As much as I love the bulk of what David Lapham does (why the hell didn’t any of you buy Young Liars? Go rectify this immediately. Go pick up a trade. Seriously. Go!) I’m occasionally concerned by the projects he associates with, especially recently. The mean streak he displayed when he jumped on board Garth Ennis’ Crossed franchise was a little disappointing, and I’ve been avoiding his Modern Warfare 2 mini because that enterprise just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
But there were two simple words that made me absolutely certain Deadpool Max would be one of Lapham’s better projects: Kyle Baker.
Lapham’s last MAX effort, Terror Inc., had its moments but something just felt lacking in general in that series. When you see Baker’s artwork on Deadpool MAX it becomes pretty clear what it was- an artist who could match Lapham’s special brand of crazy, panel for panel.
What Baker brings to Deadpool MAX cannot be understated; Baker truly is one of the greatest artists comics has ever had and his stint on this series is no exception. For all practical purposes, this issue is a flashback, a slight story about Deadpool’s origins or more specifically the origins of his training but it feels just as vital as anything the two have done before.
Not that Lapham and Baker make anything exactly clear but that’s half the fun. We learn that Deadpool was raised by a surrogate mother, namely this reality’s Taskmaster, who kidnapped his “Camper Cubs” group in order to turn them into a “few good men.” This information is parceled out to us in increments as in the present, Officer Bob is attempting to keep Deadpool on track in order to keep a Senator from getting killed by the Taskmaster and her associates.
But what makes this issue so excellent, even in comparison to prior installments of this series, is how much room it leaves for Lapham and Baker’s humor, which is so complementary you’d think they shared a brain. While Lapham continues to have a better handle on Deadpool than more or less any other writer who’s taken him on (if you don’t believe just watch the way he balances Deadpool’s shaky hold on reality and his steely effectiveness), Baker acts like a visual acrobat, juggling absolutely stunning background work with careful, subtle visual gags and often heartbreaking emotional pay offs in the expressions of characters.
Deadpool MAX #5 has some payoffs for everyone following since issue one but it’s also an excellent starting point for new readers as well. The story is basically self-contained, with the real crux of it centering around the special relationship between Deadpool and Taskmaster, which Lapham wisely avoids just making obscene or shocking. There are of course obscene, shocking elements (this is Lapham and Deadpool after all) but there’s heart as well, as we finally see that Deadpool does care, in his own way.
It’s impossible to read this issue and not see how much Lapham and Baker are having in this particular sandbox; the panels showing the Cubs getting their merit badges is especially worth a few extra glances and everything that involves Deadpool and Taskmaster is brilliant. You owe it to yourself to pick up this book immediately and watch one of comics’ best teams do some of their best work.