From its start, Deadpool MAX has been a deceptively delicate book, hinging on a balance of nearly sickening humor and perversely spot-on criticisms of superheroic insanity. But that balance was always secured through the symbiosis of Lapham and Baker, a duo for the 21st Century if ever there was one. Remove one from the equation and you've got the tail end of a Jenga game.
As a fill-in issue, Deadpool MAX is tolerable at best and a total derail at worst, a perfect storm of especially lax scripting from Lapham and ill-fitting art from Shawn Crystal. Crystal's style would be serviceable in a 616 Deadpool book, with its obviously cartoonish humor and soft linework but as a replacement for Baker's particular brand of genius it's an affront, a gigantic step backwards and an antithesis of sorts for Baker's aesthetic. As much as some have written Baker's efforts off as "too Disney-like," a huge portion of the humor in Deadpool MAX has come from the contrast between his classic animation style and Lapham's sadistic scripting.
Crystal lacks that knack for juxtaposition, instead leaning on obvious sight gags and blandly overemphasized expressions, like this page that has more mugging than the Surgeon General recommends for your daily dosage:
It's not even that Crystal should be expected to meet the standards set by Baker (that would be obviously unfair) but that he should utilize the right tools at the least. Crystal lifts certain superficial traits from Baker, like visible dot matrixes and grotesque anatomy. A page showing off some strippers and hookers Deadpool has hired for Bob's fake bachelor party is like a poor photocopy of Baker, all body horror and freakishness, tiny little limbs jutting up against folds of flesh, warts and cellulite and pepperoni-sized areolas invading whatever spare space is left in frame:
(EDITOR'S NOTE: If the adorably stupid macro wasn't clear enough, clicking on that image at work will probably get you fired.)
But it's not all Crystal's fault. Whether because he knew bosom buddy Baker wouldn't be dazzling the readers this month out or what, Lapham brought game so low it doesn't even have an affiliate letter from the alphabet. Built around a plot so thin it disappears in the faintest of breezes, Lapham's script for #9 is hackneyed references, forced cameos and jokes even amateur scripters would be embarrassed by. Deadpool's quest to give Bob a blow out bachelor party is so pointless even Deadpool kind of forgets about it, instead turning his attention towards a sub-True Romance quality pimp killing story that ends with some amazingly forced buddy cop bromance shit.
The story is light enough to not disappoint us fans so much we'd give up altogether but it's troubling. Worse, that aforementioned buddy cop bromance shit is a tidy little metaphor for the failure of the issue, placing the focus on the "teamwork" that makes Deadpool and Bob so effective, namely the fucked-up qualities that keep them from playing nicely with others. It's a stupid cliched moment but it also rings true, reminding readers that Lapham and Baker together on Deadpool MAX is a certain kind of subversive awesomeness, but Lapham and Baker apart is about as satisfying a Deadpool film appearance where the Merc with a Mouth can't even speak.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.
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