Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thursdays with (Wade?) Jack: The Final (?) Chapter Of Joe Kelly's Deadpool Revisited

Today’s reading: Deadpool #30-33, July-October 1999
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Pete Woods (#30-32), Walden Wong (#31) and David Brewer (#31-33)

And now, the retcon you’ve all been waiting for ...

T-Ray is Wade Wilson. Deadpool is some guy named Jack. But not Jack Hammer. That’s Weasel, whom we haven’t seen since issue #14. None of this may be true, but also all of it may be.

Confused? Good. Let’s begin.

Issue #30 takes us back to that old den of mercenaries and plot setups, the Hellhouse, where Wade’s current boss, Alestaire Grunch, has come seeking aid from his former partner, Patch, the merc den mother of diminutive frame and demonstrative mustache. Alestaire is wracked with guilt after setting up Deadpool to take the Atlanta job arranged by T-Ray in issue #28, the one that reunited him with his dead wife, Mercedes.

Things have changed at the Hellhouse since T-Ray declared himself boss at the end of the “Drowning Man” story in issues #12 and 13. Most of the mercs have sided with the mystical albino, while the last two loyal to Deadpool – C.F. and Fenway – have gotten a lot meaner-looking to compensate.

Meanwhile, Deadpool has finally opened up to Mercedes – and the readers – about the night she died: Once upon a time in Maine, Wade and Mercedes Wilson were in love. They had a nice, cozy, secluded little place, where they spent a lot of time listening to Patsy Cline records and reading. One day, the two went down to the river for water when they came upon a frozen, hulking behemoth with a bandage on his nose. They took the man in and nursed him back to health, until one day, in the middle of a blizzard, the man killed Mercedes and left Wade for dead.

One big thing to note in Deadpool’s flashback: Wade Wilson has long, brown hair and a full beard. In nearly all previous drawings of pre-cancer Wade to date, he is depicted as having short, wavy blond hair and a little bit of scruff. It’s actually one of his go-to image inducer disguises.

Post-flashback, Wade is summoned to the Hellhouse, which works out as his next stop was tracking down Alestaire anyway. But to quote my favorite Star Wars character, it’s a trap. The T-Ray-aligned mercs are ready for Wade, and so he must stab, shoot and kick his way through a gauntlet of Street Fighter knockoffs, with the help of Patch, C.F. and Fenway.

The four of them manage to subdue the rest of the mercs, but the issue ends with Alestaire seized upon by a horde of possessed cats in a fit of karmic retribution, and Monty strung up in the Hellhouse by Deadpool’s old teleportation belt, having appeared there in a burst of green flame.

His friend in desperate need of medical attention, issue #31 opens with Deadpool taking Monty to the only place that might know how to treat him: Landau Luckman & Lake.

Except their old pal Zoe Culloden isn’t the same determined cheerleader she was in the run-up to “Dead Reckoning.” She’s an overboss now, and despite ordering Monty decommissioned for “experiencing unauthorized emotions” (aka kissing her), she’s decided Monty is LL&L property again and reclaims him. As for Deadpool, she incapacitates him and throws him in a cell, along with Mercedes and pilot Ilaney Bruckner, who were along for the ride.

Fortunately, Wade always keeps explosives wrapped in latex in his stomach for just such an occasion. A little boomsy-boom later, the three are taking up arms – even Mercedes, who by now is starting to grow accustomed to her husband’s hyperviolent lifestyle – against a squad of LL&L stormtroopers.

Meanwhile, Zoe, who has been tending to the unconscious Monty, begins to feel pangs of guilt. Finally, his brain starts to register activity again, and she sees what he’s dreaming about – him and Zoe on a date, Monty walking and rocking a pretty sweet purple deep V-neck sweater. This gives Zoe the push to take out her own men and aid Deadpool and company in their escape, and also quit LL&L.

Zoe and Monty teleport off into the sunset, but before they go, Monty offers one final prediction:

“Through that doorway sits your last opportunity at a normal life with the woman you love. If you take it, go somewhere T-Ray can’t find you. I promise you, you’ll live happily ever after.”

Wade, Mercedes and Ilaney step through the LL&L portal and wind up in Maine, at the house the Wilsons once shared, where T-Ray lies in wait. Seriously, Monty was never that good of a precog.

By issue #32, T-Ray is using more magic than he has ever been shown using before. He’s interfering in teleportation matrices, changing his appearance, casting illusions and trapping Wade, Mercedes and Ilaney in their own nightmares.

Being an ancillary character, T-Ray gives Ilaney an out, telling her she can go back home and let the main cast settle its business. But the former Alpine hermit has become a thrill junkie who feels indebted to Wade for pulling her back into the world:

“Before I meet Deadpool, my life is nothing. Loneliness. Thinking of suicide. Just guilt and pain. But that maniac thought enough of me to save my life. My worthless, pathetic life. I will never forget that debt. So you can take your cowardly offer, Herr T-Ray, and SHOVE IT!”

T-Ray responds to Ilaney’s bravado by calling her a piggie (seriously with the fat-shaming, you guys!) and having her eaten alive by little green bat-demons that transport her into an illusion in which she is forced to relive over and over the plane crash that drove her into hermitage. Among the passengers inserted into the illusion are Mercedes’ parents … whom Deadpool does not recognize.

Also unrecognizable to DP, the Hawaii beach where Wade and Mercedes spent their honeymoon. And the spot at their Calgary college where the Wilsons first met. And the fact that today is their anniversary.

Issue #32 closes with another visit to the scene where Wade and Mercedes rescue their frozen future killer. Except things are different this time. Their guest has a mustache instead of a nose bandage and is wearing familiar red-and-black pants.

Next issue, T-Ray tells Mercedes what we’re all meant to believe at this point: “I am Wade Wilson. Your husband. Happy anniversary, angel.” Honey, if that’s true, you married a real creep.

Amid more flashbacks, T-Ray tells the story of a mercenary named Jack who had long, brown hair, a mustache and wore a maskless version of Deadpool’s suit. He had failed a mission in Canada and ran across the border seeking to disappear. There, he was rescued by the Wilsons. He planned to kill Wade – drawn by artist David Brewer looking more like the pre-cancer Wade we’ve seen before – and steal his identity. Instead, Jack killed Mercedes. He thought he had killed Wade, too, but Wade was rescued by the people seeking to kill Jack. They trained him to become a mercenary as well, and he studied further in Japan to learn sorcery.

Jack, in the meantime, had snapped and believed he truly was Wade Wilson (If this is true, this is only the first time he’d lose his grip on sanity, the second being after the Weapon X cancer treatments that turned him into Deadpool, as shown in the Deadpool/Death ’98 annual).

To twist the knife further, T-Ray gives Mercedes a portion of his magic, turning her into a leather-lady version of the Goblin Queen from Inferno. He then shows Wade everyone he’s ever killed, from Ajax to the Executive Elite from his very first miniseries. (The “here’s everyone you’ve ever killed” schtick will resurface in the Deadpool vs. Thanos mini.)

At this point, T-Ray believes he has won and truly crushed Deadpool’s spirit. That’s when DP starts to laugh. He gives a long speech, but here’s the good bits:

“You ever see that old cartoon with the squirrel who’s trying to eat a coconut? Chuck Jones, I think. This squirrel finds a coconut and thinks that he’s hit the giant acorn motherlode, only he can’t crack the nut. It’s too hard. So he gets a jackhammer, he throws it downstairs, runs it over with a truck, nothing. Finally, he pushes this monster up a gazillion stairs all the way to the top of the Empire State Building and heaves it. Crack. Slowly, the shell peels back. And you know what’s inside? Another coconut shell. That squirrel is in cartoon hell. That squirrel is me. … But just like that squirrel, in another month or so, the cartoon reruns, and I try again.”

He talks about how he doesn’t regret trying to do the right thing, in spite of all the terrible things he’s done. He apologizes to Mercedes for everything. Then, he confronts his other victims:

“As for the rest of you – ahem – I wouldn’t apologize to you if you threatened to consign me to spend all eternity smothered in chocolate sauce and trapped in a Roseanne Barr/Star Jones sandwich! I’m glad you’re dead! If I could, I’d kill you again! Then I’d go back in time, impregnate each of your mothers to make sure you were born, and I’d kill you again! So if you want me to turn into some sort of bleeding heart and weep out an apology, you’re gonna have to rip it out of me!”

Now that’s the Deadpool I know and love.

DP gets in a few last licks on T-Ray, but Mercedes uses magic to teleport herself and T-Ray away and free Ilaney from her nightmare, effectively ending the battle. Deadpool, meanwhile, is left to fight his victims, which sends him, for the first time in a while, to the place between life and Death, where he can meet up with an old flame … for at least the next 30 days.

So there you have it, 33 issues of comedy, violence, self-loathing and guys named Jack. The “Who is the real Wade Wilson?” mystery is revisited by subsequent writers. Both Deadpool and T-Ray are proved to be unreliable narrators, and the rotating cast of artists and inkers over the past few issues has kept things so inconsistent as to render either view plausible.

From here, Christopher Priest takes over writing duties and does things like make Deadpool realize he’s a character in a comic book and induct him into a new Frightful Four alongside his old nonbuddy Taskmaster. The series will run through issue #69, to be resurrected as a Gail Simone-Udon Studios body-swapping book called Agent X. This is followed by the Fabian Nicieza-penned team-up book Cable & Deadpool, then a solo series by Daniel Way, and finally the modern creative team of Gerry Duggan, Mike Hawthorne, et al.

As for Kelly, he would go on to write Action Comics and JLA for DC and the soon-to-be-a-movie I Kill Giants series for Image, and co-found Man of Action Studios, responsible for cartoons such as Ben 10 and Ultimate Spider-Man. He and artist Ed McGuinness also recently returned to our favorite mercenary in the new series Spider-Man/Deadpool. So he’s doing alright.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this deep dive down memory lane, and hopefully we all enjoy the Deadpool movie, which bows tomorrow. I won’t say this is the last Thursdays with Wade post – if this series proves anything, I’ll always have something to say about the man in the red-and-black pajamas – but it’s the last for a while. So until next time, may your katana always find its mark, and may your chimichangas be thoroughly microwaved.

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 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.

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