Over the last several years, Marvel Comics' mercenary Wade "Deadpool" Wilson has gone from tertiary X-Men antihero to one of the publisher's most recognizable characters. (He's getting his own video game, for criminey's sake.) That's some impressive longevity for a guy who was originally conceived 21 years ago as an in-joke rip-off of the DC Comics super-assassin Slade "Deathstroke" Wilson.
But Deadpool poses a unique conundrum for comic book writers. Unlike, say, a Superman or Captain America comic, readers expect a Deadpool title to be funny. In this regard, Deadpool has more in common with Ziggy than Wolverine.
And like Ziggy — which has been completely downhill since 1977 — it's all too easy for a Deadpool comic's humor to turn excruciatingly stale and clichéd. Like Robin William in the Nineties, everybody expects Deadpool to be a nutty, crazy-ass loon. And since Wade Wilson has yet to star in his own version of Jack, for posterity's sake, here are some times Deadpool's comedy worked.
Deadpool — who was created by author Fabian Nicieza and artist Rob Liefeld — first appeared in 1991 as an antagonist for the X-Men's junior squad, the New Mutants. In his first few appearances, the character wasn't goofy or slapstick. Deadpool was your archetypal 1990s bad guy: he was sarcastic, wantonly murderous, carried a semi-impractical arsenal of blades and firearms, and looked like Spider-Man.
Of course, these traits were the recipe for success in the heady 1990s. (I adored my first Deadpool action figure circa 1993 — angry Spider-Man with katanas!) But as the decade wore on, Deadpool assumed a more deranged, slapstick tenor under the aegis of creators like Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness. (Such goofier treatments of the character never sat well with Liefeld, who recently got into hot water on Twitter for expressing his dissatisfaction with Marvel's handling of the character.)
Let's jump forward to last week, when Marvel announced that comedians Brian Posehn (of whom I have fond Mr. Show memories) and Gerry Duggan and artist Tony Moore are relaunching Deadpool this autumn as part of the Marvel NOW initiative. According to Duggan, the script's "DNA is in Big Trouble in Little China and Ghostbusters." And that sounds promising, as both of those films derived their comedy from protagonists who are desperately in over their heads (a circumstance all too familiar to Deadpool). Let's take a look at some occasions the Merc with the Mouth's struck comedy gold.
"Amelia Bedelia with hand grenades"
One of the greatest sins of Marvel's trade paperback publishing program is that author Gail Simone and art collective UDON's painfully brief run on Deadpool /Agent X is out of print. Back in 2002, Simone wrote one of comicdom's best takes on Wade Wilson and his mysterious clone and/or reincarnation Alex "Agent X" Hayden. (It's a long story, not spoiling it.)
Anyway, Simone's script worked great because she penned Deadpool/Agent X as a friendly, well-meaning, understated buffoon whose primary character flaw is that he enjoys killing people (mostly bad guys) for money. And fortunately for Deadpool, his own sense of lunatic self-regard allows him to toss out any cognitive dissonance. Rick Remender also addresses this in his current Uncanny X-Force run, when Deadpool actually refuses to be paid for his supervillain-murdering services. This brings us to our next point...
Throw out the moldy chestnuts
You can mine a good deal out of comedy from a guy who thinks he's the hero but is actually morally repugnant to everyone around him. Too often writers dip into Deadpool's collection of now-stock bizarre obsessions (let's have a moratorium on Bea Arthur jokes) or shoehorn in whatever meme du jour is kicking around (infinite moratorium on Charlie Sheen jokes). Deadpool's bon mots should suck, but not be so atrocious that the reader's groaning.
Let the horribly deformed Wookiee win
Deadpool's socially hapless, but he's not a total idiot. He's Marvel's go-to wise fool (he's one of the few characters to realize he's living in a comic book). And in those moments that he is resourceful, it should be in such a backwards, screwed-up manner that his colleagues wish he was a slack-jawed dunderhead.
See: the scene in Uncanny X-Force when Archangel's starving to death, so Wade feeds him some of his nourishing, infinitely-regenerating arm meat.
Similarly, in 1997's forgotten classic Deadpool #11, Wade time-travels back to 1967's Amazing Spider-Man #47, masquerades as Peter Parker, and is the only person in the Marvel Universe to realize how stupid the Osborne family's haircuts are.
(And apropos of nothing, I love this panel.)
Deadpool needs a straight man
An entire comic book of Deadpool embarking upon a parade of goofballery can be tiring. The character perpetually needs a supportive-but-constantly-abashed roster of friends — in the form of such protagonists as Cable, Wolverine, or Taskmaster (who was particularly great in Agent X) — to contrast Wade's outlandish behavior.