Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

07 October 2016

Spider-Man / Deadpool, v. 1: Isn't It Bromantic?

Collects: Spider-Man / Deadpool #1-5 and 8 (2016)

Released: September 2016 (Marvel)

Format: 136 pages / color / $17.99 / ISBN: 9780785197867

What is this?: Deadpool tries to befriend Spider-Man, both because he admires Spider-Man and because he wants to kill Peter Parker.

The culprits: Writer Joe Kelly and penciler Ed McGuinness

A lot has changed since Joe Kelly last set a direction for the character Deadpool; when Kelly left as writer on Deadpool’s first ongoing after 33 issues in 1999, it was the (Bill) Clinton administration, before the millennium turned and the world changed. More relevantly, Deadpool was always on the brink of cancellation, and although the title lasted three years after Kelly left, Deadpool didn’t get another solo book until 2008. Now we have umpteen Deadpool ongoing and limited series per year, a Deadpool movie that improbably was popular and high quality, and a sequel scheduled. 1999 is a long time ago, isn’t it?

Also, Deadpool has changed as a character in the intervening years. Gone is the mercenary wondering if he can be a hero; he still struggles with heroism, but the hero’s journey that Kelly put him on is over. Deadpool has settled down with a demonic wife, so he’s done mooning over Siryn and Copycat. He has a (secret) daughter now, albeit not by his wife. And Deadpool’s rich now! He has a band of mercenaries!

 coverThat’s a long introduction just to ask if Kelly can still write Deadpool. It’s not that Kelly can’t write any more — I actually don’t know if his recent work is any good, since I haven’t read any of his 21st century work — but it’s difficult to return to one’s glory days and succeed. Just look at Chris Claremont’s most recent X-Men work, for instance. Fortunately, Spider-Man / Deadpool, v. 1: Isn’t It Bromantic proves Kelly, after all these years, is still able to write a funny Deadpool while giving him more depth than most characters are allowed to have.

For those who aren’t diehard Deadpool fans, Bromantic’s likely appeal will be its humor, which is where Kelly and penciler Ed McGuiness excel. Kelly manages to keep the jokes coming through Deadpool’s signature combination of sorrow, death, and blood. It’s an impressive feat, one that I have trouble fully explaining; on the other hand, no one should explain jokes. By way of example, though, I admire Deadpool’s narration in #8, where he explains to the reader (and his daughter) why the previous two issues are missing from Bromantic: “I feel a great disturbance in continuity … as if there were a massive crossover or just a better creative team for two issues.” (It’s an elegant way to avoid using footnotes as well.)

On the other hand, I have no one other than Kelly to blame for the title of this book / arc. I hate the word “bromantic” and all its associated terms, and causing me to have to type that word several times irritates me beyond all reason.

Someone else who still has the ability they showed last century is McGuiness. The penciler, who drew the first arc of Kelly’s initial Deadpool run (#1-6 and 8), contributes fabulous work to this book. His Spider-Man almost looks like he could jump out of the book. His fight scenes — and there are a lot of them — are outstanding, and he’s shows an equal facility for humor and action. He is a little weak on the horror at some points, but his Patient Zero (the book’s chief villain) looks creepily loose-jointed, and his henchmen are imaginatively distorted by genetic modification. (Although one of them does look like something out of Japanese anime.)

I didn't believe there could be a good reason why Spider-Man and Deadpool would interact, but Kelly manages to find one: Deadpool is offered a contract to kill Peter Parker, and in an attempt to get Spider-Man (whom everyone believe is Parker’s bodyguard) out of the way, Deadpool tries to befriend Spider-Man. It works about as well as you might as imagine, with Spider-Man being simultaneously offput by Deadpool’s ethics and insanity and unwilling to give up on anyone, especially not someone as earnest as Deadpool. Kelly allows Deadpool’s assassination attempt to go farther than I would have imagined, playing it for the trademark combination of pathos and dark humor that marked his initial Deadpool run. It remains to be seen, however, whether the partnership can find a reason to last, other than to hunt down the man who hired Deadpool.

Kelly also has no trouble with Spider-Man’s character; like Deadpool, he’s a wisecracker, although his jokes aren’t as pop-culture saturated, and they lack Deadpool’s darker, more demented edge. Mostly, Spider-Man stands as a moral contrast to Deadpool, with his unbreaking ethical code set as either a goal or unattainable height for his co-star. Kelly seems more willing to play with Spider-Man’s character than Deadpool’s, which is strange given Spider-Man’s iconic status; I don’t think Peter’s darker turn will last or bleed into Dan Slott’s Spider-Man titles, but Peter’s first meeting with Mephisto since he traded away his marriage could be an important point in this series.

Patient Zero was created for this book by Kelly; the scarred, emaciated villain claims both Spider-Man and Deadpool did him a wrong. Kelly also uses Styx and Stone as villains; the pair are throwaway ‘90s villains who disappeared from Spider-Man’s life before the clone nonsense. They are a good choice for this book: visually interesting, with a vague connection to Spider-Man (albeit a connection not really exploited in this book), and they give each hero someone separate to fight. The book’s other villain is Mysterio, beautifully drawn by McGuiness. (I’m a sucker for the fishbowl; sue me.) Mysterio doesn’t do much, but the narration makes it clear he knows Peter’s secret identity. I don’t know if that's what was intended, though, and I have a feeling it will be quietly forgotten.

Although I had some worries about Bromantic, the book’s name turned out to be the worst part of it. I have doubts whether McGuiness will be on the book consistently, but he left the original Deadpool early in the run, and that title maintained a high level of quality afterwards. I’m looking forward to the next volume of this book, which should be out sometime in the first quarter of 2017.

And best of all, it won’t have Bromantic in its title.

Rating: Spider-Man / Deadpool symbol Spider-Man / Deadpool symbol Spider-Man / Deadpool symbol Spider-Man / Deadpool symbol Half Spider-Man / Deadpool symbol (4.5 of 5)

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