Today’s reading: Deadpool/Death Annual ’98
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Steve Harris and Reggie Jones
Congratulations, Deadpool, you’ve made it to your second annual! Time to die kinda sorta.
Deadpool/Death ’98 was part of a wave of teamup annuals inspired by the previous year’s Daredevil/Deadpool ’97. Others included Iron Man/Captain America, Alpha Flight/Inhumans, and Machine Man/Bastion.
The issue opens with a close-up splash page of a freshly teleported Deadpool about to receive a killing blow to the face from Ajax, the man who’s been hunting him since issue #14. The punch sends DP backwards over a cliff, cracking his neck on the ground below.
Now, Wade’s been killed by much worse over the years, but for the purposes of this particular story, it’s enough to make him leave his own body and reunite with the living embodiment of Death, whom we’re about to learn has a history with our antihero.
Buckle in, kids, it’s origin story time!
Prior to this issue, here’s what we knew about Wade Wilson’s back story: He’s a product of the Weapon X program, and his healing factor was borrowed from Wolverine. He signed up for Weapon X because he had a rare, untreatable form of cancer. He was a mercenary even before Weapon X, and he dated a young Boston prostitute named Vanessa, who would go on to become the mercenary Copycat and impersonate X-Force’s Domino for a year. Oh, and at some point he became friends with Bullseye.
What this annual inserts into the mythos is that Wade Wilson was actually deemed a failure by the Weapon X program after they experimented on him. He was sent to a facility where the program’s rejects were held captive for further experimentation by one Dr. Emrys Killebrew.
That’s right. KillEbrew. The second E is back. I asked Kelly on Twitter about the change in spelling, in case there were some fun backstory. He deferred to Mark Waid’s original spelling with the extra E and chalked the Killbrews up to simple, forgiveable human error.
Assisting Killebrew is a man who calls himself The Attending who wears an all-black bodysuit with a big white A on it. Picture Gaston from Beauty and the Beast cosplaying as Alvin the chipmunk. The Attending – real name Francis – gets his jollies by torturing the rejects and breaking their spirits.
The rejects themselves pass the time by placing bets on when they’ll die, hence their nickname for the facility: the Deadpool. GET IT?!
The Wade Wilson who enters the Deadpool is suicidal. His hair is falling out, and the body scarring is just beginning. He feels his mind unraveling. That’s when she walks in. A skull-faced dame in a purple, slinky dress. Death comments that Wade shouldn’t be able to see her, being alive and all. She seems extremely turned on for an abstract concept. The feeling is mutual, but there’s just one small thing Wade has to do to get the girl: find a way to die. “I can’t take the captain until the ship sinks, dig?” Death tells him.
So Wade tries to kill himself again and again. And each time he is thwarted by the Attending, to the point where he locks Wade into a wheelchair with arm shackles. Eventually, Wade’s desperation, fading grip on reality and knowledge of the Attending’s real name collide, and he begins to taunt and provoke his antagonist, improving his odds in the Deadpool. His fellow rejects begin to hold him up as a hero, which, of course, Wade balks at because this is effectively the prequel to a hero’s journey.
In retaliation, Francis lobotomizes Worm, Wade’s friend in the Deadpool. Wade snaps Worm’s neck to ease his suffering, violating one of Killebrew’s chief rules about killing his test subjects. As punishment, Francis rips out Wade’s heart.
Were this a couple pages ago, Wade would have been ready to embrace Death, both figuratively and literally, but what happened to Worm filled Wade with a need for vengeance. It also kickstarted his healing factor, effectively turning him into Popeye. Wade tears through the facility, killing guards, grabbing weapons, cracking jokes and claiming Deadpool as his new name as he makes his way to Francis, whom he blows a nice hole right through.
Vengeance achieved, Wade calls for Death to come take him, but with his healing factor now working at 100 percent, such is not to be. Wade has a way of disappointing the women in his life that drives them away, be it a bonnie Irish lass, a demon succubus or the living embodiment of Death.
We then return to the present, where Ajax takes off his helmet and reveals himself as Francis to Deadpool’s ostensible corpse.
“I killed him first! He can’t just come out of nowhere and kill me back! That’s not fair!” Ghost Wade declares.
He’s then confronted by the ghosts of his fellow rejects, brought to him by Death with a request to finish what he started and kill Ajax for real this time. He steals a smooch from Death and is resurrected, overalls and all (he was wearing overalls when he was teleported to Francis at the end of last issue), his quest for vengeance reborn.
But what about the Mithras Directive and all that galactic savior stuff? Later for that, we’ve got retroactive continuity stuff to clear up. Which we’ll return to in the next reading, Deadpool #18. See you then!
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.