‘You Are Deadpool’ a bizarre synthesis of two niche genres — and a rousing success
By Don Alsafi. As a character, Deadpool can be a lot to take. His brand of outrageously over-the-top humor works for some, but others can find his excessive goofiness a bit much. That works incredibly well in the space of a two-hour movie, but it can be somewhat more than mass audiences want to read every month. He’s polarizing in much the same way as 1990s Jim Carrey, and for the same reason: For as many people who loved his over-exaggerated zaniness, there seemed just as many who found it off-putting. (The 50-issue run of Cable & Deadpool circumvented this by pairing him with Marvel’s most stoic mutant, which not only presented Cable as the constant straight man to Deadpool’s humor, but kept the series from being a string of nonstop, pointless jokes.)
And yet it can’t be denied that Wade Wilson’s off-the-wall antics, and his tendency to break the fourth wall, positions him as the most appropriate character for some of the weirder outings that creators may come up with – like when Cullen Bunn followed up his Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe miniseries with the conceptually bonkers Deadpool Killustrated, in which the madcap mercenary apparently slaughters his way through a variety of beloved literary characters like Moby Dick, Tom Sawyer and Beowulf. Or, say, when someone comes up with the idea of presenting a Marvel Comics version of an interactive gamebook — the sort first popularized in the 1980s.
Regardless of whether you love Deadpool or hate him…? In the right hands, such a nutty premise could be nothing short of genius.
Written by Al Ewing.
Art by Salva Espin and Paco Diaz.
Colors by Guru-eFX.
Letters by VC’s Joe Sabino.
Innovative and inventive. You Are Deadpool is penned by recent Avengers scribe Al Ewing. Although the Choose Your Own Adventure line was the interactive book series that attained the highest popularity in the US, the two gamebook series which sold the most on a global scale were the Fighting Fantasy line and Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf, both of which sprung out of the UK. To venture that the British-born Al Ewing had more than a passing familiarity with these books as a youth would not be too crazy of a guess.
Of course, one of the signs of a good comics writer is in not assuming your audience is intimately familiar with the source material – or, in this case, the tropes and mechanics of this peculiar format. To that end, issue #1 starts out with Deadpool taking the reader through a 5-page tutorial, teaching you such basics as following the branching choices which lead to new pages as directed, rather than reading all the panels sequentially as you would with any other comic.
There’s also a surprisingly innovative approach to inventory puzzles, where Deadpool can pick up any three items “smaller than a breadbox” which appear on panel, leading the reader to pay closer attention to the art than they normally might. And finally, certain outcomes may increase Deadpool’s “Badness” and “Sadness” scores, the results of which instruct you at the comic’s end toward which of the following issues to proceed onto next. (This 5-issue miniseries comes out weekly.) That’s right – even the various issues can be read out of order!
Roll a 6 to go CRAZY! Deadpool’s mission in issue #1 is to steal a Time-Travel Helmet for Zarrko the Tomorrow Man. It’s fairly straightforward and accomplished without too much fuss – which is as you might expect for the introductory issue of such an offbeat format. (Deadpool’s internal commentary on obtaining the goal so surprisingly quick: “Then again, we’ve only got twenty pages and we had that whole tutorial. Whaddya gonna do?“)
If you end the first issue with your Badness and Sadness scores at equal amounts, however, the time-travel MacGuffin jumps Deadpool to issue #2, taking place in 1961 – and this is when things get weird. Ewing calls this their “MAXIMUM REPLAYABILITY issue”, as it features four completely independent main paths to the ending. Two of them intersect with the origins of the Fantastic Four and the Hulk, while the other two involve putting on an art show at a local gallery, or attending a beatnik poetry slam hosted by occasional 1960s X-Men character, Bernard the Poet. Attempting this particular bit of performance art involves, ludicrously enough, a dice-rolling poetry mini-game! Which is, inarguably, kind of bananas.
Speaking of which: You’ll need a pair of dice! Not only for the occasional mini-game but because, after all, Wade Wilson is a mercenary prone to violence at the drop of a hat. Thus, at various points readers may find themselves fighting against a pair of guards, an army of lawyers, a very angry Hulk, or comics writer Kieron Gillen wielding a baguette.
Notably greater than the sum of its parts. Al Ewing’s first professional comics work was for UK mag 2000 AD, and in recent years he’s been impressing readers with his writing at Marvel. (Next month, he and artist Joe Bennett are launching The Immortal Hulk, a horror-tinged take more in line with Lee & Kirby’s original approach.) And yet even with this highly unusual format, Ewing shows that he knows his stuff. He avoids the pitfalls commonly made when writers attempt interactive fiction for the first time, and even gamebook aficionados may be surprised to see him pushing the envelope of the form in ways not usually attempted.
And if you’re more of a Deadpool fan than a gamebook fan? Ewing’s got you covered there too. Deadpool’s ridiculous and neverending banter is turned up to 11, with the interactive format lending itself surprisingly well to multiple laugh-out-loud moments per issue. And, slyly, Ewing knows that if you were into both comics and gamebooks in the 1980s, you were probably into other geeky endeavors too – and thus peppers in humorous references to old-school computer games like The Secret of Monkey Island and the Questprobe line, which starred the Hulk, Spider-Man and more.
Most impressively, Ewing and the artists (Salva Espin for issue #1; Paco Diaz on #2) work wonders in balancing the needs of the gamebook with the needs of a comic book. Sometimes a single panel will present both the situation and a decision point; at other times, several panels in a row are needed to portray the scene in question – because that’s how sequential art works! It’s an interesting push-and-pull between the very different requirements of the two formats being smooshed together, but they easily pull it off.
Colorist Guru-eFX earns special commendation, by the way, for his comic book depiction of 1961 in issue #2. Much as indie cartoonist Ed Piskor did in the pages of X-Men: Grand Design, Guru-eFX eschews modern comic book coloring in favor of using classic coloring Ben-Day dots (or a reasonable facsimile of the same). It’s an inspired choice, without which the Silver Age look wouldn’t be nearly as effective.
An accomplished and daring triumph. You Are Deadpool isn’t the first comic book to employ a choose-your-own-something format. Perhaps the most ambitious attempt in recent years was Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, while one of the more bizarre instances ever seen was the 1987 political satire You Are Maggie Thatcher, by British comics creators Pat Mills and Hunt Emerson. But by and large, the times when these two separate (and decidedly niche) geek genres have been combined into one have been few and far between.
And yet this bizarre experiment is absolutely an unqualified success – both as a Deadpool comic, and as a gamebook. It attempts things not generally done by either medium on their own, and the resulting hybrid is far more entertaining, and ridiculous, than it has any right to be. There’s clearly untapped gold to be mined here, so: Marvel? Can we have some more?
You Are Deadpool is the most purely fun comic-reading experience you can have, and you owe it to yourself to pick it up. Doing otherwise? That’s the straight path to a bad ending.
9 out of 10
Editor’s note: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this just from reading this review, but Don is a huge gamebook fan. In fact, he draws up maps of every gamebook he’s ever read, including ‘You Are Deadpool’ #1 and #2. He shared these maps with me when he posted his copy, and they were too awesome not to share with you now. So here they are, with a bit of commentary from Don himself.
“On a nuts & bolts level, I think it’s interesting how the mapping clearly visually shows the relative straightforwardness of [issue] #1, and the opposite of that in #2.”