Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Deadpool Annual 1, originally released September 28th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: As a kid, I was a cartoon addict. I would wake up at 6:00 am every day for the sole purpose of watching cartoons for an hour before school. Needless to say, Saturday morning cartoons were like manna from heaven for me. Being young, I watched these cartoon shows for hours on end indiscriminately. In retrospect, much of the shows I watched were truly awful, sporting low production values and shoddy writing at the best of times. Still, I fondly remember these cartoons, and I’m willing to bet most children of the ’80s look back on these cartoons through a rosy lens like myself. In the Deadpool Annual, writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn take a look back at these shows and wonder what would happen if the Merc with the Mouth had gotten his own crack at Saturday morning.
Most annual issues tend to be a little different from the ordinary run of things, and Deadpool being Deadpool, that proves especially true in this issue. This somewhat expanded issue, which weighs in at a little over 30 pages, is split into two Deadpool cartoon episodes. In the first, Deadpool takes over Peter Parker’s spot in the Amazing Friends gang with predictably bloody results. In the second, Wade wakes up and realizes he has been kidnapped and that cells from his regenerative tissue have been used to create grotesque cyborg killing machines. Again, the results are bloody but this time they are a bit more splattery.
Of these two stories I enjoyed the first more than the second. Call me nostalgic, but I just can’t say no to something that so hilariously references a hallmark from my childhood. The big conceit of this first episode is the very idea of Deadpool actually getting his own Saturday morning cartoon. Of all the Marvel heroes, there is probably no character less appropriate for a kid friendly cartoon adaptation than Deadpool. After all, all of the things that make his stories fun are his penchant for violence and off-color jokes — hardly the type of thing parents want their kids watching.
The poor intersection of Deadpool and Saturday morning cartoons is what makes this first story a delight. Having kicked Peter out of his Amazing Friends superhero group, Wade is instantly at odds with the simple morality of a show intended for children. When he, Ice-Man, and Firestar leap into action to take down the Sinister Six, Wade makes this mismatch abundantly clear when he wastes no time in killing Mysterio in cold blood.
Under normal circumstances, most super-villains wouldn’t ever dream of having a hero kill them, outside of maybe the Punisher. But this is Deadpool, and he wastes no time in ramping up the fight in seconds. Added to this, of course, is the idea that this cold blooded murder just went down during Saturday morning cartoons. The world of these cartoons has always been toned down for a younger audience. No one ever dies, heroes always do the right thing, and justice always prevails. Within a heartbeat Deadpool flips this script on its head by opting to shoot Mysterio before he even has a chance to surrender. It’s all so sudden and so against the idea of a superhero cartoon series it can’t help but be funny. And really, how many fans have talked about how easy things would be heroes just killed their enemies?
The artwork of Scott Koblish helps pull off the humor here. With the exception of the legendary animated Batman series, superhero cartoons in the 90s suffered from notoriously poor production values. Characters suffered from simplistic designs, inconsistent lining, and outdated costuming. Koblish recognizes that and skillfully (or should I say unskillfully?) employs them in the issue.
Of all the characters, Spider-Man stands out as particularly emblematic of these art sins. Noticeably, he’s wearing the exact same costume as when he was first introduced upon his inception. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it gives the story a dated feeling as opposed to nostalgic. This design is simple and while that might make it easy for animators in Korea to complete their job (as Lil’ Deadpool reminds us) it makes for a shoddy looking character. Lastly, there’s basically no definition on Spider-Man’s body whatsoever. There is no shading or lining that even attempts to define his musculature and make him appear like a real human. All of these artistic shortcomings would be horrible if they weren’t intentional but it’s clear Koblish chose this style to mimic cartoons of the 90s. This choice makes the Amazing Friend’s rampage in this issue all the more hilarious because it constantly reminds me that in theory kids are watching this horrible irreverence.
I have less strong feelings about the second episode that deals with Deadpool and a thing called Nü-Flesh. Sure, it comes with the trademark wit and violence that define a Deadpool story but a lot of the episode has a going-though-the-motions feel to it. Maybe it was written just to bump up the page count for the annual issue, but it fails to charm me the way the first episode does.
Drew, what’s your take on the second story? Did you appreciate it more than I did?
Drew: I wish I did, but I’m afraid it pales in comparison to the feature story. Moreover, it feels oddly tacked-on in an issue that is otherwise fully committed to its gimmicky set-up. Indeed, I think even calling it a “second episode” is generous — put this in any other Deadpool publication, and there’d be no reason whatsoever to read it as an episode of an ’80s cartoon. For that reason, I’m inclined to think that it isn’t intended to have anything to do with the premise of the first half. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that — I’ve read plenty of great anthology issues (especially annuals) over the years — but it feels like a missed opportunity here.
Or maybe I’m just too enamored of the inappropriate contexts Duggan, Posehn, and Koblish love to stick Deadpool in. I’ve loved every one of their inventory issues, which are all variations on this premise, though every single one manages to find new laughs within that simple set-up. Some of that comes from making the context the butt of the joke — the ’90s inventory, in true Rob Liefeld style, didn’t feature any feet — but much of it comes from the way Deadpool doesn’t jibe with those contexts. Deadpool has evolved quite a bit in the 25 years since his creation, but none of his sensabilities have a place in a Jack Kirby classic or a typical Saturday morning cartoon. It’s a subtler version of Bugs Bunny going to the opera — there’s not the same friction between high and low art, but we understand that Deadpool doesn’t belong, anyway.
In that way, Koblish’s ability to pull off all of these styles is absolutely essential to the success of these issues, and as always, he pulls it off beautifully. Taylor already mentioned how the simple linework and flat coloring of ’80s cartoons sells the look of this thing, but I also love the way Koblish commits to the common directing ticks of the genre. Check out his cost-cutting re-use (and re-re-use) of the “cel” of Deadpool aiming his gun:
It’s not a detail that knocks you over the head, but it definitely feels familiar to anyone who’s watched Saturday morning cartoons (or really any animation made on the cheap). This helps sell the feeling of the world at the exact moment that Deadpool breaks its chief rule. While Koblish was able to revel in the friction between Deadpool and the kids’ TV-show trappings at the start of the issue, depicting Deadpool in all his squalid wonder, he knows to play it straight here. As if to remind us that he’s only cutting corners as a joke, Koblish sneaks in the extra detail of Mysterio’s cape-clasps reacting to being shot as if they were his actual eyes.
Of course, this is also the moment when things really start to fly off the rails. I’m not sure it’s intended as a commentary on the simplistic moralizing of kids’ television, but I love the idea that, as soon as killing is “allowed,” Iceman and Firestar become remorseless killers. The heroes, it seems, are only as good as the morals they see on TV. At any rate, the story becomes a complete bloodbath, as every one of the Sinister Six meets an untimely end. Indeed, while Deadpool shoots Mysterio and Kraven the Hunter, the truly gruesome kills are perpetrated by Bobby and Angelica, who use their powers to devise increasingly horrifying ways to dispatch their foes. Of course, once Peter returns, everyone returns to normal, giving the impression that this violence will not be repeated (at least, not after they give Wade his comeuppance). But not everything is as it should be:
I realize the narration suggesting a murder trial could represent a more lasting impact, but I actually just meant Spidey riding on Bobby’s back. It’s such an absurd image, I’m glad we were able to see it once more before the issue was through.
Which brings me to the two tags at the end of this story — one a nod to Deadpool’s movie teammates, and the other riffing on the little life lessons that tended to feature at the end of Saturday morning cartoons. The latter lands more jokes, highlighting how ill-suited Deadpool is for safety advice; someone who can recover from any injury isn’t the best to turn to for lessons on self-preservation. As such, his lesson ends up being more about the virtues of arson than anything safety-related.
As expected, this creative team is remarkably smart at stupidity, crafting dumb jokes that rely on a kind of knowledge (look, let’s just let me call my familiarity with ’80s cartoons “knowledge” if I want to, okay?) to land. I suspect mileage may vary depending on your own experience with the source material, but I’ll be damned if this wasn’t right up my alley. Like the best Deadpool stories, this issue is unabashedly geared towards pop-culture nerds.
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My friend Dave and I did a Rifftrax-esque thingy on a few episodes of “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” about five years ago (which I’m not gonna look up or link to because I haven’t listened to them in nearly that long), so this issue was a fun bit of nostalgia to me.
I agree with Drew about the second story — it’s clearly not trying to fit into the “cartoon” aesthetic. It’s a very standard Deadpool story, which isn’t a bad thing — it’s funny and jam packed with jokes, but honestly, I found it exhausting at times. Duggan’s Deadpool gets me a little down at times and sometimes feels like it’s losing its track on humor altogether, but it’s nice to reminded that I prefer Deadpool to have depth than just to be a non-stop joke delivery system.