by Patrick Ehlers & Taylor Anderson
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Patrick: There’s a principle in screenwriting called “save the cat.” That phrase refers to the act of unambiguous good a character needs to perform in order to win the audience’s sympathy. To use the idiom’s namesake as an example, as long as our hero has rescued a cat from a tree branch, any other morally dubious behavior can be forgiven. One shred of evidence that he’s a good guy is enough to trick our brains into believing that he must actually be good. This may sound like kind of a hack technique, but writers use it all the time, particularly since the rise of antiheroes. Our boy Wade Wilson gets them all the time — the audience can recoil at 95% of his actions, just so long as he protects a kid, helps and old lady, or saves a cat. Despicable Deadpool 287 throws that convention out the fucking window. This isn’t the hero Deadpool, this is the cut-throat, single-minded, merciless merc with the mouth.
Writer Gerry Duggan has spent years crafting a sympathetic world around Deadpool, but most of that is absent in this issue. The backstory remains: Wade abandoned his daughter, killed Preston, and is in debt to Stryfe. But the action stays firmly in the present… or future? It’s hard to say exactly when and where Deadpool is pursuing Cable. Actually, the “when” of the situation would ground the issue in a counterproductive way. As it stands, the name of the arc is “Deadpool Kills Cable” and that is literally the only thing Duggan and artist Scott Koblish show us.
Without that single act of heroism to force our sympathies for Deadpool, it’s maybe kind of a crapshoot as to whether the reader ever has said sympathy. I carry 100+ issues of Deadpool around in my brain, including dozens from this creative team, so I’ve got some of that built-in affection for the guy. This is also the issue where Deadpool / Despicable Deadpool reclaims it’s old numbering, itself a convoluted process that only really tracks for superfans.
I bring this up because Deadpool himself slyly alludes to the “Legacy” publishing initiative by offering Cable the explanation “It’s almost like I have a legacy of trying to kill you.” Whether you’re an old reader or a brand-new, picking-up-Deadpool-for-the-first-time reader, you’re repeatedly reminded that there is more to this character than what is on the page.
Though, what is on the page also makes a compelling, if awfully dark and twisted, case for rooting for Deadpool. The climactic moment of the issue has Deadpool arduously severing his own arm from his body so he can replace it with Cable’s time-traveling robot arm. It is a horrendous moment, and Koblish and colorist Nick Filardi splatter the page with enough blood and viscera to make it truly disgusting. But it’s the measured lead-up to that self-inflicted gore-fest that really freaks me out.
Look at how practiced and thorough Deadpool is in these panels. He checks the integrity of the door, squints as he lines up the perfect pierce of the blade, and finally positions himself to chop his own arm off. It’s not played entirely with a straight face — Deadpool drops three jokes in as many panels — but Koblish and Duggan also don’t treat this as a throw-away. This is something that’s happening to Deadpool, and it takes a page of wind-up before we can get to the gore.
Which suggests that Wade’s disregard for his own well-being may be the last virtue the character has. We’ve seen a “self destructive” Deadpool before, but seldom this literally. You see that slice taken out of Deadpool’s mask in the page I posted above? That’s part of Duggan and Koblish seeding this idea back on the second page of the issue.
This is a spectacular spread, a reminder of Koblish’s cinematic command of action and drama. I love these bold low angles, only subverted for the panel of Cable calling outside the fight for help. It means the language of the fight is “low” and, yeah, that sounds right. Koblish also uses the break between the first row of panels and the second to reverse the side of the fight his camera is on. In the first row, Deadpool, our de facto hero, is on the left and Cable is on the right, a position traditionally reserved for the villain. That chainsaw-parry makes a perfect pivot point, and the camera flips on the row-break to put Deadpool on the villain’s side. That’s also the moment that Deadpool takes a chainsaw to the motherfucking face.
“Chainsaw to the motherfucking face” sounds like kind of standard Deadpool fare, but again, Koblish and Duggan don’t let us off so easily. That’s a persistent wound throughout the issue, an ever-present reminder of the physical sacrifices that don’t seem to mean shit to Deadpool.
So what’s this mean? Is Despicable Deadpool Wade’s penance for all the horrible things he’s done, or are we past the point of needing to justify his self-destructive drive? A lot of this action takes place in a hospital, a place of healing. But, y’know, it ain’t a place of healing when Deadpool’s around. Two different characters loose their arms in this hospital. Wade shoots a nurse in the kneecaps! And he even finds a way to weaponize a damn MRI machine. Deadpool seems to reject the whole notion of “getting better” in favor just getting worse.
Which, I’ll admit I’m intrigued by. Taylor, I know you’re not quite as plugged into the Deadpool mythos, but you’re by no means a stranger to the character. Do you find yourself cheering for him? Do the jokes and one-liners pull you in or push you away? I laughed out loud when Wade answered the phone “radiology.” Also, I didn’t have space to address it, but the full name of the issue is “Deadpool Kills Cable, Part One: Take Two” which is just silly and disorienting enough for me to love it.
Taylor: Maybe that “take two” is a reference to two arms being cut off? Whatever it means, I find myself not exactly rooting for Wade in this issue because he’s just so squarely in the wrong here. Not only is he doing the bidding of an evil clone, but he’s actively attacking, de-arming, and trying to kill a real hero (kind of). And while it might be easy for Deadpool fans to cheer for the “Merc With the Mouth,” the truth of the matter is that Wade really has done more bad shit in his days than good. Cable reminds Wade of that when he says he has a plan to kill Wade, like just about everyone else in the universe.
Which just goes to show that, for people who actually have to endure Wade’s asshole-ish ways, he’s a terror, which, oddly, Wade agrees with. In the last panel, he says he “honestly” wants to see how Cable plans to kill him permanently. While this might just be the 1 billionth example of Wade being mouthy, part of me wonders if there’s a kernel of truth to what he’s saying. We all know from previous arcs that Wade can be pretty self-loathing, so it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility here that he almost kind of wishes Cable would just end it all for him.
This in and of itself almost makes Wade worth rooting for. However, Duggan does more to save readers from hating Deadpool completely. After a knock-down, drag-out fight (more on that in a second), Wade cuts off Cable’s arm and then goes in for the death blow. But, just as he’s about to commit this murderous act — which surely would secure his status as a terrible person — he is stopped by time cops.
By freezing Wade just as he’s about to cut Cable’s head off, the time cops (who have amazing uniforms) inadvertently prevent Wade from doing the very thing that just might make him a villain. While I doubt there’s much Wade could do that would lose him any fans, there’s no doubt that, by killing a Marvel hero in cold blood, Wade would be cementing his status not as antihero, but straight-up villain. There may be precedent for heroes killing other heroes, but the execution style murder of Cable might just be crossing a line. And this is perhaps what makes me unable to root for Wade in this issue. Even though he may be self-loathing and even though he doesn’t kill Cable, he fully intended to. That kind of disregard for another life, even if he doesn’t care at all for his, makes Deadpool hard to like.
Regardless of how one might feel about Wade’s actions here, you can always appreciate Koblish’s artwork. Patrick, while you noticed the cinematic quality of the artwork, what really stood out to me is just how brutal all of the action is. In particular, things between Cable and Deadpool get downright nasty in the hospital where they have nothing to fight with but their fists.
The image of Cable punching Wade’s face so many times under the sheets that they become a bloody mess is gut-churning. Unlike so much of the other action which takes place in this issue, this melee is visceral. Even when Cable entraps Wade in a “Pain Stasis” the image is rendered more comedic than anything else given that we see Wade’s bones lit up like a Christmas tree. That’s a cartoonish thing but seeing Cable cave in part of Wade’s skull is not.
Of course this isn’t to say I think Wade deserves such torture. He may be an asshole but by giving Wade a brutal beatdown perhaps Cable isn’t any better than his opponent. But don’t confuse Wade’s pain with his saving any sort of metaphorical cat. To be clear, Wade is awful and even if we can identify with his self-loathing, that doesn’t justify his actions by any means.
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?