December 24th, 2010
ALTERNATIVE TITLE: WHO WILL SURVIVE IN AMERICA?!
Here’s the soundtrack. You know what to do.
So, Deadpool Max then. Kyle Baker does the art, David Lapham’s on script duties. Never mind the fact that Deadpool is a Rob “Fucking!” Liefeld character turned comedy Wolverine turned corporate ubiquity – is the comic any good?
Bloody right it is!
(Yeah, okay, it’s a little bit late to write about these books as if they’re a fresh discovery, I know. As Marc Singer once said, “if you’re going to review a new-release comic two weeks after it was a new release, you’d damn well better have something to talk about” – so, hey, just imagine how great this must be if I’m still willing to post it now! On Christmas Eve!)
For all the silliness, Deadpool Max is actually a pretty horrible comic, and one that’s not particularly worried about who it offends or how. Here’s Kyle Baker, “defending” the book against accusations of homophobia:
By the way, one of the reader comments calls Deadpool Max #1 “homophobic”. We’re not homophobes, we just thought it would be funny for a person to get fucked in the ass if he didn’t want it. Pain is funny! We also had the same character get beaten, shot, fall through a ceiling, and forced to hold a turd in his bare hand! Next time we’ll shove a broomstick up his ass instead of a dick, so it will be more PC, okay? By the way, the same comic had a hilarious close up a tattooed yakuza penis, and everybody thought that was hilarious! And it WAS! Because dick jokes are the highest form of comedy! And ass-fucking is hysterical! So anybody who thinks me and my partner Dave Lapham are homophobes can BLOW ME!
Now, this rant is pretty glib and stupid when you get down to it, partially by intention – Baker’s closing statement, with its references to his “partner” David Lapham and to oral sex, has its tongue somewhere far beyond its cheek – but by design or otherwise, it still rankles.
There’s a difference between active homophobia and the implicit acceptance of certain attitudes which can tilt that way, and the prevalent ANYTHING BUT BUMSEX! tone of much geek discourse is very much an example of the latter. 
So is issue #1 of Deadpool Max, though as Baker correctly points out this is complicated by the fact that there’s so much other cruelty going on in the comic, much of it inflicted on poor old “Officer Bob” up there. But let’s go back to that Baker quote for a second. In particular, I want to focus on this bit:
We’re not homophobes, we just thought it would be funny for a person to get fucked in the ass if he didn’t want it.
Now that’s pretty fucked up when you think about it – “We’re not homophobes, we just think non-consensual sex is funny!” What kind of defense is that?  I want to be careful here, because I am mindful of the difference between joking about something and actually doing/threatening to do/condoning it – which is to say, I’m not an idiotic British Judge!
Also, the situation in Deadpool MAX isn’t quite as Baker makes it sound. Instead, Baker and Lapham seem to be trying to subvert the cliche of undercover agents getting hot’n'bothered in order to get ahead - just like Jimmy Bond does every day of the week! Of course, the fact that this “subversion” takes the form of (hrn, hrn!) BUMSEX is pretty damned problematic, so… this comic is not afraid to go for the dumb, obvious jokes, no matter how icky their underpinnings might be. 
So why do I still find it so damned compelling?
Looking back on the Baker quote one last time, I find that it’s actually quite revealing as to what powers this Deadpool comic. ”Pain is funny” – wow! That’s a step and a half beyond “Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people“, isn’t it? What we’re getting here is a looney tunes version of reality, and as any good Animal Man fan knows, that cartoony shit can seem quite sadistic in the right light.
Baker’s colouring is the key here. Notice the contrast between muted flesh tones and grotesque, almost orgasmic explosions of colour:
You might also want to note that such technicolour gore-fests can exist beside perfectly simplified human faces…
…the two of them interacting in a way that just isn’t right, not to these eyes at least.
What we’re seeing here is real flesh in a cartoon universe, and it doesn’t always make for pretty viewing. The “big bad” in issue one is perfectly chosen for this effect. His name’s Hammerhead, and he looks like this:
Ugh! This horrible big bastard has a face like a gnarled fist and a fist like rock monster mid-coitus. Like most everyone else in issue #1, his skin also has a raw, pornographic sheen to it, which only makes the effect worse. Let’s face it, no one looks like this outside of comics. Very few people even looks like this in comics, for fuck’s sake! This is some David Cronenberg meets Jack Kirby shit right here – it’s ludicrous, but it can also make you feel a little bit queasy if you look at it for too long.
Thankfully (?) the script matches the tone of Baker’s artwork. Lapham is definitely writing the cartoon psychopath as a real one here – he almost says as much in the backmatter for issue #3, in fact – but even when you think you know what this comic is doing, it’s still pretty squirmy.
See, for example, issue #2, which brings fresh laughs and fresh offensiveness, this time of the “lol, crazy people” variety:
This is definitely deliberate (again!), but it underlines the sadism of the comic. In this book, if you’re not mentally ill you’re probably either a creep or a schmuck. It doesn’t matter cos everyone’s fair game for a laugh, especially when they’re getting tooken out:
Taking pleasure in other people’s pain… well, like I said, it might be sadism but it’s a beautifully realised sort of sadism.  Matt Seneca has already blathered on about the sheer visual inventiveness of the thing in his usual unconstrained manner, and he’s right – this is pure post-DKSA, post-Truth, superhero comics of a type very rarely seen outside of my darkest fantasies. 
But even taking into account all of that, what’s Deadpool Max for? What’s the point of all this crazy shit?
Well, that’s a difficult question. Let’s pass the mike to… a British comedian? Yeah, why not!
Here’s your friend and mine, Stewart Lee, clowning around for a British newspaper:
Despite our BBC credentials, Native American commentators were reluctant to explain the theory behind any of this practice in detail, partly because, when the white settlers moved into the American south-west, one of the first things their delicate sensibilities required them to suppress were the Pueblo clown ceremonials, but gentle pressure revealed the suggestion of a social, maybe even moral, purpose at work. By reversing the norms and breaking the taboos, the clowns show us what we have to lose, and what we might also stand to gain, if we step outside the restrictions of social convention and polite everyday discourse.
This core idea holds whether it is played out up close in the plaza of a New Mexican pueblo, or miles away by the tiny dots of television stars on the stage of a vast arena. Comedy is about funny faces, and funny noises, and silly words and stupid fun, but it’s also about this more profound idea.
Does the same idea hold up when conveyed in a decadent perversion of the Mighty Marvel Manner? Mibbae, but as with the pueblo clown rituals, there are no reassurances in this Baker/Lapham collaboration – just anarchic madness from the House of Mouse…
Or so I thought, until I got to issue #3, about which - fucking hell!
That saggy sack of piss didn’t see this coming, and neither did I! I’m not talking about the violence, of course - there’s plenty of the usual cruelty in this issue, but instead of being, dare I say it, “equal opportunities” cruelty, it’s very carefully focused here.  There’s a target, which is painted in front of our eyes throughout the first two thirds of the issue, in strokes that are both broad and actually very crafty at the same time:
That panel! Has there ever been a more concise deconstruction of the self-aggrandising racist than this?  Look at that wee fucker, clinging on to his pathetic, disgusting holocaust ornament while shrieking in terror at the sight of two people fucking.
I am the man the white world has been waiting for since 1945. The jew should fear me because I am smarter than him. The negro should fear me because I am smarter than the jew he calls master. The homosexual, the spic and the gook should fear me because I am their enemy.
AYE RIGHT PAL! We’ve got your number, ya dirty wee scrote yeh! With your “Whiteland” and your army of Klansman and your durty fantasies!
This is… well, it reads like Frank Miller’s Inglourious Basterds to me. Make no mistake, this is a compliment - Frank “The Tank” Miller has written and said a lot of stuff that might get the worst sort of right wing fucknugget hard, but he’s also a bit of a genius, isn’t he? As for Inglourious Basterds, I know there were a lot of arguments about it, but I thought it was pretty damned great!
Back in 2009 I wrote about it alongside Richard Herring‘s Hitler Moustache, a stand-up set in which Herring tries to reclaim the “facial welcome mat” for Chaplin and use comedy to defeat evil. Deadpool, of all fucking people, espouses a similar strategy in issue ’3:
You see Bob, this is where your feeble brain gets it all wrong.
Everybody’s studying the enemy. We’re all studying the enemy. Why? Do you want to be like the enemy? No, Bob, you don’t? You want to study the opposite of the enemy. Cancel him out!
Turns out he’s been reading up on Krav Maga and listening to the Fiddler on he Roof soundtrack. He dresses all orthodox and kills a lot of white supremicists, just like you would. The amusing thing here, for me, is that Deadpool Max #3 relies on its readers having a set of shared assumptions, i.e. that racist, anti-semitic, homophobic zealots are hateful idiots and that their opinions deserve to be destroyed. Which, hey – no arguments here, I’m a PC socialist/feminist sissy boy and proud of it!
It just made me smile to see a comic that gleefully gives the finger to the standards of “politically correct” or polite society reinforcing those ideas, violently, for an issue. Because when faced with the opposite of these values, well… who actually wants to live like that, eh?
Exactly! And you wouldn’t want to be mistaken for that guy, would you? Eh? EH?!
Lest you worry that the book, or the title character, has went soft, there’s a further sting in the tail (hrn! hrn!).  This is still a loony tunes version of reality, after all, and the rules of the story demand that “Officer Bob” be punished.
Well… that just about handles that then!
Merry Christmas motherfuckers!! Make sure that you Make Yours Mindless in 2011! I know I will!
 To be honest, I get tired of arguing about this, so I think I might just make a cheeky wee graphic to express my frustration and be done with it.
Ah, that was easy! Here we go:
All better, right? Well, not really – if anything I just traded in the sort of Beavis & Butthead style “hrn, hrn, bumsex!” bullshit I’ve spent the past couple of paragraphs ranting against. Bugger!
Tangent: please check out Laurie Penny‘s write-up of The Social Network, if you haven’t already. It’s a harsh critique of geek misogyny, which isn’t quite what we’re talking about here, but this is all part of the same problem.
 The comics internet had a fairly frank discussion about the use of rape jokes in casual conversation a while back, but there hasn’t anything like that for a while. Or if there has been, I’ve missed it so please feel free to point me in the right direction!
 My main problem with most anti-pc rhetoric is… what are you actually rebelling against? I know there are clumsy edges to the whole political correctness thing, most of which get blown up and distorted in the press, but aren’t we just talking about institutionalised politeness in the end? I’m all for freedom of speech, freedom of expression, all that good shit, but sometimes I wonder – is this really all you want to use it for? Does anyone else get the feeling that they’re part of a generation that chooses to use the massive resources at its disposal to make ironic or unthinking gay jokes, rape jokes, etc? I do, sometimes, but then I just start laughing again and it all slides away, a chorus of hrn hrn hrns cheering me all the way down…
 See, also: the parody of these Stamp out the Stigma videos that was on Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights the other week. You can try to watch the sketch here, but the shitty video quality might make it difficult. An important distinction: like everything else on Tramadol Nights, that sketch was total dogshit, while Deadpool Max is one of the few truly essential superhero comics of 2010. 
Frankie Boyle can be pretty funny when he’s on form, but when you take his most “shocking” quips and turn them into a series never-ending sketches the feeling of “Ooooh, you can’t say that!” is soon replaced by “Oh… is he still saying that?”
What does this mean, that it’s okay to say horrible things about disabled people if you’re being funny? Not quite! There are other issues to think about – such as what the actual point of the jokes are, what perspective their coming from, what reactions they provoke – but the fact is that no one is going to want to discuss any of this stuff if the jokes aren’t funny in the first place. Frankie Boyle, take note!
Or maybe you shouldn’t bother, Frankie, since it looks like one of the most purposeful jokes you’ve made recently is the one that’s going to cause the most fuss. I mean, I can’t lie, I laughed at the joke about Katie Price’s kid, but it’s hard to defend it on any level – you can argue it’s testing the boundries, maybe, but it’s still a guy taking the piss out of someone’s disabled child. This more recent round of jokes, while not especially brilliant or anything, served a definite satirical point, and yet people can’t seem to tell the difference. Bloody typical, that.
 What are the other essential superhero comics of 2010 you ask?
Well, there weren’t many of them, were there? The ongoing saga of Moz-bats vs. Entropy has been well-documented in these parts, the scattered fragments of The New McCarthyism were like sprinklings of gorgeous flavour in the stodgy broth, and… a couple of issues of Godland came out, maybe? Bulletproof Coffin, yeah, but that’s a special case. I’m probably missing out a few nice things, but let’s be honest, the real action was elsewhere this year.
 I think I’m being a little dramatic here. I mean, is this actually a harsher comic than Crossed: Family Values, which David Lapham also wrote this year? After all, in Deadpool Max you get the suggestion of incest, eventually shown to be a fake out, whereas in the Crossed you get actual incestuous rape.
The cartoonish cruelty of Deadpool Max hits me harder, partly because it’s so bright and energetic, partly because… well, the Crossed books are pretty old-fashioned in the end, aren’t they? Garth Ennis’ original series was about reinforcing traditional values by showing “what happens” in their absence, and from what I’ve read Lapham has stayed true to this, so… it’s actually kind of heartwarming, right?
Well, maybe not, but you get my point anyway.
 Again with the drama! Well, Deadpool Max is certainly darker than Plastic Man which was Baker’s last extended run on a “mainstream” comic, I think.
Plasticman was similarly irreverant, but it was a bit less brutal with it. My favourite joke was the one about how Batman couldn’t stop day-dreaming about his origin story:
The real precursor to Deapool Max, in terms of Baker’s recent career, is probably Special Forces, which you might remember as being full of tits, satire and EXCITEMENT!!! Deadpool Max is a little less furious than all that, but the general feel of the two books is more or less the same. It’s a good look for Baker, and I’m glad that Marvel are paying him to see where he can go with it.
 The trouble is, even the best misanthropes tend to show their biases in the end – no one’s really capable of insulting everyone equally, and the uneven distribution of abuse is often quite telling. See the Mindless Ones podcast on Prison Pit and misogyny plus the entire careers of the South Park guys for more evidence of this.
 Probably, but this is a blog post so some hyperbole is to be expected. Almost everything else I say in this post is 100% well reasoned and factually accurate though, okay?
 I should really just face up to the fact that what I’m ranting against at the start of this post is something I see in myself whenever I laugh at this juvenile shite. As my fellow Mindless Ones can probably attest, I’m the Mindless most likely to “sexualise the Lactus.” So… some of these jokes just make think of Beavis, but others finger my Butthead, and it’s a bit depressing to realise that for all my high falutin bullshit I’m still one of those guys in the end.