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Friday, August 6, 2021

“There’s a Polka-Dot Man in All of Us”: David Dastmalchian Walks Us Through the History of His ‘The Suicide Squad’ Character [Exclusive]

At first glance, a big budget superhero film might seem an odd choice for coverage on Bloody Disgusting, given that the capes-n’-tights genre rarely caters to the average horror enthusiast or gorehound. However, Warner Brothers’ new DC film The Suicide Squad might very well surprise readers of this site, what with its astonishing levels of bloodshed, more body horror elements than should be expected out of any comic book flick, and a finale which features an honest-to-goodness kaiju stomping about and laying waste to a city with as much zeal as Godzilla on a bad day. “Socko! Biff! Pow!” this is not.

Written and directed by James Gunn, surely no stranger to horror with credits such as Tromeo and Juliet, Dawn of the Dead, Slither, and The Belko Experiment to his name, The Suicide Squad seeks to meld the superhero genre with the more subversive elements of Gunn’s work in considerably more shocking ways than his prior work on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy films. With its big budget and hard R rating, the film marvelously displays Gunn’s penchant for ladling on grue and guffaws in equal measure, all while never forgetting the heart that makes the best of his work so memorable.

There’s perhaps no better figure in the film’s considerable roster of characters that better exemplifies Gunn’s sensibilities than Abner Krill, aka Polka-Dot Man. Portrayed in the film by David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight, All Creatures Here Below), Polka-Dot Man seems ready-made to be a fan favorite, providing the film with sizable doses of the aforementioned heart, horror and humor that fuels the film. With his body-horror-tinged superpower and hangdog disposition, Polka-Dot Man is one of the movie’s standouts, a forlorn failure of a villain who rises above his faults and finds within himself the fortitude to become a genuine superhero.

Bloody Disgusting presents the following primer to Polka-Dot Man’s big screen debut by delving into the character’s comic book origins, charting his scant four-color appearances throughout the years, and chatting with Mr. Dastmalchian about bringing the character to life for the big screen.

Conceived by Batman co-creator Bill Finger and EC Comics artist Sheldon Moldoff, Polka-Dot Man made his debut with the tale “The Bizarre Polka-Dot Man” in Detective Comics #300 in February 1962. This initial appearance found Krill going by the name Mister Polka-Dot and menacing Batman and Robin with a collection of weaponized dots attached to his otherwise plain white costume. Buzzsaw dots, Flying Saucer dots, Escape Bubble dots, Punching Fist dots – you name it, Mister Polka-Dot probably had it and was more than willing to use it.

Batman slugs Mister Polka-Dot in Detective Comics #300. Art by Sheldon Moldoff

Over the course of the story, the villain matches wits with the Dynamic Duo by staging his crimes at various sites relating in some way to spots or dots (Spot Service Carpet Cleaning Co., The Ink Spot Night Club, the Domino Game Manufacturing Company, etc.), all in service to a grander scheme to gain notoriety for himself and his unusual gimmick. Mister Polka-Dot even manages to kidnap the Boy Wonder at one point, before the story culminates in a bit of fisticuffs between he and the Dark Knight. Polka-Dot is subdued, with his master plan revealed that the locations of his various capers, if linked together on a map like a connect-the-dots puzzle, would illustrate a stick figure illustration of the villain.

Polka-Dot Man in Batman: GCPD #1. Art by Jim Aparo

Krill pops up again much further down the line in 1996’s Batman: GCPD #1, which finds the one-time supervillain reduced to committing crimes with a mere baseball bat when he is no longer able to afford his electronic gimmick dots. A run-in with Detective Harvey Bullock sees the cop brutally beating Krill, putting the hapless criminal in traction. A brief cameo followed in 2003’s Batgirl: Year One #5, featuring a drunken Krill harassing a bartender before catching a baseball bat to the head. Nightwing #104 (2005), another “Year One” tale, finds the eponymous hero and former Boy Wonder tossing Polka-Dot Man face first through a bar window.

Nightwing #104. Art by Scott McDaniel

In the wake of DC’s big 2008 crossover Final Crisis, several follow-up miniseries charting the fallout of those events followed in 2009. One of them, Final Crisis Aftermath: Run, saw Krill going by the Mister Polka-Dot moniker again while sporting a revamped look. Under the command of centuries old supervillain General Immortus, Krill worked alongside a team of fellow supervillains before meeting an undignified end when an airborne manhole cover pulverized his noggin.

The Death of Mister Polka-Dot. Art by Freddie Williams II.

The fourth issue of the Kevin Smith-penned Batman: The Widening Gyre arrived with a Polka-Dot Man cameo just a year later. Set at an earlier time in Batman’s career, this issue boasted a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment with Krill, who appeared to be hanging up his Mister Polka-Dot suit and retiring after his initial outing. And with that, Abner Krill’s time in the main DC continuity seemed to have come to an end.

Mister Polka-Dot hangs it up. Batman: The Widening Gyre #4. Art by Walter Flanagan.

Nevertheless, Polka-Dot Man would go on to make two more appearances in other DC books set within entirely different continuities. In Batman ’66, the “Digital First” comic book continuation of the campy and beloved Adam West/Burt Ward television series, Polka-Dot Man makes a brief one panel appearance as he’s about to suit up. In Injustice 2, the Digital First prequel comic to the video game of the same name, Polka-Dot Man appears as a member of the Suicide Squad. Here, he barely has a chance to make an impression before an evil faux-Batman detonates the bomb in his neck (a failsafe which comes standard to all Suicide Squad members), executing Krill alongside a handful of other team members deemed to be “useless”.

The Death of Polka-Dot Man. Injustice 2 #2. Art by Bruno Redondo.

No luck, this guy.

Aside from his print appearances, Polka-Dot Man has also popped up briefly in two episodes of the animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. In “Legends of the Dark Mite!”, Polka-Dot Man features prominently in an extended dream sequence as part of a rogues gallery menacing the title character. In “Joker: The Vile and the Villainous”, Krill shows up in costume at a pool hall populated by various low-rent supervillains. In addition to these appearances, he also had a cameo in 2017’s theatrical feature film The Lego Batman Movie. He even appeared in two video games – Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham and Lego DC Super-Villains – featuring in both as an unlockable playable character.

For all of his brief appearances throughout the course of his nearly sixty-year history, Krill’s best shot at fame yet will come with the release of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, a standalone installment of the DCEU which features Polka-Dot Man as one of the titular team’s members. As portrayed by actor and Count Crowley creator David Dastmalchian, Krill is a standout, providing the film with several moments of humor, heart, and bizarre body horror.

To celebrate the release of the film, and to round out our introduction to the character, Mr. Dastmalchian was kind enough to chat with BD about all things Polka-Dot Man.

David Dastmalchian as Abner Krill aka Polka-Dot Man

Bloody Disgusting: Polka-Dot Man has always been treated as a bit of a joke or gag in the comics. Your take on the character is much more grounded and boasts far more depth than his comic book inspiration. How much of your Polka-Dot Man comes from the comics, how much from James Gunn’s script, and how much was your own invention and what you were able to find as the actor portraying him?

David Dastmalchian: Well, first and foremost, the ridiculousness of the Polka-Dot Man comes from the pages of Batman comic books, Detective Comics. I think it was 1962, his first appearance. Then in his arc throughout the very limited number of times he’s been seen in the comics, he became the joke that we think of him as today. Like in GCPD, he was sitting in a bar, just feeling completely sorry for himself, and completely getting his ass kicked by Bullock.

So the guy, when James found him, he was already in the gutter. Or when James decided to put him in the film, I should say. By the way, I just have to make a side note – as I’m talking to you, there’s a screensaver on the TV in the hotel room that I’m staying at. And for some crazy reason, it just all of a sudden it turned into a complete polka-dot explosion. That’s the screensaver. That’s really weird.

Anyway! James being the genius that James is, he took this character who didn’t have too much depth in the comic canon, and he wrote in and created this entire backstory, this light, this really intense personality. And for me, it was all there on the page. Everything I needed visually, I saw in both the comics and James’ vision and concept design. Then the character stuff was right in the pages of James’ beautiful script.

So for me, the work was just about not getting in my own way and allowing James’ fantastic dialogue and the character’s similarities to my own personality to just be there and exist. And trust that all of James’ filmmaking and the rest of the cast were going to take me where I needed to go.

BD: The Suicide Squad follows Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Birds of Prey, Joker, and other comic book movies that are providing audiences with harder, R-Rated takes on characters initially intended for all audiences (or all readers, anyway). How does Polka-Dot Man fit into the pantheon of such characters as, say, Deadpool or Wolverine or those DC characters in making that transition from being kid-friendly to something decidedly more adult? And what do you think accounts for this trend?

DD: Well, I think that there is space, thankfully, in the world of comic book storytelling for everyone. And I mean everyone. There are incredible comic book characters and stories to be told that appeal to my four- and seven-year-old. There are incredible comic book stories to be told cinematically and in the pages of comics. And by the way, in animated series, films, as well as video games. There are stories to be told in characters that really will touch the hearts and minds of the 12-year-old, the 18-year-old, the 25-year-old, the 85-year old.

There’s space for everybody at this table, because these are our modern myths. These are our modern mythological heroes. These are the contemporary version of what the Greeks were doing thousands of years ago. And I believe that, within that space, as we’ve seen with different writers, creators, filmmakers, video game designers, et cetera, get involved, there are ways that these characters can really captivate and capture the imaginations of a G-rated audience, an R-rated audience. There’s the indie film version of these stories, which is really appealing to a lot of people who are filmgoers.

There’s the horror version. Look at David Yarovesky’s Brightburn, which was an incredible superhero story that was told through the lens of genre horror. Look at the comedic with Deadpool, and obviously what James has done here. I mean, I think that it’s limiting to think that it’s just moving in any particular direction. I think that it just continues to expand, and it makes me really happy because I’m a comic book collector, as you know. I am somebody that was going into comic shops even ten years ago, and they weren’t as populated, by especially young people, as I’m seeing nowadays. And I feel like the movies and the video games have really contributed to that in an amazing way.

BD: Polka-Dot Man’s arc, at least from what has been glimpsed in the trailers, seems to find the character as a bit of a sad man, possibly mentally ill (going from one of his lines of dialogue), with no interest in living who gains a surrogate family of sorts and finds his way toward that joyous moment in the third trailer when he gleefully shouts “I’m a superhero!”

How important was it to you in playing this character to show that heroes can be much more human, flawed and relatable than their more mythic, musclebound counterparts?

DD: That was the most important thing for me, and it’s the thing that I connected with the most. Because as you and I have discussed in the past, and as is on the public record, I am an individual who has struggled with both addiction and mental illness. And I have struggled with not only suicidal ideation and morbid depression, but I survived several suicide attempts on my life. And, you know, by the grace of God and the miracle of modern psychology and science, and the help of friends, family, and support, I am here today. You know, twenty years almost into this journey of trying to improve my mental wellness.

And when we first meet Abner, because he’s such a failure as a supervillain, because he feels so much physical and emotional pain, because he feels so alienated from the world and like such a loser and a loner, he wants nothing more than to die. I mean, the opportunity to be a part of the Suicide Squad is like a dream come true for him, because then he has a perfect excuse to die. And I know what it feels like to be there. I think most of the people who will go see this movie at some point or another in their lives have known what it feels like to be incredibly depressed, to be incredibly sad, to be incredibly alone.

I think it’s a beautiful thing that James created and wrote him in a way that he can go on this mission and hopefully find some purpose in his life. I know this purpose is, to many of us, finding our calling when it comes to work, finding friends, finding an ability to really care for and love ourselves. I think that’s just something that touched my heart from the moment I started reading James’ script.

BD: The body horror element of your character, the kaiju starfish, the massive amount of bloodshed and gore seen throughout the film, all point to this movie being one of the more violent and possibly horrific superhero movies to date. Am I wrong in thinking that The Suicide Squad will have massive crossover appeal for Bloody Disgusting readers and horror fans in general?

DD: Oh, it’s going to blow their mind! It splatters so much blood! It’s the boldest, bloodiest, most balls-out comic book superhero movie you’ve ever seen. It absolutely ticks all those genres – horror, science fiction, fantasy, superhero, comedy, drama. All of that is put in the big, beautiful blender that James Gunn’s imagination is, turns it on puree, and then takes the lid off and splatters it all over the place.

So I guarantee that Bloody Disgusting readers will flip the F out for this film. And you can quote me on that!

BD: Finally, what do you want people to know about Polka-Dot Man and The Suicide Squad before they head off to their local cinemas?

DD: There’s a Polka-Dot Man in all of us. We can all be a superhero. If you ever feel like your life isn’t worth living, or that you are alone in this world, there are people who want to listen to you and people who will be there for you and can help you find your worth.

And I would like to remind everyone that polka dots are, in fact, a sexy pattern. I think we need to bring polka dots back. I hope that this film is the moment that we see polka dots explode back into the world of fashion.

Very special thanks to David Dastmalchian for his time and insights.

The First Appearance of Polka-Dot Man. Detective Comics #300 (Feb. 1962)


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