Friday, April 10, 2015

Recommended Reading for 4/10: Deadpool by Duggan and Posehn

It would be really easy to write (and write off) Deadpool as just a wisecracking psycho. And a lot of guest appearances (and a couple runs on his own various titles), have done exactly that. But over the years, various writers have given him a lot more depth. Starting with Joe Kelly (written about eloquently in the past by Dan Grote), writers saw more to Deadpool then just a crazy guy who didn't want anyone to see his hideously scarred face. Christopher Priest, Gail Simone, Rick Remender, and co-creator Fabian Nicieza have all done long runs that have explored Deadpool's weirder, wilder, and/or darker corners, as a solo character or a team player. But for my money, no run since Kelly's has touched on the heart of Wade Wilson as much as the current run from writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn, a run that just wrapped up this past Wednesday. I'll be discussing that run today, but I'll be stopping  my discussion at the end of the last trade released, to avoid spoilers, and to allow Dan to discuss that last issue with Monday's review. There's plenty to discuss in those trades, so let's begin.

The first story arc of this new run on Deadpool had me raising an eyebrow. A necromancer resurrects all the dead US presidents, who then go on a rampage, to retake or destroy America. S.H.I.E.L.D. can't have their agents or the superheroes seen wiping out George Washington and the like, so they hire Deadpool, who is teamed with Agent Emily Preston, and by story's end has also teamed up with the Necromancer, Michael, who is himself former S.H.I.E.L.D., and Dr. Strange. It's a big, loud, crazy story. I remember initially reading the description and thinking this is more suited to one of the long string of crazy Deadpool mini-series that Marvel has running than an ongoing, but reading the story, there was depth; Deadpool seemed to connect with Preston and Michael, and when it turns out Preston's soul/mind has taken up residence in Deadpool's body after her own is killed, we have the beginning of something bigger.

Putting Preston in Deadpool's head starts off a chain of events that set the thematic tone for what Duggan and Posehn are doing on this run. With Preston in his head, Deadpool begins to realize he has episodes of lost time, which leads him to learn some particularly dark secrets from his past. Deadpool's history, his relationship with violence, and his idea of family, who and what that is to him, becomes a larger and larger part of his mindset and what the series is about.

The third arc of the series, collected in the trade, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" is when the series really takes off thematically. Over the course of this story, we get some answers about Deadpool's past, we learn exactly what the blackouts and abductions that go with them actually mean, we see Deadpool pushed to the brink and beyond, and we see him team up with Wolverine and Captain America. And it makes perfect sense. Joe Kelly used Cap and Deadpool together, but it wasn't the friendliest encounter. Here, it completely makes sense. We see Butler, a scientist once associated with the Weapon X project and Department K has been experimenting on Deadpool, removing his organs, wiping his memory, and grafting his organs onto others, along with X-Men DNA, to create an army of superhumans for North Korea. Deadpool leads a breakout, but finds the families of these experiments slaughtered in a mass grave... along with the mother of the daughter he didn't know he had. Cap and Wolverine, who had ignored Deadpool's request for help before he was abducted for the last time, have been kidnapped as well, and they see what Deadpool is going through and develop a new sympathy for him. Meanwhile Preston is trapped in Deadpool's head, watching his exact viscous revenge on the North Koreans and Butler. It's a harrowing story, one of the darkest Deadpool stories ever written, but it shows that there's a good balance to be struck between funny Deadpool and serious Deadpool.

The loss of Carmelita, the woman who he ignored and drove off, is the thing that drives Deadpool throughout the rest of the series. He feels remorse, and wants nothing more than to find the daughter he never knew he had, even though part of him is sure she's dead as well. It's Preston, after she gets out of his head and into a S.H.I.E.L.D. issue Life Model Decoy body, who starts tracking down Eleanor. And when Deadpool finds out she is alive, nothing will stop him from saving her. We see that Deadpool, as lost and violent as he is, wants to be a father to the girl. He wants the family he's never had.

The family that Deadpool makes over the course of the series is large, odd, and well suited to him. Dan wrote last week about Deadpool's supporting cast. It's interesting that each creative team seems to reinvent that cast. While Weasel, or Copycat, or Taskmaster might pop up in multiple runs, usually a new writer comes on and brings a new set of characters to suit their take on Deadpool. This series surrounds Deadpool with families and family members. Preston is clearly his foil/conscience/friend, but she comes with her partner, Scott Adsit (who looks exactly like his namesake, the comedian best known for his role on 30 Rock), her husband Shane, and her son Jeff. Along with Eleanor, his daughter, he also has her grandmother, Mrs. Comacho, who hates Deadpool for what he put her daughter through. The faux-X-Men from North Korea, who literally have a part of Deadpool in them, return, especially Kim, the Nightcrawler analogue, who becomes friends with Deadpool. The Necromancer, Michael, and the ghost of Benjamin Franklin, who helped defeat the zombie presidents, keep coming back. And eventually, there is Shiklah, Deadpool's wife, a demonic succubus who loves him for his violent, crazy ways. Wade sees them, sees them happy, and wonders why he can't be happy, which is pretty deep for a character known for fart jokes.

One of the things that really impressed me about what the writers were able to do was that they worked two of Marvel's big events into the series and made it feel organic. Original Sin allowed them to find Eleanor and to learn the fate of Deadpool's parents (there's family again). And Axis flipping the moral alignment of heroes and villains freed Zenpool, a calm, peaceful version of Deadpool we had seen in the gallery that existed in Deadpool's head that serves as his own mental landscape, a great visual representation that was used when he and Preston would meet inside his mind. This arc brought Evan Saban Nur, Genesis, the child Apocalypse who Deadpool had become a sort of surrogate big brother to during Uncanny X-Force, into the book, rounding out the family Deadpool had formed. I've commented in other posts that it's often hard for these kind of events either have a long lasting effect on books they crossover into, or to feel like it's anything other than a shameless cash grab, so it's doubly impressive how well these events worked in this title, one that has previously not often had much to do with big Marvel events.

Shiklah, Deadpool's wife, deserves a little time for discussion on her own. Deadpool's romantic life hasn't exactly been wine and roses. From crazy and obsessive, like Copycat or Typhoid Mary, to torn by her attraction, like Siryn, Deadpool has never had an easy time with the ladies. But by giving him this proud, haughty, powerful wife, Duggan and Posehn have created a character who will never fear him, and who accepts him for who and what he is. Introduced in a digital first series now collected in hardcover as Deadpool: Dracula's Gauntlet (it's not numbered as part of the series but fits between volumes four and five), Shiklah is a fun character, and since Deadpool stole her away from that armored poseur claiming to be Dracula (who I still consider a different character from classic Marvel Dracula, continuity be damned), I give it two thumbs up.

OK, I've talked mostly about the serious themes of this run, and they're very important. But this is Deadpool, and so you have to bring the funny if you're writing him. And it would be odd if Brian Posehn, a noted stand up comic and comedy writer, wrote something dead serious. And the run isn't. The humor is often pretty bleak and violent, with Deadpool killing Ultimatum agents is creative ways, or fighting Crossbones who has been reduced to wearing nothing but tightie whities, through the streets of New York, but it's funny. Modern Deadpool fights vampires with 70s era Dazzler. C-List villains often don't fare too well, often becoming the brunt of Deadpool's jibes and swords. Deadpool remains a self aware character, making wry observations. And the art is often littered with Easter eggs. A particular favorite has rapper and noted Marvel fan Jean Grae slugging Deadpool in the face after he and Crossbones interrupt her bike ride with their fight.

But the humor highlight of this run are the "lost" issues of Deadpool. All drawn by Scott Koblish, these issues are done in the style of different Marvel eras, and are as if Deadpool had a series long before he was even introduced. See Deadpool get drunk and steal Iron Man's armor. Watch Deadpool team up with Power Man & Iron Fist to fight The White Man (a seventies era pimp dressed mobster, not the metaphor for white power, although he's kind of that too).Stare in awe as Deapool travels the galaxy on a cosmic adventure. Cheer as a time traveling Deadpool and Cable team up with Nick Fury to fight Hitler. Shed a tear as Deadpool meets and murders his own parents under the mind control of Butler (OK, they're not all funny). And learn about gracking (that's gamma fracturing) in a comic sponsored by the Roxxon Corporation and guest starring comedian Sarah Silverman and comic book creators Jason Aaron and Jason Latour. This conceit works really well for a book that is known to break the fourth wall, and while these are mostly wacky stories, little elements from them pay off in a big way.

Deadpool has a movie coming out, so I can't imagine the interest in the character is going to decrease. There's a lot of Deadpool trades available, from the Deadpool Classics line, to all the various mini-series of recent years, to ultimate collections of the past few runs. But this current run stands head and shoulders above most of the rest. With a tender heart (often in a jar under the bed, but tender nonetheless), a wicked sense of humor, and great action, this is an excellent run on a character who has grown a lot over the years. Kudos to Duggan and Posehn for helping forward that growth to new levels.

There are seven trades of this volume of Deadpool currently available: Dead Presidents, Soul Hunter, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Deadpool V.s S.H.I.E.L.D., The Wedding of Deadpool, Original Sin, and Axis. The final volume, All Good Things... will be released in May. Hardcovers collecting two volumes each, are also being released, with two out now and at least a third on the horizon. You might also want to check out Deadpool: Dracula's Gauntlet (collecting the story of how Deadpool met his wife), The One with All the Deadpools (collecting the various annuals and one-shots related to this volume), and Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool (the title says it all, written by co-writer Gerry Duggan), all available in collection.

No comments: