Excuse my inner pandering fanboy: I'm a fan of Marvel NOW!
Hanging up at my work desk is a mini-poster of the first promotional art by Joe Quesada. Sometimes while I'm pretending to do work I stare at it and think about how far Marvel's new rollout has come in about six month's time. In my opinion, titles like Superior Spider-Man, All-New X-Men, Uncanny Avengers, Secret Avengers, FF and a healthy host of others are keeping my attention by finding an excellent balance between classic and innovative. Sure, plenty might sour on a few titles or a couple creative choices but I haven't come across many who enjoy the corporate comics experience and find Marvel NOW! a general failure.
I think the soft relaunch has worked because creators are taking characters into bold territories. In that vein, Deadpool's new ongoing proudly claims his niche — the un-niche. The other.
No, not that weird Spider-Man movie-induced crossover. Deadpool is the unspecified other. He finds fans from many demographics. Young kids love him, older X-Force fans love him, Liefield fans love him — hell, even the ladies love him, but Wade would tell you that himself. It surprised many when Deadpool debuted in the top five best sellers of a very busy November, beating out a bevy of other Marvel NOW! titles. Continuing to shine at a respectable 55k+ units a month, it's roughly Marvel's eleventh most popular title, slightly above Captain America and Indestructible Hulk. Like him or not, it's hard to deny the antihero's appeal to the wider market. Anecdotal proof? My first ever subscription was to Gail Simone's run back in the early aughts.
During his recent rise Marvel has done a mediocre job handling the Merc with the Mouth. Stuck in a rotating pattern on his core title, shackled to a writer with no long-term plan and carousel of middle-low tier artists, Wade Wilson burst onto the A-list scene and at the same time produced nothing truly significant.
Outside of backups and shorts, top talent rarely works on Deadpool, so the opening six issues of Volume 4 sets itself apart in that regard. With a bow of respect and all due apologies to Ed McGuinness, Tony Moore is the best artist to work on a Deadpool solo. A half-dozen issues of relentlessly brilliant art is an unfamiliar area after so many guest appearances and fill-ins by lesser talent. While he'd need the touch of the divine to top his work on Fear Agent, Moore draws with reckless abandon on Deadpool. Entrails and severed heads are practically a motif. The mood fits his talents. It's violent, creepy, angry, satiric, kinetic and filled with mysterious wonder. There has never been a Deadpool story so visually whole.
On the scribe side we have Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan, the writing team best known for The Last Christmas. For those who don't know Posehn: you have no sense of pop culture. Catch him on sitcom reruns, AMC, Adult Swim or Comedy Central as an actor, comedian or celebrity judge. That's a talented man, folks. Give it up for Brian Posehn's agent.
Duggan has not had his name attached to a great deal of comic book projects, though his background writing for comedy TV does qualify him for a shot at Deadpool. Both of these writers are comic fans, I think that's pretty apparent, but their experience outside of the medium breathes life into major league comics. Yeah, there's a logjam of great creators in the wings, working on indie books or on web-based stuff, but putting funny guys on what's supposed to be a funny comic is a good idea, too.
Picking up after the prolific, though mostly unimpressive, Daniel Way run, the new Deadpool does its best to appease the many fans of the many angled mercenary by giving him an almost generic enemy. Due to the resurrection of all of the dead American Presidents the brass at SHIELD decide to outsource the role of POTUS hunter to distance themselves from bad publicity. It's a smart utilization of a distinct Deadpool quality — his associates don't like him. The creative team applies this pragmatically to the plot, and it's never forgotten, from the first issue to the last page of the arc.
The premise of the first block of story won't electrify a new or old reader, but it succeeds in presenting the world with fresh era. Whether great or not, "the zombie presidents arc" represents a new start, a new tone and a new way of doing things. The thrifty use of guest-stars and the antagonists with built-in jokes allow Deadpool to get back on his feet as a character. The exchanges with Taft, Reagan, Kennedy, Nixon and others are so predictable the former Commander in Chiefs essentially roast themselves, but this effect also allows the reader to focus more on the leading man, who has long been ignored as a character and used more as a plot device. In the first arc the writers tap into the inner core of Wade, his desire to be a hero and the vanity behind it.
The big Lincoln throw-down represents the main climax, as ol' Abe seems to really hold a personal distaste for Wade and his antics. In fact, honest as ever, Lincoln lets our hero have it.
Hrm. It's nice that the writing duo make a point to give the opening act some type of "this… is… DEADPOOL" moment, but that's a little generic. "I don't give up."? Which hero gives up again? To me, there are two figures on the Marvel side of things that embody relentlessness in human form: Captain America and Spider-Man. They do it better than anyone, and do it different ways. One's rigor springs from firm leadership and flawless tactic, the other doesn't quit because of foolishness and a huge heart.
I appreciate the move to define Wade's more heroic qualities, and I get how the fast-talking, fast-healing ninja represents "I don't give up," but that idea needs some work in coming chapters.
The writing boasts many upsides. Sadly, there are some big pratfalls too. Word redundancy. Bad syntax. Recycled jokes. Yeah, seriously.
Thought not necessary grammatically incorrect, there are loads of poorly flowing sentences and exchanges, repeat phrases and strings of sentences that mimic structure. Even worse, these trained students of comedy replicate jokes, and not in the clever and always lovable "callback" fashion. Sometimes the dual-writer format reveals itself: a joke will go down one path, then will nod to the other direction it could have went. Sometimes it works, other times it's repetitive.
At this point of the review some of you are asking "Is it fucking funny or not, jackass?" to which I reply "Yeah, pretty much." It's an amusing affair, especially outside of the historical politician jokes. My above criticism has a good side in there are not many missed jokes. There's a little of everything, pop culture references, 4th wall breaking, pokes are Marvel myth and nonsensical WTF moments. Taking a nod from the Joe Kelly days there is thought and time put into the supporting cast. Of note is Agent Preston, a SHIELD instrument acting as Wade's handler. She's a pretty straight-edged chick, and uses Deadpool as the mercenary he is.
Michael the Necromancer rose the presidents from their graves but he's generally a nice guy. On visual design alone he will find a role somewhere in the Marvel Universe post-Deadpool. A kilt, SHIELD jacket, dreads and an American flag painted face screams win. Through him it's revealed that at one time the world's top security force tried to cultivate a mystics division. 'Bout time
Who knows if it's intentional, but the ghost of Benjamin Franklin almost seems like commentary on what's going on over in Superior Spider-Man. Let's chalk it up to coincidence since this series dropped in November and that one in January. Ben represents exactly what a Deadpool title needs, unadulterated quirk. A ghastly womanizer (see what I did there), the Founding Father attempts to serve as Wade Wilson's guide, and kind of plays the role that the Way era sentient caption boxes did. Doctor Stephen Strange contributes as the major gust star, and the entire create teams portrays him adequately. That is, peculiar, distantly heroic and not without a sense of humor. And don't worry your cute faces, Marvel-ites. Posehn and Duggan did not miss the golden opportunity to bring up that awkward time Ben Franklin banged Strange's girl.
Tony Moore adds significant amounts of humor by his lonesome. The man's "acting" is some of the best in the business. I believe acting is one of the most essential bridges between script and art, writer and artist. The tone of dialogue can get lost in a medium without sound, so the particular posture and expression of a character is vital. Few pencilers can do what Moore does, and it's important in a title like this. For one, like Spider-Man, the hero's mask needs to serve as a face, and two, Deadpool's pose is vital to interpreting the jokes. Moore working with zombies again is some sort of cruel joke, but he does do the macabre pretty well. The first part of Deadpool has a decidedly mystical and demonic tone, and that also falls right into the man's comfort zone.
Val Staples makes sure the book proclaims a distinct color statement, it's a bit darker than the typical Marvel book, but reaches clean, luminous areas also. The numerous brushes with occult are where Staples really takes some chances, and they work. I'd like to point out the last page of #6, which is not only colored brilliantly, but a complete victory in terms of writing and art coming together as one.
That final page raises the stakes in the way a sitcom would, and it works for this title. It elevates the drama, while also toying with the conventions of previous Deadpool comics. I know this move has caught the ire of some, but I'm into giving Deadpool more moral responsibility, so it's okay in my book.
Like good little comic writers Duggan and Posehn make sure to plant some seeds for the future. There are hints about a grand manipulator, and a scene where a woman shrouded in light greets DP while he's temporarily deceased. Although part of the Marvel NOW! fabric the title undoubtedly occupies its own space. After settling in the upper tiers Deadpool now starts to carve out a role in the Marvel Universe as the guy who takes care of the stuff no one else wants to. Kind of like a janitor, but someplace really posh. Like heaven.
Deadpool is an important book for Marvel, if not major super hero comics. It proves that there are franchises that can float to the top and stick, and not every best-selling title needs to be a rotation of X-Men, Batman, Hulk, Spider-Man, Green Lantern and more Batman. This new series is not a picture perfect start but I have little doubt it's a great ongoing in its infantile stages.
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.