Way back in 1997, I walked into a comic shop in San Francisco, saw issue #4 of Joe Kelly's Deadpool series in which some guy who looked kinda like Spider-Man was stabbing the Hulk while calling him a "jolly green mouthbreather" and changed the course of my life. Before that point, my comic collecting habits were sparse, consisting of only Marvel's Transformers when I was a kid, X-Men when I was in junior high, Spider-Man 2099 when I was in college, and sporadic random issues here and there, following stories by osmosis with my friends. After that point, I fell full-on into the lifestyle – so far in that it's now my job to write about comic books. I have Wade Wilson to thank for this.
I absolutely loved Joe Kelly's Deadpool. Sure, maybe if I'd been exposed to old Ambush Bug appearances or John Byrne's She-Hulk, it might not have seemed so innovative to me, but I was fascinated by his puncturing of the fourth wall, but moreso by how deftly Kelly was able to swing back and forth between insanely stupid comedy, soul-rending pathos and gruesome murderous tendencies that never let you forget that Wade Wilson has been a goddamned bastard for most of his life, and the road to redemption is hard and terrifying to the weak-willed like him. It was all there. Kelly wasn't perfect, but his was complex, meaty writing and those first 25 issues stand as the best Deadpool there's ever been – all made possible because Kelly was able to do whatever he wanted because it was under constant threat of cancellation, and nobody assumed it would survive beyond him. It was the weird little title that could.
Fast forward to 2011, and I don't know anybody who isn't sick of seeing Deadpool all over the place. I had read loyally throughout, but once Daniel Way took over and introduced a three-voice thought structure for him that I assumed was some kind of plot point but is now apparently the mandatory way everyone has to write him, it didn't feel like my guy anymore. Christopher Priest, Gail Simone and Fabien Nicieza had all done different but interesting things with him, but Way's Wade wasn't workin'. Plus, 50 ongoing titles of his own, spilling himself into guest appearances all over the place, splashing onto variant covers of a hundred books for no good reason, and 12 alternate versions of him has become over-overkill. The kind of publicity Deadpool couldn't buy when he was great and struggling is omnipresent when he's not so much. He's gone from Craig Ferguson to Jay Leno.
While the last few issues of Way's Deadpool have been slowly threatening to draw me back in, revisiting Wade's old Death wish as he tries to goad the Hulk into killing him, instead I picked up the Fear Itself tie-in just to see if a different writer would whet my whistle a bit more. Of course, Fear Itself hasn't been doing anybody any favors as far as characterization or continuity go, and that occasionally-chuckleworthy-at-best three-voice structure is still here with Christopher Hastings' riff on Wade, which means it's still effectively Way's riff. The story here is that Wade stole an ordinary sledgehammer, bedazzled it and tricked Z-list villain the Walrus into thinking he's been chosen to destroy Cimarron, New Mexico, just so he can charge the town beaucoup bucks to defend it from this chump's attack. Of course, it turns out the hammer is secretly magical after all, and we'll find out what that means in the next two issues.
No laughs here, but some smirks when watching a day in the life of the Walrus, who apparently sabotages monster trucks to kill their drivers before he breaks into their lockers and steals their money and video store memberships. Testing his newfound hammer by beating up toilets with it is also a bit of fun. Bong Dazo, an artist whose name sounds like he was born to draw Deadpool books, really brings home the zany, as his panels are so busy and expressive that they feel like Mad Magazine movie satires at times. He definitely belongs here.
The trouble is that he still doesn't really feel like my guy. Sure, the dark-comedy slapstick of destruction is still around, but the pathos isn't there, and doesn't feel like it's been anywhere close to him for awhile now. Maybe anyone writing Deadpool now feels nothing but pressure to be funny or extra-gruesome, but they shouldn't. As I said – and as he has said, actually – Kelly was able to do whatever he wanted back when he was creating the cult following that Deadpool now enjoys, and that included NOT always going for the goof. He needs to have some kind of emotional core. Otherwise, he's just another Forbush Man.