May 22 2014

Rebel Without a Clue: The Rise and Fall of Deadpool

Published by at 11:00 am under Uncategorized

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This month I reached another depressing comic book milestone. I received my last issue from Marvel Comics for the foreseeable future. It was issue 27 of the latest solo book from my favorite comic book character, the Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool. Reading it was a bittersweet experience (which I’ll get to later), but the title was on the bubble for over a year and issues would occasionally collect unread on my shelf for months before I could be bothered with them, which is a sure sign that I’m not really feeling a series anymore.

It wasn’t always like this. Marvel comics used to be good, and Deadpool was the goodest. I discovered Wade Wilson around the time I started getting really into comics as an adult beyond the occasional graphic novel, about ten years ago. Fans will note this was around the time Cable and Deadpool was a thing, but I started checking out his solo run first, eventually deciding to include Cable and Deadpool in my inaugural list of online comic subscriptions.

Deadpool comics were unlike anything else on the market. You’ve got an immortal (Weapon X injected him with Wolverine’s healing factor in an attempt to cure his cancer) protagonist antihero who works almost exclusively for profit as an assassin, is possibly schizophrenic and certainly twisted and psychotic, compulsively talks trash in an almost constant stream, and has a complete disregard for…pretty much everything and everyone. It was a combination of black humor, badass comic book violence, and absurdist satire that regularly broke the fourth wall in ways that most comics would never attempt to do, much less get away with. This character was the inside of my brain in comic book form.

In his heyday, Wade Wilson wielded Mjolnir (sort of) and used it to parody Grey Poupon commercials and deliver a suitable rendition of KISS’ God of Thunder among other fun things. He waxed nostalgic about old-school GI Joe action figures while slaughtering hapless baddies, he found out he wasn’t who he thought he was (maybe) and criticized his own writers for their handling of it, dragon-punched Kitty Pryde (complete with “shoryuken” cry), made out with the incarnation of Death, lusted after Golden Girls, was cursed with the face of Tom Cruise, traveled back in time to a classic Spider-Man issue to offer some harsh commentary, and generally made the Marvel Universe his bitch.

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But at this point, Deadpool was the Community of solo series. It was brilliant, but seemingly always on the verge of cancellation with only a niche demographic to aim for and no real exposure to recommend it beyond that niche. When a character like Wolverine or the Silver Surfer would appear, Wade would typically comment on the potential sales boost the issue would receive from the crossover, but it wasn’t enough. Writer Joe Kelly once noted that the fact that the series was always on the verge of cancelation encouraged him to do whatever craziness he wanted to since it didn’t matter anyways, and that’s part of what made it so special.

Just as personal favorite writer Gail Simone took over the title, Deadpool was canceled at a respectable issue 69 (a number Wade would appreciate, I’m sure). Simone apparently talked Marvel into allowing her to spin the series off into Agent X. Agent X was implied to possibly be Wade Wilson with amnesia. He pretty much looked and acted like Deadpool, but nobody could initially confirm it was him. The effect was the same, however, and X rode a hot dog cart (while improvising Beach Boys song lyrics) into my heart.

Simone’s greatest contribution to Deadpool comics was in giving him a great supporting cast. Earlier Deadpool comics had characters like his “buddy” (when it was convenient for him) Weasel and Blind Al. Weasel had his moments, but Blind Al was the best. She was an elderly woman who served as Deadpool’s roommate/perpetual hostage. The relationship between them was something completely unique; charming but twisted, tragic but comedic, and always entertaining. But once Al went her own way, Agency X was an awesome change in direction and exactly the kind of team Deadpool should be a part of.

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Naturally, this was too cool last long (15 issues, I think) and Cable and Deadpool’s careers were combined to make for them Marvel’s ultimate odd couple. Best of all, original Deadpool creator Fabien Nicieza was onboard. There is a word for a series like that: win. Eventually, Cable was out and Wade did a team-up tour of the Marvel Universe prior to an issue 50 finale where he realized his dream of fighting alongside the Avengers to save New York from Venom dinosaurs.

Here’s where the trouble starts. About this time, Deadpool began showing up in popular media like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, the Hulk vs. Wolverine animated movie, and eventually in the awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And what happens when a niche character gets exposed to the mainstream and catches on for all the wrong reasons? Yup. They lose what made them special in the first place.

Deadpool’s new solo series was written by Daniel Way gave rise to the dreaded “Waypool”. Now, I actually enjoyed much of Way’s 63 issue run. The focus was typically on the humor of the character, but most of that humor was actually really funny so it worked for me more often than not. But there was absolutely something missing. That edge of pure, twisted, and unhinged insanity that made Deadpool betray his best friend to the X-Men and then on a whim betray the X-Men right back or lock Blind Al in a closet filled with sharp objects. The balance of comedy, tragedy, and badassness that made the character such a unique treat for years was tipped. Still, it had its moments.

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For example…

Fearing burnout, I chose to ignore all of the secondary (and tertiary) Deadpool titles like Deadpool Corps -in which several different versions of Deadpool (Lady Deadpool, anyone? Didn’t think so) form a team-, but when popular comedic actor Brian Posehn took over writing duties on the main title is when they really lost me. First, an arc of pure silliness in which Deadpool battles magic zombie former US presidents, then he got a female agent of SHIELD’s consciousness stuck in his head.

Wade has long had a voice in his head, which provided a comedic foil and insight into his madness, but at this point he had like four voices converses, including his own. That’s too damn much. Two was fine, three was redundant, and now four was just stupid. As The Hangover 2 showed us, there is a difference between zany and funny. Just having wacky stuff happen is not in and of itself good. Deadpool is not Spongebob.

This carried on for way too many issues and by the time Agent Preston was put into Life Model Decoy of her original body, I was done. All that was left was a left-field wedding issue at issue 27. This was my farewell to Deadpool for now and it did not disappoint. Marvel pulled out all the stops with a record-setting number of characters on the cover (your comic wedding ain’t shit unless Thor Frog and Squirrel Girl are in the house).

Best of all, it was double-sized with the first half covering what the hell this marriage thing was all about and the second a fantastic collection of short stories former Deadpool writers chronicling Wade’s past marital farces. It really served as a celebration of all the Deadpool comics I’ve loved before and a reminder of how far the character has fallen from grace in recent years. By reminding me of Joe Kelly’s sadistic character-building, Nicieza’s pop culture savvy, Simone’s filthy sense of humor, and the return of some characters I’ve really missed this issue’s awesomeness highlighted Marvel’s ridiculous mishandling of all things Deadpool.

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Let me just point out Johnny Storm framing Lockheed ftw here.

It’s a miracle that so much quality has come out of this bizarre character over the years all things considered. I’d much rather remember Wade Wilson as he was: a parody of Deathstroke designed to poke fun at comics in general while serving up some mean-spirited asskicking, gallows humor, and pop culture commentary that normally wouldn’t fly in a medium that sometimes takes itself too seriously.

At this point, Marvel has pretty much done away with characters like Bob, Agent of HYDRA, Blind Al, Outlaw, Agency X, and all of the other memorable Deadpool supporting cast members in favor of general wackiness and constant team-ups with Wolverine, Captain America, and other characters who should shun him utterly. They even had him join X-Force, which was ridiculous given his psychological instability and pathological lack of loyalty to anyone or anything ever.

But now they pretty much just use the character to shoehorn in wherever for whatever reason. He’s got his own video game, multiple solo books, he shows up in everyone else’s books, and remember I was telling you about that amazing comic where Deadpool ended up in an old school Spidey issue? Well, that’s a normal thing now. What was a hilarious and memorable one-off idea is now something that happens regularly where a “lost issue” from the 70’s or whatever gets discovered and Deadpool is a pimp and Power Man says “sweet Christmas” and other dated silliness ensues. It’s not exactly unfunny, but at the same time it reminds you of those “Tales from the Public Domain” episodes of The Simpsons where they parody classic stories and it kind of screams “we had no other ideas”.

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Just…..why?

Anyways, it’s ironic that the last arc of Way’s run had Wade trying to find a way to kill himself, and even more ironic that I kind of wish he’d succeeded. Well, he did technically succeed but only as a device to mock the handling of comic book deaths by coming up his own resurrection story to explain why he was getting a new series in a month with his last words.

The wedding issue made me wonder why the hell Marvel hasn’t brought back Nicieza, Simone, or Kelly. At this point, one of those three may well be the only way to bring me back in the Deadpool fold. For comic readers who aren’t impressed with the current iterations of the character and wonder what all the fuss about him is, I recommend checking out the Deadpool Classic and Cable and Deadpool trade paperbacks. Those were the good old days. I really hope we see a return to form in the future, but at this point I don’t see it happening. I’ll always remember the good times, though.





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2 responses so far

  • Lucas Tetrault

    I swear you just entered my brain and said everything I would ever say about Deadpool and the comics that came before the atrocities we have now. Brilliantly written – and thank you.

    (my fav series is actually the Circle Chase)

    • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

      I think I might have lumped it into his first ongoing (the GI Joe thing). Forgot it was his first solo mini. Oh well. Thanks, man.

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