Today’s reading: Deadpool #1, Jan. 1997
Story: Joe Kelly
Art: Ed McGuinness
Joe Kelly loves Deadpool. He says so right on the letters page of the first issue of this series, his first ongoing solo title (and a springboard to future gigs writing the X-Men, Superman and Superboy).
And like any good lover, Kelly wants Wade Wilson to change. He wants him to become a hero. But, y’know, still make jokes and kill people and stuff.
Deadpool #1 is the start of a 33-issue hero’s journey. As he goes about his daily business of helping topple regimes, harassing other mercenaries and hanging out with homeless people, he’s being watched by Zoe Culloden and Noah DuBois, representatives of the pandimensional firm of Landau, Luckman & Lake (formerly Landau, Luckman, Lake & LeQuare). Zoe first appeared in 1994’s Wolverine #79 and was also a major character in that book during the mid-1990s, accompanying Logan on a mission that should have resulted in him getting his adamantium skeleton back but instead turned him feral for a time and led him to kill Cable’s son, Tyler, as well as a number of Dark Riders (mostly the lame second-generation ones).
LL&L want Deadpool for a very important but very unclear mission. But first, they need to test him. More on that in a bit.
The book’s tone is established right away, as DP narrates a mission in the Bolivian jungles, but his prey can hear him doing so. There’s also a string of pop culture references (many now dated) in just the first scene, including bits about Marlin Perkins, Game Boy, Super Mario and a parody of lines from the Keanu Reeves movie Speed.
Ed McGuinness’ blocky, cartoonish style is perfect for this book about a master of cartoon violence. His penchant for drawing barrel-chested dudes will later get him gigs drawing the Hulk and Superman.
In the meantime, issue 1 starts a tradition of drawing what look like Street Fighter characters into Deadpool comics. One of the Bolivian soldiers looks exactly like Ryu, down to the red bandana, and Deadpool’s primary nemesis during the Kelly run, T-Ray looks like a differently-coifed variant of Akuma. Things get even more Street Fighter-y five years from this run, when Udon Studios draws the book in conjunction with writer Gail Simone. Udon has since become the primary name in Street Fighter comics.
But it’s letterer Richard Starkings who introduces one of Deadpool’s most important traits: His trademark yellow word balloons. The previous two minis, which we covered last time, had DP speaking in white balloons with yellow borders, and appearances prior to that used white balloons with red borders, but the yellow balloons are what we see today when Deadpool speaks on the page.
Also new to the Marvel Universe in this issue are the mercenaries of Hellhouse, the outfit Deadpool works for at the start of the series. Running things is Patch, a short, bald, mustachioed man who is not Wolverine’s Madripoor alter ego. Fellow mercs include T-Ray, who knows magic and hates Deadpool; C.F., a Blob-like fella who can take a beating and bounce back like a Looney Tunes character; Fenway, who speaks in baseball terminology; and, of course, Weasel, Deadpool’s best bud/punching bag/weapons and tech supplier, who will be played in next year’s movie by T.J. Miller.
Speaking of things that have carried over from the Deadpool minis, DP’s crush on X-Force’s Siryn has become official canon, with Weasel mentioning “that bonnie Irish lass” to get a rise out of Wade, who in turn socks Weasel across the jaw. Between Mark Waid and Ian Churchill’s 1994 miniseries and this issue, Wade and Theresa also teamed up in a couple issues of Jeph Loeb and Adam Pollina’s run on X-Force. If anything, said crush is one of the pre-Kelly seeds that makes Deadpool want to be as good as someone like him can be.
Siryn isn’t the only woman in Deadpool’s life, though. There’s also Blind Alfred, the vision-impaired Aunt May lookalike Wade keeps prisoner in his rundown row house in San Francisco. Why won’t be revealed for a bit, but what is revealed to us about her instantly is that while she’s a prisoner, she’s no victim. She trades barbs with Wade on the regular, hits him as needed, and her first act as an extant character is to threaten a Girl Scout with imaginary optic blasts and steal her cookies. Blind Al will be appearing in the movie as well, played by Leslie Uggams.
Then there’s Gerry, the homeless old Haight-Ashbury hippie Wade sometimes talks to. Or is he something more? (Spoiler: He is, but there’s really no indication of that at this point.)
A first issue deserves a special superhero guest star, right? So who do we get? Wolverine? The Hulk? Spidey? Nope, try again. It’s Sasquatch from Alpha Flight! Remember what I said last time about heroes being in short supply? Canada’s premier superteam was without a book at this point, but that would change in a few short months, when a second AF series would launch written by then-future Uncanny X-Men writer Steven T. Seagle and drawn by Scott Clark.
Deadpool is sent to Sasquatch’s Antarctic lab on a demolition gig trumped up by LL&L to test his abilities and see if he’ll sacrifice himself for the greater good, in the first of many years of stories in which Deadpool makes difficult choices to prove he can be a hero when he wants to be, a theme cropping up now in Cullen Bunn and Matteo Lolli’s Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars miniseries. Specifically, Wade dives into a gamma-radiation vat to keep it from melting down and giving everyone in the Southern Hemisphere cancer (a disease that’s kind of a sore spot for him). This corroborates LL&L’s belief that Deadpool can help usher in a galaxy-wide age of peace. Except when Zoe and Noah tell him that, he essentially tells them they’re full of crap and to take a hike. Don’t worry, they’ll be back.
Nostalgic ad alert: The inside back cover lets people know that Independence Day will be available to own on VHS on Nov. 22, 1996. Just in time for Christmas!
Next time on Thursdays with Wade, we’ll check out issue #2 and the beginning of Deadpool’s long, strange frenemy-ship with Taskmaster. If you’re looking for the issue in a non-digital way, check out the Deadpool Classic Vol. 2 trade, which collects issues 2 through 8, plus the Flashback Month -1 issue and the 1997 annual in which he teams up with Daredevil and steals his dog (more on that later).
In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at PressofAC.com/Life. His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.