There comes a point in even the greatest leader’s career where they have to admit they made a mistake. The moment when what seemed like a perfectly good plan at the time has become an unmitigated disaster and it’s time to scrap it. Unless, that is, you’re Amanda Waller. Then, in the face of repeated horrible failures, you keep trying over and over again until everything goes the way you want it to. Such is the obstinate tragedy of the Suicide Squad and the Thinker. Every time Waller has attempted to recruit this Golden Age Flash villain and his many successors, the experiment has ended in utter chaos. And yet, it’s never long before she goes and tries it again. And again.
I mean, we get it. The ultimate predictive tactician, a super cyberhacker, a mind-controlling telepath—on paper, the Thinker makes an attractive asset to any black ops team. But isn’t there a certain point where you have to recognize all the wreckage, cut your losses and move onto the next plan? Not for Waller, apparently, who’s been trying this scheme since 1988 and has kept at it up through James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. We’re not sure how that one’s going to end for her, but if history is any indication, the answer is “not well.” Let’s take a look at each time this plan has gone horribly wrong.
The Doom Patrol Incident
The Suicide Squad has a well-earned reputation for a high turnover rate, but the first near-total party kill was in 1998’s Doom Patrol and Suicide Squad Special. In this crossover, Amanda Waller assembles a “B” squad while the regular team members are occupied elsewhere. But as a newly formed Squad is wont to do, it wasn’t long before the team’s members began conspiring to make a break for it. Unrestrained yet by internal explosives—that wouldn’t become a Suicide Squad thing until much later—duties fell to the original Thinker, Clifford DeVoe, to use the telepathic abilities of his “Thinking Cap” to keep the rest of his team in line. That worked fine, until fellow team member Weasel made his move by slashing open the Thinker’s throat, killing him.
Hey, isn’t Weasel also in The Suicide Squad movie? Thinker may want to watch out for that.
The Cabal Incident
Clifford DeVoe may have been dead, but a new Thinker, Clifford Carmichael, was very much a going concern. A sadistic teenage enemy of Firestorm, Cliff Carmichael differentiated himself from the original Thinker with his excellent computer hacking abilities, in addition to innate metahuman telepathic powers. This second Thinker eventually graduated from opposing Firestorm to becoming the first true nemesis of Barbara Gordon in her “Oracle” career, who started out working with the Suicide Squad before forming her own Birds of Prey.
Once Oracle and Amanda Waller brought Thinker II in, Waller decided to try the Thinker experiment once more by enlisting him on the team. Throughout his tenure, it became Waller’s new headache to keep Carmichael from using his telepathy to force the people around him to kill themselves and each other.
That didn’t end well for Waller. The moment Carmichael had the opportunity, he betrayed the team to the clandestine organization called “The Cabal” and turned his powers on Waller herself. Maria, a local woman, intervened by hitting him in the back of the head with a chair. That was all that prevented Waller’s choice to recruit the Thinker from becoming her own little suicide mission.
The Eiling Incident
Surprisingly, it was a mistake she would make again. In the third volume of Suicide Squad, despite Carmichael’s previous attempt on her life, Waller decided for some reason it would be a good idea to bring him back onto the team.
In Waller’s “defense,” meager as it is, Firestorm had purportedly removed his metahuman powers, leaving him consigned to Waller’s tech support. (Oracle, who had previously filled that role, had by then gone on to form her own team of less morally compromised operatives.) What Waller should have counted on was that the Suicide Squad has made way too many enemies to keep a rat on your team. Carmichael joined forces with Waller’s rival, General Eiling, the moment he had the chance, getting a hold of his predecessor’s Thinking Cap in the process. Just as he was about to annihilate the whole Squad, agent King Faraday took the second Carmichael down with a hail of bullets. And that was the end of that.
Or, at least, it really should have been.
The Checkmate Incident
To be fair, Amanda Waller wasn’t the only person to fall victim to the bright idea of enlisting the Thinker. Michael Holt, aka Mister Terrific, made the same mistake twice himself.
The first time, Holt used the original Thinker’s Thinking Cap to power the JSA computers. What he didn’t expect was that the Thinking Cap would generate an artificially intelligent duplicate of Clifford DeVoe within the JSA’s systems, taking them over from the inside. But instead of destroying it, for some reason Holt thought it would be a good plan to bring the malevolent AI along when he and Waller worked together as part of Checkmate.
Now, you could more accurately call this Holt’s bad than Waller’s, but she’s had plenty of experience with the Thinker betraying or failing her before and did nothing to stop it this time. So it should have been no surprise when this artificial Thinker attempted to gain control of Checkmate’s facilities as well. (Sure, he said he was just “testing” the new guy, but come on. What kind of suckers are we?) With no program smart enough to counter the AI Thinker, it was former Superman villain Master Jailer who defeated him by generating a pseudo-duplicate Thinker to counteract him. It’s kind of a miracle that plan didn’t backfire, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
The OMAC Incident
You may have noticed by now that none of the Thinkers featured so far look anything like Peter Capaldi’s Thinker in The Suicide Squad. That changes here, with a new Thinker introduced for the New 52 era, who’s only really around for one event and never even gets a name. Using some sort of power or ability to calculate future events, this Thinker arranges for himself to get into the Belle Reve system before the invasion of the Crime Syndicate in Forever Evil. With a body aging as rapidly as his mind was expanding, “Thinker IV” made a deal with the Crime Syndicate to impersonate Amanda Waller and bring the Suicide Squad into their fold, if they could secure him a new body. Which they did, in the form of OMAC.
A new personal record, Waller! This one betrayed you before you even had the chance to formally invite him on the Squad.
The Starro Incident
That brings us to The Suicide Squad, where the Thinker takes his visual cues from the short-lived Thinker of 2013’s Forever Evil. Here’s what we know: his name is Gaius Grieves, a name never used in any comic. His powers, and his whole deal physically, are the result of super-science experiments in a Nazi laboratory. And now, Waller wants the aid of this Third Reich Frankenstein on a vitally important mission to save the world…
Well, now that we’ve had a look back at Thinker’s track record with this team, that doesn’t seem like such a great idea to me. But that’s the thing with Amanda Waller. Getting her to change her mind once it’s made up is an awful lot like talking to a…well, you know.
The Suicide Squad, directed by James Gunn and featuring Peter Capaldi as the Thinker, hits theaters and HBO Max on August 6, 2021. Not yet an HBO Max subscriber? Sign up today to enjoy the best of DC movies and TV.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCItyQuestion.