I’ve been a longtime fan of Deadpool and one of the things that’s super important to the character is balance. It isn’t enough that Deadpool is funny. There has to be a certain level of pathos at his core. He has to be serious at times to really work. Mark Waid understood this. Joe Kelly perfected this. Others like Fabian Nicieza, Frank Tieri, Rick Remender, and Gail Simone knew that it isn’t all just jokes and references. There needs to be some real emotion to ground him. That’s one of my main problems with Daniel Way’s lengthy run on the character in the last Deadpool volume, as he simply refused to take Deadpool seriously. He could occasionally write some great humor and come up with a good action sequence, but he’d only hint at delving deeper into what makes Wade Wilson tick before sidestepping it into another story. At the same time, he’d cheapen and downplay previous moments of character development for cheap gags that didn’t pay off.
Luckily, the new guys don’t fall into that trap.
Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan had a rough start when starting up the new Deadpool volume for Marvel NOW. Their first story arc – where Deadpool fought evil zombie versions of dead presidents – was six issues long when it really should have been shaved down to four at most. Luckily, it picked up in its second storyline, giving it momentum into “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” It’s a clever title, describing Deadpool’s team-up with his personal hero Captain America and surly, big brother stand-in Wolverine.
Before that, I should rope in Deadpool #13 and #14, a two-parter with Scott Koblish on art, as they act as a prelude and appear in the coming trade. The series has started up a really great gimmick of following each major arc with a “flashback” issue. Deadpool was first introduced in 1990, but what if he really existed in the Marvel Universe canon before that without us ever seeing him? In #13, we see what Deadpool was up to in the late 70’s era, forcing a team-up with a reluctant Luke Cage and Iron Fist back in the days when Cage was wearing yellow silk shirts. There, the three face an albino pimp named the White Man.
This being comics, stuff that happened in the 70’s only translates to having taken place several years ago.
In the issue that follows, we see the White Man return in the present. You’d think that that would be the whole point of the flashback issue, but…not so much. That threat is taken care of in one issue and the heroes move on. Turns out that there was something more important going on in #13 that has bigger ramifications to Deadpool’s history. Meanwhile, there’s a subplot that’s been going on about mysterious people randomly tranquilizing Deadpool, removing his organs and then driving off and finally he does something about it. In his investigation, he discovers that a man named Butler has been behind these actions for years, setting up “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” with Declan Shalvey killing it on art.
Really, the dude draws one of the better depictions of unmasked Wade. Hideous, yet at the same time, hard to look away from.
At first, Deadpool has nothing to go on. All he knows is that he’s being hunted down to be experimented on and has been for God knows how long. He seeks fellow Weapon Plus experiments Wolverine and Captain America, but each one pretty much tells him to get lost (albeit Cap is far more polite about it). Just for conversing with Deadpool, all three become targets and next thing you know, Deadpool’s kidnapped and waking up in a lab in North Korea.
It’s there that he sees some of the output of those experiments. Whatever Butler’s been up to, he’s been working with the North Korean government to create sickly knockoff soldiers that are grafted with X-Men DNA mixed with Deadpool’s. They’re all forced to serve due to their loved ones being imprisoned as hostages. Butler tries the same ultimatum on Deadpool, which would appear to be worthless, since Deadpool has no family. Except… that doesn’t appear to be the case, after all.
We’re given one hell of a team-up between Deadpool, Wolverine, Captain America and a ragtag group of horrific attempts at recreating the X-Men. The K-Men (my own pet name for them) are much like Deadpool in that their exploits are played for laughs at times, but are also quite sad and disturbing. The fluid Shalvey art really comes into play during these sequences, bringing us something action-packed and completely visceral, as the K-Men are both unrestrained in their actions and lack of plot armor. We know that our main three heroes will walk out of this alive, but you find yourself rooting for these freaks to survive the day and get revenge on the government that did this to them.
I should note that one thing I’ve been loving about the current volume is the use of Agent Preston. Way’s Deadpool run focused a lot on Deadpool speaking with two narration boxes that acted as parts of his own mind. This was a band-aid to hide the lack of supporting cast and ultimately came out pretty hollow. Posehn and Duggan retooled the idea so that it was the ghost of another person in there, speaking with Deadpool. Here, it isn’t 100% wacky. Her opinions matter because she matters. When she yells at Deadpool not to do something, there’s actual weight behind it. Having the straight man be an actual person is a major improvement.
The final two issues are where this arc goes from being a really good Deadpool story to easily one of the top three Deadpool stories of all time. There’s tragedy mixed with catharsis mixed with action with enough humor sprinkled in there to remind you it’s Deadpool. Also, Posehn and Duggan proceed to expand upon Deadpool’s troubled backstory. Since the days of his first ongoing, there have been a lot of continuity snafus in Deadpool’s history and most writers just ignored it to write which version they liked the best. Is Deadpool Canadian or was he from Ohio and moved around a lot? Did his father abandon him or was he a drunken military man who died trying to get through to him? Did his mother die of cancer when he was a little boy or did she physically abuse him during his adolescent years? Is Deadpool truly “Wade Wilson” or was that an identity he stole from the man who later became T-Ray? While not giving direct answers one way or another, the writers are able to put in a plot device that explains this lack of continuity streamlining.
Butler is a great antagonist. There’s just enough sympathy in his actions in the beginning that you might be almost able to understand where he’s coming from, but his actions speak louder than anything else. Despite Deadpool’s history with him, his faulty memories show that he knows just as much about him as we do, so his journey is our own. As the story continues, Butler becomes more and more hateable to the point where we can’t wait to see Deadpool get any semblance of revenge.
Captain America’s role here seems almost tacked on at times and the helmet he’s wearing looks really wonky. Wolverine, on the other hand, is shown to be a strong foil for Deadpool. A lot of circumstances involving the two are shown to parallel in ways, whether it’s their histories, recent status quos or how they react to certain characters over the course of the story. In the end, there’s a better understanding there between them and even Cap seems to connect with Deadpool just a little better.
What makes me so happy about reading this comic is that if this was the writing team’s final issue, it would be a great ending outside of the last page stinger. And yet, it isn’t the end. There’s more Posehn/Duggan stuff to read and more fun to be had. If the zombie presidents arc turned you off, I implore you to at least give “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” a try once the trade comes out. These guys get Deadpool and I’m glad their run is far from over.