Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Look Kids, Comics! (Especially Deadpool)

Okay, so I freely admit that I rarely buy comics anymore. Most of my adolescence, teens, and early twenties saw me buying a lot of them, and I still have a bunch of them in longboxes in my closet. But somewhere between being unemployed, the guy at my local shop putting more books in my pull file than I actually wanted, and subsequently ordering my comics from a store in another town (in another state, if you want to get down to it), I just got tired of the hassle and stopped getting everything. That, and my favorite books were either canceled or changed to the point that I stopped enjoying them, so the incentive to keep trying wasn't really there anymore.

But that doesn't keep me from keeping up with things in the mainstream comics world through online recources like Comics Continuum and various message boards. And I still partake of online comics, like "Platinum Grit", "Penny Arcade", "Order of the Stick", "Dar!", "Shrub Monkeys", and "Girl Genius", too. (Totally not pimping strips out. really.) In fact, the major difference (for me) between online comics and professional mainstream comics is a pretty decisive one: consistency in creative control. Online comics are a private thing, written and drawn by the person/people who created it in the first place and who can do pretty much whatever they want, whereas mainstream American comics (basically superhero comics, with some exceptions) go through many different hands over years and years. Now, that's not to say that some mainstream creative teams can't come up with some really cool stuff, because they can, but the constant changing can also play havoc with consistency and continuity (especially when there doesn't seem to be much damage control by way of editorial oversight-- I'm looking at you, Marvel!). Of course, there's downsides to webcomics, too, in that they aren't necessarily written by professionals, quality can vary, and sometimes, like in the case of an old favorite, "Return to Sender", the creator can lose interest and drop it before resolving anything.

I think in part, my frustrating with how superhero comics are set up is because I've gotten really used to reading manga over the past several years, which are set up more like independent comics, where the creator has most of the control over story, art, characters, and all that, and there's usually a definitive story arc-- when they tell the story they wanted to tell, then it's over, it doesn't just keep perpetuating in teleological limbo for decades.

I think the only reason I've even been thinking about this at all recently, is because of Deadpool. Yeah, he's a holdover from my old comics-reading days of the '90s, and I still love that character. I was really excited to learn he'd gotten his own book again, and that Ryan Reynolds is playing him in a solo movie. In fact, I was so excited by this, that I dug all my old DP back issues out of my closet and proceeded to read them through the last few weeks of school instead of doing my homework. This includes the first X-Force appearances, the first two limited series, his first ongoing title (my collection there gets kind of sketchy after Kelly left), and the ongoing series with Cable. It's funny, I really didn't like Cable and Deadpool much when it was first coming out, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because I was getting Brubaker's Catwoman series at the same time, and I loved it so much, everything else just paled in comparison, or maybe I just wasn't in the right mindset to appreciate it. I dunno.

Whatever the case, I'm glad I re-read them because I think that's actually my favorite series for Wade. I know some people don't like Fabian Nicieza's sense of humor, like it's too scatological/political, but it didn't bother me any, since it didn't strike me as being particularly out of character for him. Don't get me wrong, I adore how Joe Kelly wrote Wade back in his first ongoing, and I love the supporting characters he came up with like Blind Al, and the whole Siryn thing, and how really painful he got with showing the internal struggle in someone so damaged trying to be good but not really knowing how. But I do have some beefs with some of his run, too, namely his writing of Typhoid Mary (a longtime favorite character of mine), the cosmic-ness of the storylines (an intergalactic bank is the main sub-plot for pretty much the entire run) which is fine if you really dig on the super sci-fi stuff, but Wade just doesn't seem like an "outer space" kind of character to me, and the whole T-Ray thing. Yeah, I sort of like to pretend that last part never happened.

While Kelly's run had some really great stuff in it (issue #11 will probably always be one of my favorite issues of any comic book ever), and he really established a great voice for Wade that's been hard for other writers to follow, Cable and Deadpool just felt more solid on all aspects to me. The plot was more interesting for me, in part because it was a lot more grounded in events I can relate to more (like people trying to make the world a better place but being unsure if they're doing it the right way), the characterization was really strong (Cable's actually interesting? how did that happen?) and what drives the story forward, instead of trying to shape the personalities to follow the events, and somehow managing to create a constantly advancing line of thought despite having to contend with those annoying multi-book crossovers that tend to crop up every other month. Some people dislike the differences in tone and characterization from Kelly's Wade to Nicieza's (even if Nicieza was writing him before anyone else, but hey, whatever), but I can actually see a progression of character from DP's ongoing title to C&D, and I really like that he seems to have grown in some respects. His belief in Cable as a messiah figure flows naturally out of the things Kelly had been doing with Wade as a supposed messiah-like figure, his interactions with Siryn evolved from obsessive stalking to something more comfortable and less objectifying, and he really clicks with the characters he's surrounded by. Deadpool's a great character, but he really works best when he's part of a dynamic, like his relationships with Blind Al, Siryn, and Cable in particular. He's a really funny character, but he needs someone else to bounce off of to really get him to spark, especially when it's largely these characters that allow him to have these amazingly humanizing moments. I think why I probably like Nicieza's writing on C&D so much is that Wade has those great dynamics, and he has a lot of those humanizing moments, but we also get to see how he can give other characters their own moments as well. (Gavok over at 4th Letter compiled a really comprehensive list of Deadpool's 70 greatest moments, using a variety that showcases the many facets of the character and why his fans love him-- check it out if you haven't.)

Now, having gone through all that, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I'm pretty disappointed with how Daniel Way's writing him in his new series. I know a lot of people like it, and I can see why they do, it's certainly not a terrible book. I just don't find it terribly interesting, especially in the wake of re-reading Wade's old adventures. The new stuff is fun, I particularly enjoyed the early issue with the zombies, but at the same time, the book itself really doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Wade's on his own, his supporting cast having mysteriously and inexplicably vanished from where C&D left things, and so to make up for it, Way has given Wade schizophrenia. Sure, he was never exactly what you'd call "sane", and it's one of the reasons he's so lovable, but one type of mental illness is not interchangeable with another. Before, he was a sociopath/psychopath, but now he literally has conversations with other voices in his head and actively hallucinates (what has now been dubbed "Pool-O-Vision"). While I can see how this could be interesting, and it can certainly be amusing, ultimately it just seems like a writer taking huge liberties with character because he's too lazy to write supporting characters. This very sudden shift in mental illness is never explained, nor is it mentioned as being new or out of the ordinary-- the reader is basically expected to forget all those previous years of characterization by multiple writers and just accept that Wade has always been schizophrenic. That irks me. I can handle it when characters change from writer to writer, that's to be expected since writers are unique people too, I can even handle it when a writer deliberately changes a character, provided there is some sort of logical, understandable explanation provided to me, acknowledging that a change has taken place and telling me why. I don't like being treated like an idiot, basically.

I'm also not wild about the loss of, what was for me, the biggest draw to his character, and that's his inner struggle between trying to be a "good" person, and being the "bad" person he's naturally more inclined to be. That's been such a fundamental part of his character for so long, and provided so many of my favorite things about him, that without it, I find him to be pretty uninteresting. Comics have lots of guys in flashy bodysuits running around shooting each other, and Wade's inner struggles with himself over morality and self-identity were a large part of what separated him from them. If Way's even touched on that in the ten issues I read, I completely missed it.

But hey, lots of people like the new Deadpool book, and that's fine, too. Not everyone feels the way I do about stuff, and if they did, the world would be really boring. It's not a terrible book, like I said, it's pretty fun, and the art's consistently very nice. I have just come to expect different things from Deadpool than what Way wants to write, and it's his book now, so he can do what he wants. I just felt the need to voice my disappointment, since I feel like a pretty unique character is being lost. So I'll be sticking with my back issues and C&D collections, and riding the merchandise wave until people get over saturated with the character and move on to something else. Really, guys, 'Pool's awesome and all, but I think two ongoing monthlies and a ridiculous amount of guest appearances is pushing it a bit.

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