Monday, November 23, 2009

Comic Book Review:
Cable & Deadpool by Fabian Nicieza, et al.

Writer Fabian Nicieza's Cable & Deadpool is a 50 issue 'buddy-movie' starring the Marvel Universe's equivalents of Jesus Christ and Bugs Bunny. It promised loose laughs and even looser sci-fi concepts, yet somehow managed to morph into an affecting ode to fractured friendships and surrogate families.

The plot -- as it was initially pitched -- was simple. Well, sorta. Fast-talking killer-for-hire Deadpool (a.k.a. 'the merc with the mouth') is paired up with time-traveling, soldier from the future, Cable (a.k.a. the son of the X-Men's Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey). Deadpool wants money. Cable wants to provide the preventative measures required to stop Earth from becoming a war-torn wasteland. You know, your basic run-of-the-mill comedy of opposites with minor Messianic undertones.

Story lines run the gamut, going from blue-skinned cults to hard boiled detective stories to the at-least-it's-dealt-with-quickly Civil War crossover, all while supporting an over-arching plot line partially lifted from the end of Alan Moore's/beginning of Neil Gaiman's run on Miracleman: Cable's creation of island utopia via his many mutant abilities. This is the 'real' story here, the one that you'll find blurbed on the back of the trade paperbacks and in the lead paragraph of the title's Wikipedia entry. And for good reason -- it's good! Nicieza intelligently explores the pros and cons of living under the gentle fist of an all-powerful peacekeeper, all the while using Deadpool's batsh*t crazy blood-lust (and Bea Arthur-inspired loin-lust) as the fail-safe for keeping things unpretentious and unpredictable.

Up to issue 42, I was really enjoying the series. The action was exciting, the dialogue irreverent, and the art (almost always) enjoyable. But as a perpetual pruner of my comics collection, I had no intention of holding onto these books when I was done. 'Out with the old, in with expensive, hardcover, classic comics re-prints,' as they say. It's not that there was anything particularly wrong with the series, it's just that, up til that point, there was nothing especially right. Wait, let me re-phrase that. There was a lot 'right.' The jokes alone were worth the price of admission. It's just that nothing had hit me in such a way that I thought, 'You know, I could come back to these books year after year and always find myself emotionally engaged in more ways than giggles.' As corny as it sounds, I want the art I keep around me to be the art that adds to me, that betters me, that reminds me of ideas, ideals and philosophies that I'm prone to lose sight of during my day-to-day living. And up to issue 42, Cable & Deadpool had yet to offer anything in the way of this awkwardly worded request.

Or so I thought.

Here's where I've gotta offer up one of those annoying, all-caps SPOILER ALERT!s. I mean, if you scan the titles of the trade paperbacks, this spoilerific plot point is actually a title-changing event, but some folks are sensitive to this sort of thing. You want a hint? The book goes from being called Cable & Deadpool to Deadpool vs. The Marvel Universe. Did you see what just happened there? SPOILER ALERT! (again!) Cable died. Yes, on the next-to-the-last page of issue 42, Cable sacrifices himself while his Nantucket-like nirvana explodes in a fiery, Photoshop-assisted explosion. From that point on, for the last eight issues of the series, Deadpool is bounced from one guest star to another in a style reminiscent of Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. In most corporate comics, this is usually the 'jump the shark' moment, the first glimpse of the shadow of death for any teetering title. Yet somehow (no, not "somehow" -- because of the authorial ingenuity of Fabian Niciez!) it's this extended dying breath of the soon-to-be-canceled comic where things really come together. Having lost the only character in the Marvel Universe who truly believes in him, Deadpool begins to begrudgingly surround himself with a new cast of surrogate sidekicks. They're a motley band of has-beens (Sandi, Outlaw, Agent X) and never-weres (the brilliantly conceived Bob, Agent of Hydra) who, as the last few issues unfold, become a sort of 'workplace family' for our fast-talking antihero. It's this last bit of character building that adds an unexpected gravitas to the series as whole. All of the wacky adventures, pseudo-science, and Christ-like posturing was fun while it lasted, but it's Cable and Deadpool's platonic partnership that now resonates most with the reader. After all, it's only because of the unconditional love and devotion that Cable had shown the oft-undeserving Deadpool that Deadpool is now able to open himself up similarly to others. (Well, he might've been open to a little sumthin'-sumthin' with the aforementioned Bea Arthur, but that was about it.) This is an obvious insight, I know, but it's also one that is nice to have reiterated from time to time. It's especially nice when it's done using a clinically insane comic book character who breaks the fourth wall while wearing boxer shorts emblazoned with his own iconic emblem.

At least, it was for me. And will be again. Cuz I'm hanging on to these.