It’s been said that editors shouldn’t write. It’s also been said that Deadpool shouldn’t exist, and certainly not with the fourth-wall breaking, violence-glorification with a self-loathing twist characterization that he’s taken on in the 21st century. So what happens when the man who would become Marvel’s most prolific editor, Tom Brevoort, tackles a ’90s, proto-Deadpool combined with a Defenders group unrecognizable to either Silver Age or Netflix fans?
You get 11 batshit insane issues that Marvel has recently packaged in a trade paperback called Deadpool and the Secret Defenders. Is it good?
Deadpool and the Secret Defenders (Marvel Comics)
Let’s get this out of the way–in classic ’90s bait-and-switch fashion, there is very little Deadpool in this book. You got nostalgia-punked! But it’s not hard to understand why Marvel would put two mainstream-buzzworthy words on what would otherwise be a bundled dud of material that is, admittedly, somewhat difficult to obtain. Sure, it’s interesting to see Deadpool before he became a true meta-metahuman, and Luke Cage prior to his epiphany that bald is beautiful, but admit it — what you REALLY want to see is a reprint of Shadowoman’s showdown with animated museum installations. Right???
If you think that does not describe you, consider the old storytelling adage — “Don’t give them what they want; give them what they need.” Following Civil War II, as we prepare for the crushing, likely unintended realism of Secret Empire, the kind of haphazard, carefree nuttiness found in Deadpool and the Secret Defenders might be just what we need right now.
True to the Defenders mantra as a non-team, there are plenty of characters. Mainstays of the decade including USAgent, Deathlok and (Julia Carpenter) Spider-Woman, along with heavy hitters like Hank Pym and Iceman, flit in and out as the story requires, showing off their (almost always well-defined) individual voices, and heading right back to their own books. Why can’t we do this now? Have a place where big name, telegenic heroes bounce off ones that still haven’t left the nerd circle, to introduce them to the world? Doesn’t that make sense?
And shouldn’t the heroes be fighting villains? Isn’t that one of our most common comic complaints–all the hero-on-hero violence? Well, you’ll get some villains here. Glorious, terrible villains. Swarm, the undead Nazi whose flesh is composed entirely of bees, is always a hoot, even if his desire here to forge a “master race” of insects is a little uncomfortably on the nose. But the real star of Deadpool and the Secret Defenders is Slaymaker, a faux-Shakespearean fop who wants to make the world more beautiful by melding different animals together. Like an art school Ed Gein.
Would you believe that character, along with co-writer Mike Kanterovich, is a Tom Brevoort original? Slaymaker, though never seen again, is a true triumph of the creative process–which may have given the team the overconfidence that led to the head-scratching pair called the Cognoscenti. A good story collapsing at the end when a wise-cracking teen and his best head-in-a-jar friend save the day in a schmoz of nonsensical guest stars and accelerated, poorly explained plot development? Now that’s what I call ’90s, baby!
The art provided by pencillers Jerry DeCaire and Bill Wylie, and colorists John Kalisz and Jim Hoston, is also typical of the time. It does transcend in places, though, especially when the Secret Defenders’ pseudo-leader, Dr. Druid, is undergoing mental anguish. The binding of the book is good but don’t expect any extras beyond a few inked, in-progress pages in the back. You came for the camp, and that’s about all you’ll get.
Is It Good?
Believe it or not, for the most part, yeah, it is good. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising; Brevoort has more writing credits than you’d probably guess. And in between the wackiness, there’s real character development in Deadpool and the Secret Defenders, for the Shadowoman-turned-Sepulchre, and even for the villain in the book’s opening arc.
I now imagine/hope for a time when Tom Brevoort, frustrated by Brian Michael Bendis, bellows through the Marvel office, “Fuck it — I’ll write the next event myself! The time of the Cognoscenti has come!”