Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I’ve Got the Runs: Gail Simone’s Deadpool 65-69/Agent X 1-7 and 13-15

I previously wrote about my love for Joe Kelly’s run on Deadpool, how he, more than any other writer, shaped Wade Wilson’s personality, supporting cast and place in the Marvel Universe.

But it takes a special hand to write Deadpool without actually writing Deadpool. And that hand belongs to my all-time favorite person on Twitter, Ms. Gail Simone.

In all serious, if you’re not following Simone on Twitter, shame on you. She brings all the humor, warmth and twistedness of her comics to social media, and is followed by an inclusive community of fans only a troll could hate (#bonerses). It’s that same following that likely kept her on Batgirl (a book reviewed often and well on this blog) well beyond DC’s original planned expiration date.

Deadpool was Simone’s entry to the Big Two, after blogging for Comic Book Resources and writing Simpsons Comics for Bongo, among other projects. Simone was also supposed to pen a Night Nurse comic for Marvel’s MAX mature-reader line in 2002, but that project was shelved.

Simone’s Deadpool run is most notable for replacing Wade Wilson with Alex Hayden in a Psylocke-level series of convoluted events. The move on its face seemed like a shark jump (and someone must have known it: Agent X #13’s recap page featured a doodle of Alex performing a motocross jump over a shark in a kiddie pool), but when you break everything down, no matter the protagonist, Simone was still writing Deadpool.

The run starts with Wade being hired to kill one of four rival Japanese crime lords, The Four Winds, only to end up watching all four keel over in front of him. Six months later, his merc-for-hire schtick has become a semicorporate enterprise, complete with receptionist and homeless personal assistant, and his fellow mercs have proclaimed him a hero. But another assassin-for-hire, the Black Swan, kicks the crap out of him and rewires his brain – ruining his aim and giving him a limited aphasia that makes him refer to guns as doorknobs – for taking credit for his hit.

The thing to remember is at this point, Deadpool was still just a mouthy antihero. Joe Kelly’s run showed Wade how he could be a good guy, but it wasn’t until Fabian Nicieza teamed him up with Cable in a monthly series in 2004 that the more recent phenomenon of Deadpool saying, “Hey, look at me, X-Men, I’m one of you guys, right? Right?” came to light. That said, Simone does have Deadpool mete out some social justice, after he discovers his secretary, Sandi Brandenburg, is being abused by her boyfriend.

Different writers have brought their own supporting casts to the character over the years, and Simone is no different. Wade’s (and later Alex’s) backup during this stretch includes the aforementioned Sandi, a sexy-cowgirl themed mutant merc/love interest named Outlaw, and the Taskmaster, Wade’s sparring partner/begrudging ally from waaaaaay back in issue 2 of Kelly’s run. Udon, the studio that handled most of the art for Simone’s run, also drew a Taskmaster miniseries in 2002 that introduced Sandi, Tasky’s on-again, off-again gal.

Udon’s art gives the book a very Manga-esque look, right down to the Hello Kitty-style assassins who appear in issue 13. Quite frankly, everybody looks like they’re a character in Street Fighter, but what else would you expect from the art studio that drew the Street Fighter comics? Coincidentally, both Deadpool and Taskmaster were playable characters in Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, though neither in their Udon-era costumes.

My one true quibble with the art is that every so often the panels would switch from a vertical to a horizontal layout within the same two-page spread, with no actual unified theme between the two.
After issue 69, the book is rebooted and renamed Agent X, which centers on the Alex Hayden character, who was born of the explosion that supposedly killed Deadpool, Black Swan and Swan’s henchman, Nijo, at the end of 69. Incidentally, about the same time, Marvel relaunched Cable as Soldier X, which lasted 12 issues before it was canceled.

If Agent X were written in 2012 or later, it would have been called Superior Deadpool. In some ways, Alex Hayden was only superficially different from Wade Wilson. He didn’t wear a mask, his facial scars took on X patterns and he spoke in gray word balloons instead of the traditional yellow. All the humor was still there. But where Deadpool pined for X-Forcer Siryn and danced with Death, Agent X actually got the girl, forming a relationship with Outlaw, whose invulnerability is matched only by the skimpiness of her outfits. Seriously, for how much people complained about that Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover, at least she was fully clothed. He also slept with Sandi in a non-Simone-written issue.

The first arc of Agent X even has a happy ending, as Alex, Taskmaster and Outlaw take down an army of hitmen and superpowered goons (Rhino, the Constrictor and Crossfire among them) who invade Alex’s theme park, which he’d had outfitted by none other than Arcade for just such an occasion.

After that initial six-issue arc, issue 7 finds Alex caught in a battle between two omnifetishists – people who are turned on by everything – one of whom has squeezed herself into one of Emma Frost’s old outfits and has a gang of Village People at her command. So, again, all the Deadpool humor is still there, in mildly different packaging.

Simone is absent for issues 8 through 12 (fill-in writers include future Deadpool scribe Daniel Way and Milk & Cheese creator Evan Dorkin), then returns for the book’s final arc, “Deadpool Walkin,’” which brings Alex, Deadpool and the Black Swan back together, resets the status quo and puts a bow on Sandi, Taskmaster, Outlaw and the Four Winds.

It’s not goodbye, though. Agent X, Sandi and Outlaw show up in several issues of Cable & Deadpool. Outlaw even found herself keeping her mutant powers after M-Day and getting drawn into some panels through Civil War and “Second Coming.” And Taskmaster has remained a mildly major character in the Marvel Universe, acting as a trainer in The Initiative comics and appearing in Thunderbolts, though he has since reverted to his pre-Udon, Skeletor-meets Combo Man design.

Dan Grote has been a Matt Signal contributor since 2014 and friends with Matt since there were four Supermen and two Psylockes. His two novels, My Evil Twin and I and Of Robots, God and Government, are available on Amazon.

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