Sunday, 29 September 2013

Deadpool: Dead Presidents

Deadpool is a character that has appealed to me since the moment I first heard about him. He's also a character that hasn't been written well in any of the comics I've read featuring him. That's a list that includes Suicide Kings and The Circle Chase trade paperbacks as well as various X-Men appearances. The Wolverine: Origins movie didn't do much for him either.

The idea of Deadpool is pretty simple. He's a mercenary with a Wolverine-style knack for healing any wound (and a similar Weapon X origin) but without the nice hair and normal skin. He quips and jokes like Spider-Man, but with far more pop culture references and nods toward the fact that he's a comic book character. He's also one of the few worthwhile Marvel or DC creations to come out of the mostly dreadful 90s.

It was hearing that he knew he’s a comic book character that originally made me think he'd be the greatest Marvel character I’d ever read. Panels I found on Google Image confirmed that the character could be genuinely amusing and had appeared in what looked like well written stories. Unfortunately the ones I picked up (mentioned above) were less than quality stuff. So I decided the character wasn't for me and went back to reading Vertigo books.

A few years later I heard about the character being rebooted through the Marvel NOW! line. The first collected volume shows that the creative team here knows how to make 'The Merc with a Mouth' work. There are two writers, Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan. Posehn has a background as a writer and comedian while Duggan has a varied writing background that includes everything from Uncnanny Avengers to Simpsons comics.

They make a good team. There's a clear love of comics and pop culture, with everything from Mighty Mouse to Planet of the Apes to Arrested Development being referenced. At one point there's a multi-panel sequence about Deadpool's mental instability which begins when he conspiratorially addresses the readers. I think the book's funny in part because the two writers were able to bounce ideas off of one another and see what worked.

They're joined by artist Tony Moore. His visuals immediately click with the writing and the character and prove a large part of the title's success. He was the original artist on The Walking Dead (something everyone who reviews this Deadpool book points out) which makes him a natural at drawing the large cast of foes (see below for why) and Deadpool's emaciated husk of a body. He provides suitably gory scenes without ever becoming so graphic as to appear unsettling. Considering some of the things he's tasked with drawing that could easily have happened.

The volume collects the first six issues of the series. The title, Dead Presidents, gives you a pretty fair summation of the plot. All of America's deceased Presidents are brought back to life and DP is called upon to dispatch them. That's basically all you need to know. If it's a concept that doesn't appeal you likely won't enjoy the book.

For those that do read the collection there's plenty to like. The wayward SHIELD Necromancer who's misguided actions begin the chain of events is a nicely realised character, as is put upon agent Preston, the one tasked with ridding the US of its former leaders in a quiet fashion. Even the ghost of Ben Franklin pops up as a supporting character. It's introducing this slight cast that helps to make the book work. They're all able to play the straight man to Deadpool's wisecracks, which is the best way of making him work, and also get their own moments of comedy not reliant on the star.

The plot ticks along through a steady stream of set pieces and exposition scenes. It's not the fanciest approach but it works well enough. Nobody’s reading Deadpool (or pretty anything from Marvel or DC) for bold storytelling approaches. The approach actually adds to Deadpool’s character. Perhaps it's because it allows him to go from electrocuting an elephant in a zoo to impersonating Marilyn Monroe and then on to battling Abraham Lincoln in a UFC setting without becoming stupid or dull.

As a standalone volume this works. It also works as the beginning of an ongoing series. The writers seem keen to make the book funny and interesting, and they achieve their goal. The book revels on being just the right amount of silly. If humorous Marvel titles are your bag then this is definitely something for you.

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