The Comic Book Club: “Deadpool” and “Daredevil: Black and White”

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up talking about what we picked up. This week, Douglas Wolk, Evan Narcisse, Mike Williams and Graeme McMillan discuss Deadpool #1000 and Daredevil: Black and White.

DOUGLAS: I confess that I don’t entirely understand why Deadpool’s sizeable cult thinks he’s special enough to support the like 14 ongoing series he’s got right now. I used to like him in moderation, back when the premise of the series was that he was the character who got stuck in standard Marvel settings and plots and absolutely refused to take them seriously. (This was otherwise known as “the period when Joe Kelly was writing Deadpool.” Kelly’s Deadpool #11–the one where he simply drops Deadpool and Blind Alfred into Amazing Spider-Man #47 and lets them rampage around Lee and Romita’s story–is still one of the funniest comics ever.)

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What’s odd about the current Deadpool glut is that almost everyone who’s using him now is treating him as an excuse to do Not Brand Ecch–everything has to be silly all the time–which doesn’t let Deadpool pop out and actually be funny. The only one of the eleven (!) stories in Deadpool #1000 that plays it more or less straight aside from Deadpool’s material is Howard Chaykin’s piece, which is so intensely Chaykin-y I almost suspect he Photoshopped Deadpool into some alternate pages from Dominic Fortune. I mean, it’s set at a bar mitzvah. But that’s also why it’s one of the few stories I liked here; too many of them strain really hard to be wacky and end up somewhere between “not funny” and “really unfunny.” (Okay, I laughed at the Blackest Night parody’s bit about how “the most feared color of the corps is ‘beret,’ which represents the emotion of ‘quiet.'”)

MIKE: I had to laugh at the conveyor belt of Double Double Animal Style In ‘n’ Out burgers. As a New Yorker, I’ve been known to plan trips to the West Coast around visiting a branch of that burger empire.

I agree with you completely about Deadpool. He was a personal favorite of mine until about two or three years ago. When he was courting Siryn and wrestling with inner demons to become a “good” guy was when he was at his best. When he took on the Taskmaster at the villains’ own mercenary school is still my favorite issue of Deadpool. He was more Joker and less Looney Toons. He was always hyper-violent, but in a more terrifying way.

DOUGLAS: The alt-cartoonists’ pieces are weird–Peter Bagge’s two-pager is the most phoned-in thing I’ve ever seen him do. (Somehow I can’t imagine that he’s had a Deadpool story burning inside him for years.) And Michael Kupperman’s story is funny, but it’s also exactly the same gag he did with Dick Tracy’s “face” villains in Tales Designed to Thrizzle.

GRAEME: Yeah, I’m with you on the weakness of the Bagge story. It was as if someone else was trying to ape Bagge badly. Ripping himself off or not, the Kupperman story was still the only thing in the issue that actually worked for me. Everything else just felt very… I don’t know, not-for-me. There’s a strange thing about Deadpool, especially Deadpool as he’s portrayed now, where it’s a very offputting “I AM FUNNY AND WACKY DAMMIT LAUGH” attitude that feels too needy, and also not funny enough to earn the anger. Too much of this issue felt entirely phoned in and poking fun at too-obvious targets.

EVAN: Agreed, Graeme, and the not-for-me-ness of it made me wonder who Deadpool’s target audience is. 12-year-old boys? Well, it’s kinda violent and trashy for them. And the humor is just too heavy-handed to resonate. I remember reading superhero gag comics as a kid and appreciating some subtlety, even when I didn’t get the joke.

GRAEME: Also, as someone who doesn’t really read Deadpool often enough to know this, what’s with the different font captions? Is he a schizophrenic narrator or something?

DOUGLAS: Yeah, basically–I gather that he’s got a bunch of voices in his head that perpetually argue with each other.

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I also feel kind of churlish complaining about a five-dollar, 104-page comic, but dammit, it would’ve been nice if the last quarter of it were something more substantial than reprints of Deadpool-variant covers.

MIKE: Seriously, who is demanding cover reprints in milestone issues? This is even more egregious than the second half of Batman #700. (Having said that, I would pay cash money for a book of Adi Granov covers.)

I did not enjoy the majority of this issue. I don’t know what I want out of Deadpool anymore, but it’s not this.

GRAEME: The cover reprints, more than anything, spoke to me of “someone didn’t get their story done in time.” It felt ridiculously like last-minute filler; I would like to think that, if it was planned, someone would’ve suggested some kind of commentary or something to make it more interesting.

DOUGLAS: On to Daredevil: Black and White. I also don’t entirely understand the impulse behind publishing these pulpy b/w one-shots with filler-y comics stories and fake-aged covers and a prose story in each one. Does what Marvel saves on printing costs (for a vague impression of their old overstuffed black-and-white magazines) make up for what can’t be particularly significant interest in the scaled-down version of the format?

MIKE: The impulse is just to get more Daredevil on the racks while Shadowland is in full swing, no? Same reason there was a miserable Shadowland: Bullseye book out this week.

GRAEME: Is Shadowland really enough of even a faux hit for this? I just assumed it was because DD was enough of a ground-level character to earn one of these B&W specials, which have for the most part been for the less superhero-y superheroes (Shang-Chi, Doctor Strange, Hulk).

MIKE: Outside of Doomwar, it’s the only ‘event’ that Marvel really has going right now. It’s the Heroic Age!

DOUGLAS: I was interested in this one because it was advertised as having a story by Ann Nocenti and David Aja, and the last Daredevil story they did together was the amazing “3 Jacks” back in Daredevil #500. (Nocenti, for those of you who don’t know her, wrote a very interesting four-and-a-half-year run on Daredevil back in the ’80s and early ’90s.)

Anyway, the Nocenti/Aja piece turns out to be the prose story-plus-spot-illustrations that takes up the final four pages of this issue; I’d been hoping for some more actual comics from them, but it’s a worthwhile if minor experiment. (I particularly like the free-associative blur of words in the fight-scene paragraph.)

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As for the rest of the issue… I’ve read enough superhero comics that if my interest in a particular story’s form or content is minimal but there’s some aspect that’s particularly well-done in it I can just concentrate on getting enjoyment out of that, so I’ll just note that Jason Latour’s artwork on the lead story makes very nice use of zip-a-tone effects, and that it’s fun to see yet another talented young artist taking his cues from ’80s-era Mazzucchelli (he talks about Mazzucchelli here), and that I love the joke of the painting we see Matt looking at in an art gallery. (Although “Matt has a chance to get his sight back but he has to make the decision right away” is a Mort Weisinger-level corny plot.) I was not able to make any such allowances for the Kingpin short story.

MIKE: This What If… story feels like it takes place during Matt’s early career as a vigilante. I feel like it’s a non-specific time that many creators like to go to with Matt (although it’s usually in the yellow costume). I don’t know if it’s nostalgia, or just a disdain for the general angst spiral Daredevil has been riding for the last 20 years. At one point in this book he’s shaking hands with a cop. Just your friendly neighborhood Daredevil.

GRAEME: I really hope that there is disdain for the general angst spiral that Daredevil’s been stuck in since, what, Frank Miller? If there’s one character who seems completely stuck in the same storyline all the time, it’s Daredevil. I can’t get my head around the fact that so many well-respected storylines have pretty much come from the same plot of “Things go really bad for Matt Murdock, he’s pushed to his limits” all the time. (Yes, internet, this means that I wasn’t a big fan of the Bendis/Maleev run. Sorry.)

This special was… okay? I guess? It felt entirely weightless, as much as I liked both the Milligan/LaTour piece – which looked spectacular – and the Nocenti short story. I’m not excited enough by the character to care that much about this book, to be honest. Bits of it were pretty, but nothing in it really stood out, or made me want to read any more Daredevil stories. It felt very insular.

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EVAN: The problem I had with both this week’s books was one of contrast. If you don’t get enough distance between the characters’ behaviors and the worlds they operate in, everything seems kinda flat. The Daredevil Black and White stories did a little bit of that, but mostly they were all about angst.

The Jason Latour piece was a big exception, but I have a special place in my heart for Daredevil #223, the best “Matt Murdock gets his sight back” story ever. It’s a great example of that contrast thing, too. Even though there’s all this existential grim stuff going on, there’s a big chunk of the book that just about Matt and then-girlfriend Glorianna O’Breen just enjoying New York City. So, when the inevitable happens, it means something. And to top it all off, this was a weak tie-in to Secret Wars II, but it isn’t weightless in the way that Graeme pegged the B&W stories.

The angst spiral is part of the problem. There’s gotta be another way to go with Matt Murdock. The self-destructive Catholic guilt stuff can be part of his behavior, but shouldn’t be all of it.

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