Classic Runs: Joe Kelly on Deadpool

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Posted May 8, 2015 by Richard Langston in Comic Books

Please note this feature contains major spoilers

There are some serious spoilers here guys, so if you’re planning to pick old Deadpool comics, please do so before reading this article.  But if you’re just looking for a brief* recap from the top of my head about why Deadpool is a great character tainted by lesser writers, proceed.

Back in my high school days I had a good friend who I traded comics with fairly often.  One of the comics he gave me was issue one of Deadpool:  The Circle Chase, a comic I was familiar but never read.  I intentionally arrived late for my sixth period English class that day so I could get sent to the cafeteria and read comics. And I fell in love with this character.

Writer Fabian Nicieza took great pains to layer the humor and humanity of the character so while the actions and character were over the top, there was a strong sense of the sadness that drove the character to do the things he does.  This carried over into Joe Kelly’s incredible run on the main Deadpool series, which Kelly wrote for it’s first 30 some issues (and specials) before sadly departing.  The book was an under-dog cult hit when it dropped in the late 90’s.  It’s combination of incredible anime styled artwork combined with the writing made it a must-read every month but it sadly underperformed and spent much of it’s time with the risk of being cancelled.

Deadpool in recent years has become much more popular among comic fans, and they seem to not really expect anything more than violence and wise-cracks (he’s turned into a sociopathic Bugs Bunny) and while there is some of that aspect in Kelly’s run on the comic, it was not the selling point.  Deadpool was a character you could feel for, empathize with, want better things for, but at the end of the day, this was a psychopath. And there was a sadness to the poor guy because of this.

Joe Kelly establishes the pathos of the character as a guy looking to turn a corner. For those unfamiliar, Wade Wilson is a gun for hire who enjoys killing people while taunting them.  He’s a horribly scarred physically and mentally after having tried to survive cancer by entering the Weapon X program (the same program that created Wolverine).  There, Wade was tortured and experimented on with and given a synthetic version of Wolverine’s healing factor that lets him be able to heal from wounds.  It also left him with burn scars from head to toe.

Kelly’s run also gives more insight into the world of Deadpool, including his favorite watering hole, the Hell House.  The Hell House doubles as a front for mercenaries to get their contracts.  And it’s where we meet Deadpool’s main antagonist, T-Ray.  This sets up the major arch of the series.  There is a beef between these two characters that Kelly doesn’t explain right off the bat, but it is seemingly a game of professional one-up man-ship.

The sense of mystery extends into Wades’s personal life as we are also introduced to Wade’s hostage/homekeeper, an old lady named Blind Al.  She is Wade’s conscious, and often helps Wade mend psychological wounds when he needs it.  Even though he is quite horrible to her, she takes it all in stride because she sees something in the poor guy that can be redeemed.  And considering some of the Hell he puts her through, it’s an amazing feat of mental strength she is still there for him.

X-Lady Siren is the love interest, and the “one that got away” in this series.  Wade’s attempts to try to be with her are constantly sabotaged by his deep sense of insecurity.  He wants her to be there for him when things go wrong in her life, but he doesn’t really know how to be there for her when she needs someone; it doesn’t even cross his mind it should be a two-way street.  This leads to her rejecting him, which cuts him rather deeply.

Shortly around this time Typhoid Mary enters the picture and completely destroys any sense of hope Deadpool has.  Typhoid Mary was the love-interest/villain in Daredevil for a number of years.  A fragmented mess, she’s a schizoid with three personalities:  the normal Mary Walker, the assassin Typhoid Mary, and the uber-violent Bloody Mary.  Mary Walker hires Deadpool to kill her in an insane asylum but Typhoid has hired him to break her out.  Deadpool goes with the latter in a misguided attempt to try to redeem her.   Around this time, Deadpool has been selected by an intergalactic group to be the promised messiah who will save the universe; a destiny Deadpool rejects entirely.  Instead he focuses his time on trying to rehabilitate Mary..

Daredevil-Deadpool_Annual_Vol_1_1997The problem?  Deadpool is just as broken as she is, but doesn’t have the foresight to realize that….but she does.  While he’s trying to show her how to be a hero, she’s constantly reminding him that he’s a cold-blooded killer.  This leads to Deadpool having a very strange therapy experiment where he takes Typhoid to go see her old flame Daredevil and resolve some issues in the phenomenal Deadpool/Daredevil ’97 cross-over.  It ends with it all tying in to Frank Miller’s Daredevil:  The Man Without Fear origin story, and Deadpool having done his best to bring peace between the two, by making poor Matt Murdock realize he is responsible for the event that created Typhoid Mary.

In return, Mary tries to help rehab Deadpool in her own way by making him realize who he truly is deep down.  She knows how violent he is and wants to bring that aspect to the surface.  It eventually boils over to where her taunts strike such a chord in Deadpool that he ends up beating the absolute #@?£ out of her in a room full of people he had just saved.  Their horrified reactions tell the story.  Deadpool is shattered, and Typhoid is happy with what she’s done.  They part ways.

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Meanwhile, T-Ray has been “leveling up” in the dark arts to challenge Deadpool to a final battle.  Deadpool has been avoiding this, but with nothing else to do he takes the bait and thus begins the two part “Drowning Man” storyline.  Deadpool tries to go to Siren for help to put his mind back in order, but she’s not going to do that for the jerk, and so Deadpool goes back home to talk to Al, whose left the house with Deadpool’s sidekick/arms dealer Weasel.  Deadpool flips out, locks Blind Al in the torture chamber he’s got in his attic, beats the crap out of Weasel and heads out to fight T-Ray.

deadpool drowning manSiren comes around to him and ends up making love with Deadpool, but it turns out it’s actually Typhoid Mary who used Deadpool’s holographic belt to impersonate his dream girl.  Once again, life has kicked him way down, but he’s still got a little ways to go before he’s finished off.  And so he goes off to take his aggressions out on T-Ray, and T-Ray completely kicks the #@?£ out of Deadpool and leaves Wade dead in the snow.  This leads to the intergalactic Landu, Luckman, and Lake group putting Wade back together in order to fulfill the prophecy of saving the world against the Mithras entity.

And he does.

But then it’s back to Earth and the drama.  Wade was the hero for a time, but now T-Ray is back in the fold, and has used his dark powers of necromancy to bring back to life a mysterious woman named Mercedes whom holds a special place in Deadpool’s life.  The mind games T-Ray plays become more evil, and we finally realize exactly why the problems between the two exist.  T-Ray knows more about Deadpool than Deadpool does about himself.

Years ago, before Deadpool was in the Weapon X program, he was a mad dog killer named Jack.  Completely vicious and on the run, he took refuge in a cabin in the woods where Mercedes and her husband lived an idyllic existence.  Jack took her hostage to hide out, and her husband came home.  Jack accidentally killed poor Mercedes and left her husband for dead.  Jack didn’t mean to kill her, and felt horrible about it.  Deadpool blocked the experience out, and went completely bonkers from the experience, disassociating himself from the events and taking over the identity of the husband whose name was Wade Wilson.

And guess what? That husband, formerly Wade Wilson, became T-Ray.  Holy #@?£!  The story just got turned completely on it’s head; Deadpool has been the actual villain of the story the whole time, and we’ve been rooting for him against T-Ray!  But wait!  Deadpool points out he’s spent the past few years trying to be a better person, whereas T-Ray has become unrepentant and evil, and even went so far as to bring his dead wife back from the dead to help settle a grudge.  Who’s the real bad guy here?  T-Ray at this point has brought back every single person Deadpool has ever killed back from the dead so they can enact revenge on him.

But before they can do all that, The Merc with a Mouth manages to pop off with his version of Macbeth-esque soliloquy:

“Squirrels and coconuts. You spent your whole pathetic life working to whip together this little reunion like a Martha Stewart on acid, figuring to break my spirit… and for a second, it worked… you did it… you had me ready to leap up and impale myself on the nearest circus midget. But then something happened… a synapse fired open and I had what born-agains and alcoholics like to call a ‘moment of clarity’. You ever see that old cartoon with the squirrel who’s trying to eat a coconut? Chuck Jones, I think… this retarded squirrel finds this coconut and thinks that he’s hit the giant acorn motherload- only, he can’t crack the nut. It’s too hard. So he gets a jackhammer, he throws it down stairs, runs it over with a truck… nothing. Finally, he pushes this monster up a gazillion stairs all the way to the top of the Empire State Building, and heaves it. Crack. Slowly, the shell peels back… and you know what’s inside? Another coconut shell. That squirrel is in cartoon hell. That squirrel is me. Every time I get a shot at saving the world, or doing right or waving the truth and justice flag instead of gutting a guy, I do it… and every time, I get the shaft for my trouble. Everytime, there’s another coconut shell I gotta crack. But just like that retarded squirrel… in another month or so, the cartoon reruns, and I try again. You did mess up my head by showing me what a dirtbag I’ve been in my lifetime… but that doesn’t change the fact that I still try to be better. I’m giving it a shot. At the end of the day, I’m winning- and I wouldn’t have things any different. Except for you, Mercedes… and you only… what happened with you… that wasn’t right. For that, I will always be sorry. I will always have a big fat hole in my soul. I know that doesn’t make it any better… but I hope you understand: the me that is me now had to make big mistakes to make small progress. When you’ve lived a life like mine… the small victories are the ones that count. Just remember, when you’re looking back in anger at this moment… you’ve got a second shot here, angel… use it. Don’t end up like T-Ray and me. As for the rest of you…. ahem… I WOULDN’T APOLOGIZE TO YOU IF YOU THREATENED TO CONSIGN ME TO SPEND ALL ETERNITY SMOTHERED IN CHOCOLATE SAUCE AND TRAPPED IN A ROSEANNE BARR/STAR JONES SANDWICH! I’M GLAD YOU’RE DEAD! IF I COULD, I’D KILL YOU AGAIN! THEN I’D GO BACK IN TIME AND IMPREGNATE YOUR MOTHERS TO MAKE SURE YOU WERE BORN… AND I’D KILL YOU AGAIN! SO IF YOU WANT ME TO TURN INTO SOME SORT OF BLEEDING HEART AND WEEP OUT AN APOLOGY, YOU’RE GONNA HAVE TO RIP IT OUT OF ME!!”

And they do end up killing him.

Joe Kelly’s run ends with Deadpool dead, but walking off with Death, who had fallen in love with him over the course of the series.  And that’s the way it should have stayed.  The latter issues were quite terrible with the writers only taking away the one-liners and violence of the character, and completely eschewing the pathos which led Deadpool to do these things to begin with.  They even went so far as to say T-Ray was lying with the backstory, and that Deadpool is the real Wade Wilson, which is a travesty as it was the masterstroke of Joe Kelly’s run.  The crux of the character is that he is a bad guy, but he has a heart and genuinely wants to change.

It is my sincere hope that the upcoming movie with self-proclaimed uber-fan Ryan Reynolds remembers Fabian and Joe’s work on this character, and there is much more than being the crazy guy who eats Mexican food.

*fairly long


About the Author

Richard Langston