Monday, March 31, 2014

I’ve got the Runs: Joe Kelly’s Deadpool (Deadpool 1-33, 1997-2000)

Deadpool loves married! Marvel announced earlier this year that its overmarketed Merc-with-a-mouth will be getting hitched in April’s issue 27 (issue 26 came out last week), a megasized book featuring backup strips from the creators who have helped shape the character over the years, including Fabian Nicieza, Joe Kelly, Christopher Priest, Frank Tieri, Gail Simone, Daniel Way and more.

All of those writers put their stamps on the character. Nicieza co-created Deadpool with Rob Liefeld and a decade later partnered him with Cable for a buddy-cop comedy that totally shouldn’t have worked but did. Priest made Deadpool obscenely self-aware. Tieri returned him to the Weapon X program. Simone body-swapped him and replaced him with a completely different character. Way gave him multiple voices in his head, a facet of the character that made its way into a 2013 video game. And current writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn have woven Wade Wilson deeper into the tapestry of the larger Marvel Universe (while letting their comedian friends write letters to the editor and creating SHIELD agents in the image of 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit).

But there was a time, long before all that, when Deadpool was a relative baby in the universe, a supporting player in X-Force who carried a pair of miniseries but otherwise was known as the guy who looked like a cross between Spider-Man and Deathstroke the Terminator. Kelly gave Deadpool a backstory, people to care about, people to spar with and about a billion pop culture jokes in between.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the book was a commercial success, of course.

I was told we were canceled almost every third issue, and it got to be so ridiculous because I couldn’t plan anything. Eventually I left with issue #33 because I was just tired of being told we would be gone soon. I had more stories, but I feel I said everything I wanted to and it was a good place to leave,” he told Bleeding Cool in an October 2013 interview.

And Kelly gave old ’Pool a proper ending, letting him walk off into the sunset with his beloved Death, but with the caveat that he was only 99 percent dead and would likely be revived in 30 days.

But back to the beginning. Kelly sets the tone right away in issue No. 1, having Deadpool sneak up on a Bolivian guerilla squad while at the same time speaking his yellow-box exposition out loud.

At the outset, Wade's supporting cast includes Weasel, his weapons and tech supplier; Blind Alfred, an Aunt May lookalike he keeps prisoner; Gerry, a Haight-Ashbury hobo in whom our antihero confides; Patch (not this one), a diminutive mustachioed man who gives Wade his jobs; CF, a fellow merc who Wade regularly puts Looney Tunes-style hurts on, to no permanent injury; Fenway, another merc who talks in baseball speak (none more one-note); and T-Ray, an albino Akuma-from-Street Fighter knockoff who antagonizes Wade at every opportunity, wears a bandage on his nose at all times and knows magic.

Kelly's run begins a long line of writers showing Wade he could be a great hero if he wasn't such a self-loathing a-hole. Right off the bat, he risks his life to stabilize a gamma core nearing critical mass in Antarctica after a fight with Alpha Flight's Sasquatch. (Yup, Sasquatch, that was the big "get" for the first issue of this series, though to be fair, this was not long after Onslaught, and most of the big Marvel heroes were in a pocket dimension. But still, Wolverine was available. I’m pretty sure he had no nose at the time, but he was available.)

The first DP series also introduced much of the world to Ed McGuinness, whose blocky, yet-round-at-the-edges style has provided the perfect pencils for Superman, Hulk, Nightcrawler and more since then. Some of the most fun art is in the scenes at Hellhouse, where mercs go to get their orders and McGuinness and other artists go to draw background characters who look like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat characters, because it was the ’90s.

Kelly was an early adopter of the recap page at the beginning of the book explaining the players and their current predicaments plus jokes and jokes and jokes. Not long after the book's debut, Marvel began including recap pages with many more of their books, sometimes in gatefold format. Nicieza’s later Cable and Deadpool series also used the recap page to set things up and deliver additional jokes.

The series also sets up a long-term frenemyship with Taskmaster, who before Kelly was an obscure Avengers villain but after becoming a recurring Deadpool character went on to be a key part of the post-Civil War "Initiative" storyline and even star in Marvel Vs. Capcom 3.

’Pool’s romantic allegiances shift pretty quickly during the first year. He starts the series crushing on X-Force member Siryn, a by-product of a teamup with her and father Banshee in a Mark Waid/Ian Churchill mini that ran a couple years before the series. Not long after, he begins hanging out with Typhoid Mary, the multipersonality character from Daredevil. But perhaps the most interesting romantic endeavour he pursues under Kelly is Death, the feminized concept previously only wooed by Thanos. Of course, one could argue Deadpool’s dalliance with Death is also a far-too-obvious metaphor for Wade’s desire for an end to his suffering, the same suffering that drives him to be a nonstop joke-and-murder machine. But the whole Siryn thing was probably bordering on Angel-and-Husk creepy anyway.

Also, hope ya like dated references! The first five issues alone include jokes about Speed, Ace Ventura, The Nanny, Cindy Crawford, Kerri Strug, Sally Struthers, the musical Stomp, Diff'rent Strokes, Johnny Dangerously, the Macarena, Lionel Richie, My Left Foot, Alice Cooper, Mr. Belvedere, the SNL land shark sketch, Webster, the Olsen twins, Yanni, Wilford Brimley, the Partridge Family, "Time to make the donuts," The Tick, Herbie the Love Bug, Hulk Hogan, Ginsu knives, This Is Your LifeCarrie and Polaroids. And man, lemme tell ya, I found every word of it high-larious in 1997.

Kelly's Deadpool is traded in Deadpool Classic volumes 1 through 5. The first volume includes only the first issue of the series, as it bookends his first appearance in 1991’s New Mutants 98 and two limited series.