Today, Scott and Patrick are discussing Deadpool 17, originally released September 25th, 2013.
Scott: “Ok, so you’ve got Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan, right, and they’re writing about Deadpool.” (“Oh man, this sounds funny!”) “And Deadpool is teaming up with Wolverine and Captain America.” (“Whoa, this is gonna be classic!”) “Oh, and there are a bunch of Korean X-men look-alikes running around.” (“I don’t even know what that means, but you probably don’t even need a plot at this point, this sounds like the craziest issue ever!”) So what happens when you take all elements for great laughs and hi-jinks, and try to make it dark? Posehn and Duggan have pushed Deadpool into grim territory in recent issues, and they’ve been some of the series’ best. They seem intent on recasting Deadpool in a more serious tone. But sometimes, when all the elements are there, there’s nothing a writer can do to prevent a rollicking good time.
Deadpool releases Captain America and Wolverine from the vault in the North Korean camp where they’re being held, and it doesn’t take long to convince them to stick around and fight. They meet up with Kim and the other X-men clones (er, clone-ish things) and devise a plan to rescue their families, who are being held in a second, nearby camp. They start taking out the guard towers and seem well on their way to an easy escape, until two guards inject themselves with a mutating agent that transforms them into massive , bloodthirsty monsters. Wade manages to blow up one guard, and the other surrenders, offering up the location of the second camp — Camp 23. Butler is also at Camp 23, preparing to leave North Korea with his sister, and unaware of the uprising that has just taken place.
So, I didn’t know what to expect heading into this issue. I knew this was part 3 of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” a five part arc, but to be honest, three issues did not seem like enough for Posehn and Duggan to play out everything they had set in motion in the previous two. I mean, Deadpool had only just discovered Cap and Wolvie at the very end of the last issue, and they still had to fight their way out of the first camp, break into the second camp, rescue their families and track down Butler. There’s no way it could be done, I thought, unless these three issues are so packed with action there’s hardly room to breathe. And that’s exactly the case in this issue.
In fact, this issue is so action packed, it almost fooled me. After a string of increasingly dark Deadpool books, this one seemed like one big treat in the form of an epic prison breakout scene. Wade is gunning down guard towers and cracking jokes. Wolverine is teaching his new friends how to do a Fastball Special. It’s great fun. But if you look closer, you’ll see a lot of emotional weight in these pages. The clones have spent their entire lives as prisoners of this camp. This fight is their release of years of pent of frustration and rage, a day they have all dreamt of.
“Yeah, go mutants! Leave your prison in ruins! Destroy those faceless guards no one could possibly care about!” Well, not so fast. Duggan and Posehn smartly offer a brief moment with a pair of guards who, for the first time, are not in a position of power over the prisoners. They’ve obviously been warned that a moment like this could come, but they’re smart enough to no they can’t actually win. They may represent the “bad guys” here, but this scene still hit me in the feels.
That’s a horrible decision for anyone to have to make, North Korean prison guard or not. But that’s why I love this issue. It’s a bunch of pages of people trying to kill each other, but all the characters have real and immediate motivation behind their actions.
For a mid-arc issue, there is surprisingly little new-information revealed, whether about Wade’s relationship with Butler, the existence of his daughter, etc. (We do learn that the Koreans have plans to turn the prisoners at Camp 23 into mutants, but I can’t see that playing out with our heroes about to crash the party). Still, I’d hardly say this issue is just treading water. The truth is, there may not be a whole lot left to discover. The pieces are all in place, and Wade seems properly motivated to just kick some serious ass until he gets his hands on Butler. Plus, this series has been getting so dark, it was due for an issue where Wade and co. actually have a little fun. What did you think Patrick? Did the lack of new revelations annoy you, or was the hilariously failed Fastball Special enough to keep you happy?
Patrick: Oh, I was absolutely ready to have a little fun with these characters, and a rip-roaring 10-page fight sequence totally fits that bill. We’ve been impressed with the emotional depths that Duggan and Posehn have been able to explore with Deadpool, precisely because he’s a surreal jester. It’s temping to say that all they needed to do was ground the character — tying Wade to a family member or making him at least temporarily vulnerable does a lot to make him more human. But the opposite is also true: Deadpool is not so unlike the other characters, with whom we have no problems empathizing, even when they’re wearing brightly colored costumes and quipping to their hearts’ content. Scott mentions the hilariously botched Fastball Special, but even Cap gets in on a killer joke or two.
Everyone’s a big goofy collection of primary colors, flipping around and having a great time; it’s not just Deadpool.
It’s kinda weird, right? We don’t feel the need to explain our suspension of disbelief when it comes to emphathizing with Cap or Wolverine — the characters immediately command more respect than Deadpool does. Partly, that’s because you’re never going to see Steve Rogers donning a pair of brass knuckles that read “Stars” on one hand and “Stripes” on the other. Ultimately, I think it’s because Wolverine and Cap are an older generation of heroes and we’ve been well conditioned to respect our elders. Curiously, this issue opens up on a flashback to Cap and Bucky in the final days of World War Two. It’s a beautifully colored sequence by Jordie Bellaire that just gives us a snippet of our heroes shutting down a concentration camp. It is exceptionally grim, as well it should be, but it struck me just how much power there is in its graphic simplicity.
The specifics of what went down here are left to our imagination — and our imagination is remarkably capable of filling in those gaps. It doesn’t take much — a truck with bodies in back, withered prisoner, ill-fitting military uniforms, a Nazi flag flying in the air. Even the comic booky image of Cap’s shield sticking out of the hood of that car tells a story. And it’s where all those stories intersect that our inherent respect for Captain America rests. Fictional or not, we understand him to be part of that Greatest Generation that stood up to the Nazis. Boom: respect granted.
Man, that page is interesting for so many reasons. I always get a little squeamish when comic books compare the plight of a fictional people to something that actually happened in history. Like, sure, things look bad for these Deadpooly mutants, but the holocaust really did kill six-million Jews, so the comparison is trite at best, and offensive at worst. There’s more to Duggan and Posehn’s choice of setting than they’re letting on, and I suspect that they’re trying to make a statement about North Korea. The story isn’t set here just to take pot-shots at Kim Jong Un, but because North Korea is a legitimately terrible place where legitimately awful things happen all the time. So far, we’ve been comfortably on in the camp of liberating mutants and looking for long-lost daughters, but even having that looming reminder grants all the proceedings a little extra importance.
It’s sort of insane that there are still two issues left in the arc, right? Seems like all the heroes need to do is stop the bad guy: easy peasy. I cannot wait to see what else is thrown in their way.
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I don’t know, Patrick, I think flashing back to the holocaust works because it’s really all about Cap’s reaction to it. Sure, this mutant labor camp (or whatever this is) is purely fictional, but then so is Captain America’s involvement in World War II. I think this touches on the “do ripped-from-the-headlines stories inherently trivialize the issues they aim to address” discussion we had a couple weeks ago (albeit on a vastly different scale), and you raised a compelling argument for why they don’t. For me, the fact that the scale of the mutant camp isn’t nearly the same as the holocaust doesn’t matter: all that matters is whether or not Cap could turn his back on it. In that case, I don’t think it could be considered trivial at all — whether he’s fighting for six or six million, Cap always fight for liberty.
Sure, but I think there’s an impossible-to-ignore reaction that those images elicit from the reader. And reminding us that he’s a hero of that conflict only makes him more saintly – or to use the language of the book itself, more like the boyscout. Putting Deadpool in North Korea kind of gives him that same opportunity – to be a hero in the context of an actual conflict that we can respond to on not just a this-is-happening-in-a-comic-book sort of way.
Actually, that might be an interesting comment about Deadpool. That Hitler is to Captain America as Kim Jong Un is to Deadpool. It doesn’t really matter how many human rights violations the international community levels against Kim Jong Un, we still think of him primarily as a laughing stock — an impotent, sabre-rattling child demanding respect. Obviously, he’s not nearly as monstrous as Hitler (and Deadpool isn’t nearly as heroic as Captain America), but there’s definitely some monstrousness there that we tend to forget.
That’s fantastic – what a fun and apt analogy.
It’s interesting to hold this arc up in the light of that Dead Presidents arc. Both borrow liberally from history and world events – like, as comfortable as Posehn and Duggan are playing in the toy box labeled “Comic Books,” there’s another eye on the real world. Whether they play those real-world things for laughs or catharsis, it’s just neat to consider why they’d do that. Like, even when we can see parallels to current events in Daredevil or Spider-Man or X-Men, the names and specifics are changed. Duggan and Posehn use the specifics, and I just can’t tease out why just yet.
It kind of makes sense, though, right? Deadpool somehow exists on the border between comic book fantasy and the real world. His self-awareness has been a manifestation of his closeness with reality, and I think pieces from the real world bubbling into his stories fits perfectly with that.
What I’m really intrigued by is the way Posehn and Duggan seem to be giving in-universe explanations for Deadpool’s behavior. I can’t help but wonder if he’ll still be the wisecracking, fourth-wall-breaking psychopath when they’re done with him.
There’s a panel in this issue that’s like a profile of Deadpool, with a red background while he recites the problems with being a tonally inconsistent character that I thought was really moving. One of the great things about having a fourth-wall breaking lunatic as the protagonist is that he can actually have feelings about how he’s being written, portrayed and even how he’s received by his audience. In fact, I think those have always been the most important relationships Deadpool has had — with the readers and the creators. Introducing his daughter or likening him to the other super soldiers of the Marvel Unvierse suggests that there might be people in his own reality that he can be close to. And that’s so weird – I love it.
That’s a really good point. For all of the fourth-wall breaking that we’re used to on this series, there actually hasn’t been that much meta-commentary. This issue throws that status quo out the window, delivering one of the most in-depth ruminations on heroism I’ve seen in quite a while.
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