Ngarluma hunter Thylacine is one of 10 all-new characters in the sixth incarnation of DC’s Suicide Squad. (Supplied: DC)
There‘s a new Aboriginal superhero in the DC Universe and she’s a deadly Ngarluma hunter from the Pilbara.
Codenamed Thylacine, she boasts night vision, heightened senses, lethal combat skills, Batman-like stealth, and a steely suffer-no-fools gaze.
“She’s the one [character] who can walk into any situation and walk back out again alive,” says her co-creator, Melbourne-based comic book writer Tom Taylor.
Thylacine (Corinna in her civilian life) is the latest recruit for DC’s Suicide Squad, and has been created by Taylor and artist Bruno Redondo, in careful consultation with writer, actor and director Shari Sebbens (The Sapphires, ABC’s The Heights and Black Comedy) and Cleverman creator Ryan Griffen.
Thylacine is the first Indigenous Australian character in Suicide Squad’s 33-year history.
A responsibility to be heroes for everybody
Suicide Squad has historically featured a mostly revolving door of DC‘s lesser-known super-criminals, outlaws and anti-heroes, some more ridiculous and also-ran than dangerous or menacing.
When Taylor was offered Suicide Squad, he saw a chance to introduce “exciting, diverse characters into the DC Universe”.
“I want to create a whole new set of anti-heroes for today and I want them to be completely diverse, from all over the world and from all walks of life,” he recalls telling his editor and publisher.
Melbourne comic book writer Tom Taylor says comics can be both a reflection of the time and an escape. (Supplied: Bruce Moyle)
“We want to tell stories about superheroes because we believe that superheroes serve a role in this world and we want the world to be a better place.”
Thylacine made her debut alongside 10 new characters including non-binary and winged The Aerie and their love interest American teleporter and kleptomaniac Wink, Puerta Rican former super-soldier Osita and exploding Argentinian T.N.Teen.
Thylacine and fellow freedom fighters The Revolutionaries are forcibly enlisted into Task Force X aka Suicide Squad #1.
While the members of Taylor and Redondo’s new-look Suicide Squad aren’t the first Indigenous, LGBTQI or diverse-identifying characters in the history of comics, the Melbourne writer hopes they will have more lasting power and active roles in comic stories than those who have come before them.
“So often [with diverse characters] they’re the ones that get shunted, but these are superheroes we’re talking about — they have a responsibility to be heroes for everybody,” Taylor says.
Suicide Squad has more issues to its name than any other supervillain team in the the DC Universe.
(Supplied: Bruno Redondo/DC)
‘It’s a Pilbara Tiger’
Of all the characters Taylor and Redondo developed for Suicide Squad, Thylacine was the one they sought the most consultation for.
The initial conversations about character development between Taylor, Sebbens and Griffen (both of whom he met in the Cleverman writing room) centred on Thylacine’s animal mythology.
Darwin-born Bardi, Jabirr-Jabirr woman Shari Sebbens was the director’s attachment for the Taika Waititi-directed 2017 Marvel film Thor: Ragnarok. She also portrayed Asgardian Mother. (ABC Arts: Teresa Tan)
“The first conversation we had was about a dingo,” Sebbens told ABC Arts. But the introduced species of wild dog was quickly scrapped in favour of “a species that’s been here since time immemorial” — the thylacine.
“Everybody immediately associates the thylacine with Tasmania and extinction, but they existed all over Western Australia as well, right up through the Pilbara to Ngarluma country,” says Sebbens.
She says it was important that everything from the character’s name, ancestral land, skin colour and abilities were grounded in a specific and real connection to “where the [thylacine] creature could come from in contemporary Australia”.
The Thylacine is also known as the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf. (Supplied: Harry Burrell/Australia Museum)
“In Palawa Kani — the reconstructed language of Tasmania’s Aboriginal Peoples — the word for thylacine is Kaparunina,” says Palawa woman Trish Hodge, co-founder of Tasmanian Aboriginal Education group Nita Education, but in the old language it is Corinna.
“We chose Corinna [as Thylacine’s civilian name] as a way to acknowledge the thylacine’s place in Tasmanian Aboriginal history and culture,” says Sebbens.
On Taylor’s behalf, Sebbens put a call out on Facebook for “connections to the mob up Pilbara way” and was put in touch with Tyson Mowarin, a storyteller, director (SBS’ Marni and kids TV show Thalu) and Ngarluma man who was described to Sebbens as “leading a lot of the big movements up there protecting country and language”.
“We have petroglyphs — rock art — here on Murujuga of [the] thylacine, and I always tell people it’s not a Tassie Tiger — it’s a Pilbara Tiger,” Mowarin told ABC Arts.
Tyson Mowarin says it’s pretty special for Thylacine to be based on Ngarluma culture and heritage, considering the diversity of Aboriginal tribes in Australia. (Supplied: Tyson Mowarin)
“Although the last one might have been in Tasmania, they’re drawn on the rock here that existed when the Murujuga area was an inland range — before the last ice age melted,” he says.
Sebbens says that in reclaiming the thylacine’s story from Ngarluma country, “which still has songs, a language name, songlines and information about the thylacine being passed down”, they are sending a powerful message.
“It was a way of saying we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere either. You can think our culture is extinct, you can try your hardest, but we will resist and we will persevere and we will survive.”
Pearson laments creations ‘about us, but not for us’
Comic book fan and IndigenousX founder Luke Pearson says Aboriginal representation in comics dates back to at least 1943.
“There was an increased interest in Australia, and in Aboriginal characters, during the 80s — thanks to Croc Dundee and the 1988 bicentennial,” Pearson told ABC Arts.
Aboriginal superhero Betty Clawman’s first appearance in the DC Universe was in Millennium #2 in 1988.
“During the 80s we saw Marvel introduce Talisman and Gateway, both of whom open portals using a bullroarer, and Betty Clawman from DC, who like Talisman, had her powers directly linked to the Dreamtime, which for Talisman meant travelling to the ‘Dreamtime dimension’, and for Clawman meant she could enter people’s dreams,” he says.
“For both of those characters, it seems they [non-Indigenous Marvel and DC creators] just took the word ‘Dreamtime’ and added their own meaning to it.”
He points to “just how disappointing it is when something is about us, but not for us”.
With Thylacine, Pearson hopes the character and popular comic book series will generate wider interest in not only Indigenous characters but also in Indigenous creatives.
“The consultation process is a huge step forward … recognising that there is intimate knowledge and value that you can’t really bring from the outside,” he says.
“But the ultimate vision is for Aboriginal people to be creating Aboriginal characters.”
In Suicide Squad #4 Thylacine and Task Force X cross the Nullarbor and stop by The Great Australian Bight while tracking down their target Captain Boomerang.
‘Oi! She’s from here!’
In this month’s issue (five), Australia’s past and present collide as Thylacine and Suicide Squad face off with one of their own: Captain Boomerang — a hard-drinking, racist, sexist, sociopathic rural white-Australia stereotype who first appeared as a nemesis of The Flash in issue #117 in 1960.
“Captain Boomerang is a very old character with very old ideas of what Australia is, and often very cliched and just a bit of a trope,” says Taylor.
The unlettered cover of Suicide Squad #5 featuring Captain Boomerang, Thylacine, Chaos Kitten, Harley Quinn, Deadshot and Jog.
(Supplied: Bruno Redondo/DC)
But if Thylacine is anything like the Ngarluma women from Tyson Mowarin’s country, he isn’t too worried about her chances against Captain Boomerang.
Mowarin, a Ngarluma creative based in Roebourne, describes his countrywomen as “the strong silent type … the ones that don’t talk so much but know what to do in hard times”.
Mowarin provided invaluable insight into Ngarluma culture and traditions through his conversations with Sebbens.
“[Thylacine] she’s obviously a strong character, because over here in our area, our cultural governance is based on everyone’s relationship to their mother … so even though there’s strong men, the ladies are the carriers of their culture and history,” he says.
Mowarin has no doubt Pilbara kids will take to Thylacine: “They’ll grab a hold of her and [finally] have someone they can identify with and be proud of — it’s pretty cool.”
Taylor describes Thylacine as cool, calm, collected, pragmatic and uncompromising.
With Thylacine finally immortalised in comics, Sebbens can’t wait to send copies up to the kids in Mowarin’s community (who were involved in award-winning interactive comic NEOMAD).
“To be honest — I know it was a big thing for myself — we wanted to have a darker-skinned character portrayed who is a total badass,” says Sebbens.
“I’m just picturing the new kids opening these comics going: ‘Oi, she’s from here!’ [That’s] so beautiful.”
Suicide Squad #5 will be out on April 22 through the DC Comics website or app.
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