Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thursdays With Wade Interlude: Revisiting John Ostrander's Deadpool

Today's reading: Heroes for Hire #10-11, Apr.-May 1998
Story: John Ostrander
Art: Pascual Ferry, Jaime Mendoza, & Joe Rosas (#10), Scott Kolins, Dan Pansonian, & Joe Rosas (#11)
Guest writer for this column: Matt Lazowitz

So, it might be surprising to those who have come to comics in the past ten years or so, but there was a time when Deadpool wasn't as ubiquitous as Batman or Wolverine, with dozens of guest shots a month. Early on, during the time that Joe Kelly's run was taking place, a Deadpool guest appearance was a fairly rare thing, outside of his recurring role in X-Force. So, I'm giving Dan the week off so I can discuss one of those early guest appearances, one that's important for a couple of reasons that tie into recent Deadpool history.

First a little history: as Dan has talked about, Deadpool's own series debuted during the time of Heroes Reborn, when many of Marvel's seminal heroes were shunted off to a pocket dimension inside a blue rubber ball being carried around by Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman's son (Hey, he's Franklin Richards. You tell him he can't use his god-like powers how he wants). So with the Avengers and Fantastic Four off the playing field, and the X-Men more hated and feared than ever before, some other heroes needed to step up. And so Danny Rand (Iron Fist) and Jim Hammond (the original Human Torch) took their considerable holdings in the Oracle Corporation and established a new Heroes for Hire, superheroes who were being paid to superhero, with Danny's old pal Luke Cage front and center. A Defenders-like non-team, the cast rotated, but included such characters as She-Hulk, Hercules, Ant-Man (Scott Lang), and the first female White Tiger, although she's not the same one from Ultimate Spider-Man.

Heroes for Hire was written by John Ostrander, hence my interest in the series. For those of you who haven't read any of my numerous pieces spotlighting his work, Ostrander became a household name in the 80s and 90s with both creator owned work, like his creator owned bounty hunter series Grimjack, and work for DC, including Suicide Squad, Firestorm, Manhunter, and Spectre, to name just a few. By this point in his career, he was doing a lot of work for Marvel, not just Heroes for Hire, but X-Man, Punisher, and a series of mini-series about Bishop of the X-Men. The art for most of the Heroes for Hire series was provided by Pascual Ferry, whose other works include a couple issues of Mr. Miracle with Grant Morrison, Adam Strange with Andy Diggle, Ultimate Fantastic Four with Mike Carey, and Action Comics with a guy you might be familiar with if you've been reading "Thursdays with Wade," Joe Kelly. One of these issues is a Ferry, while the other has art from Scott Kolins, probably best known for his partnership with Geoff Johns on The Flash.

One of the reasons to call out these issues now actually ties in to last week's new Deadpool #1. There, Deadpool comments that the Heroes for Hire were the first team he ever joined. While that is actually a reference to one of the excellent flashback issues from the previous Dedapool series, it is actually true! Yes, Deadpool appeared in a couple issues of Secret Defenders (along with Luke Cage, who never brings it up again) prior to this, but that isn't a team, just a random group of character Dr. Strange would summon to solve a particular problem, and Deadpool wasn't trying to be a hero back then. Here he's in full superhero mode (or as much as Wade ever can be).

By this point in the series, the other heroes have just returned from the pocket universe, but the Heroes for Hire are still up and running. There are a lot of subplots running, as Ostrander is a slow burn kind of plotter, with stuff like Iron Fist summoning K'un Lun to return to the mortal plane and Scott Lang having issues with his daughter, Cassie, long before she would become a superhero herself, but I'm going to stick to the main, and Deadpool relevant, plot.

The current assembled team at the beginning of this issue is made up of Luke Cage and Iron Fist, and their often partners Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. Colleen is a martial artist and her partner in private investigation is Misty Knight, a trained P.I. with a cybernetic arm who is Iron Fists's on-again/off-again girlfriend. Jim Hammond calls the team together to tell them that they have been hired to stop a rogue biochemist, Professor Wolfgang Hessler, from selling his new bioweapon to the highest bidder. The thing that makes this a matter for super people is that Hessler has fled to his native country, Symkaria, home of international mercenaries Silver Sable and the Wild Pack, and Sable is keeping him protected, using a special Wild Pack composed of then-reformed Spider-Man villain Sandman, mercenary for hire Paladin, the former Bucky called Nomad (in whose comic Deadpool made his very first non-X universe appearance), and the martial artist known as the Cat. Cage is concerned that, with most of their regular team members away, they'll be underpowered for the mission, but Hammond assures them that another agent will meet them at the private jet to Symkaria. Oh, and all of this is being observed secretly by the series's main villain, the Master of the World, former Alpha Flight nemesis and a weird combination of Dr. Doom and Vandal Savage, who isn't as cool as either of them and has the least imaginative villain name of all time. More with him later.

When the Heroes arrive at their private airstrip, they find waiting for them... Indiana Jones! But no, hat's not Indy, it's Deadpool using his handy image inducer. You see, Hammond contacted Landau, Luckman, & Lake, and they sent their newest employee, Deadpool (wait, Deadpool wasn't working for LL&L last column. When did that happen? Keep reading this column to find out). Deadpool immediately starts to introduce himself to the Heroes, starting with a joke that would never fly today, addressing Colleen and Misty as Soy-N-Peppa, then tries to be a bro with Luke Cage. And when he gets to Iron Fist, he literally falls over laughing, commenting about Fist's footwear, calling them ballet slippers. When the Heroes get on the plane and start to take off without him, Deadpool quickly joins them and says he's trying to be a hero now, and keeping up with the George Lucas theme, starts making Star Wars jokes, asking to be taught by Obi-Wan Rand and all sorts of, "Use the Force, Luke," jokes. So Ostrander definitely has the Deadpool patter down.

Arriving at Symkaria, the team finds they must scale a treacherous mountain to arrive at the Monastery of St. Eobar's, where Sable has set Hessler up with a lab. Deadpool complains, makes some meta-commentary about how the team has no fliers and they need a better balance of super powers, and then simply teleports away, pretty much ruining the element of surprise. In the monastery, Paladin and Nomad are talking. Well Paladin is talking, and Nomad is replying with grunts and whistles. After Paladin makes a then-topical joke about Millennium, Chris Carter's nearly forgotten follow-up to The X-Files, Deadpool teleports in and he fighting commences.

The Heroes for Hire arrive during this initial fight, as do the rest of the Wild Pack, and issue ten ends with the two teams facing off. But that's after one final revelation. It turns out Nomad wasn't speaking because he isn't Nomad; he is, instead, a disguised Madcap! This is the first meeting between Deadpool and Madcap! While they haven't been together a lot on page, Madcap is one of the team of Deadpools in the current series, and was also, thanks to a retcon by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, the second voice in Deadpool's head throughout Daniel Way's entire run on the series, so it's become a pretty important first meeting.

Issue eleven starts out with the classic superhero vs. superhero fight. The splash page is Deadpool and Madcap face to face, Deadpool talking about his healing factor and how that means he'll win and Madcap saying he doesn't feel any pain so that's why he'll win. The fight seems pretty evenly matched, but the Wild Pack slowly takes out the Heroes for Hire, leaving only Deadpool up, and then Wade heroically teleports away, Mighty Brave Sir Robin style (yes, that was a Python joke, but it's relevant, trust me).

When Iron Fist comes to after the Cat took him out, he's imprisoned with a still unconscious Cage shackled to a wall and Misty and Colleen nowhere in sight., Silver Sable arrives to take him to meet Prof. Hessler and talk, laving Cage alone, who promptly breaks free and reveals that he has been working for the Master of the World. It's been years since I read any of the issues of this series other than the reread of these two, so I don't remember if this is where we learned Cage was a mole for the bad guy, but he breaks out of his cell to go and take Hessler off the board, as it turns out Hessler was working for the Master through a series of blinds before he ran away.

We cut to Colleen and Misty, who are being guarded by Madcap, who is basically doing the entire Spanish Inquisition bit from Monty Python's Flying Circus for them (see, I told you the Python reference was relevant) whether they like it or not. There's a knock on the door, and when Madcap opens it, it's Madcap! No, it's actually Deadpool using his image inducer again, and he coldcocks Madcap, frees Colleen and Misty, and they escape, bumping into Cage, and together they head off to find Iron Fist.

But when they find Iron Fist, he has been talking to Silver Sable and Hessler, and it turns out Hessler didn't know he was making a weapon for his previous employer, who Danny is surprised to find was a subsidiary of his own Oracle Corporation; seems Sable had a good reason to attack when the Heroes for Hire showed up. He was doing research, and when he found out it was being weaponized, he ran off to where he knew he was safe and where he could design an antidote to his research. At that point, usually the two super tams would join forces, but the Master pops up in hologram form and tells Cage to put a mind control device on Hessler, blowing Luke's cover. Deadpool starts shooting Cage (showing he's not exactly the most heroic of dudes yet), and the fight commences again. When Madcap and Paladin arrive, they see a fight going on, and immediately start attacking whichever Hero is closest, not knowing that Luke is the only real threat. Finally, the Master teleports in, takes Luke and the now mind-controlled Hessler, and leaves the Heroes for Hire high and dry. It's not exactly an auspicious ending for Deadpool's first outing with a real superhero team.

So, what exactly have we learned in these two issues about Deadpool? Not much, but hey, that's cool. It's still a fun two-parter, Wade gets to joke around, and we get some stuff that will later become important to Deadpool. So, it's well worth reading if you have the chance.

And if you want to read it, as well as the other early Deadpool appearances I mentioned here (Nomad, Secret Defenders), as well as some early appearances in X-Force, Wolverine, and some other random issues, they are all available in the Deadpool Classics Companion trade.

Next week, Dan's back with issue fourteen of Deadpool, where the fallout from "The Drowning Man" hits the proverbial fan. See you then.

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