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Mark Waid, Ian Churchill and Ken Lashley’s Deadpool – Sins of the Past (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s interesting to try to chart the meteoric rise of Deadpool. Over the past decade, Deadpool has emerged as one of Marvel’s most popular comic book characters. He features in various miniseries and variant covers, populated quite a few books from month-to-month. While his exposure hasn’t quite reached the same level as that of Spider-Man or Wolverine, Deadpool is easily one of the most frequently-appearing characters in Marvel Comics.

It is strange to think that he is a relatively young character, originating in Rob Liefeld’s New Mutants shortly before it became X-Force. First appearing in February 1991, Rob Liefeld created Deadpool as a decidedly nineties character – “the merc with the mouth”,  he felt like a conscious composite of Spider-Man with more outrageous villains (or anti-heroes) like Deathstroke. Indeed, the similarity is something of a cheesy joke. Where might one practise their Deathstroke? In the Deadpool, of course.

Crossing swords...

Crossing swords…

Liefeld created a cheesy and hyperactive foe for his mutant characters, allowing the character all manner of cheesy and awkward one-liners. However, that version of Deadpool is almost unrecognisable when compared to the character as he exists today. The modern version of Deadpool is a character aware of his own fictional nature, with dialogue balloons painted yellow to distinguish him from the less self-aware characters around him.

Today’s Deadpool is more of a comedy force of nature than a serious anti-hero, a character basking in the absurd rather than trying to appear badass. It’s interesting to wonder how that character transformed so radically (and so thoroughly). Certainly, his first solo miniseries seems to occupy the strange space between Rob Liefeld’s half-serious mercenary psychopath and Joe Kelly’s comic book comic. While still a little too steeped in nineties aesthetic for its own good, Mark Waid’s Deadpool is a small step in that direction.

Well, at least he knows how to make an entrance...

Well, at least he knows how to make an entrance…

It’s hard to know how seriously we are meant to take Mark Waid’s four-issue Sins of the Past miniseries. The comic is dripping with all the excesses of the nineties. There is lots of violence and brutality, plenty of large guns, wanton destruction, obscene postures and macho posturing, and a plot that only makes sense if you try not to think about it too much. Mark Waid might be having a great deal of fun at the expense of nineties comic book trends, but it’s also quite possible that he’s simply playing along.

After all, this is the comic book miniseries that introduces the character that created Deadpool as part of the “Weapon X” programme. The character is named – appropriately enough – Doctor Killebrew. This seems like a play on the ridiculously radical names for comic book characters in the nineties – the tendency to stick “kill” or “death” or “gore” in a name and assume that it was badass. (Logically, the most nineties name imaginable would be “Doctor Killdeathgore.”)

Deadpool on ice: coming soon from Disney!

Deadpool on ice: coming soon from Disney!

At the same time, Waid might also be including the name as a reference to baseball player Harmon Killebrow, picking a name that sounds very nineties but is also associate with a wholseome past time like baseball. Indeed, Waid seems to have a bit of a fondness for baseball – writing stories featuring Doctor Strange and Impulse based around baseball games – so the idea of a humourous (and perhaps subversive) shout-out is not entirely implausible.

However, whatever humour exists in Sins of the Past either stems from Deadpools own wise-cracks or seems to exist subversively woven into the story. It’s quite possible to read Sins of the Past as a bog-standard nineties action adventure, complete with all the stock quotes. There are mercenaries and foreign agencies and jailbreaks and mad scientists; along with explosions and quips and lots of muscles. Waid is teamed with artists Ian Churchill and Ken Lashley, both of whom illustrate the story in a decidedly nineties style.

Deadpool team-up!

Deadpool team-up!

There’s certainly no irony to the artwork. In many respects, Sins of the Past feels like an example of the worst tendencies in nineties comic book artwork. There are lots of ridiculous poses and lovingly-rendered weapons, but very little sense of pacing or space. for example, the climax of the second issues has Deadpool walking into an ambush with an old associate. When Peyer makes the obligatory ultimatum, Deadpool replies with the stock response, “You and what army?”

The closing panel should be of Peyer’s impressive and awe-inspiring back-up, putting Deadpool in his place. Instead, it seems like there’s just one guy with a guy standing on the edge of the panel. If it weren’t for the fact that the set-up line is a cliché and the cliffhanger has to end with Deadpool in trouble, it would be quite difficult to discern what exactly was going on. It is, visually speaking, a mess.

Drinking it in...

Drinking it in…

The most interesting plot point in Sins of the Past actually has little to do with Deadpool himself. Instead, it has to do with the villains of the piece, Juggernaut and Black Tom Cassidy. Even Chris Claremont’s early Uncanny X-Men hinted at the idea that the two enjoyed a close relationship – much closer (and friendlier) than the standard super-villain team-up. Sins of the Past runs the subtext of the relationship between Juggernaut and Cassidy, contextualising it for the nineties.

The plot of Sins of the Past has the Juggernaut breaking Black Tom Cassidy out of prison. However, Cassidy is suffering from a vicious (and almost incurable) ailment. Juggernaut doesn’t just break Cassidy out of prison; he kidnaps a doctor to treat him. He does whatever is necessary to help Cassidy get better. He waits patiently by the bedside. When Cassidy has to be returned to prison for treatment at the climax of the story, Juggernaut vows to wait until he has recovered and then to break him out again.

Light it up, boys!

Light it up, boys!

Sins of the Past leans quite heavily towards the idea of a romantic relationship between the two characters. While rescuing Cassidy, the Juggernaut seems to cradle him gently. The thought of anybody hurting Cassidy is enough to send the Juggernaut into a rage. “Leave him alone!” he shouts. “If you’ve done anything to him–!” The image of Cassidy being slowly killed by an aggressive illness can’t help but conjure up images of AIDs, which obviously has a great deal of resonance in the gay community.

While this is by no means the first (or even the most explicit) portrayal of a homosexual relationship in Marvel comics, it still stand out in the context of the mid-nineties. For something like this to be portrayed without making a big deal of it is certain commendable. Waid takes care not to play into cliché or stereotype in characterising the duo, and it’s nice how the relationship is just accepted by those around the characters without any real question.

Gotta fly!

Gotta fly!

Mark Waid’s Deadpool is a predictably sweet little comic. Despite all the destruction and posturing, it’s a comic book that ends on the most optimistic note possible. Deadpool refuses to kill Black Tom Cassidy. Cassidy is sent back to prison for treatment, and the Juggernaut stands by him. Deadpool finds another person who can look at his face without recoiling in horror. For a comic about an amoral mercenary populated with guns and pouches, Deadpool is curiously optimistic.

Still, the story of Sins of the Past is worlds apart from the sort of playfully subversive Deadpool comics that would follow. Instead of a crazy character occupying an absurd world, the strongest comedic element of Sins of the Past is Deadpool himself. When Deadpool makes casual reference to a debt that Banshee owes him, it isn’t the set-up to a ridiculous flashback gag. Instead, it’s played straight with gunfire and death threats and secret operations.

A slice of life...

A slice of life…

Still, Waid allows Deadpool to crack wise. Quite a few of his gags feel a bit tired – “how ya been? still beatin’ the wife?” he declares on breaking througha  window to confront a bad guy – but you can see the faintest outline of the screwball character he would become. Indeed, Waid uses the character as a springboard for various Looney Tunes gags. “I shouldn’t have taken that left turn at Albuquerque,” he muses to himself in a risky situation.

Bumping up against the macho physique of the Juggernaut behind him, he reflects, “Funny, I don’t remember there being a wall here…” It’s the kind of delightfully cartoon comedy that feels at odds with the rest of the miniseries – treating Deadpool as an animated hero who has wandered into a world filled with giant muscles and bigger guns. Given that a lot of the later Deadpool comics would play with the idea of the character as a cartoon in the style of the Looney Tunes, it feels like Waid is setting a precedent.

A smashing introduction...

A smashing introduction…

Still, this feels like a rather embryonic take on Deadpool. He isn’t yet the character he would become. His speech bubbles are not yet entirely yellow – merely encircled by yellow. It seems like the character is still simply cracking jokes, instead of living them. Sins of the Past is a pretty big step for Deadpool – demonstrating that the character can carry his own book and that he can make comedy work within the sensibilities of a nineties comic. However, it still feels like an early step towards what he might become.

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3 Responses

  1. Great Blog Interesting

  2. I hate Deadpool.

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