Where do you begin with an influential collection of issues that established the Deadpool that would go onto being the international star we all know today? While writers have come along in recent decades to give the fourth wall-breaking antihero voice, Joe Kelly is the man responsible for establishing the tropes all would adopt going forward. Reading these issues from 1998 is a wonderful blast from the past, and if you are at all interested in Deadpool, this collection is necessary reading to see just how sweeping Kelly’s approach to the character was when this was initially released.
Giving a summary of the individual events present in these issues would likely miss the point; Wade confronts Bullseye, is helped by X-Force alum Siryn, is targeted by Death (the physical manifestation) and finds himself having to avert a global interplanetary extinction. You know, just the kind of adventures you expect to find a foul-mouthed, nonsensical mercenary tasked with. What’s most striking about these issues is just how removed they are from the archetype established in the late days of Rob Liefeld’s New Mutants run. Deadpool found popularity, even in his early incarnation, but he was simply a Deadshot rip-off reskinned for the X-books. Kelly, understanding the limited potential of yet another Wolverine-like character in the Marvel Universe, took the source material and threw it into a rib-tickling blender. What you see present in these issues (#12-20, and some odds and ends from the late ’90s era) is the template that all future Deadpool arcs would build on.
How do these issues stand up to modern scrutiny? Quite well, actually — Kelly’s writing is sharp and bouncy, with clever narrative elements and succinct dialogue. Surprisingly, these Deadpool adventures, while ridiculous in their premise, are rather grounded in superhero escapades. These really feel like Kelly pushing a Marvel superhero book as far as they would allow in the ’90s, and there are plenty of traditional mainstream comic elements from its day. There are handful of artists contributing to these issues (Pete Woods, Walter McDaniel, Steve Harris, and Shannon Denton handling a majority of the pencil work), and all of them do solid work here. The art is typical superhero work from the late ’90s, something I am fond of due to my nostalgia from reading these books in high school. They look great, but they don’t jell with my current notion of Deadpool and the outlandish direction the character would delve in the years to follow this series. Nonetheless, the art is competent and consistent, even with the number of artists involved throughout.
What makes this trade a truly wonderful assemblage is the inclusions of Baby’s First Deadpool Book and the Encyclopedia Deadpoolica. These resources provide a wealth of comical information that I simply must have missed when they were published back in the day and provide insight into how important this character was to Kelly and the various creators working on the book. I found myself laughing at some of the notes, as they truly captured the soul and tenor of the main book’s bravura.
Hardcore Deadpool fans don’t need to be told to pick up Kelly’s seminal run on the book, but for newer fans of the character, these issues afford an exceptional glimpse into the character’s growth. The collection is well printed, includes a wealth of supplementary material, and is a pleasantly gratifying read. There have been better Deadpool stories, but there hasn’t been more affection afforded to the character than what you find in this collection.
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