No Funny in the Prose Gutters of Rocket 4

by Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS! If you haven’t read the issue, proceed at your own risk.

The strength of Deadpool’s joke-telling is directly proportional to his awareness of the medium he’s in. He’s a fourthwall-breaking stinker, and love ’em or hate ’em — Deadpool’s shtick is is built on being knee-slappingly self-aware. But not every Deadpool story is a bucket o’ laughs, and Gerry Duggan’s run with the character has explored Wade’s darkness as effectively as his jovial irreverence. Writer Al Ewing taps into that same darkness in Rocket 4, leveraging the one thing Deadpool will always have reverence for — the form of the medium.

In this case, it’s a very specific form — the form of Rocket. Ewing and artist Adam Gorham have been presenting Rocket’s adventures alongside a rather dense wall of text running along the left side of the page. Up until this point, I had lacked the vocabulary to name it, but luckily Deadpool — who takes on the role of POV character for the the issue — names it for me. It’s the first copy in the issue, Wade identifying these word-walls as the “prose gutter.” That’s such a wonderfully evocative phrase, especially coming out of Deadpool’s mind. I’ve no doubt that it’s a real narrative tools used by other creators and that that’s what it’s been called for decades, but it’s a perfect little tip for Deadpool to slip. It sounds dirty, and is way, way inside — classic Deadpool. And the merc with the mouth doesn’t stop there. He goes on to explain the rules of the prose gutter, including what appears to be the most limiting rule: no funny in the gutter.

Ewing largely keeps this rule, shunting the prose gutter off the page when our heroes encounter a comedic concept has sharp as a gossip robot that runs on ancient hardware (and software!). Instead, the prose gutter allows for characters (yes, multiple) to reveal their greatest fears and weaknesses. The fungal mob boss Cordyceps takes over Wade’s brain, and Ewing and Gorham are able to depict an adversarial relationship between the narrator and the character whose head the narrator is riding around in.

It’s a fun twist, and goofy way to use the conventions of the series as a joke, without, y’know, actually putting jokes in the gutter. (No funny in the gutter.) But the biggest gut punch of all comes in the closing moment, when Deadpool needs to give himself a punchy out line, but cannot make a joke — the format prevents it. Instead he just walks off, a sad, lonely weirdo robbed of his only social defense mechanism.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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