With the release of the first X-Men film in 2000, audiences not only witnessed the dawn of the modern day superhero film boom, but also the beginning of a complicated franchise that would span sixteen years and nine films. With X-Men: Apocalypse on the horizon, Kayleigh Hearn and a rotating cast of merry mutants are revisiting the X-Men films from the very beginning, and examining the comic book storylines that inspired them. What would you prefer, yellow spandex?
Deadpool and Death Annual (1998)
By Joe Kelly and Steve Harris
Kayleigh: I have to confess that for all my years reading X-Men comics, Deadpool is my biggest blind spot. I’ve read comics featuring Deadpool (if you read Marvel, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Deadpool appearance) but this annual is the first “Deadpool comic series starring Deadpool” issue I’ve read. I know the Joe Kelly run is beloved by fans, and Deadpool loosely takes his origin story from this annual. It begins with Deadpool punched off a cliff by a mysterious assailant, and as his life flashes before his eyes, he recalls being a cancer-stricken mercenary enlisted in a program to create supersoldiers. Disfigured and tortured into insanity by a jackass named Ajax, Deadpool is separated from his one true love–not Vanessa, but…Death!
Dylan: I’ve only read a handful of Deadpool solo issues, but what surprised me about this annual is that it contains like no jokes. It’s pretty much wall to wall misery, and since most of the story takes place before Wade Wilson went crazy, he’s not really even the same character that we know. This book is just misery and pain, which is like no fun at all and not what I was expecting. That said, Deadpool and Death Annual had an interesting story to tell and provided a lot of what worked about the dramatic side of the Deadpool movie.
Kayleigh: I think this comic has some jokes, they’re just not…funny? The humor here is pretty dated, featuring references to 7th Heaven and Ren & Stimpy that are well past their sell-by date. The scene in which the gun-wielding Deadpool just starts screaming unrelated pop culture catchphrases (“Attica! Freedom! Elaine!”) is a great example of what frustrates me about this character in a single panel. It’s just violence mashed up with “Hey, remember this?” references that aren’t actual jokes.
Dylan: No characters approach being real people in this book. Deadpool is a wacky cartoon and that’s why we like him, but the interaction between his humorless pre-insanity self and the other denizens of the Hospice is not particularly memorable.
Kayleigh: The movie yanked the “Ajax is really named Francis” joke from this comic, and it leads to a barrage of “lol sissy” gags that feel way more homophobic twenty years later. His appearance in the comic is way more cartoonish than the bland movie villain. With a giant “A” on his costume and lines like, “Rise and shine, buttercup!” mixed with his penchant for torture, Ajax feels like an obscure Grant Morrison character that got mixed up in a Deadpool comic somehow.
Dylan: The “Francis” thing is really the only distinguishing characteristic of The Attending/Ajax, and you’ve already addressed why that’s no fun. As the title implies, the heart of this issue is the weird love story between Wade Wilson and Death, as in the literal Death who Wade imagines as a shapely woman with a skull face. Death is apparently really into this interpretation and rolls right with it, returning his sexual and eventually romantic feelings. This story seems designed to reinforce everything fun about Deadpool as the consequence of something tragic, so Deadpool being unkillable is now the one thing that keeps him apart from his true love.
I get the impression that I would have enjoyed this somber Annual more if I had experienced it as a dark chapter in the middle of a wacky arc. By itself, this is just ugly.
Kayleigh: Wade’s love affair with Death is my favorite part of the Annual because it’s the kind of bizarre, reality-warping twist that makes superhero comics fun to read. Here, “longing for Death” isn’t just an expression. Deadpool is actually going on adorable romcom dates with the embodiment of Death. A robed skeleton wearing a little sun hat for her date is one of the only jokes that work for me, especially since Steve Harris’s art is mostly gristly muscles and gritted teeth. Deadpool’s love interest being a literal death metal band mascot would have really–sorry–enlivened the film for me. It balances humor and romance with the pain hidden behind the chimichanga jokes, and is the bright spot in a largely grim story.
Next Week: The End is Near! Join us for our final X-Education installments as we tackle X-Men: Apocalypse!