So yesterday I was thinking how depressing it is that the top post on my blog is the one about Strange Chemistry shutting down. And yeah, I’ll be going to GenCon in a month and will be posting my schedule for it shortly, but that still means the Strange Chemistry post is second from the top, and that’s not that much better.
Since I can’t come up with blog post topics on my own, I went to Twitter for suggestions. Most of the suggestions involved talking about books I’m reading. LOGICAL. The thing is, I haven’t really read a prose book in its entirety since, like, May, because… I don’t know why? Reasons? I’ve been binging on comic books and graphic novels. Mostly comic books. Superhero comic books. Capes, laser fingers, flying around. Y’know. Comic books.
Probably the character I read the most of is Deadpool, so I’m gonna talk about him. Thanks to the magic of the Harris Country Public Library system, I was able to quickly catch up on his current ongoing series. Originally this was going to be about the entire series so far, but I English majored it up too much and wound up writing a thousand words on just the first volume, Dead Presidents. So…. SPOILERS AHOY!
So the cover for this book shows Deadpool leaping and/or flying toward some kind of monster whilst shedding bullet casings like a cat sheds fur. Oh, and there are actual cats either flying into or out of the monster’s mouth? I’m not sure which. I spent several minutes studying the cover trying to decide which one it was so I could know how to fully feel about it.
Anyway, the ALF-monster isn’t actually the focus of the story. Instead, a shitty wizard named Mike resurrects all of the dead presidents of the United States, with the hope that they will make this country great again. Instead, they come back as zombies who want to kill everybody. Captain America is dispatched. This, however, upsets the public, as no one wants to see Cap fighting Abraham Lincoln. SHIELD realizes they have to bring in a non-hero (an… ANTI-HERO, perhaps?) to take care of the problem.
It’s an absurd premise. I mean, I shouldn’t have to tell you that, you just read the summary, and I didn’t do anything to make it seem more absurd than it really is. This story arc (and the next one) are pretty firmly rooted in the “funny Deadpool” side of things. There are many jokes. Most of them are funny. The teacher in me was especially fond of the presidential-themed jokes, which made this comic feel vaguely educational. For example, Ronald Reagan launches himself into space as a means of attack. Get it? Star Wars?
You also see a lot of Deadpool’s innards, if you are into that sort of thing. And he dresses up as Marilyn Monroe, if you are into that sort of thing. (I am.)
But. BUT. As funny as the story is, it actually lays the groundwork for the emotional complexity that’s always simmering beneath the surface of any given Deadpool comic (not a joke). The premise is absurd but it’s also pretty fucking sad–Deadpool is always striving to be at least semi-heroic, but when he gets the chance to save the world it’s only because the Avengers can’t be seen doing it. He’s doing something good, obviously–those presidents were going to KILL EVERYBODY–but he’s only getting to do it because his reputation has him set up as scumbug who would willingly kill presidents, because, duh, he’ll kill anybody for money. (This moral ambiguity is further wrinkled by the fact that he’s actually getting paid for this job.)
I appreciate that the comic was willing to pull away from the inherent humor in portraying US presidents as murderous zombies (yeah, I said inherent) and the constant exhibition of Deadpool’s intestines long enough to make that emotional darkness explicit. It accomplished this largely through the addition of one of the greatest lady comic characters of all time: AGENT PRESTON.
Agent Preston is a character created specifically for the new Deadpool; she is ostensibly a foil to his shenanigans, but at the same time she’s an incredibly well-developed, realistic female character of the sort you don’t often find in ANYTHING. She’s the SHIELD agent who’s assigned to deal with the zombie president mess and winds up serving as Deadpool’s handler. Think about that for a minute. She is Deadpool’s handler. DEADPOOL’S. HANDLER. Agent Coulson just has to deal with a couple of science nerds and a secret douchebag. Preston wins.
Anyway, you learn more about her in the later volumes, but even just seeing her in her professional capacity is refreshing. She’s good at her job, which includes respecting Deadpool when he deserves it (something no one else in the Marvel universe seems capable of for some reason)(except maybe Captain America). It also includes calling Deadpool on his shit when he deserves that, too. She’s smart. She knows how to fight. She understands tactical strategy. She’s Coulson only better. I love her to a million billion pieces.
The relationship between Preston and Deadpool is where the emotional core of the story comes in. There’s one scene where she tells him that he’s done a good job in a bad situation–despite SHIELD complaining that he’s mucked everything up (he hadn’t). Deadpool as a character has always been a clown hiding his tragedy behind stupid-ass taco jokes, but in that scene you can see a bit of his facade slipping. It’s touching. There’s nothing romantic between the two of them (Preston is married with a kid and could do better than him anyway), and that’s another touch of realism do an otherwise utterly unrealistic story: the idea of a male-female friendship built on mutual respect. It happens in real life all the time. You rarely see it in fiction.
What’s really great about the comic is that although it recognizes the warmth in this relationship, it resists turning it into some sappy cheese fest, choosing instead to up the ante on the comedic potential. Long story short: Preston’s consciousness gets trapped in Deadpool’s body. I imagine this is a play on the yellow/white box stuff from the earlier comics, since Preston’s thoughts appear in pink boxes, and she and Deadpool have conversations that appear as one-sided to outside viewers. I really haven’t read enough of the older comics to speak intelligently on this–not that that’s gonna stop me–but I do wonder if the Preston head-fellows thing is a way of suggesting that Deadpool’s “craziness” may not be craziness at all, but rather the result of the outside world not seeing him wholly for who he is. Must investigate further!
I also like that you see how Preston’s “death” (her body dies, shitty wizard Mike preserves her soul…COMICS) affects Deadpool in a deep and, dare I say, meaningful way. He blames himself, of course, because he blames himself when anyone he knows dies within a hundred mile radius and not by his hand. It’s a part of the self-loathing that he’s constantly covering up (just like he covers up his scars with a knockoff Spiderman outfit!) and her death is a rather piercing moment of sorrow in, again, an otherwise very funny book. It was a relief to learn that Preston is alive and well and stuck inside Deadpool’s body. Not just for me as a reader (I was gonna be pissed if that was all the Preston I got) but for Deadpool. It’s one more death he can’t blame on himself.
Fake ETA: I didn’t say a single word about the artwork, did I? I really loved it. There’s a intricate indie sensibility to it that fits well with the characters and the story. It doesn’t feel like typical comic book art to me, but rather something brighter and more detailed. Sorry guys, I’ve spent the last ten years of my life studying writing, I’ve forgotten how to talk about pictures. But the art is fantastic.