Flashback to… Deadpool?

November 25th, 2015

As previously established, middling superhero comics are so much better when you read them for free from the library, but what about mediocre comics you valued at an earlier age?

What about ones that feature characters whose longevity seems baffling?  Characters who you had assumed would have died with your dreams of a better life but who will soon be starring in their own movie at a cinema near you?  What about bloody Deadpool?

Deadpool, #2-11, by Ed McGuinnes, Joe Kelly and various

I have teenage X-Men damage and I enjoyed these stories a lot the first time round, but this material is as dated now as a ’60s Marvel comic. It has considerably less dynamic force behind it than your average Lee/Kirby/Ditko joint though, and on this read through Deadpool’s trademark yellow word balloons were quickly recontextualised in my mind as a sign of unspectacular rot:

The comedy of these stories comes mostly via a range of pre-curdled pop-culture references, fourth wall breaking asides and “inappropriate” outbursts, reliably backed up by pointless flurries of PG violence. Ignore that and you’re left with an above average 90′s X-Men comic with delusions of Frank Miller: 

“Runny Chris Claremont blended in with regurgitated Mickey Spillane and served in a pair of man-sized clown shoes” doesn’t exactly sound inspiring, but jaded as I am I struggled to truly hate this collection all the same.

A big part of this comes down to Ed McGuinness’ art, which is far clumsier here than it is in, say, JLA: Classified or Superman/Batman but which nevertheless points toward the blocky playtime textures of those comics. There are clumsy attempts at dynamism here, with rote speedline rushes and strange, closely cropped images of fists, feet and knives trying to do the work that McGuinness’ composition wasn’t quite up to at the time; none of this detracts from the bloated and enjoyable goofiness of his figure work.

In McGuiness’ hands this world of merciless mercs and gentleman stalkers is goonishly likeable. The characters try hard to be charmless, but they look big and cuddly and inoffensive, earning the Might Marvel redemption despite themselves.

Ultimately, it’s hard to hold their context as pawns in a game designed to sell a perma-scarred bargain basement Wolverine who looks and talks a bit like Spider-Man against them:

Well, okay, there’s one squirmingly transphobic pop culture reference that makes for plain unpleasant reading, though it’s interesting to reflect on how much less standard or unremarkable that would seem in a comic today – you can complain about twitter ranters all you want, and lord knows I do when the right mood takes me, but I like the fact that the effects of that sort of casual, unthinking bullshit would be impossible for a comics creator to miss in 2015.

[Awaits froth-flecked complaints about "SJWs" from a bunch of billowing gimps who can't handle the fact that a Scottish comedian could kick their arse at Tekken.]

Speaking of blithering manchildren, as I indicated at the top of this post I used to wonder at the fact that this character has survived so long and maintained such a relatively high level of popularity separate from this creative team but perhaps it’s not all that surprising: he’s the ideal action hero for those who feel that their unimaginable pain justifies a lifetime of acting like an A+ bell-end.

Speaking as a child of the 90′s who had every opportunity to do something half-decent with his life but who’s somehow ended up writing about sodding Deadpool comics on the internet again, trust me, I get it.

I just don’t know that I can find this routine even remotely loveable if you take Ed McGuinness out of the equation…

EDITED TO ADD: This post has been so thoroughly eclipsed by comments by Thrills and Plok that I would feel like I was being straight up responsible if I didn’t encourage you to break with received wisdom and READ THE COMMENTS.

It also occurs to me that another, more Mindless conclusion to this post escaped me at the time and that this might provide me with a way to rip off pay back those bold contributors by incorporating their insights into the post itself.

So: Deadpool’s personality is a clumsy Frankenstein’s monster of a thing, battered pop culture references hanging limply off a warped slab of fourth wall breaking self-awareness.  There are qualities in this mess that some of us might be able to see ourselves in – maybe he’s bi-or-pansexual? maybe he’s a protagonist with mental health issues? maybe we’re smart arses who use dead pop culture references as a shortcut to sounding smart, witty, ALIVE! – but he exists in a children’s painting of a cut-throat environment, so you know that they will be obscured or made to appear silly at every turn.

There are charming moments, moments where it looks good, like something we might want to be a part of even, but it’s generally just a flailing monster that’s been driven stupid by unfathomable pain and marketing pressures.

It’s Twitter. Deadpool is Twitter, my friends, and like Twitter this means that he is made of us.

It are him. We are they. All of that flailed branding.


7 Responses to “Flashback to… Deadpool?”

  1. Illogical Volume Says:

    With apologies to my main man Plok for the title format.

  2. plok Says:

    Use the power only for good, never for evil!

  3. plok Says:

    “My boy, my process can never be duplicated! But you will fight! Fight, for all those who might have been!”

  4. Thrills Says:

    Deadpool is basically terrible, but I guess there’s an appeal if you believe the oft-mentioned ‘he is like Marvel’s Bugs Bunny’ description. I mean, if he is drawn well and has a funny writer, he could work? I like in Remender/Opena’s Uncanny X-force where he seems almost 3-dimensional, and his ‘LOLzers’ personality is called out by Fantomex or summat?

    Actually, no, I’m trying to be nice. Deadpool is shiiiit. Whereas once his ‘humourous’ 4th wall breaking pop cultural references were at least somewhat less prevalent in comics, nowadays all the superheroes are ‘snarky’ sassmouthed children of Warren Ellis and Joss Whedon, and Deadpool does not stand out at all.

    Plus his name is shit.

    As a crossdressing bisexual person with mental health issues, Deadpool should be right up my alley! But naw, his ‘queerness’ is often played for laughs, him being pure mental and zany is played for laughs when it’s not a lazy “the flipside of mental health issues is that he’s a creepy murderer, yeah?” and oh for fucksake Deadpool is shit.

    I am glad the youngsters on the internet seem to identify with him, though. I suppose if you squint he can be seen as a positive force in comics? It shows just how slim representational pickings are though when people cheer because the writers say Deadpool is pansexual (though not really in any meaningful way, or in the comics), or start to like Daken because he is bisexual, but in that awful “it means he can’t be trusted PS date rape is funny” way.

    Hell’s bells, I will not get started on Daken.

    To bring this back to being about the article and less about me complaining, I guess, but not really:

    Joe Kelly Deadpool is definitely just an above-average X-comic for the time (which is like being one of the more edible nuts in a turd), and Mcguiness is completely part of that. Under other artists it loses its bulging charm entirely, and the 90s writing becomes more of a chore. I remember some okay stuff about friendship, none of the jokes other than a Shoryuken that made me laugh back then but now I kinda find horrible, and a general feeling that the best Joe Kelly issues are the ones after Gail Simone took over from him.

    I like Joe Kelly’s X-Men run better, though. Less Deadpool.


  5. Illogical Volume Says:

    Plok – no one could ever do you and they’d be fools to try. I’m happy to merely sneak a couple of beers out of your fridge when you’re not looking!

    Thrills – your comment is so much better than anything in the post itself, so thank you for contributing it! I gave up slagging off the slim-pickings characters in superhero comics a while back after bumping into a few people who some of those actually meant something to, but oooft – “the flipside of mental health issues is that he’s a creepy murderer, yeah?” – you’re no wrong!

    Read a bit of Kelly’s JLA the other week. No bad as these things go, felt like he really wanted to be doing a Plasticman comic with “Manky” Doug Mahnke at points – the energy of the comic seems to be more in the potential for endless transformations, abrupt scene shifts, etc, than in the big JLA plot. I’ll write about it soon in another Justice Leagues of America post…

    But I should really write about some properly good comics first, eh?

  6. plok Says:

    Dave Fiore again, isn’t it? Deadpool’s like Ambush Bug except he’s got a <idefined power, which is the power to lift “Smokin’ Stan!” captions out of their impersonal rectangles and usurp all their privileges. “Fuck my ass, True Believer! (hee hee) Smokin’ Stan! The kids take over the loudspeakers at the school, but all they can do is shout fart fart ass! The pop-culture isn’t just warmed-over, here, but weak. The fourth wall doesn’t give out onto a world of people well-informed about musical trends and famous films, it gives out onto a bunch of people who track Daredevil’s moods and who can sensitively contextualize Claremontisms. Much is revealed about the author, too: what’s with the inept Sweeney Todd joke, eh? What’s with it is that it DOESN’T MATTER if the kids don’t get it, because this is just a referentialist fantasy. Wade’s a kid-identification figure, and all kids want to seem smarter and more adult than the other kids in their class. Stands to reason. Doesn’t matter what the reference is.

    Except to us. Me, I could stand Deadpool perfectly if the jokes were funny. I think the first issue I ever saw was written by Gail Simone, and the undercurrent was “can you BELIEVE these comics, Christ man they are stoopid!” Which was okay with me: the jokes were funny. Because Wade was a BAD READER of Marvel Comics. “Iron boots go! Hulk pants activate!” But seriously how good of a reader is it really even possible to be, for this stuff. You know?

    All depends on the captioner: if he or she doesn’t have a real sense of humour, then Deadpool’s a fucking idiot, just as though someone tried to make a sort of ninja Wolverine who looked and talked a bit like Spider-Man. Stan could actually be funny, though, that’s the problem. This would be a good place for a Gary Lactus link. “I invented a man who liked to draw!” Stan was every bit the loon, equal to Jack and Steve in that. Whereas when Joe Casey’s Deadpool breaks the fourth wall he kind of…

    Isn’t even insouciant?

    Doesn’t even reveal that everything’s bullshit?

    I dunno; hard to make a movie out of that, even..

    Pardon me, crashing out, must go to bed

  7. plok Says:

    Dear God, Thrills!

    I didn’t even suspect any of that!

    Death to Deadpool. Whose name is, fully agreed, fucking stupid.

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