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Deadpool: The Sage of Wade Wilson collects Deadpool (1997) #3-5, #17-19 and #57-61, Deadpool/Death Annual ’98, and Deadpool (2012) #15-19 into a single trade paperback. With Deadpool & Wolverine set to drop this summer from Marvel Studios, it is a perfectly reasonable time to ask “What’s up with Deadpool?”

This collection is a quick and bloody summary of Deadpool’s backstory and lore in the main Marvel comics universe. As a result, this book is less an introduction to who Deadpool is or examples of why he is so popular as one might hope, and more a collection of primary sources for a Wiki entry explaining the specific proper nouns of Deadpool’s origins as a superhero.

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The issues collected from Deadpool (1997) are breezy and move quickly but are ultimately a little sloppy and difficult to recommend. The art is very of the era is often very simple, leaving multiple pages where backgrounds are either just a solid color behind a close-up of Deadpool’s masked face or a series of straight lines meant to convey motion. 

The panel that most epitomizes how the ‘97 Deadpool doesn’t quite work is the following:

Marvel Comics

He wonders if Black Tom’s windows treatments are “chintz or tool.” Chintz is a cotton textile often printed with color patterns and “tool” isn’t a thing. Tulle is a thing. Toile is a thing. “Tool” in this context; not so much. This is almost a joke about how Deadpool is a man who knows things about interior decorating (i.e.. a thing only women care about) and Black Tom’s taste, but it come from a fundamental misunderstanding, leaving the reader to ask “what am I supposed to do with this?” If feels sloppy and would be otherwise unremarkable but it is one of many problems in the beginning chapters of a collection littered with lettering errors and (at least in my copy) a pretty gnarly printing error that rendered a narration box unreadable. He also refers to the building as “Uncle Tom’s cabin.” “Uncle Tom” has a pretty specific connotation that does not apply here, further illustrating that the humor of these early Deadpool stories does not work.

A unique aspect of Deadpool’s comics that did not make the jump to the big screen is Deadpool’s relationship with Death. His literal relationship with the woman Death. This is a highlight of the collection – while not very joke heavy, it is conceptually very funny.  She is a skeleton because she is death but also, hilariously, has a rockin’ bod’. Deadpool is horny for death both in a sense that he wants his tortured existence to end and because he literally desires Death, who is absolutely stacked and reciprocates his desire. 

Marvel Comics

Deadpool (1997) #61 is a “‘Nuff Said” story which apparently is named as such because it features no dialogue. The book does not provide any context for what ‘Nuff Said is, but this issue is genuinely fun once one realizes what is happening. This one-off story takes place at Deadpool’s funeral but he still gets up to his special brand of antics. He is in attendance as a ghost and proceeds to possess the various funeral attendees, causing a fight to break out among the mourners without uttering a word. Everybody being quiet at a funeral generally makes sense making the lack of dialogue a reasonable omission. It also organically features his relationship with that smoke show Death.

The last section of the book is a five issue arc from Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan’s time on Deadpool (2012). The story takes place in North Korea as Deadpool tries to end an ongoing project that has been, unbeknownst to him, stealing his genetic material from his person and altering his memory. The end goal being to create a North Korean army of mutates and cure the director of the project’s terminally ill sister. These chapters are infinitely more readable than the preceding 12 issues of this collection. Declan Shalvey’s art and Jordie Bellaire’s colors deftly convey the action and emotion of this arc while VC’s Joe Sabino’s lettering effortlessly navigates the potentially logistically tricky conversations Deadpool has with a woman whose consciousness is currently hitching a ride in his mind until they can find her a new body.

Marvel Comics

That being said, the North Korea of it all is fairly low hanging fruit. Yes, of course the country’s leadership is deserving of criticism, much like any government, but there’s a bit where a North Korean soldier comments that the existence of The Avengers must be American propaganda. As if the American public’s understanding of what life is like outside of the imperial core is not also influenced by propaganda. It’s a weird little sprinkling of jingoism that feels out of place and is tonally disruptive.

In an age where the worst thing one can be is cringe, Deadpool of the late-’90s dares to be the most cringe while maintaining intense eye contact. Overall, this collection is effective at telling the story of Wade Wilson and how he became Deadpool. Unfortunately, the humor and overall vibe hasn’t aged particularly well and the overall reading experience of this product could be much better.

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