Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Amanda Waller

If you say the words "affirmative action" within 100 feet of Amanda Waller, the chances of you suddenly being transferred to an outpost in the Antarctic suddenly become pretty good. This applies even if you don't actually work for Waller, the government, or a company that even has any outposts near the South Pole. Say the wrong thing? Well, looks like Burger King is opening up a franchise to feed the penguins and you've been selected as its first Assistant Manager! Your bags are packed and your flight leaves in twenty minutes.

When it comes to powerful humans who don't dress up in pajamas or like nocturnal critters, Amanda Waller is probably the second most powerful mortal on the planet, just behind Lex Luthor. So how did a woman who grew up amongst the run down rowhouses of Opal City become more powerful than presidents and kings?

Hard work and pissing the right people off.

Early in her career, Waller was very aware of what sort of asset she was to government. Her story, her background, her education, made her a very attractive prospect. She hated herself for doing it, but she used the fact that she was a black woman to her advantage, spooking the normally pasty white power structure into getting her in the room in order to present a diverse facade. She told herself that she was using her background the same way those Old Boy snobs used their family connections, but still that left a bad taste in her mouth.

So once she was secure in government, taking on a series of Assistant Director positions within the Executive branch, she decided to stop playing ball. Waller felt she had more to offer than being a photo on page two of the departmental newsletter. She had the ideas, the drive, and the intellect to make things happen. She started rocking the boat, making waves, and all the other cliche'd bad things one can do to piss off a static system. The system responded - not able to fire her without looking bad, they just promoted Waller to a position where she could not cause much trouble.

That position? Director of the Special Executive Task Force, aka Task Force X. It was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to Amanda Waller. The Powers That Be thought they were shutting away in a little known, little used ghost department. The Task Force had been around since before World War II when it was used to run both covert and diplomatic operations that the US Government would find... distasteful. Need to negotiate a trade deal to sell off a bunch of munitions to an unpopular Nazi regime? Call X. Need to have that same load of munitions disappeared a year later? X again. They have access to a pool of high quality, disposable, experts who can get almost any job done.

After the was, Task Force X's sun began to set. Much of their purview was usurped by new organizations like the CIA. By the time Amanda Waller took over, they were reduced to pretty much running a suicide squad of special operatives, plucking the worst of the best from federal prisons, strapping a bomb to their neck, and sending them out to probably die in pursuit of a pardon.

For Waller, this wouldn't do. She knew she had been stuck in this department to keep her out of sight and out of mind. With the crumbling of the Wall and the end of the Cold War, there wasn't much call for her suicide squads any more. Still, she initiated a full court press, recruiting new operatives left and right. One of the first and best recruitments she made was Rick Flag, Jr., son of one of Task Force X's previous directors. Flag brought with him a sense of legitimacy, a memory of a bygone age when America knew it was doing right even when it was doing it the wrong way.

He also brought with him his father's journals, each filled to the brim with interesting, embarrassing secrets that the US Government would not want getting out. Blackmail is such a dirty word, but there isn't any other for what Amanda Waller did to the government. Increase Task Force X's funding and recruitment operations, otherwise some certain factoids might slip out into the diplomatic world at just the wrong time. Her recruitment efforts broadened to include foreign operatives, terrorists and partisans and the like. Their added knowledge made X more useful to the government, which increased the organization's standing, which increased its funding, and so on and so on.

Of course, running secret ops only goes so far, especially in this modern one superpower world. With no Red Menace to task missions against, X soon reached its zenith.

So to keep playing the game, Amanda Waller made up an opponent.


Like the conspiracy of Foucault's Pendulum, Checkmate did not exist until Amanda Waller gave it a name. Knowing that a shadowy organization of vague aims was better than an easily identified foe, she began to slip mentions of the enemy organization into her reports and briefings. 'We do not know who these people are,' her reports stated, 'or even what they want, but they seem to have capabilities way beyond our own.' Her case was strengthened when Superman made his first appearance. 'We cannot confirm the Metropolis Incident is not part of Checkmate's agenda. Further investigation is required.' Her funding was doubled the next day.

Before long, Waller began to see reports of Checkmate activity that she did not plant. On one level, this worried Waller - her creation had taken on a life of its own and was out of her control. On another level, this excited her - her agency had a purpose now, her position secure. She was able to tie in her experience dealing with "individuals of special or unusual abilities" to expand X's remit to cover the newly emerging superheroes as well. If in the days following the appearance of Superman the government had known just how many people in tights would be running around in a mere ten to fifteen years, it never would have tasked Waller's agency with the responsibility of watching and recruiting them. But by Issue #1, it's too late. Waller's organization has grown to Too Big To Fail status, encompassing other groups such as Cadmus, the DEO, and even the Human Defense Corps.

Checkmate seems to have matched X's growth, solidifying into an actual agency under the aegis of the United Nations. Waller has even met an operative in Checkmate's employ, an experience that was both enlightening and frustrating. Likewise, her agents in the field often run into their Checkmate counterparts, sometimes working together, sometimes now.

Task Force X (#32/52) will be an anthology of sorts. Each arc will focus on a different group within X, from the Suicide Squad to the Human Defense Corps. The idea here is to test the waters for possible spin-off titles. The first arc will feature a suicide squad run by the Assistant Director for Operations Flag and their attempts to track down an AWOL ex-Task Force agent named Patrick O'Brian. Something happened to O'Brian in the field and he seems to have gone rogue and declared a one-man war on the agency. Later arcs will include the Human Defense Corps holding off an alien incursion centered on a disused criminal hideout and a face-off with their counterparts at Checkmate.

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