Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Unbelievable Gwenpool 14, originally released April 12th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: When you read an issue of Deadpool you know what you’re in for. Violence, cursing, and most of all, irreverent humor. Gwenpool falls much in the same line as the character that inspired her creation. Being a character who once read the comics about the other characters she’s interacting with, she can’t but be the living embodiment of meta-humor. This type of humor lends itself to the same kind of irreverence that we’re used to seeing in Deadpool but that doesn’t mean it is by any means easy to create. In Gwenpool 14 these types of laughs are present, but show the first signs that perhaps they are growing a bit stale as well.
Gwen is on a mission to help her friend Cecil, a ghost, regain his corporeal traits so he can once again interact with the physical world. She visits another friend, Sarah, who happens to be a witch hoping that she can help her and Cecil out. This leads Cecil and Gwen on a wild goose chase wherein they meet Ghostrider, Hawkeye (the girl one), and a bunch of miscreant dwarves. Predictably, this leads to chaos in the third degree.
However, before all this action begins, Gwen and Cecil have to first figure out where to go to help Cecil gain back his touchy feelies. Sarah isn’t able her two friends herself, but she can point them in the right direction. Using a bizarre mixture in a bathtub, she deduces where they can go through a series of arcane symbols.
What’s impressive about this panel and its weird imagery is that despite it’s lack of character depictions, it still progresses the exposition of at the beginning of the book. This is accomplished by having Cecil, Sarah, and Gwen talk over the panel in question. That’s not an uncommon practice in comics, but what makes it stand out is that all three characters take turns talking in the span of one panel. Remarkably, it’s clear who is saying each line despite the lack of visual clues. This is because of the color coded speech balloons which indicate the author of each thought. It’s nothing magic, but this clever little trick allows for Christopher Hastings, Myisha Haynes, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Clayton Cowels to advance the plot of this issue without taking up precious page space to do so. Little things like these don’t always immediately stand out, but it’s the sign of professionals completing their work at a high level.
It’s a shame that this professionalism doesn’t improve some of the weaker parts of this issue, however. As I said earlier, much of Gwenpool’s charm derives from it’s irreverent meta humor. Done well, this humor is is hard to top, but done poorly and it comes off terribly flat. That latter is apparent in this issue in several places but particularly at one instance during the chaotic battle among some dwarfs, Hawkeye, Ghostrider, and Gwen herself.
The joke in the panels above is that it’s ridiculous for this dwarf to be calling 911 in this instance. This is continually reinforced by his listing off of all the things happening in the battle behind him in a very literal way. Instead of simply saying “Ghostrider” is in my backyard he describes the flaming car and so on. The point of this joke is to point out how absurd the whole situation is and thereby make us laugh at how absurd comics are in general. That’s not a bad idea, but I don’t need the authors of this book telling me that this situation is absurd in the first place. That fact should either be apparent enough in the first place OR the authors should trust the audience to recognize that and not spell out for them.
This illustrates the danger of writing comic based on meta humor. When writing this issue the author needs to consider and acknowledge that his or her audience already knows enough about comics to understand the jokes they are telling. This means there is a fine line between telling jokes that go over the audience’s head because the cuts are too deep, or jokes that seem to undercut the audiences intelligence. Unfortunately in this instance the joke falls into the latter category.
This joke wouldn’t be so bad if the center piece of the issue wasn’t this bizarre battle between unlikely characters. Both the beginning and end of this issue are actually quite fun. Would you agree with that statement, Patrick, or did you not find the middle portion of this issue as annoying as I did? The artwork left me kind of nonplussed as well. It’s not bad, but nothing stands out to me either. Your thoughts on that?
Patrick: Haynes artwork is a little looser than what we’re used to seeing in Gwenpool, which up to this point has embraces a kind of Saturday Morning cartoon aesthetic. That is still largely present in Haynes’ approach, but we’re missing all of that detail that Gurihiru used to pepper the page with. A great example of this lack of detail comes early when we’re in Terrible Eye’s apartment.
This is continuing in the theme of “it’s not bad but…”: all of these details speak generically to “spooky wizard” and not to the specific spooky wizard we know Sarah to be. One of the panels I’m never going to be able to forget from this series showed us the inside of Gwen’s apartment, which obviously reveals more than the character’s penchant for violence. It expressed her excitement about the world she lived in, it elevated her heroes, it even contained some non sequiturs that simply illustrated Gwen’s style. But Sarah’s place seems sparsely decorated, even as it’s filled with junk.
The most frustrating part about that for me is that there are hints in the writing that there is more to Sarah’s inner life — and Gwen’s perception of it — that just don’t make their way to the page. Gwen even comments that the place is “really great,” and lists two objects in the room. Both of those objects are dutifully drawn, but y’know, an oboe on a stand and bike rack next to demonic shrine would have gone a long way toward expressing some amount of character. Also, when they move into the bathroom, Sarah makes a joke about having a tub that size in New York City — another great piece of writing that shows that the character cares about more than just casting spells — that never materializes into a tangible, relatable moment on the page. And really, Sarah’s bathroom is almost hilariously empty: there’s a tub and a shower curtain, but like, there’s not even toothbrush on the sink. She does appear to have a tower that matches her shower curtain, which might start to suggest she’s got a thing for forest green bathroom accessories, but that’s only ever half-articulated.
That some limitation is present in the action of the issue as well. A lot happens in this issue, so cause and effect are often condensed into a single panel, making for some unclear storytelling. Gwen decides to jump into the bathtub, Cecil decides to follow and DOES follow all in the same panel – and this is before it’s even established that the tub itself is the portal and not just means by which we’re learning about the portal.
Once the arrows and bullets and flaming chain whips start flying in the Hollywood Hills, any sense of space and timing gets thrown right out the window. There are a bunch of panels with these projectiles sort of aimlessly filling up the space, which ends up downplaying the danger that anyone is in. Out of this chaos, Cecil staggers toward the meteor, arrows and bullets passing harmlessly through his non-corporeal form.
This would be a million times cooler if any of these bullets and arrows had demonstrated to be harmful in any way. Seriously, just one henchmen needs to taking an arrow to the shoulder would suggest the physicality that Cecil is violating here.
So, okay, the issue can’t rest on the strength of its storytelling. Taylor mentioned that there are more than enough jokes to make a case for Gwenpool 14 as a work of meta-comic-book comedy. For my tastes, too many of those jokes are straight-up references to other funny things. The first panel Taylor included shows a ghost in a jar, which seems like a nod to the Ricky and Morty episode “Total Rickall,” which featured this one-off joke-character:
Or when Hawkeye confronts Ghost Rider and says “You kidnapping girls, Ghost Rider? That’s an arrowin’!” – that’s a reference to the Simpsons episode “The PTA Disbands.”
For me, it ends up crossing that threshold for acceptable levels of wackiness, even for Gwenpool. The issue ends with Kate offering Gwen a ride and the two of them recapping the absurdity of the situation. Gwen replies, rather tritely, “comic books, right?” And Kate (God bless Kate Bishop) says “Might as well be.” There we go: that’s a character! She’s a down-on-her-luck, seen-it-all kind of hero that is too experience and too grounded to entertain Gwen’s nonsense. Hopefully the rest of the story arc can take a few more cues from Kate and find a way to ground the rest of the characters and action to make us give a shit.
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