For almost a decade following his introduction in New Mutants #98, Deadpool was relegated to cameos and miniseries engagements. He was gaining popularity and had been put through some compelling paces by a cross-section of early-’90s X-book creators, but he had yet to be taken on by any of the creators who would be landmarks in his development. Creators had at most four issues in which to try to explore the character.
This meant that when it came time for the character to graduate to his own ongoing series, there were some implicit problems, not the least of which being that the character’s primary defining characteristic (beyond the motormouth excesses of dialogue) was that he was mysterious. Very little had been established about his origins, his time off-duty, or the corner of the Marvel Universe in which he dwelled — and what had been established either contradicted itself or relied too heavily on the underlying plots of X-Force.
When it came to giving the character his first ongoing, a lot of his mystery would have to be dispelled. His grim ‘lone wolf’ persona, not exactly conducive to a dynamic or long-running narrative, would have to be resolved. The character would have to develop motivations beyond the X-Universe, and that motivation couldn’t simply be money — nor could the book embrace the character’s true homicidal glee.
Writer Joe Kelly became the first writer to spend more than four issues on the character — he wrote 33 issues of the ongoing, totaling nearly half of the series’ run. Under his pen, the character found vaguely heroic motivations, a sometimes-baffling supporting cast, and a place of business.
In the first nine issues of the series (along with a Daredevil crossover annual and the ‘minus 1’ flashback issue), collected in Deadpool Epic Collection: Mission Improbable, Kelly leans hard into a tongue-in-cheek slapstick, making Deadpool’s world as wacky as he was himself. His hangout-cum-workplace, Hell House, is the murder version of the sitcom Taxi, wherein a goofy cast of super-powered and themed killers take jobs from a Danny DeVito-statured dispatcher. At home, ‘Pool inexplicably keeps an old blind woman prisoner, “humorously” torturing her with violent pranks. The energy is manic, and sometimes impossible to follow — in Kelly’s own words, this was Deadpool as Bugs Bunny, and issues carry that ‘anvil to the head’ mentality to its sometimes-exhausting limit.
Most of the ongoing issues are illustrated by Ed McGuiness, whose bulky forms are so unique and bombastic that the book feels heavy in your hands — no other book looked like this in 1997, and McGuiness was allowed freedom to stretch his style as it developed, adding rubbery cartooning to his muscles-and-guns world, allowing the manic ethos of the book to temper the action.
Deadpool has growing pains as he rises from murderer to hero, including miserable toxicity; it feels like most of his gags involve stalking, harassing, or otherwise debasing the few female characters in the book. That non-murdery motivation often tends towards awkward hormonal desperation. Deadpool reads like a proto-men’s rights activist, a violent criminal driven by an incel frustration. It’s so bad that Kelly spends a long paragraph of his introduction to this volume apologizing for it (Joe: I see you, and I appreciate you).
The jokes barely escape this male-gazey innuendo, though occasionally there will be a quiet side gag of solid absurdism. A litany of then-topical pop culture references ape a sort of Animaniacs tonality, wherein the sheer mention of a public figure becomes its own punchline. By the nature of the character, this sense of humor permeates the page, overshadowing all the super-powered action as the character endlessly rambles; in one issue, Deadpool is put in a situation where he could literally talk himself to death, and very nearly does.
This is to say that it’s a book that reads very clearly as being written by a young and inexperienced writer—it is one of Kelly’s first assignments in comics; a lot of these problems, like Deadpool’s growing pains, dissipate in time.
Uneven but enthusiastic, Mission Improbable captures both creators and characters in development. Though a lot of the establishing work here (and nearly all of the supporting cast) hasn’t survived to contemporary Deadpool stories, Kelly’s run remains impactful and influential, a landmark before his fourth-wall breakthrough and eventual ubiquity.
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