Drew: Humor — and especially jokes — are defined by our expectations. A set-up literally sets up a framework that the punchline carefully subverts. “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?” only makes sense if there was ever an expectation that the joke-teller was going to say “banana”. The point is, those expectations are absolutely crucial to the success of a joke, which makes a jokey comic book character like Deadpool a bit of an anomaly. He exists in a world filled with superpowered mutants, aliens, robots, and gods — it’s hard to have a concrete set of expectations when anything is possible, anyway. So, how do you keep Deadpool from disappearing up his own butt? With the Deadpool Annual 2, writer Christopher Hastings chooses to mine the expectations we have for Spider-Man, resulting in a substantive deconstruction of Spidey, but revealing little about Wade himself.
That’s not inherently a bad thing — the platonic form of Wade Wilson continues to be a point of debate around here — but it does represent a very specific approach to the character, one that treats him as a means to the end of sending-up your favorite comic book tropes. And those tropes really couldn’t be more familiar than those associated with Spider-Man. With great power comes something something — you know what I’m talking about. The issue opens with a tweaking Spider-Man attacking Deadpool. Apparently, Chameleon has been psychologically torturing Spidey, attacking him and disappearing such that Spider-Man no longer feels safe anywhere. Wade offers to help, but when another attack renders Spider-Man unconscious, Wade comes up with a new plan, donning the Spidey-suit in hopes of drawing another attack from Chameleon. It sort of works, but Wade is quickly distracted by a slew of other crime he’s now greatly responsible for. Of course, he handles that responsibility with a typical Wade laziness.
Eventually, the Chameleon makes his move, getting the drop on Wade. Fortunately, Spider-Man shows up (in Wade’s costume) to jump to his rescue. They end up in the classic “No, I’m Deadpool” shape-shifter sequence (all the weirder because Wade is actually Deadpool), but Spidey’s aversion to killing — so carefully established at the start of the issue — gives him away as the one true wall-crawler.
It’s an incredibly goofy issue, featuring all of the absurdities we’ve come to expect of a Deadpool story, but this feels like a much meatier commentary on Spider-Man. Hastings takes care to highlight much of what makes Spider-Man unique as a costumed hero, from his carefully guarded secret identity to his penchant for stringing up muggers, effectively illuminating Wade by reflection. Wade is so often confused for Spider-Man in the comics, and while their designs and color schemes are somewhat similar, Hastings does a brilliant job of contrasting their approaches and attitudes when it comes to the responsibilities of actual heroing.
But it also highlights their similarities, which may be to the issue’s detriment. Chief amongst these is their talkativeness. Spidey’s quips make him remarkable when compared to the stoicism of Thor or Captain America, but becomes a bit less notable compared to Deadpool. Of course, that’s a two-way street, with the zaniness of Deadpool maybe feeling less distinctive when said by a guy in a Spider-Man costume.
Then again, much of the humor here comes from Joe Camagni’s comically exaggerated expressions. It’s not uncommon for Artists to take advantage of the Spider-suit’s gigantic eyes for expressive purposes, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them quite as exaggerated as they are here.
That over-the-top expressiveness goes a long way towards making Wade feel goofier that Spider-Man, even if the situations are, in fact, “Classic Spider-Man.”
Maybe that’s my problem: aside from the self-awareness, this could have just as easily been Spider-Man the whole time. Sure, there are some gross-out gags when Wade’s muscles start exploding, but I think that sequence could have been just as thrilling if it was actually Spider-Man saving the day here. Having your hero be basically interchangeable with another seems like a bad thing, but again, that may actually be the essence of Deadpool — more defined by the expectations of comics in general (and maybe specific other comics) than he is by his own stories.
Then again, maybe it’s not a problem, after all: I enjoyed this issue well enough, and the gross-out gags were enough to scratch that Deadpool itch. What did you think, Patrick? Did Wade’s interchangeability keep you from connecting, or was connecting irrelevant to this issue in the first place? Oh, and weren’t you also grossed out by the phrase “Deadpool itch”?
Patrick: “Deadpool itch” is horrifying because I can’t decide which is funnier: if it refers to a rash you’d get from the pool or if it refers to a rash you’d get from reading a comic book. Either way – super gross.
I also really enjoyed this issue. While I don’t think Dan Slott is bad at writing a genuinely funny Peter Parker, it’s nice to see Hastings really let loose with the character. If that means putting Wade Wilson behind the mask, then so be it. I do think Drew might be selling short the intelligence of this issue. One of the things that the character of Deadpool allows for is an exploration of what’s happening in comic books — nine writers out of ten will put their own observations in Wade’s mouth, but Hastings takes a more nuanced approach. Peter Parker is only very recently back in his own body after over a year of being controlled by Doc Ock. This issue ends up being the entire Superior Spider-Man story line held up to a fun-house mirror, starting with a laughably lo-fi body swap.
(Also, the band on Deadpool’s underpants just says “MAN.” We can speculate all we want on why they would need to be labeled this way.)
It’s important that Wade continues to do “Spider-Man stuff” to draw the Chameleon out for another attack, and I just really like the idea that he needs to stop and verbalize the phrase “Spider-Man stuff” before he’s able to do that. This isn’t just about one character assuming another’s identity for an issue, it’s about occupying their world and telling one of their stories. For Spider-Man, that means doing a little bit of swinging around the city, just, y’know, not too much because you can get tired of it. Or like the moment that Wade declares that Spider-Man is “the champion against dumb” and then checks his math to make sure that statement holds up. The deconstruction ends up being satisfying for both characters, principally because Wade is able to make these comments without seeming out of place.
Which isn’t to suggest that the issue is anything but a good time. Drew’s right, it is incredibly goofy, and the biggest laughs the issue got out of me were references that landed particularly well. This probably isn’t a surprise to anyone that’s read a few of the pieces I’ve written here, but I’m a sucker for a good Mortal Kombat joke (the older the better) and Wade pulls off a handful of them while taking down the helicopter, starting with a classic Scorpion-esque “get over here!”
That’s followed up with by a “Toasty” when he lands a particularly effective blow, and a “Perfect” when he wins. Drew and I typical trade emails titled “FINISH HIM!” when we want the other person to wrap up an article that we’re working on, so this is particularly fun for me. Also, come on: Deadpool is pretending to be Spider-Man pretending to be Scorpion? That’s adorable.
And at the end of the day, the issue really is all about those simple pleasures: a giant rat exploding into a cloud of snakes, two Deadpools and a Spider-Man, a superhero-friend-team-up fist-bump. It’s purer fun than we’re used to seeing in Deadpool right now, but it’s sharp enough that the simplicity doesn’t bother. There’s a moment when Wade says that he’s “trying to punch it (the giant rat) ’til it stops being a problem,” and that may be the most on-point superhero criticism I’ve ever read. Or, just a pretty good joke.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?