Sunday, October 18, 2009

Diving into Deadpool

According to popular twentieth century comic book artist/industry bad word Rob Liefeld in a recent Newsarama comment thread, his co-creations Cable and Deadpool are now “the center of the X-Universe and Deadpool is the most popular character in comics, soon to be fronting 4 monthly titles.”

That’s not remotely true, of course.

Even if you define “comics” as “American superhero comics,” Deadpool was outsold in August by titles featuring Captain America, The Hulk, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Wolverine’s son, Batman, Dick Grayson-as-Batman, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, The Flash Barry Allen, Batwoman and Batgirl III (That’s not counting team and ensemble titles, of which plenty of others out-sell Deadpool, but comparing Deadpool to The Fantastic Four or Justice League doesn’t seem fair).

And as for how many titles Deadpool fronts, Marvel’s only announced three (and how long will that last?). But even if it is four, Deadpool’s still not fronting as many as Batman, Superman (when he gets back in town), Wolverine and probably Spider-Man, depending on the month.

I thought it was kind of astonishing for Liefeld to be bragging about Deadpool’s current popularity, precisely because it seems so very surprising.

His relatively long-running (for modern comics) solo title was cancelled in 2000 at #69, to make way for short-lived Agent X, which featured a Deadpool-like character who ended up not being Deadpool. Whether it was cancelled originally due to low sales, or as part of an ill-advised rebranding that killed it, Deadpool was title-less for a few years, at which point he returned in Cable & Deadpool, which lasted fifty issues before getting axed.

When he got his own title again in 2008, it apparently proved successful enough to justify more and more Deadpool comics. From outside Marvel’s offices, it’s not clear why they feel comfortable putting out multiple Deadpool comic all of a sudden. The main title is selling respectably—50,000-ish units in August—but is hardly a hit book.

Maybe it’s a relatively rare instance of the character itself being popular enough to moves 50,000 books, so Marvel can hire writers and artists who don’t cost as much as those at the Mark Millar/Brian Michael Bendis level, and thus its cheaper for them to produce Deadpool, making it a more profitable book?

I have no idea.

But it seems quite remarkable that in so little time Deadpool went from sharing a title to having two ongoings—Deadpool and Deadpool: Merc With a Mouth—with a third one, Deadpool Team-Up, set to start publication next month.

What accounts for the sudden surge in relative popularity? I can’t guess.

Maybe it has something to do with his appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which I haven’t seen yet, but which I understand features a Deadpool that’s pretty different than the comics version), or the announcement of an upcoming Deadpool movie starring Ryan Reynolds.

Maybe Marvel is just being extremely shrewd and short-term profit-oriented (surprise!). That is, perhaps someone at Marvel HQ noticed that the Deadpool solo was doing surprisingly well and/or making a lot of profits due to how cheap it was to produce compared to hit comics, and they decided to strike while the iron was hot and sell as many Deadpool comics as possible while Deadpool comics seem to be selling.

At any rate, hearing about all these new Deadpool title announcements has had me wondering about the character and his popularity. I thankfully missed his introduction in the nineties (I never liked Liefeld’s art, even as a teenager reading a couple of Image books), and have never been very interested in Marvel’s mutant comics.

As I’ve mentioned before, I could sort of see what people could see in the character. Aspects of his look and personality seemed borrowed from Spider-Man, but he also had guns and killed people like The Punisher, and, of course, he had ties to the X-Men, and a whole lot of people really liked the X-Men for a really long time. I just couldn’t see it for myself, because I never really looked.

A few months back, I finally got the opportunity to do so, when I was gifted a moving friend’s comics collection, which included a sizable run of Deadpool comics, with only a few holes here and there. It was among the first of that wheelbarrow full of old comics I read (runs of Cable, Gambit and some various X-Men comics are still in a pile, daring me to read them), in order to satiate my curiosity about the character.

So over the course of a couple of weeks, I worked my way through a bunch of Deadpool comics, and typed up my thoughts on them while doing so.


Deadpool #44

This is the earliest Deadpool issue I have, and although it’s from the summer of 2000, it’s worth noting just how much Marvel comics have changed during these past nine years.

The cover has the old, pre-little red box with white “Marvel” Marvel Comics logo, it has the little box in the upper left corner for a picture of the lead character (which I believe originated in response to the way comics used to be racked, in spinner racks. So even if most of the cover were obscured by the rack or the comic right below it on the rack, a browser would be able to spot the character in the corner), it only cost $2.25 and it was approved by the Comics Code Authority.

This story is entitled “Cat Trap (Or: Wakanda Merc Are You?),” and is the first part of a two-part crossover with Black Panther. It’s written by Christopher Priest, who was also writing Marvel’s Black Panther ongoing at the time, and drawn by J. Calafiore.

I like Priest quite a bit, and his superhero books are ones I’m always glad to find in back-issue bins (I managed to track down his whole Justice League Task Force run and have just about completed his run on DC’s The Ray, but have a long way to go with his Black Panther yet).

He’s one of those writers whose name I’m surprised I don’t see more often any more. He’s great with character, he’s very funny (often without being silly) and he seems to be constantly trying new and different ways to tell the same old stories.

As this story starts, Deadpool is apparently sharing an underground base with a couple of roommates—villains Titania and Constrictor—and as the story opens, it’s been infiltrated by The Reverent Michael Ibn al-hajj Achebe, whom as far as I can tell is basically just an off-brand Joker.

He hires Deadpool to kidnap the new Black Panther’s leopard, Preyy (with two y’s…not sure how that’s pronounced). The new Black Panther is, apparently, Erick Killmonger (Best. Name. Ever.), who is filling in for T’Challa while he…sits in a chair in some weird, undeground Wakandan Star Wars-looking labyrinth of wires and sci-fi stuff, I guess.

Anyway, it’s a whole lot of back-story, but I got through it without giving up and throwing the comic against the wall, as when I try reading X-Men comics form this period, so Priest is clearly doing something right.

The story itself is pretty simple. Because the new Black Panther, whom narrator Everet K. Ross calls “KillPanther” is hanging out with the Avengers during this period, Deadpool must fight the Avengers.

(In another sign of how old this comic is, The Avengers consist of Triathalon, Iron Man, Hank Pym, The Wasp, and She-Hulk.

So after a few pages of back-story filling-in, there’s a lot of rat-a-tat-tat banter between various players, and then a fight scene. Priest stays outside Deadpool’s head for the most part, so his craziness makes him seem more remote and amusing than when he’s played more sympathetically, as a point-of-view character.


Black Panther #23

“Cat Trap” continues in BP, which is drawn by Sal Velluto and Bob Almond (So now the characters all look bigger, rounder and more realistic than they did under Calafiore’s flatter, more jagged and compact figure work).

Deadpool and his roommates have been captured by The Avengers, who go to Wakanda looking for their captured teammate Triathalon (Deadpool teleported him along with Preyy).

Velluto’s Deadpool is really weird looking; the featureless face makes the head look extra tiny atop the titanic body Velluto gives his superheroes.

There’s a lot of fighting in this.


Deadpool #45

This is apparently the climax of Priest’s run on the title, in which the specific circumstances he set up are all taken away. Titania’s revealed to be, um, another character (I probably don’t need to worry about spoilers on nine-year-old comics, huh?), Deadpool and his roomies lose their pad, and a curse ‘pool’s been suffering from—in which he is given the face of Hollywood actor “Thom Cruz” is taken away.

Priest gets some gags out of that, but man, I hate when superhero comics half-use real celebrities and public figures like that. Either give him the face of Tom Cruise or don’t. You can say “Tom Cruise” in a comic book without getting sued, particularly in circumstances like these where it’s clear you’re not trying to pretend your Tom Cruise is the real Tom Cruise (Tom the Dancing Bug gets away with it pretty regularly). And if you’re afraid Cruise might be too litigious, try a different celebrity (Maybe Freddie Prinze Jr. woulda signed off? He was cool being in The Ultimates).

But by going with “Thom Cruz” it just calls attention to the fact that you’re—the writer, the editor, the company, the company’s lawyers, whoever—wants to make a particular joke, but is afraid to. And nothing is less funny than caution.


Deadpool#46-#48

This is the launch of a new creative team…or at least a new writer, Jimmy Palmiotti. It’s a three-part storyline entitled “Cruel Summer,” and it’s basically a noir-ish sort of crime story in which a femme fatale seduces Deadpool before turning on him.

It’s executed well enough, although the femme’s betrayal lacks much impact because it’s so hard fto imagine a beautiful woman seriously falling for Wade Wilson who, under his mask, has a Freddy Krueger-like face of red, peeling skin over various pits and boils.

What makes this story arc really special, however, is the art. It’s provided by Paul Chadwick, with Ron Randall on inks.

Man, look at this stuff:

Just gorgeous.


Deadpool #49

Palmiotti gets a writing partner in Buddy Scalera, and Chadwick is gone, replaced by Michael Lopez (Jon Holdredge replaces Randall on inks). This one’s entitled “Cat Magnet,” by which they mean “Pussy Magnet,” but apparently didn’t think they could get away with it (Still Comics Code approved, by the way).

Basically, the story consists of Deadpool, his scarred face disguised, meeting one remarkably scantily clad and sexually aggressive woman after another, often in unlikely places—including an ER nurse and a package delivery person. Deadpool would have to be stupid not to suspect that something is up, but if he does, Palmiotti and Scalera don’t share his suspicions with the reader.

As it turns out, each of these women are the same person, his shape-shifting ex-girlfriend Copycat. (Ah! So the title has a double meaning!)

The cover is by Kevin Nowlan. This run sure has a lot of great talent on covers. It also credits Chadwick and Randall on art, and fails to mention Scalera. Makes me wonder what was going on behind the scenes as these were coming out. The original creative team sure didn’t last in its original form very long at all.


Deadpool #50-#51

Check out these two covers, one by Arthur Adams, the other by Darick Robertson (The latter of whom even Bob Kane-inizes his signature. Neat).


Palmiotti and poor, never credited on the cover Scalera are joined by Darick Robertson on pencils (Holdredge is still inking).

That Robertson sure knows his stuff, and it’s nice to see his art on this old, grittier paper with more comic book-y coloring. There are none of the weird computer coloring effects that are endemic to Marvel comics these days. The skies are drawings of skies, not photos dropped in. Ditto the cityscapes and the moons. It’s all just nice, bold drawings, with nice, bold bright coloring. Beautiful.

This is probably the strongest of Palmiotti’s run (that I’ve read), in which he applies a standard element of superhero comics to Deadpool just to see what happens. In this case, it’s giving Deadpool a sidekick, Kid Deadpool.


Deadpool #52-#53

A two-parter featuring Deadpool versus two scantily clad, serial-killing twin teenage sisters with Barbie doll bodies. It’s pretty silly-bordering-on-stupid stuff, and it was in this issue that I noticed something that would grow to be a pet peeve of mine throughout this experience, the pop culture references.

They’re easy to make and can be funny, but they sure don’t have much shelf life. I think I noticed it here simply because the narration boxes mention Jennifer Lopez’ Oscar gown on the first page, and the second page has a character refer to the killer sisters as “those two Brittany-looking twins.” In 2001, “Brittany-looking” had a different meaning (and certainly different connocations!) than it does in 2009, and I wonder what it will mean, if anything, if this is read in 2019, or 2069 (I don’t think it will be, but still)

Oh, another new art team for this “Talk of the Town” storyline. It’s Anthony Williams and Andy Lanning, and their work is pretty nice.


Deadpool #54-#55

And now it’s time for a guest star! It’s a two-part Punisher story, drawn by Georges Jeanty and Holdredge. Two great covers, by the two artists probably best associated with The Punisher at this period in his career:

Deadpool doesn’t really translate to Tim Bradstreet’s realistic world as easily as Frank Castle does, does he?

This story is a continuation of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s initial Punisher story, Welcome Back, Frank (which Palmiotti inked). It turns out, Ma Gnucci had a single, surviving relative, who would inherit all her money after her untimely death, so long as the condition of her will is met—her death must be avenged.

So Ma’s nephew Peter Gnucci hires Deadpool to kill The Punisher for him.

The two killers fight and fight and fight and—surprise!—neither of them dies.


Deadpool #56

It’s the end of another creative team’s run, although, to be fair, the word “team” might not really apply, given all the comings and goings. For this issue, Palmiotti himself is gone, and Scalera gets the sole writing credit. Karl Kerschl’s on art now, inking himself.

With this single issue, Scalera does a deck-clearing story along the lines of the one Priest provided at the end of his run, with all of the supporting characters being sent away from Deadpool, and his home again getting destroyed.

The issue is divided into two plots.

One follows Deadpool trying a variety of Wile E. Coyote-style traps to catch and kill a super-speedster named “The Street Speeder,” whose costume is yellow and blue and who says little other than “Meep meep” (GET IT?!).

The other follows Copycat disguised as Deadpool to go on a date with and then beat the hell out of an X-person. Siryn, I think. I suppose I should be thankful I got this far without a single reminder that Deadpool is technically an X-Men character.

This, by the way, is the first one without the Comics Code Authority stamp of approval on the cover. There’s no Marvel replacement rating either though.


Deadpool #57-#59

The title received a pretty radical makeover with #57, and I wonder if it caused much—or even any—confusion among comic shop patrons the week it was released. It certainly confused me, when I sat down to try and put all the Deadpool comics in order to read.

Marvel ditched the logo with the character image in the corner (the image shape had, over the months, shifted from a rectangular one to a circular one). The new logo is in a completely different smaller, thinner font, and is actually much smaller than the name of the storyline. In fact, based on the logo, it seems like it is an entirely different book, one called Deadpool: Agent of Weapon X.

Adding to the confusion is the big #1 on the cover, with a smaller “57” under it. So this looks like the first issue of a new series, but it is actually the fifty-seventh issue of an old series in disguise (This doesn’t seem to be a matter of Marvel relaunching and retaining their old numbering, as they sometimes did, because “Agent of Weapon X” and this weird numbering only lasted three issues).

The covers for these three issues, by the way, are by original Weapon X series artist Barry Windsor Smith, and they are thus fairly awesome.

Here’s the cover of #58, in which Smith must draw a trio of terrible costume designs:
Deadpool’s temporary new look makes him look like a little KGBeast, doesn’t it?

The new writer is Frank Tieri, and the new, more steady art team is Georges Jeanty and Holdredge.

Tieri seems on pretty sure footing with all the Marvel super-people and shadow organization intrigue, and while his version of Deadpool is a zany, agent-of-chaos type of character, the rest of the narrative doesn’t conform around Deadpool’s personality. That is, the story would be pretty straightforward and serious if you plucked out Deadpool and plopped in, say, Wolverine, which is probably how it should be.

While I like the way Tieri constrains the comedy to Deadpool’s character instead of the structure of the book in general, I don’t think his Deadpool is particularly funny, and he seems to go for an abundance of pop culture gags. In Deadpool’s very first panel, for example, he mentions that “Barbie Girl” song (the existence of which I had completely forgotten), Liberace, VH1’s Behind The Music, Magilla Gorilla, The Weakest Link and Gilbert Gottfried.

The plot involves the old Weapon X re-starting as a free agency, offering alumni like Sabretooth and Deadpool amped-up powers and resources if they come to work for them. In Deadpool’s case, he gets his face back, but he can’t reconcile working with Sabretooth, who’s been killing and eating people left and right, and some of the other bad guys—especially the agency sets its sites on his ex.

Sabretooth totally murders her, by the way.


Deadpool #62

I’m missing two issues, including the final “Agent of Weapon X” one (presumably, he avenges Copycat without actually killing Sabretooth), and the first issue of the next arc, which is also designed to look like a stand alone miniseries.

This one’s called “Funeral For a Freak,” and once again has the little confusing numbering going on. (This is also, by the way, the first cover featuring the little image of a red, white and blue ribbon above the silhouette of the World Trade Center towers. I guess I never noticed when these first arrived on Marvel covers and when they went away, but they seemed to be there for a while).

Tieri, Jeanty and Holdredge engage in an odd mid-nineties, “Death of Superman” era parody, in which Deadpool is seemingly killed (he actually just has amnesia and is living on the streets) and is replaced by four different new Deadpools. No idea how it started or ended, as I only have the second and third parts of the arc.


Deadpool #67

In some ways, this is the best of the Deadpool issues I read, as it’s the first in which the writing is very sharp and the art’s really great.

It’s written by Gail Simone, who is perfectly at home writing superheroics and comedy simultaneously, and the art comes courtesy of Udon studios—I’m not sure who does what on art chores, as the credits don’t parcel out credit by the task, but from pencil to colors its all well done, boasting the look of anime cels-as-panels that Udon was doing so well at the time.

Having missed a few issues, it seems Deadpool’s status quo has changed quite a bit again, but it wasn’t too difficult to feel my way through the issue. Deadpool is hanging on to a shrunken Rhino, whom he’s using as a key chain, and is tasked with body-guarding Dazzler, in all her disco roller-skating glory.

While this is the all-around best creative team I’ve read on the book, even they didn’t last long. According to comics.org, they took over with #65, and the series was canceled with #69.

14 comments:

Dean said...

It's probably just nostalgia, but I love these late 90s/early 00s Deadpool issues. Deadpool was one of the first comics I started seriously reading month-to-month, and it's a little disappointing that there were never any trades.

Hdefined said...

Caleb, you should try reading Paul O'Brien's analysis of Marvel's monthly sales on The Beat's website. In it, he finds evidence that the main Deadpool ongoing is doing well enough to support at least one spinoff.

You also wrote:

"He returned in Cable & Deadpool, which lasted fifty issues before getting axed."

As if this is no great accomplishment in the current market? As if anyone expected a comedy buddy book to last this long?

Vanja said...

Tieri wrote Wolverine at the same time as Deadpool, that similarly had an Agent of Weapon X storyline. All of this build up eventually lead into a Weapon X team book that eventually broke down to a companion piece of Morrison's New X-Men, following the Weapon Plus storyline. As for Gail Simone's run, it continued into AgentX, in much the same way that Darko Macan and Igor Kordey's Cable became SoldierX, and Peter Milligan and Michael Allred's X-Force turned into X-Statix. It even spun off a mini-series revamping Taskmaster on the way. That said, I really liked the honest and comprehensive review you just did, and found my experiences with the character similar. I never got to finish Priest's run though, which featured a disguised Lobo as the supporting character in it's closing issue. Having skipped Cable & Deadpool, it was a Rich Johnston piece that got me to finally start reading Joe Kelly's supposedly defining run on the character. Wow, that was a lot of name dropping.

Kid Kyoto said...

"Batman, Dick Grayson-as-Batman, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, The Flash Barry Allen, Batwoman and Batgirl III "

That would be Batgirl IV.

Poor Betty Kane, everyone forgets her.

Though I suppose since we have Batgirl II and Batgirl IV sharing the book they average out to Batgirl III.

On Deadpool I honestly haven't read anything with him since the 90s so have nothing to really share. I know he had some really clever covers over the years and I guess at this point he's the only parody/humor character in print from Marvel which probably helps account for his popularity.

Michael Hoskin said...

Technically, wasn't Huntress Batgirl III? Making Stephanie Batgirl V?

Kid Kyoto said...

I'd say Huntress shouldn't count, she just had it for a few months and then returned to her usual identity.

It's like whether or not Spoiler should count as Robin IV.

Caleb said...

That would be Batgirl IV.

Poor Betty Kane, everyone forgets her.

Though I suppose since we have Batgirl II and Batgirl IV sharing the book they average out to Batgirl III.


Oh I thought about Betty Kane, but didn't count her because she's "Bat-Girl" instead of "Batgirl."


Technically, wasn't Huntress Batgirl III? Making Stephanie Batgirl V?

I'd say Huntress shouldn't count, she just had it for a few months and then returned to her usual identity.

I didn't count Huntress as Batgirl III because I didn't think of her. I recently saw a post or two linked to from When Fangirls Attack referring to "Batgirl V," and I was confused at who the other Batgirls might have been.

I don't think I'd count Huntress personally, simply because she wasn't really presented as a permanent replacement, but was always a temporary one. (Similarly, I'd consider Damian Robin IV instead of V, and Dick Grayson Batman II instead of Batman III...although both Damian and Dick are also probably temporary, but are at least kinda sorta being presented as permanent, whereas it was clear Huntress-as-Batgirl and Spoiler-as-Robin were temporary things, like Azrael-as-Batman.)

Wow, that is a lot more words than I probably needed to spend on that. Sorry.

Kid Kyoto said...

"Oh I thought about Betty Kane, but didn't count her because she's "Bat-Girl" instead of "Batgirl."

I figure if it's pronuounced the same it should count. I mean really who remembers that it's Spider-Man and not Spiderman or Spider Man.

Ryan Roe said...

I'm a big fan of the Joe Kelly run on Deadpool, but for some reason only a few stories since then have grabbed me... I've come to realize that I only like Deadpool when he has a supporting cast, whether it's Blind Alfred and Weasel, or Constrictor and fake-Titania, or the gang at Agency X in Fabian Nicieza's later issues of Cable/Deadpool.

Also, I like when he struggles to do the right thing, rather than just shooting everyone in sight. And I hate, hate, hate the whole "dueling inner monologue boxes" device, which is never funny. Who came up with that, anyway?

Kid Kyoto said...

One funny think I just noticed on Katana/Jude Mistress' costumes, that's not a Japanese flag. That's not even close. It's not even the Japanese naval ensign (the Rising Sun flag most people think was Japan's WWII flag).

It's Macedonia's flag.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_Macedonia

now what their connection to Macedonia is I don't know, but they must like it a lot.

Vanja said...

Ryan, I believe it was Daniel Way who came up with Deadpool's dual narration in the Wolverine Origins storyline that preceded his take on Deadpool's current ongoing series.

Kid Kyoto, Macedonia does indeed have the most far-out flag of any ex-Yugoslav states. Theirs is a very recent nation, and they have already had a lot of problems with Greeks regarding the state's name.

Macedonians are Slavs, and just like Montengero always considered themselves Serbs, but it was former Yugoslavia's founder, Tito that created their two republics, which are now both sovereign states.

Kid Kyoto said...

The Macdedonia comment was supposed to be with the solicits post. Too many windows open at once.

metronome35 said...

If you're interested, Priest talks about his Deadpool run here:
http://www.digital-priest.com/comics/frames/deadpool.htm

Drew said...

I wonder if Marvel has a contractual right with Fox that they have to have x series starring the movie property characters or x trades out with the movie property character within a certain time period before the movie opens. So it might not even matter if the title is profitable or not; it might just be part of the licensing deal.

Also appreciated your comment re Orson Scott Card on last month's post on Marvel previews. I made the same decision years ago.

Any chance of an Ultimatium recap like you did with Ultimates 3? Gave me so many lols.