by Drew Baumgartner & Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Drew: Five years into this run, pointing out that Deadpool is a Sad Clown would be lazy analysis — not only has that point been well established, but the series itself has managed to explore it so thoroughly, reducing the character’s emotional journey to a two-word summary couldn’t possibly do it justice. And yet, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to begin this piece than embedding Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown,” not because of a shallow similarity between the content of these two works, but because of some profound similarities in how they treat that content. The lyrics describe a narrator who puts on a good face in spite of his profound sadness, but the music doesn’t betray that sadness for a second — it sounds like any other Motown hit (though that bouncy bassoon that maybe hints that this song is about a clown). By this point in the story, Wade Wilson has completely dropped that fascade of silliness, but just like the instruments in “Tears of a Clown,” the series itself maintains that clownish exterior.
At least at first. And that’s the “punchline” of Deadpool’s sadness — the sillier he looks, the more tragic the disconnect between his external and internal lives. But, you know, “tragedy” looks pretty silly when it’s happening to Deadpool. Take the mysterious space weapon Wade uses to hopefully garner the attention of the Avengers. Wade hopes it might give him superpowers, but instead, it just makes everyone vomit.
And I mean everyone. Over the next few pages, we just get an escalation of this one gross-out gag, culminating in a giant-sized Giant-Man covering the streets in puke. Only, we recognize all of this vomit as Deadpool’s failure. All he wants is for the Avengers to put him out of his misery (or, more precisely, out of his loved ones’ misery), which is a sad enough desire on the face of it, but he instead finds himself in the middle of that “Mr. Creosote” sketch from the end of The Meaning of Life. The tragedy isn’t just that Deadpool wants to die, but that he misses the mark so thoroughly, he lands himself back in the comedy series he was trying to escape.
We might recognize that those tragedies are the machinations of writer Gerry Duggan, but the conceit of fiction is that we forget that, at least long enough to be invested in how the characters deal with it. But, you know, those things overlap in the fourth-wall-breaking world of Deadpool. So when Duggan shows up to have his Animal Man moment with Wade, he sees the only actual way out: kill the writer. On the surface, that may feel stupid or cheap or derivative, but I’m impressed at how daring it is. It’s actually kind of the opposite of that Animal Man issue — this isn’t the character pleading with his writer (or more precisely, the writer pleading with himself) to not kill him; this is the character desperately wanting to die, and seeing no other solution than to destroy everything standing in his way. It’s the part of Duggan that wants to put Wade out of his misery taking control, albeit with some jokes about how masturbatory the other part of him might be.
Only, Wade doesn’t die — he doesn’t need to. Instead, he just needs to escape the memory of everything Duggan and his collaborators put him through. That means escaping into his mind museum to destroy every memory of everything he loves, turning the issue into a kind of clip-show massacre. It’s a bizarre way to sum up the series — acknowledging its emotional toll on the character, while simultaneously erasing it — but it’s a clever (and perhaps the only) way to set Deadpool back to zero.
But, you know, is he? I mean, I think so, but I’m also intrigued by all of the other cameos that fill the issue after Wade’s memory slaughter. I’m pretty sure Brian Posehn and C.B. Sebulski are Wade’s lawyer and judge, respectively, and while I don’t know what every artist on this series looks like, I’m pretty sure they’re all represented (hilariously) at the sanitarium.
Then, as Wade makes his escape, he confronts his editors, Heather Antos, Annalise Bissa, and Jordan D. White, who mentions that Deadpool is “somebody else’s problem now.” This could just be a fun way to pay tribute to all of the folks that have worked on this series over the past several years, but I’m almost tempted to read this as Wade’s “Dead Garfield” moment, suggesting that Wade actually died in that coma, and everything that happens afterwards is just a fantasy playing out in his final seconds of life. That’s maybe a shade too deep and dark even for this series, but that theory will live on in a pocket universe in my head, forever preserving Duggan’s Deadpool run as a kind of perfectly self-contained little series.
Patrick, there’s so much to talk about in this issue, I barely scratched the surface. I’m excited to hear your thoughts on anything I mentioned, but I’m also hoping you can pick up the slack on talking about the artists on this issue — we saw work from regular series artists Mike Hawthorne, Matteo Lolli, and Scott Koblish, who were also all saying goodbye (however temporarily) to Wade in this issue. I think they were deployed expertly here, with each respective sequence playing to their unique strengths, but I’m hoping you can highlight some of your favorites.
Patrick: Oh boy, Drew — making me walk the rope without a net here. I love these Deadpool artists, and I think I can identify them each by their work, but let’s put that to the test, shall we? I couldn’t find any resource that backs up my claims about who drew what, so if I make any bad assumptions, please forgive me.
I believe the first section of the issue — the 20-page barf-a-rama — is drawn by the artist with the sleaziest style of the trio: Scott Koblish. This sequence is basically perfect, and there’s a wonderful disconnect between how silly “everyone pukes” is and how much grime and grit Koblish draws into the backgrounds of his panels. We’re seeing darkly inked skyscrapers and trashcans and brick facades — y’know, the kind of backgrounds that suggest the hard-knock-life of a Hell’s Kitchen superhero. And each of the character introductions are treated with the same straight-faced severity. Check out the first three panels of the image Drew posted above: a solemn-as-shit Falcon against a drab, serious background.
And I love that Koblish and Duggan don’t dwell in the moments between set-up and payoff. Each character is on the page just long enough to establish who they are and THEN THEY’RE VOMITING. My favorite example, and the one that made me laugh the most, was Ms. Marvel.
Goddamn, so much funny stuff in four little panels! Of course Ms. Marvel’s cheeks embiggen to hold all of her vomit, hilariously distorting her face. And then she tries to swallow it in the third panel, only to become EVEN MORE GROSSED OUT. Look at her eyes in that last panel! Comedy gold, I tells ya.
That leads into the second part of the issue, where Matteo Lolli has the weird task of grounding Wade between a high-concept, long-form gag and the hyper-meta send-off we expect from the end of the series. Drew already pointed out what’s cool about Deadpool’s scene with Gerry Duggan, but it’s interesting to note just how little Lolli messes with the presentation of this scene. For two-and-a-half pages, we’re locked into this car, and the only thing we’re allowed to focus on are the characters. No action, no references to past issues, no explosive barf. Just two characters in a car.
And they play this whole “death of the writer” thing pretty straight. Lolli draws a look of genuine terror on Duggan’s face when Wade draws down on him. Deadpool cocks the gun on-panel, but then the camera swoops to outside the car for the actual “BLAM.” Compare this to Deadpool’s memory-murder-fest at the end of the issue, and it’s obvious that Lolli is showing a restraint that Mike Hawthorne does not. And if you flip to the credits page at the end of the issue, you’ll notice that Gerry Duggan is only credited with writing the first 22 pages of this thing, i.e., everything before he is killed on the page.
This is because Lolli’s section is the sincere good-bye. The majority of the middle-part of the issue is just fight between Deadpool and Cap and Preston. It’s cars and guns and explosions, which — as far as comics are concerned — is grounded. No crazy space weapons, no high-concept explorations of memory and legacy. Just a good ol’ fashioned superhero fight.
And then there’s the final set of pages, which would kind of bum me out if they were published on their own as a special issue of Deadpool. I think I get “celebration fatigue” sometimes, and superhero comics love to celebrate every conceivable milestone with a tour of the character’s history (Im looking at you, Action Comics 1000). Hawthorne’s section of Despicable Deadpool 300 succeeds through sheer irreverence. Deadpool and his creators don’t want to elevate this history, they want to tear it down. At one point, Wade says “I’ve been through worse hells than actual Hell” and, you know, he’s right. A look back at Deadpool’s history shouldn’t be a celebration.
If it’s not a celebration, that leaves Hawthorne and Duggan (who, I guess is deceased at this point), to tell us what this section is. It’s an opportunity. To start over. To choose love. To shut the fuck up.
There’s really no Deadpool story beat that’s quite as heartwarming as the one that makes him stop in the middle of a masturbation joke, is there?
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