Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Deadpool: Merc with a mouth #7-13 "Marvel zombies"

"Deadpool - Merc with a mouth" is the title of Deadpool's second current ongoing series that was just discontinued in a unique manner, by having the publication of it's final issues run concurrent to the new title that's spinning off it, "Deadpool corps". Although the team title chronologically takes place after #7-13, Marvel still published the second storyline of "the Merc with a mouth" as regular arc, benefiting future readers who sample Gischler's story in it's intended sequence.

The labyrinthine way in which all of these comics are published ("Deadpool corps" was preceded by a 5 issue weekly prelude, and almost managed to complete it's first ongoing storyline before the parent title had ended it's run), actually has a story precedent in this very book, bearing larger plot ramifications. In fact, "Merc with a mouth" debuted as a second Deadpool monthly geared towards humorous stories that had less to do with the contemporary make up of the Marvel universe, as defined by the company's most popular titles. The distinction was that Victor Gischler and Bong Dazo's work featured a completely original supporting cast, augmented by no less than the animated head of "Marvel zombies"' Deadpool, serving as the series' McGuffin.

This bizarre choice served to introduce a continuity spiral using the backdoor of the opening Savage Land story line, setting the stage for what eventually turned out to be it's second and last tale in this configuration. The introduction of the Marvel zombies universe was an idea that opened Mark ("Wanted", "Ultimates") Millar and Greg ("Sojourn", "Uncanny X-Men") Land's run as the creative team of "Ultimate Fantastic Four". It gained further notoriety as a spin off under the direction of Robert ("Walking dead", "Invincible") Kirkman and Sean ("Criminal", "Sleeper") Phillips, the creative team of the first couple of mini-series. Consequentially, "Merc with a mouth" follows the continuity of Fred ("Action philosophers", "Incredible Hercules") Van Lente and Kev ("2000AD magazine") Walker "Marvel zombies" minis.

All of this background going in to set up Deadpool's comedic sidekick pays off in the second storyarc by the regular creative team of Gischler and Dazo. Interestingly, the creators had the idea of having this arc, that was so obtrusively set up and followed upon, stand on it's own, structuring it as a time traveling loop ending right where the story begun. In a typical superhero comic book fashion, this kind of play with popular sci-fi concepts doesn't end there, as the main plot concerns crossing over to the Marvel zombies universe, thereby marrying the company's two premiere black comedy franchises. The expensive seven issue story, sporting Arthur Suydam covers, is bookended by two 32 page chapters, largely dealing with time travel dynamics.

The first of these features Deadpool's creator Rob ("X-Force", "Youngblood") Liefeld, Kyle ("Nat Turner", "Plastic man") Baker and Das ("Kafre", "los Heresiarcas") Pastoras, illustrating alternate dimension sequences, which in turn set up "Deadpool corps". Meanwhile, after drawing the framing sequence featuring the regular cast, the book's regular penciller Dazo continues to illustrate the bulk of the actual story pages. Nominally, the plot mechanics involved having Deadpool and his two new found allies getting the head of his alternate reality doppelganger back to it's native universe, but this is quickly forgotten, once the quarter get to the other dimension. Thankfully, their AIM pursuers from the opening storyline follow suit, retaining their original goal of treating it as an item to be secured.

Meanwhile, Deadpool, Betty and agent Bill spend most of the arc trying to survive the immediate threat of Manhattan besieged by perpetually hungry zombie superheroes, and later on actually change their goals by integrating the animated head's on plan with their return to proper reality. These kinds of rambling plots are a necessary evil of trying to fit in an exotic story into official superhero narratives, and the readers have long proven patient with ignoring various bits of pseudo science involved in order to get to an interesting story. "Merc with a mouth" certainly offers something resembling a complete adventure in the Marvel zombies universe, albeit with a large focus on the plot mechanics involved in bridging narratives.

As for the story Gischler and Dazo offer, it's very peculiar, while limited to a small geographic area. Literally, the arc's central five issues span what feels like no more than a single city block, and even then significantly little world building occurs. Tied to roughly the same location featured in Van Lente and Walker's "Marvel zombies 3", Dazo offers a lot of post apocalyptic paraphernalia, of broken buildings and dirty environments under colorist Matt Milla's scorching sun. The penciller is from the start in an unenviable position, having to produce a large amount of work in a very short time. He responds by producing the quirky yet convincing designs the survivors of the zombie outbreak, yet his work ends up lacking a bit of energy and refinement seen in "Head trip". And while inker Leonardo Ito could be blamed for not giving further definition to Dazo's work, the storytellers do still establish the story's major two locations and the frantic actions going on all around them in a manner befitting Marvel's house style.

The problem is that the confinement rarely feels genuine, as precious few undead react to the rumors of a hidden group of extinct humans hiding in New York's ruins. While producing a humor book starring an indestructible mercenary, perhaps it's to be understood why the creators focused on the more oddball details of the scenario, but there are still some of the glaring flaws. For instance, of the super villains encountered, only a rare few are properly identified, sporting fairly uniform evil hungry zombies personalities. For the benefit of the new reader, their powers are clearly established through the action sequences, but for the reasons already stated, "Merc with a mouth"'s second arc remains firmly aimed at longtime fans of Marvel and their superhero properties.

Of the villains involved, the Absorbing man gets most space, and his conflict with Deadpool and the survivors gathered around him feels genuine, nicely developed, and eventually pays off in a hilarious way that is definitely the book's high point. Commendably, Gischler and Dazo realize that their new characters probably don't have a lot of life beyond this story, and use this to interject drama in the scenario.

To be fair, some of the twists are downright juvenile, even by the standards of the protagonist. And while the character subplots fare somewhat better, some of the plot twists and humor reveal a focus on teenage audience, who would be most likely to sympathize with Deadpool praising of gaming consoles, and constant focus on fast food and rash interactions with women. It goes without saying that the love triangle he so stubbornly tries to create (mirroring nothing less than Archie comics) consists of unusually proportioned Betty and Veronica behaving in slightly illogical ways, but Gischler still injects them with enough personality that their motivations feel adequate considering the post apocalyptic zombie surroundings.

At least horribly scarred Deadpool's fantasies occur in a comedy book, with his bravado and flamboyancy being part of the character's anti-hero charm. Of the supporting cast carried over from the previous story arc, the writer finds roles for all of them, even Bill, agent of AIM, a wholly superficial character ends up with a plot-convenient role of being capable of driving various vehicles the protagonist forces him to use to help their escape. Dr. Betty on the other hand, remains perhaps the best developed character in the book, although Dazo does end up on settling her with a very generic outfit for the final part of the story. With the addition of professor Veronica as a more approachable target for Deadpool, the creators largely avoid making her play the constant oversexed teasing role she had in the previous six issues.

As for the two AIM agents, their role finishes off the final parts of Deadpool's stay in the Marvel zombies' universe, but the diminishing focus renders them a momentary threat at best, eventually turning into nothing more than the targets for a couple of easy jokes. Unforunately, with the ultimate fate of Deadpool and his animated head companion's return to regular reality already revealed in "Deadpool corps", the 32-page finale is sapped of some of both drama and momentum. The "Headpool"'s complicated plan, set up in a very clumsy previous sequence, takes center stage, but Gischler is careful to include the resolution of the tension between the protagonist dr. Betty in tow with the time traveling mechanics.

Thus, at least some of the titles' 13 issues have impact before colliding with an ending that has already been revealed in the "Prelude to Deadpool corps". Thus, the discussion of Deadpool's second ongoing title ending is once again tied with it's follow-up. Marvel's decision for such a radical change of direction seems to make sense once the reader has been privy to Gishler's first two stories in "Merc with a mouth". The relentless tying in to "Marvel zombies 3" does nothing so much as belabor the final issue with a tedious scenario, which isn't helped by Dazo's inability to illustrate the whole episode. Hence parts of it's 32 pages featuring fill-ins by Matteo Scalera and, once again Kyle Baker (this time without the in-story reason for the varying styles) feeling as simply Marvel doing all it can to finally complete the project it has commited to a little more than a year ago.

And despite the ludicrous premise of featuring a cast of four different versions of Deadpool uniting to combat cosmic threats, it still feels a step up from "Merc with a mouth", that never really developed beyond it's creators trying to put their own spin on what Daniel Way has been doing since reintroducing the character. And it's not that the duo have felt redundant by using the tropes the writer introduced in the "Wolverine: origins" arc, like dual narration and Pool-o-vision, it's just that the book felt by covering much of the same ground, despite the different supporting cast and the Marvel zombies connection. Time will tell how the market will react to both Gischler's work on "Deadpool corps" and the overall, rapidly expanding line of Deadpool books, but for now, it's safe to say that his and Dazo's work feels complete, despite the number of other books it connects to. "Merc with a mouth" seemed like trying to offer an alternative to the creative vision behind the core Deadpool title, before actually seeing the creators responsible finish their commitment to the book.

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