I've been a fan of Deadpool for a long time. In fact, Joe Kelly's Deadpool #4 is what I credit with getting me into comics full-time after a long hiatus from my youth. I had just moved to San Francisco, and found a comic shop near my new job in the city. I wandered in, and saw this weird Spider-Man-looking guy on the Hulk's shoulders saying "Deadpool Smash!" That was odd, I thought, so I picked up the issue and flipped through it, and at one point I saw Deadpool lunging at the Hulk and calling him a "jolly green mouth-breather." I was sold. I bought the the first four issues of that series, then started obsessing about gathering up his every appearance and followed him religiously, even through the senseless Frank Tieri run and the whole Agent X thing and even co-creator Fabien Nicieza's attempts to rewrite sacrosanct Joe Kelly history in Cable and Deadpool. Yes, as far as I'm concerned, Kelly owns that character - no disrespect to Nicieza, who did a great job polishing what would have otherwise been another turd on the huge pile of Rob Liefeld's stank-mound. In fact, he was even cool enough to give us an out in C&D, saying whose version of Wade's history you believe depends on which writer you like better - one of the advantages of having a fourth-wall-breaking character.
What Kelly did so impressively well was crank up the zaniness of the character while always balancing it out with some really dark, twisted notions of his history of awfulness and enough pathos to make him a fully realized character and not just a yuk-machine. He wasn't flawless, but I still maintain that Deadpool #1-25 of his original ongoing series is the absolute best he's ever been. It's a fantastic story about a guy with absolutely no faith in himself trying to be a better person anyway, even though every time he tries to do the right thing instead of being the selfish prick he's been most of his life, he tends to get the shaft for it. He's that Chuck Jones squirrel trying to break that coconut.
Throughout all that time, Deadpool was always this fringe character. Kelly's run ended due to constant threats and un-threats of cancellation, resulting in issues 26-33 forcing him to take a huge year-long arc and cram it into as few issues as he could, leading to a couple of iffy things that were never followed up on - including the true identity of Blind Al. Christopher Priest, Jimmy Palmiotti and Gail Simone also had stints with him, but still, he had to be shoved into a partner book with Cable to keep appearing in an ongoing. Even with C&D, Nicieza had to deal with the big X-crossovers unceremoniously stealing one of his title characters and killing him off, leaving him with a Deadpool team-up book until it got canceled.
Then, something strange happened. Daniel Way incorporated Wade Wilson into a Wolverine story he was doing with his son Daken, and brought a different take to him - one involving a third voice in his head, so his inner monologue could have a conversation with itself. That led Way to getting his own Deadpool ongoing series in the midst of Secret Invasion, and something happened. Deadpool became huge. Variant covers of books he wasn't involved in shoved him in anyway. He got spinoff books like Deadpool Corps and Deadpool Team-Up and one where he teamed up with the zombie-head version of himself. He was everywhere. For the fringe guy who was always under the cancellation axe, suddenly he was overexposed. And nothing kills a cult-favorite schtick faster than seeing it everywhere.
I tried on several occasions to get into Way's Deadpool, but it never took. I didn't really find it funny (and there's nothing more tedious than reading something flat which someone else thinks is hilarious), and the attempts at pathos seemed a bit off to me, and you've gotta have both of those things to make Wade Wilson work. I thought maybe I'd outgrown the character, but it seems as though it's just that some writers focus too much on the attempted yuks, and without something underneath to fuel it, it dosn't quite gel, at least not in support of an ongoing. However, Wade can still make big splashes in supporting roles.
Case in point - two books this week feature Deadpool significantly: Avenging Spider-Man #12 and Uncanny X-Force #31. Taken together, they've managed to remind me why I liked this guy in the first place.
ASM #12 is a purely bat-guano issue from writer Kevin Shinick, with some appropriately screwball artwork from Aaron Kuder. Deadpool his hired by the Hypno-Hustler to invade Spider-Man's dreams in a full-on whack-job Inception parody, complete with appearances by Forbush Man, The Breakfast Club and three flavors of Spider-Ham. It's Deadpool tradition to mix him up with D-list villains (you might recall his zombie adventures with the chicken-headed Black Talon back on the O.G. series), and the Hypno-Hustler is a perfect match for hijinks, which also include a lot of Ramones-esque ne'er-do-wells to face off against. It's not quite a complete gutbuster, but it's fun and it's ridiculous. It does leave you wondering how Spidey comes out of this with his secret identity intact, chances are Wade's just going to think nothing much beyond 'pasty nerd' and be done with it.
UXF #31, however, is the complete opposite. As I explained with the last issue, Rick Remender is bringing us full circle to the angst of his initial arc in this series - do you kill a child for what you're pretty sure he might become? The previous answer was yes, and they killed an indoctrinated boy who was destined to become Apocalypse, horrible mutant of doom. The weight of that has burdened the team ever since, but since Fantomex tried to balance that murder out by using DNA of the boy to clone him and give him an upbringing that didn't indoctrinate him into the standard horrifyingly brutal might-makes-right philosophy, thus testing nature vs. nurture. Remender's slick move in essentially giving the clone, named Evan, the same childhood as Superman, albeit virtual-reality style, has really keyed us in to his fate. Each new issue is a slow crack as the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants is making a point to destroy all that with cold, hard truth about how it was all faked. We're all afraid that Clark Kent is going to become Apocalypse, and the art from Phil Noto brings that agony across with each panel of Evan's pain.
Deadpool is barely in this issue - he's got some amusing, tension-breaking dialog at the beginning, but he has a huge part at the end. Most of the issue is hand-wringing amongst the X-Force team, debating whether or not they would do the same deed they did the first time if Fantomex's experiment with Evan goes completely sour - and this time, Fantomex isn't currently alive to make that call himself. Psylocke's been suffering the most since that fateful day, and she is insistent that they don't do it again. Logan doesn't think Evan will go bad, either, but they also happen to have Kurt Darkholme on their team from the Age of Apocalypse, who is insisting he will need to die.
However, Wade leaves them to bickering and hunts down Evan himself. At the absolute crux point of Evan's decision whether or not to put on the power-suit and become Apocalypse, Deadpool finds him and is insistent that, although he couldn't kill the kid before, he can do it now. And we've already seen from the opening sequence in this issue that the kid's gonna get in that suit. If that's not the ultimate goddamned expression of the crucial element of "every time Wade Wilson tries to do the right thing, he gets the shaft for it," I don't know what else could be. Remender really knows how to twist the knife.
Could Shinick handle the dark side of Deadpool? Could Remender go full-tilt bananas with him? I don't know, but we've got two sides of the coin of what makes the character worthwhile this week - the wild beep-beep-zip-tang comedy ride that's actually kinda funny, and the heartbreaking harshness of the truth that he's irrevocably messed up in a way that makes us really feel for him as an actual human being. If we could get them both fused together again, we'd be cookin' with gas.
AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #12
UNCANNY X-FORCE #31