Key Question, our new show exclusive to Alpha, follows Marisha and Matt on a train of logic to examine and analyze the hidden meanings in some of the most famous pop-culture figures, all on a quest to discover if pop culture is our salvation or our doom and everything in between. In this week’s episode, they tackle the topic of Deadpool as the Hero of the Internet Age and the nature of subjectivity in interpretation.
Even before the advent of high-speed cable modems, the Merc with a Mouth maintained meta-fiction as a metaphoric mine of mirth. In other words, he poked fun at his readers, and comics as a whole, quite often. And many of the madman’s most memorable moments of meta mutant mayhem are to be found in Joe Kelly’s character-defining run on his series. If you’re intrigued about the more thought-provoking (and laugh-inducing) parts of this particular saga, you’d do well to seek these issues out.
“Gumping” didn’t quite catch on as a term, but DP has a barrel of fun here aping Forest Gump’s trick of inserting himself into archival footage and interacting with historical figures. In this case, it’s Wade intruding into a classic Spider-Man issue–panel for panel–and impersonating Peter Parker during with a run-in with Kraven the Hunter. It’s an experiment in graphic storytelling so bold, it hasn’t really been braved again. In addition to poking holes into Spider-lore, Wade’s romp gets plenty of jollies goofing on how hopelessly dated to the 60s a lot of Silver Age comics are.
Deadpool’s background had been told in fits and starts previously, but the arc that starts with this issue is the first time he gets a proper origin story–and boy, is it bleak. As in, most of the lighter moments revolve around DP’s romance with the personification of Death. In an even nastier flip of Wolverine’s already-nasty origin, Canadian military man and cancer patient Wade Wilson winds up in Department K (which is basically where all of Weapon X’s rejects are dumped). Framed between present-day scenes of the sadistic guard Ajax’s vengeful return and the baffling redemption of Dr. Killbrew (the cruel mad scientist who “made” Deadpool), this extended flashback offers a surprisingly uplifting drama about finding humor in even the direst circumstances.
Doctor Bong is the heavy in this. Yes, that’s the villain’s actual name. Maybe there’s a meta-fictional passing-of-the-torch to be inferred here as DP bumps heads with the arch nemesis of Howard the Dark, one of Marvel’s earlier satirists. Jokes run from the not-so-subtle double entendre of Bong’s name, to the ‘Pool stealing Street Fighter‘s signature Shoruken attack, to running gags about how inappropriate Wolverine’s “friendship” with Kitty Pryde can seem if you really think about it. If DP broke some cracks into the fourth wall before, he flat-out smashes it apart like a barrel dropping from a bonus stage’s warehouse conveyor belt here.
Kelly left the cruelest gut punch for his story arc. After years of trying to renounce his amoral ways and become a proper hero for years, Deadpool discovers his quest for redemption was damned from the beginning when the wife of Wade Wilson steps back into his life. Yes, we refer to Wade Wilson like he’s a separate person, because that’s exactly what’s revealed. “Deadpool” was actually a drifter who murdered Wilson and his wife years ago before assuming the man’s identity. The delusion went so far that DP even thought he was the victim afterward. It’s a story that was probably too extreme to be accepted into Marvel canon so. In that way, it’s comparable to numerous “potential origins” the Joker has deliriously offered throughout his career.
Oddly enough, Christopher Priest’s first issue on the title is the best post-script to Kelly’s run, precisely because half the issue explicitly revolves around how the writer who made the series popular in the first place has left. As in, Deadpool reawakens in some abstract dreamscape, literally dragging along bags labeled “Everything Joe Kelly brought to this comic” and “Everything that made this comic work” which he then dumps into the abyss. A big part of Deadpool’s charm lies in him being this frank with his readers and, in this one, he 100% acknowledges he’s a character controlled by crazy people at keyboards.
Key Question invites fans to dig deep into icons of pop culture and find the hidden meanings their creators intended (or the deeper depths those creators didn’t even realize they were adding)! Tune in every week on Alpha for a mind-expanding, horizon-broadening, brain-blasting head trip into geekdom. Don’t have a subscription? Get a free 60-day trial at projectalpha.com with the code QUESTION!
Image Credits: Marvel