is a lead for Project Cadmus and is responsible for contingency plans should the League turn against humanity. Perhaps her two most notable appearances were “Task Force X” and “Epilogue”. In the former, she sics the Suicide Squad on the League in order to steal some mystical technology. While the latter plays as a sort of cap-off to the cancelled series Batman Beyond and retroactively makes Waller responsible for the future Batman’s origin. In all of her appearances in JLU she was played by CCH Pounder, a veteran actor who is no stranger to playing strong characters.

Pounder would continue to voice the character in two animated films, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and Batman: Assault on Arkham. She would also voice the character in two video games (Batman: Arkham Origins and it’s mobile device sequel, Blackgate) making her, far and away, the most prolific actor to have inhabited the role. In truth, her tough demeanor and striking voice fit the character so well that the fact she hasn’t played the role in live-action is something of a shame.

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The Real Wall

Her other animated appearances have been somewhat spotty. She had a small part in the television series Young Justice and was essentially just a warden of Belle Reve with no mention of her other activities. She is also currently seen in the web-series DC Super Hero Girls as the principal of Super Hero High. And made a small appearance as President Waller in last year’s Justice League: Gods and Monsters.

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Arrow‘s Wall, with the Squad

In live-action, Waller has also had multiple appearances. Each time with a different person inhabiting the role. Her first appearance in television was during Smallville‘s 9th season as the head of Checkmate and a foil for Clark and the JSA. While played by Pam Grier, the show didn’t use her to great effect and only tangentally connected her with the later introduction of the Suicide Squad. A few years later, she was brought to life by Cynthia Addai-Robinson on Arrow. This version drew heavily from the oft-criticized “New 52” version of the character but stayed true to her tactician-like manner. After many episodes focusing on the Squad and her ability to manipulate people to do her bidding, the show unceremoniously killed her off. The move was largely criticized by fans as an obvious attempt to clear the field for her big-screen presence in 2016.

Speaking of the big-screen, the character’s first appearance was slated to be in a film that was never made. In the mid-2000’s, Justin Marks wrote a screenplay called Super Max about Green Arrow being framed for assassinating a high-ranking Checkmate agent. He is then thrown into a literal Super Max prison full of all manor of supervillains from the DCU. Waller played the role of the warden in that script and was essentially a secondary antagonist. While she didn’t have much in the way of characterization, later drafts may have fleshed out the character a bit.

wallssAside from the scrapped movie, Waller’s made a couple of appearances in film. Many moviegoers recognize Viola Davis in the role in 2016’s Suicide Squad, where the character serves much the same purpose she has traditionally does, but that wasn’t her first appearance in cinemas. In 2011’s oft-maligned Green Lantern, the character was portrayed by Angela Bassett as a DEO scientist who discovers alien life. She has minimal impact on the plot, but her costume is reminiscent of her Checkmate uniform. The film also quickly flashes back to her origin, even using classic Suicide Squad issues as reference, which is an odd amount of detail for such a minor appearance.

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With the opening weekend success of the Suicide Squad film, it seems likely that there will be sequels that will further delve into the personality of The Wall. If it were up to me, I’d love to see Waller make further appearances in other DC live-action films. When she first appeared in Green Lantern, Angela Bassett had implied that she was being positioned as a “Nick Fury-like” character which is something that would work especially well now that DC is building its own cinematic universe. As of now, it seems unlikely that we’ll see her in any other form outside of the occasional animated appearance, which is a real shame. I mean, how cool would it have been to see Arrow‘s Waller spar with Supergirl‘s J’onn J’onzz? Hopefully her further appearances on the big screen continue to build on what makes her such a great character.

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