Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Deadpool 21, originally released October 26th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: The Music Box Theater in Chicago has an ongoing series of film showings called “Is It Still Funny?” The premise of the event is that viewers go and watch an older comedy film and then listen to a discussion that begs the questions “is this film even funny anymore?” It’s an interesting idea and I think it works because unlike other genres, comedy tends to not age well. There’s a slew of reasons for that and here is not really the place to get into it, but the question is interesting when applied to a character like Deadpool. At what point do all of his antics fail to amuse and humor? More importantly, at what point do they begin to put innocent lives in danger?
Madcap is on the loose and unfortunately for us all, Deadpool is the hero who’s on the case. After an annual diamond theft to celebrate Christmas, Wade looks into the Madcap’s history. He doesn’t find any clues down this road so he goes and asks S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Preston about the chemical that made Madcap but doesn’t find any clues here either. However, before he can get too frustrated Wade soon finds himself confronting Madcap once again – this time with dire consequences.
The humor abounds in issue 21 and that should come as no surprise. Writer Gerry Duggan knows how to get a laugh from the audience and he delivers in spades throughout this issue. There are several things that contribute to this hear, but it’s wonderful to see how he and artist Matteo Lolli team up to create some wonderful visual humor. When Wade goes to visit Agent Preston she accuses him of sleeping in crime scenes again. That’s a cheap joke and isn’t anything that would make the average Deadpool take note. However, the reveal of why she says this is a different story altogether.
There’s the obvious humor to be found in the crime scene tape on the bottom of Wade’s boot, but what’s especially humorous is his laid back demeanor. You would never guess that Wade is on a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier based on how relaxed he looks, sipping a cup of coffee. That he is, is more funny. However, further questions abound when you consider this. Where did that coffee come from? And who would actually be willing to give Deadpool coffee anyway? Further, whose mug is that? Is it Deadpool’s and does he leave it on the helicarrier just for times like this? While none of these question are important or even matter to the plot at all, the ludicrous humor is without words really even being needed.
But Deadpool’s antics are only funny up to a point. What allows Wade to be funny despite his penchant for violence and general obscenity is that he’s generally only hurt no one but himself. Or it should be said that he’s hurt no one innocent aside from himself – after all, he’s killed plenty of bad guys in his day. But it becomes harder to condone Deadpool’s humor when innocent lives are at stake. In his lackadaisical effort to find Madcap he allows the villain to take control of innocent people and feed them to hungry tigers.
We’re used to seeing Wade fight for reasons that are more selfish than saving the lives of others. Against Madcap, however, Wade is tasked with trying to protect lives and when the stakes are that high one has to wonder if Wade is up to the task. Can a man who finds the humor in killing people in elaborate ways also be someone who saves lives? Can Wade really flip a switch and go from jokester to savior just like that? There are compelling reasons that support the idea that both could be true. Duggan has demonstrated in earlier issues of Deadpool that Wade’s antics stem from deeper, more nuanced place than one would initially think. Here though we have to consider that maybe Wade isn’t the person to take on someone who kills innocents for pleasure.
What do you think Patrick, is Wade a match for Madcap? Do you think Wade’s humor has a point at which it stops being funny? Speaking of which, this is a massive issue that spends about 60 pages parodying Shakespeare plays. What about that aspect of the issue stood out to you as funny?
Patrick: Oh, there’s absolutely a timeliness to Deadpool’s sense of humor. Not only does the character rely on pop culture references to chuckle his way through the day, but the overall humor aesthetic is clearly the result of a bi-weekly release schedule, catching the humor of the moment in the moment. But I think Taylor’s dancing around the Deadpool shaped elephant in the room and asking the question of whether there’s a place for the ultra-violent Bugs Bunny in a comedic landscape that seems to be moving toward themes of inclusion, understanding and friendship. Even the darkest comedies on TV — like Rick and Morty or BoJack Horseman — steer into human emotion, often using the gulf between “the lols” and “the feels” to punch the audience right in the motherfucking heart. I trust that’s what Duggan is doing here. Issue 21 is the first in an arc, but it also announces the conclusion of a story that’s been brewing since 2013’s Deadpool Annual. Deadpool’s not just the psycho-clown that happens to be dealing with Madcap, he’s the only one that possibly can.
Like, I don’t think we’re meant to see the two characters as all that different. Deadpool does us a favor and recaps Madcap’s origin story: an experiment makes him effectively immortal, and because he can never die, he adopts a persona and a costume. Wade may have always had that charming personality, but the cartoonishness / ghoulishness of his quirks have only been exacerbated by his relative immortality. Artist Mateo Lolli gets a chance to graphically display Madcap’s origins through these dossier photographs, which obviously share a lot with panels of a comic book.
Goddamn if that isn’t similar to Deadpool’s origin story. Also, check out how Deadpool even sees something to emulate in Madcap – that comment about the short cape is a cute joke, but it reveals that rift between them isn’t so great.
It’s also clear that Duggan and Lolli want us to recognize the toll that Wade’s wacky adventures are having on his friends. Preston is worried about him because he’s sleeping in crime scenes again. And while that’s a Deadpool-y joke, it’s also a horrifying truth about Deadpool: he finds comfort slumming it up in scenes of extreme violence. Look how the whole thing drives Agent Adsit to over-eat! It’s hard to square people that genuinely care about Deadpool with the idea that he teams up with Bob, Agent of Hydra, to rob jewelry stores in Santa costumes once a year. Deadpool is this uncomfortable set of contradictions. Madcap offers no such contradiction, sending those innocent Zoo Workers booping to their deaths just for the laughs. Maybe seeing the difference between them illustrated in the weeks and months to come will make Wade’s humor feel all the more relevant.
That actually brings me around to the back 60 pages of Deadpool 21, which is a mash-up of “three or four” Shakespeare plays featuring our boy Deadpool in the role of… well, Deadpool, I guess. There aren’t too many themes that unite MacBeth, Romeo & Juliet and King Lear, save the possible exception of “ambition” (but then we’d have to leave R&J out of it). Instead of the plays dictating the form or storytelling values of this piece, writer Ian Doescher lets Wade’s personality direct a lot of this thing. There’s a lose rhyme structure and regular use of iambic pentameter, and the story is presented in five acts, but none of these stylistic choices go un-commented on by Deadpool himself. The format is more fodder for shallow Deadpoolian jokes than it is an exercise in Shakespearean wit.
Maybe that’s an unfair knock against Deadpool 21 – after all, it’s not setting out to be “Shakespeare, but with Deadpool in it” so much as it is “Deadpool but with Shakespeare in it.” I’ll admit that it is fun to see Prospero show up halfway through to grant Deadpool access to the complete library of Shakespeare’s work. In The Tempest, Prospero is meant to serve as an author’s surrogate, ever so slightly breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging Shakespeare’s legacy, so it’s nice to see him do the same here. Similarly, I like seeing Falstaff in just about any context, but it’s extra fun to see Wade’s own drunken, lecherous behavior echoed in that legendary character. That’s actually what the three main pillars of this story are missing: there are very few connections between Deadpool and Lady MacBeth, Juliet and King Lear.
Also, man, it is weird to read iambic pentameter in speech balloons. Letter Joe Sabino seemingly breaks up lines by ballon, which adds a little extra structure, but it’s a totally alien structure to how Shakespeare is meant to taken in. Hell, I have a hard enough time reading Shakespeare on the page without reading it out loud – that extra layer of abstraction from text to speech makes the bard’s language feel clunky.
Even if the thematic connections are weak, it’s still novel to see Deadpool make Pokémon Go jokes in the context of Romeo & Juliet – I don’t know when else I’d ever see someone rhyme Montegue with Pikachu, for example. And artist Bruno Oliveira does a great job of asserting the value of visual storytelling in what is clearly a writerly exercise.
There’s always room for some Looney Toons physical humor when Deadpool’s high-fiving a ghost-king, right?
In that way, I do think this story addresses one of your chief concerns, Taylor: is Deadpool still funny? I think he might be, if just by sheer force of irreverence. What’d you think of “Much Ado About Deadpool?” Does it seem like a weird missed opportunity to not mash-up any comedies in this thing? Or is it only fun to see Deadpool goof around in tragedy?
Taylor: It’s interesting right, when most people are familiar with the Shakespeare comedies they see playing in the parks during the summer? I know I’m more familiar with the comedies and while I can appreciate the ambition of parodying tragedies, I think I might have appreciated being privy to more of the inside jokes from the plays I know really well. Additionally, the comedies of Shakespeare are so ripe for retelling to the Deadpool audience! The sex, lies, and deception – all of which make up a great part of Shakespeare comedies – would have been a wonderful fodder for Deadpool. Oh well, all’s well the issue that doesn’t try in the first place I suppose.
Still, even though missed opportunities abound, there are some good quips to hep the issue go down. I’m not saying that I’m easy to please, but I’m sucker when it comes to using Shakespeare quotes in even remotely clever ways. This issue has a slew of them and while a lot are pretty bad, there are some I enjoy. A good example comes when Deadpool goes to find, and kill the king.
Deadpool’s line here is ripped straight out of Hamlet when the prince hopes to discover his uncle killed his father by having him watch a play enacting the same thing. For Hamlet, that means recognizing his uncle’s guilt, for Deadpool the line is, shall we say, more literal. There are a couple things that make me appreciate this line. First, I recognize it, so in a self-gratifying way it makes me feel like I actually know something about Shakespeare. More than that though, I like how Deadpool has taken all cleverness and innuendo out of the line and rendered it blunt. If anything, that’s the antithesis of Shakespeare’s writing and I love seeing it put so squarely on a skewer. I’m not sure if that’s smart comedy or not, but it’s damn funny.
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