We’re trying out a regular feature here wherein favorite runs of tiles are discussed and I couldn’t think of a better one to start with than Joe Kelly’s run on DEADPOOL from the late 90s. If the Merc with a Mouth is a major character in the Marvel Universe, now, then this is what started establishing him as such. The character had previously made an impression on fans with a couple of solo mini-series and some guest spots on X-FORCE, but this was the hard battle to win the zombies over in a title that, believe it or not, was fighting every month to dodge the axe. Rooting for an underdog can be frustrating and often heartbreaking, but it's so validating to see him become top dog in the end.
There’s no definitive name for this saga. Trades have been titled MISSION: IMPROBABLE and CLASSIC DEADPOOL but none of them collect it comprehensively. Fans unofficially called it The Mithras Saga, though that doesn’t account for anything past issue #25. Let’s just call it Joe Kelly’s run, keeping in mind that he worked mostly with Ed McGuinness (this was his first high profile gig,) Walter McDaniel and Pete Woods. To be specific, this is volume three, issues #-1 through #33, with the DAREDEVIL and DEATH “co-star” annuals included.
As you'll sense, this isn't just one of my favorite DEADPOOL runs, it's one of my favorite runs ever. It's the one that seriously got me wanting to write comics.== TEASER ==
It got better and better as it went along. The first year’s worth of stories were the regular round of job of the month DP stories that included run-ins with the Hulk and string of lesser-known, easy-to-ridicule guests like Vamp, Sasquatch and the Great Lakes Avengers. There was an inspired issue (#11) where the Pool was gumped into a classic SPIDER-MAN comic and the association was apt, since these issues gave him a regular (though demented) supporting cast like Peter Parker’s. In addition to his techie/toadie Weasel, he got a housemate/prisoner in the acerbic Blind Alfred, and a rival/nemesis in the mysterious fellow merc, T-Ray. He even got his own share of lady problems, torn between between the good girl, Siryn, and the baaaaaad girl, Typhoid Mary. There were also hints of something grander lurking, as Wade was being shadowed and evaluated by the mysterious outfit, Landau, Luckman and Lake, who were eying him for their Mithras Directive.
Things got progressively more serious following THE DROWNING MAN two-parter of issue #12 and #13. More of the Pool’s painful history (pun intended) bubbled to surface with the appearance of Ajax, an armored psychopath who'd been a cancer-suffering Wade Wilson’s sadistic guard in Department K, Department H’s lesser affiliate. Where before we'd only gotten some quick explanations about DP coming from the same Weapon X as Wolverine, DEADPOOL/DEATH '98 ANNUAL revealed that he was a test subject who'd been tortured and mutilated in a program with so many fatal faliures, it was cruely dubbed the dead pool. While it'd be hard to describe Deadpool as a light, carefree character before this, that arc gave some tragedy and pathos to underly the katana-slashing and shuriken-flinging mayhem.
As it turned out, L, L & L was interested in this terrible killer because he was prophesied to save the world (and perhaps even the universe entire) by protecting the arrival of the Mithras. While there was plenty of funnin’ to be had at the notion of Deadpool being a chosen one in any scheme, this gave some serious direction to his oft-struggling attempts at reformation. For the first time in his miserable life, he had to temper his horrible nature to the expectations of a world-saving hero and the role actually did much to elevate his usually-terrible sense of worth. As you’d expect, of course, nothing was as it seemed and this Mithras Saga came to an intense head in the three-part DEAD RECKONING that pitted DP against a hideous alien warrior intent on killing the Mithras.
Only this monster was actually a good guy. While the Mithras promised bliss, it was a false joy akin to a listless, drug-addled high. Believe it or not, this is when the series tackled the heady issue of destiny vs. free will as Deadpool defied his prophesized fate to stop the destiny the Mithras offered.
This defiance led to one of my favorite moments - - Deadpools kicking Captain America in the junk (a gag he recently got revenge for on the cover of volume 4's 28th issue.) As if to further emphasize Deadpool’s lackings as a hero, Marvel's ultimate clean-cut golden boy had been brought in by L,L & L to assist the Mithras situation. Of course, since Cap only knew part of the story, he was an easy victim to get possessed by the incorporeal space baby. Outclassed by this ultimate super-solider, DP has to fight dirty for the fate of all free thinkers. Feigning cooperation with the Mithras, he offered to play a friendly game of Rochambeau to bury the hatchet... and you know how that game's played.
The next few issues got back to the early fun with some run-ins with Dr. Bong, Bullseye, the Black Crow and a hilarious send-up of Wolverine that razzed the Canuck’s oft-meandering monologues and his creepy-when-you-actually-think-about-it relationship with Kitty Pryde. However, more drama arrived soon with Mercedes, a beautiful innocent claiming to be Wade Wilson’s wife. Bringing out DP’s neglected sensitive side, she made it seem like this, plus his world-saving, might finally get his life together.
Then T-Ray, that old pal, returned to show how wrong that notion was.
Deadpool maintained that Wade and Mercedes Wilson had been a happily-married couple who'd welcomed a wounded stranger (T-Ray) into their homes after finding him in the Canadian wilderness. Their guest would repay them by murdering Mercedes and horribly scarring Wade (sending him into the downward spiral his life became.) Only that all proved to be a lie in this final arc. Deadpool wasn’t actually Wade Wilson; T-Ray was. All along, Deadpool was really Jack, the murderous stranger, and his fractured psyche had re-written the memory to please him. The real Wilson had turned to the occult to remake himself and resurrect his wife as part of an elaborate, bitter revenge scheme. After all the progress he’d made, Deadpool realized his whole life had been built on a lie. Finally embracing his long-denied nature in a darkly-satisfying conclusion, the Pool went down fighting as T-Ray dropped him into some netherrealm pit where he had to face down every person he’d ever killed.
Deadpool died and, as a reward, he got to enjoy some rest in a pocket paradise with the other woman in his life - - the personified of Death. Much to Thanos' frustration, they were reunited from their earlier dalliance in that Annual recounting DP's days at Department K. This was a premature end to the run, tying up plot-lines faster than planned with the expectation that the book was being cancelled. Even though there may have yet been more to enjoy if the book continued as it was intended to, looking at in hindsight, I think it makes the larger story a true epic tragedy. You a beginning, middle and end that brings the themes of redemption and worthiness to their satisfactory conclusion. If there were ever to be a DEADPOOL: THE END, I can't think of a more appropriate finale for the Merc with a Mouth.This description makes the series sound quite dark and heavy but, while it certainly was at times, you all should understand that the series was still gut-busting hilarious throughout and even deeply touching at times. Kelly went on to do some great work with STEAMPUNK, M.REX, ACTION COMICS and X-MEN (to name just a few) but I know I'll always have special fondness for these comics. Like Miller's DAREDEVIL, Moore's SWAMP THING and Ennis' PUNISHER, this was definitely a case of a creator taking a pre-existing character and adding so much depth and dimensionality that said character really became his own. As I mentioned, a lot of this has been collected in those DEADPOOL CLASSIC trades, but I do recommend hunting the remaining issues on eBay or wherever else you'll find back-issues. It's well worth the effort.
Do any of you maniacs feel the same way I do about this run? What's your favorite era of DEADPOOL?