When it was revealed that Starro the Conqueror was going to be a major villain in The Suicide Squad it felt like the perfect fit. The combination of absurdity and horrific danger made Starro a truly terrifying villain for the Suicide Squad to face. However, James Gunn did not take the traditional route with Starro, instead infusing the character with pathos that makes it hard to consider the alien an actual villain.
Starro the Conqueror in the comics is exactly what it seems like, a massive alien starfish with one eye who has psychic abilities. Starro uses these abilities in combination with smaller starfish, extensions of itself, to mind control those it is conquering. Starro has faced off against some of the greatest heroes in the DC universe including Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and the other members of the Justice League. Starro’s only goal is to conquer the world and Earth has not been the only target. But this doesn’t seem to be the case in The Suicide Squad.
HOW THE SUICIDE SQUAD ADDS PATHOS AND TRAGEDY TO STARRO’S STORY
In The Suicide Squad, Starro didn’t choose to come to Earth, instead being abducted by American astronauts. Starro only uses the psychic extensions of itself after being taken and tied down by the astronauts as they laugh at and posed with Starro. After the astronauts return to Earth, Starro is taken to a facility in Corto Maltese and for three decades Starro is used and abused in human experimentation by the Thinker, the Corto Maltesians, and the American government.
The extensions of Starro are used to experiment on and torture men, women, and children with only some of the horrific atrocities shown and hinted at in The Suicide Squad, including a man who is literally cut in half, but still moving. Starro pleads with Ratcatcher 2 and Rick Flag hoping they have come to rescue it telling them that Thinker has tortured and had his way with them for thirty years.
Even the name Starro the Conqueror in The Suicide Squad is something Thinker came up with to mock the alien. And although Starro has grown to a massive size it clearly was not by choice. But when Starro does finally escape Jotunheim their immediate impulse is to attempt to “conquer” the island, so does this make the alien a villain?
While enslaving and conquering Corto Maltese are villainous actions the context is important to consider. Why is Starro trying to take over Corto Maltese and enslave its citizens? One possibility is that creating an island full of extensions of itself would mean an army that can protect Starro. For three decades all Starro has known is pain and suffering so it is no surprise that it wouldn’t want to go back to that existence.
And can it truly be a surprise that the animal that was abused for so long immediately bites at the hand that reaches out to it, especially when said hand is holding a gun? Another reason that it seems conquering the world wasn’t Starro’s goal once it escaped is the fact that it repeatedly told the Suicide Squad “This city is mine.” Not this planet, but city.
The tragedy of Starro comes full circle in the alien’s final moments as it is dying. Starro tells Bloodsport, “I was happy, floating, and staring at the stars.” Starro never asked for any of this. The Starro of The Suicide Squad was not a conqueror, but instead a victim. This isn’t to say that the Suicide Squad was wrong to stop it. In the end Starro was a dangerous alien that killed hundreds and would have killed everyone in Corto Maltese. But the tragedy of this character is that had Starro never been taken, it likely never would have come to Earth. Starro in The Suicide Squad is not a killer or conqueror by nature.
James Gunn has managed to take a villain that he himself was terrified of as a kid and make it a victim. While Starro is traditionally an alien bent on world domination that isn’t the case in The Suicide Squad, only attacking after spending decades being the subject of endless torture. Starro, like the members of the Suicide Squad, notably Polka-Dot Man and Ratcatcher 2, is much more complex and sympathetic than one would expect in the film. In The Suicide Squad Starro is not a conqueror, but instead the conquered.
The Suicide Squad is currently in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. What did you think of Starro in The Suicide Squad? Were you a fan of James Gunn’s interpretation? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on our social media and check back with The Illuminerdi for more DC and The Suicide Squad.