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Deadpool Pulp review

Okay, so I have this squeeful review of Deadpool Pulp that is now a month overdue. Down to business.

I got into the series late, on the recommendation on this post less than a week before the last issue was due to come out. On the one hand, this meant I did get to read the first three issues all at once with just enough time left to enjoy the cliffhanger before the fourth, on the other it meant I spent the rest of the week mentally gnawing on my nails to keep from squeeing about it too loudly against terrible paranoia that the last issue wasn't going to live up to expectations and all the excitement would be for naught (it's a miniseries, it's a noir style story – anyone could die).

Naturally, the last issue was delayed by a week -_-

The last issue finally came out right before Christmas, but it was entirely worth the wait. Not as many Cable scenes as I might have hoped, but otherwise so very, very satisfying. Definitely going to be picking this one up in trade at the first opportunity.

I'm not entirely sure whether I want to talk about it as a Deadpool story or as a Cable&Deadpool story. The former would be more accurate; Cable's role isn't quite large enough to ever let them interact much on page, more's the pity. But it does leave us with just enough to hint at a relationship going on in the background and it basically seems to be taking it as given that the audience will assume the two of them are friends with an interesting history, and that is more than enough to please my inner Cable/Deadpool fangirl.

Mostly though, it's just generally a great Deadpool story in its own right. Heroism is questioned, sanity tested and shit blows up. At heart it's a Cold War story, complete with suitcase nukes and rampant government corruption, but it's got the dark, gritty realism of the noir style down, with only a smattering of sci-fi elements peaking in around the corners, and if it's packed with genre-appropriate cliches and the action sometimes goes over the top, it's none the worse for it.

[Spoilers to be discussed from here on in]

When I sit down to do an in-depth review I usually cover stuff I didn't like as well as what I did and there were a few things in Pulp I wish they'd handle differently, but most are so wishy-washy that I don't think it's even worth including a full section on negatives. But to get them out of the way before I get to talking about everything I really did like, here's the Stuff That Bugged Me.


Stuff That Bugged Me



The Art
Don't get me wrong, the gloomy, heavily shadowed style absolutely nails the pulp/noir atmosphere, but when you find yourself routinely reading back over the same panels for the third time trying to puzzle out who is supposed to be who, then the art has problems. Facial features vary only little between some characters – Stryfe may claim to be old enough to be Cable's father, but hell if you'd know without the dialogue to tell you – and the shadows and layouts obscure much of the remaining visual cues as to who we're looking at, where we are, or whether there's been a scene change between this panel and the last. Wade first appears playing Russian roulette opposite a man with the same build and hairstyle, Outlaw spends a scene later taking a photograph for a woman who could be her exact doppelganger, and the backgrounds are so gloomy that it's near impossible to tell when the camera has swung around to focus on one or the other. It's confusing and it distracts from the story, and a deliberately dark style is no excuse for that.


Guess correctly who of these two men 1) is Cable, 2) is Stryfe and 3) is talking, and you win 100 points. For your 1000 point bonus question, turn to the following page and see if you can guess whose caption is whose, based purely on thin border lines helpfully coloured in pale grey, dark grey, and bluish grey to help you tell them apart.

Even when characters do have distinguishing features they're not always consistent. Wade's eyes are never the same colour twice and Cable's hair goes from brown to blond somewhere between issues two and three (the latter does have the benefit of making him and Stryfe easier to tell apart, but it put me through another round of flicking back and forth in confusion when I went back to reread the first issue). Worse, several speech bubbles are completely misattributed, left pointing vaguely in the direction of someone else nearby instead of the intended character (one can't help but wonder if even the letterer started getting mixed up). The end result was that even when I did guess who we were looking at correctly first time, more often than not I ended up second guessing myself and going back to double check. Thank god the artist gave Deadpool, Cable and Stryfe all distinctive facial scars or I might have been completely at sea.

The real shame is that the art did have a lot to recommend it – some excellent close up shots and some nicely dynamic action scenes to list a few – but so much could have been fixed by varying a few hairstyles and removing some of the gloom.


Outlaw as the Femme Fatale
Stating my biases up front on this one, I don't particularly like Outlaw. This is not so much because she's a terrible character as because she seems to have snuck herself into Deadpool's supporting cast sideways while no-one was looking and leaves me forever feeling like I must have missed a back issue somewhere that explains where the bloody hell she came from. Gail Simone's run gave her all of two vaguely mysterious, vaguely flirty cameos in the concluding issues of Deadpool's solo series before upgrading her straight to the regular cast of Agent X without so much as a handwave at how or when she'd gotten to know Deadpool's agent, then had her paired her off with the new lead within a couple of issues. What inspired the people at Marvel to salvage her alone out of the Agent X cast, split her and Alex up off screen and turn her into a sporadically recurring love interest for Deadpool I can only imagine, but between Pulp and what I've heard about Suicide Kings and Max, we do seem to have something of a trend going. Me, I'd much rather be hearing what Alex and Sandi are doing with themselves these days, other than wallowing in drunken commiseration over their mutual residency in the land of Marvel limbo.

All that said, Outlaw does work well in the context of the story, and so well that she probably wouldn't bug me at all if it wasn't for the fact that the role she's playing – the rogue double-agent, obligatory noir-style femme fatale and Deadpool's first love – is tailor-made for another character from Deadpool's history who's been all but forgotten at Marvel HQ since the late nineties: namely Vanessa. It's all there: their romantic history right down to Wade being the one to still be carrying that torch once they're finally reunited, her messy history of working for both sides at once and especially the potential to translate her shapeshifting into something of a master-of-disguise/secret agent theme – you could hardly ask for a canon character better made to translate over into a pulp setting. It's a bit of a stretch to have her voluntarily working for the bad guys, but much less than it was for Outlaw, who's literally unrecognisable in the art, and who ultimately shares little more than her name and some ability at hand-to-hand combat with her canon counterpart.

If Vanessa had never been part of Wade's background, I doubt I'd have had any problem with Outlaw in Pulp. As it is, it seems like such a waste of an opportunity not to cast Vanessa in that role that I can't help feeling a little gipped.


That the two extra voices are treated as Deadpool's defining features



This is one I need to phrase carefully, because oh yeah, it did bug me to see them introduced as if to imply that Wade can murder and wisecrack on his own terms, but he's not Deadpool until they join in. Those voices are getting close to being the anti-thesis of everything I like about the character; I'd go into why, but then I'd never get to the rest of this post, so suffice to say they managed to kill any interest I had in reading the Suicide Kings mini, despite a number of high recommendations, within the first couple of pages. They're a gimmick I have almost no remaining tolerance for.

So, putting aside that specific caveat above, it was quite the surprise to find that in Pulp... they actually kind of work.

It helps that it's an alternate universe, with a very different Deadpool, so I'm automatically going to grant the writer a lot of extra freedom on characterisation issues. It helps a lot that the voices are sparingly used, and that for once they don't supercede his ability to narrate to the audience on his own terms (which is both such a Deadpool thing and such a pulp-detective-fiction thing that losing it would have been a criminal waste). But I think most of all what made the difference was that their existence is a not a throwaway gag but an important plot point. inheavenlygrass pretty much nailed it in her original recommendation to me in pointing out that the way they're used actually does do a chilling job of underlining how crazy Deadpool is.

On the balance of things, there's far more I liked about the voices than that I didn't, and for that the writer deserves a lot of credit.


There were a few other elements that weren't so much bad as they were a little distracting. Much as I loved all the nods to the existence of characters like Fury and Bucky in the first issue, there were a few parts in the next couple that had me looking for a 616-link that wasn't there – whether all the incidental characters Deadpool meets in passing while looking for Weasel were people I should have recognised, etc. (For that matter, I spent a lot of the first issue half-expecting the woman raising hell on the opening pages to turn out to be Deadpool in a dress – don't you laugh, it was totally plausible!) There were a lot of elements I was a little disappointed weren't developed in more detail – the backstory, how everyone met everyone else (or thought they met), the way the mind-control subplot in the last couple of issues got resolved so quickly, but most of those are probably details that there simply wasn't space left for. All told, my biggest complaint is that the mini wasn't an issue longer.

With that out of the way, let's move on to the stuff that was awesome.


Stuff That Was Awesome



Deadpool



Is violent and crazy enough to take a stapler to a man's face at a moment's notice, but still manages to be sympathetic and likeable, and therefore nails everything I need to enjoy a Deadpool story. There is something utterly fascinating about Wade's character in this AU, because while I feel that he works, this is not by any stretch the Deadpool we know. Right up front, in his conversation with the psychologist in the very first issue, we're told how dangerously deranged he is – that his patriotism is a ruse to allow him to murder and pillage with government sponsorship, that he once chewed off his own thumbs to escape a Japanese concentration camp, that he hears voices in his head. The odd thing is that from then onwards, Deadpool comes across as nothing so much as dangerously sane. He's willing and able to murder at the drop of a hat but he goes out of his way to protect bystanders, he's single-minded in his pursuit of FBI duties to the point that he probably wouldn't look out of place spouting some of those lines in dark glasses and a serious suit, and he toes the company line to the letter. Even up against Outlaw, who certainly has no illusions about him, the mask never slips. Maybe this isn't Deadpool on a typical day, maybe the threat of nuclear war is enough to shock even Wade into keeping his mind on the job, but between Cable's apparent trust in him and his 'I grew a conscience' line, one can't help but wonder if even he really believes he's as loony as he led the psychologist to think.

The way they've constructed his alternate history is pretty fascinating in its own right: this is a Deadpoool without the without the scarred skin or the cancer or the healing factor, who's reached is requisite level of crazy purely through good, old-fashioned psychological trauma. That jettisons so much of what defines Deadpool as a character that by all rights, it shouldn't work at all. And yet – even with his strangely convincing straight-man act and pretty face – I still find him completely believable as an alternate Deadpool. That's says a lot about the quality of the writing, and it's all good.

It does help that even with so many defining characteristics gone they still got a lot of the little details right, like his natural hair colour (dark blond) and his nationality (Canadian – though in all honesty I'm not sure even I could point to where this was established in canon). But most of what made it work is that every big change they made was clearly explained – even necessitated – by the setting or the story, and that is nothing but exactly what a good AU tale does.


Cable



While there was so much I liked about Pulp that I could probably have enjoyed it even without Cable, I'd be lying if I pretended he wasn't one of my favourite parts. I got into Deadpool fandom via Cable & Deadpool, I like Cable, I like Cable with Deadpool, I like comics that recognise their relationship as something that matters to both their lives in a good way. Give me a reasonably well written comic in which Cable trusts Wade enough to falsify his psychological report, for reasons which may or may not be connected to a very interesting shared history between the two of them, and you're already well past halfway to winning me over.

It is possible that I am so inclined to enjoy the above that I'm a little too willing to overlook how this world's Cable may not have much in common with 616 Cable beyond his irrational trust in Wade and antagonism with Stryfe – but it didn't bug me much in the reading, and thinking back on the series as a whole, Cable may have been given more parallels with his canonical self than you notice at first glance. It is pretty bizarre seeing a character like Cable cast as loyal middle-management in the FBI – answering to superiors and working with the system, when 616 Cable is the kind to either lead his own outfit or work alone: the man who knows the future but isn't sharing. (If I'd had to guess how he was going to translate into the pulp setting, I'd probably have pegged him as either the rival agent tracking the same prize, or the mysterious, arrogant know-it-all contact who Deadpool spends half the series tracking down, and when they finally meet the first thing he says is I knew you were coming.)

On the other hand, casting him as an FBI agent – the same agency pop culture tells us has intel on everyone and their mother and keeps secrets from the president himself – that does make a certain fridge-brilliance kind of sense. Add his tendency to keep information from his superiors (for the greater good, naturally) and a mysterious history with Stryfe that's been kept secret even from him, and he's starting to feel quite a lot like the Cable we know.

Much like Deadpool, it's a portrayal that works for me far better than I could ever have imagined, and is even more enjoyable for being unconventional.

Did I mention the mini features a scene with Cable and Stryfe playing squash against each other? In shorts? Hee. Hehehehee.

Outlaw



Probably didn't see that heading coming, huh? So here's the thing – I wish she'd been Vanessa, I'm here for the Cable/Deadpool, and I definitely liked her a more because she was unrecognisable character-wise, but the fact remains that I did like her – way more than I expected given her obligatory femme fatale role and fate you saw coming a mile away. The Pulp Outlaw comes across as cool and mostly humourless, dangerously competent and – and this may be the big part – refreshingly un-sexualised, which is all the more amazing when you consider that she's a) female, b) an evil agent, c) the main character's love interest and d) a comic book character. And yet she gets to wear covering outfits, stand with normal human posture and fight off multiple enemy agents without once shoving her arse in the camera. There's undeniable chemistry between her and Wade, but it's the quietly smouldering kind, unmarred by evil seductress cliches. For ex-lovers they're both remarkably professional about it all. I actually really liked the restaurant/dance sequence between them in the second issue – it was quite the touching moment between them, if in a this-is-all-going-to-end-in-bullet-wounds-and-property-damage sort of way.

It's debatable how likeable she's meant to be, when she's unrepentantly evil (or at least amoral), but she's the middle-ranked kind of evil, below the monologue-happy big bad but above the common mook; the type who may not be personally invested in the outcome but who'll pull out all the stops to get the job done and who's often more interesting because we don't know quite what their motivations are. Not going to lie, I went in with no expectations I'd give a damn about her weird, dysfunctional past-tense whatever-the-hell-it-was with Wade, but the execution kept everything so beautifully understated that it left me a little disappointed we didn't get to see more of their backstory developed on page.


The way it worked in Marvel canon



At this point I'm just about down to jumping up and down waving my hands and squeeing all of it =DDD. The concept, Deadpool's history, the twists that rewrote Deadpool's history all over again in the last issue, Cable's role, Stryfe's role, the whole mind-control subplot, Weasel's cameo, the ending – a complete list would probably take an essay. I do think the story is strong enough to stand on its own merits, but the clever ways it worked in 616 canon at every turn really made the experience. I have this whole other post on what makes a good AU story already, but I could pretty much just point to Deadpool Pulp and say that does and be done with it.


Fanfic Ideas/Discussion Questions/Stuff I Would Like To See More Of



No good story answers every question, and Deadpool Pulp even less than most. The story still works, but there was plenty leftover I wish we'd gotten to hear more about. Here's a short list of some of the main things that have been keeping me up.


1. MOAR BACKSTORY PLZ. So, so much of the history behind the story is only barely touched upon. I really wouldn't have minded hearing more about him and Outlaw – how they met, how they got together, and how it ended. We don't even know for sure whether their relationship was before or after Wade went through the events that made him Deadpool.

The few hints we get are tantalising stuff: “What ever happened to you, Wade? You used to be so much fun,” says Outlaw, and Deadpool's response? “I grew a conscience.” Clearly past-tense Wade was more crazy and uncontrollable than he is now, but what happened to change him? Was this before or after he started work as an FBI operative? There's lots to suggest – both in Pulp and 616 – that Wade's love of mayhem pre-dates his becoming Deadpool, so is it possible she might even be talking about pre-Deadpool Wade? So many possibilities, so few answers.

Putting Outlaw aside, what really happened between Wade's escape from Stryfe's brainwashing facility and the present day? There is a massive hole in the timeline at that point, so big that I'll give it its whole own section.

2. Just what is the deal with Cable and Deadpool's relationship? This one, I think, is mostly answered in the story, but we see so little of them interacting in the present day that a lot remains tantalisingly ambiguous. Cable clearly sees him as an invaluable agent, so valuable that – in typically manipulative Cable fashion – he's prepared to go to considerable effort to mislead his superiors about Deadpool's mental state. Whether that means he genuinely trusts Deadpool or whether he simply sees him as the right psychopath for the job (“I need a nut to catch a nut”) is open to interpretation – but as I said above, it's interesting how much of what we learn later in the story would seem to support the former.

The first time they meet is one of the most interesting Deadpool scenes in the whole mini. Again, it's hard to know how much of it really happened or how well they remember it, but what we see happening takes place right after Deadpool dons his mask for the first time and murders his torturer – becomes his tormentor, as the psychologist put it. But then in the middle of his escape, he stops to rescue another prisoner and blankly refuses to leave the other man behind even when it puts his own life at risk. He goes out of his way to be reassuring, even. Nor is it a one-off event, we see him paying much the same concern for bystanders more than once on the job in the present day. This is not the behaviour of a psychopath.

And since that other prisoner turns out to be none other than Cable, he must be well aware of exactly how Deadpool can be trusted to behave under pressure. That must have had some influence on his willingness to let Deadpool off the leash so freely. Wade himself clearly feels a strong connection to Cable due to their escape – he says as much on page.

On a more chilling note, it's entirely possible all of this was Stryfe's plan – engineer a sense of connection between two of his sleeper agents so that one would go out of his way to get the other into a useful agency position. Or it may have been just a happy accident – it's really hard to know. It's a real shame that nowhere in the whole mini do we get to see any clearly comment on how of Cable and Deadpool's relationship must have been based on that history.

My greatest disappointment in the series may be that nowhere do we see Deadpool, in his role as Cable's employee, giving his boss any lip.

In summary I am rallamajoop, and I am a slash fangirl who will always want more slash in her source text, fanfic about this needs to be written ASAP.

3. What happens next. I don't know if I want a definitive answer to this one – it's not a plothole, it's a dangling thread where the possibilities could easily be more interesting than the answer, but oh are there possibilities. On the very last page, finally Weapon X is about to make its appearance in Deadpool's story, but this isn't our usual Deadpool and it's not our usual Weapon X – this time Cable's in charge and Deadpool is already crazy. It's conceivably possible that everything goes as planned in this universe – that Deadpool will come out with a new healing factor and a longer face mask and go right back to his old job. It's also possible that either the procedure or the horrible scarring he'll (presumably) be left with will make him even crazier. Will he keep his government job, will he go rogue, will Cable be able to keep him on the payroll (in official or unofficial capacity) or will he go completely off the radar – and if he does, what would it take to get him back? The fallout from Stryfe's little experiments could go any which way – there are bound to be other sleeper agents still active. The story doesn't really need to be continued, but there's no shortage of ways it could be.

The one thing I don't think I can easily picture is any scenario where Cable gives up on him entirely. For all that there's so little interaction to go on between them, that much is a very strong theme.

And on that positive note, we see fit to end the review.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
etrangere
Jan. 24th, 2011 05:22 pm (UTC)
Awesome post.

The confusingness of the art is something that did bug me as well despite liking the style :) and yeah, I like Outlaw but you're right Ness would have worked much better (hadn't thought about it, but it's pretty bang on, I'm going to rewrite it in my mind this way).
BTW, I think it's mostly Benson (the guy who wrote both Pulp & Suicide Kings) who likes Outlaw and shipping her with Deadpool because I don't think they're a strong pair in anything else. And Outlaw started hanging out a lot with the Agency X after she helped teaching Alex how to shoot stuff; it wasn't that abrupt.

I don't think there's any actual definite canon on Deadpool's nationality, it depends of the writer (much like Deadpool's family). Perhaps he has a dual Canadian-American nationality ;)

For that matter, I spent a lot of the first issue half-expecting the woman raising hell on the opening pages to turn out to be Deadpool in a dress
I think I did that too >_>

My greatest disappointment in the series may be that nowhere do we see Deadpool, in his role as Cable's employee, giving his boss any lip.
Too true!
rallamajoop
Jan. 25th, 2011 02:04 am (UTC)
The confusingness of the art is something that did bug me as well despite liking the style :)

It's one of those series that improves on a reread, largely because second time through you actually know who everyone is meant to be.

and yeah, I like Outlaw but you're right Ness would have worked much better (hadn't thought about it, but it's pretty bang on, I'm going to rewrite it in my mind this way).

Heh, you and me both then. Poor Ness, gone and forgotten in the minds of Marvel.

Interesting that the same writers did both Pulp and Suicide Kings, given that I loved one and completely couldn't get into the other. Guess the style really made all the difference. Outlaw's apparently played as a love interest for Wade in Deadpool Max too though, and that's by a different writer.

And Outlaw started hanging out a lot with the Agency X after she helped teaching Alex how to shoot stuff; it wasn't that abrupt.

No, I'd still have to say it was. The part that got me wasn't that she became a regular character after that, it was that she was apparently the first person Sandi thought to call to help train Alex and that she apparently knew Deadpool well enough to compare his style with Alex's, etc. Up to that point she'd talked to Deadpool for all of about two minutes on two occasions (and if anything she was being played up as someone new and mysterious), and we had no reason to believe Sandi had ever heard of her. That was what threw me.

I don't think there's any actual definite canon on Deadpool's nationality, it depends of the writer (much like Deadpool's family). Perhaps he has a dual Canadian-American nationality ;)

Could be one of those things that's mostly just been implied.

I think I did that too >_>

XD Glad to know it wasn't just me!

There would so many awesome possibilities for scenarios where Deadpool is Cable's employee, and there really was a lack of snide-troublemaker Wade in this mini. Much as I enjoyed it, I do wish we'd gotten to see them talk more. *plots fic*
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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