Credits: Ben Percy writes; Adam Kuberts draws covers & interiors; Frank Martin colors; Cory Petit letters
How Many Ways Can Percy Play the Faux Grimdark?
So, what did Wolvie get up to after, um, saving the time-stream or whatever in X Lives and X Deaths of Wolverine (Jan-Mar 2022)? His busy scribe Ben Percy took a backseat and called old Wade Wilson to phone in the lines for several issues. But in fact the notorious Merc with the Mouth mouthed nothing but pure Percy-isms throughout this four-month arc, never quite sounding like his mordantly buoyant self, cratered and a-boil as it is with those unsightly, indefatigable cankers. It’s Percy’s characteristic mordancy that wins through, the deep bass gravel having long since popped and shredded any sense of buoyancy; however cartoonishly irritating or genuinely leavening the generic loaf of two-dimensional slapstick violence, Deadpool’s trademark levity is inevitably missing from his run-on patter here.
And the title’s tonal message is no different than it’s been since the start: Being Wolverine sucks; his very being is suckled by the sour milk of endless trauma, and that’s what fans have long since been conditioned to with him. Logan as he is will always be caught and frozen inside all the old wounds, as he stares down that abyss, one ragged cave opening up beneath another ad nauseam.
Yet when he’s out supposedly having a good time, as we’ll see in the celebratory issue #25’s backup story, “Bar Brawl,” his drink of choice may be booze—but he’s frozen in time just the same as always. There, he reflects, “Time can get slippery for me,” which for him and those who never learn to heal from the past is the same as saying: time is a flat circle. Indeed, Logan does not believe that real change is possible.
Yep! That’s Percy on vacation—and taking his favorite toxically masculine trauma puppet along for the ride. So, what really happened while the boys went out to play (afraid to face the far more refreshing challenges of making a go at co-creating paradise)?
Why is it that he (along with his amanuensis, Mr. Percy) insists, with that fistful of gravel in his gullet, on either running away from the challenge of building a new way of life or endlessly protesting that it will only ever amount to the shadowy (i.e. unresolved) savagery of the old ways, that is, of our consensus reality (here, in the “authentic” violence of the “real” world we share and co-create, surely at our pleasure, dear reader)? Of course, someone so mired in wallowing in his own trauma, cementing thereby his unique sense of self born out of such extremity (“always and evermore more traumatized than thou, you mediocre schlubs, stuck on your all-too ordinary traumas”) is not going to rise to the challenge of changing his life, much less helping anyone else find a fresh path forward, to see anew with the eyes of innocence … and thus chance, true risk, the playfulness of giving something, anything but further suffering, a try.
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Is this really an ungenerous reading for this 50-year-old character always stuck in the same groove?
In other words, Logan has no spark. He wakes to die, endlessly. Truly, he is the metahuman formula for waking death in life, an existence benumbed. What stock character has so mastered the numbing of sorrow and made such easy addicts of us? All he wants to do is forget, and so he repeats, zombie-like, compulsively.
The best we get from Wolvie these days is the knowing but hollowed-out comedy of the most extreme we have every right to expect from the best there is at the worst possible way of life. We’re thoroughly conditioned to just watch this guy get shredded, literally, over and again. And we applaud that he still practices his bushido way or whatever philosophy his scribes have appropriated for him and watered down through an Orientalist filter and mashed up with whatever else required pop culture stylings (it’s all just part of the genre mash, I guess).
If there’s a service that Percy has given us in his limited but restlessly recombinatory portrayal of this macho compulsion to endlessly self-destruct while clenching so cussedly to one’s trauma loops it’s that this is basically what our enervated culture of endlessly re-pulped masculinity demands of our male bodies sustained, miraculously, by synthetic “nutrients” and a tired, weathered script of bitter expectations—a bunch of crap typed up by bored tearless and barren content creators shackled to their sole security in the world, corporate benefactors long since lobotomized by big-data marketing strategies.
Ben, seriously! Why are you willfully fixated on this abyss? Your dream funhouse of distorted mirrors has become a trap—the cartoonish distortions of grizzle and blood toned masculinity have long since reified, calcified and frozen into airlessness.
Is it time for a Morrison-ian wanderjahr, perhaps? Just a thought from a brother on the far side of all this deadpan grimdark slapstick cartoon schadenfreude, this much too hard-candied, cavity-cracking grief aestheticized into an idealized retro-action flick, grey and gritty, and gauzily filtered in style and tone.
Within such a self-limiting scope, the aesthetic perfection here and throughout this title is impressive in so far it’s so willfully wallowing in its own knowing cliches. Impressive?
Come for the Kubert Splatterpunk, Gothic and Noir
Yet this arc, possibly my least favorite of the title’s current iteration so far, is still worthwhile, at least for free on Marvel Unlimited, and better than most mainstream comics out there. And Ben Percy is very talented and accomplished, even more so as a novelist. It’s the willfulness of his self-limitation in terms of range and tone that’s a bit puzzling, when he has such mastery of his material—like he has a particular yen for, or beef with, all the (limited) permutations of toxic masculinity.
Why is it always toxic? To be clear, I think masculinity can be an untold number of things, but Percy is interested mostly in the negative and constrictive variety, in diagnosing heteronormative masculinity’s ills, which are already quite familiar, at least superficially, to most North Americans. Percy’s perceptiveness here is sharp but, again, willfully self-limiting, as if averse to taking risks and creating examples of modes of being more constructive, dynamic and open (which we are seeing quite a bit of in this franchise—with Vita Ayala and Charlie Jane Anders on New Mutants; Al Ewing on X-Men: Red; and Steve Orlando on Marauders).
As always, Adam Kubert’s layouts are a beauty to behold, knowingly cinematic and usually fully realized even if not always his figurework turns flat and sketchy in some places, especially in the middle.
Forgetting that Deadpool’s on the cover (hopelessly wishing he’d never appear in another X title), I almost thought the opening sequence—a kinetic cinematic rendering of motorcyclist Logan with artsy gutters reminiscent of light poppy ’70s psychedelia—would prove the lead-in to a thoroughly neo-noir adventure.
Nope! Oh, well.
To be clear, though, this is a far cry from the doldrums of the worst Deadpool “romp.” And Percy gets to do his ’90s Liefeld homage while still being 100% his deadpan tongue-in-cheek Minnesottan self.
Kubert does bring something of a cinematic mashup to the whole arc, but the emphasis is on genres and eras that long ago lost their charm. Another ’80s buddy action flick, now with excess splatterpunk fx? Hard snooooozzzzzze—at least this is on MU if I ever really want to subject myself to it again? To each their own.
Kubert’s art is still tops throughout, even if it’s lacking here and there just a couple issues in. He still excels over most of the industry, even now; very few of the younguns got game like Kubert.
(It’s worth noting that his cover art for issue #23 echoes his 1994 Wolverine #88 cover featuring Deadpool in the same pose impaling Logan on his trademark swords.)
On the other hand… there is something about all this that works really well: Allow Mr. Percy his break from higher ambitions (well-deserved even while X Lives/X Deaths quickly proved underwhelming; it didn’t stint on being effortful), and let’s say he’ll have his part in the inevitable showdown between machine intelligence and the Krakoan state. If this is the start of something, this arc’s finale at least (issue #23; see below for more on this one) will be worth a reread. Even otherwise, there are threads left dangling—for whoever wants to square Danger and the X-Men, one more time. And yet, isn’t that exactly the problem with both this title and Percy’s X-Force??? Whatever else their faults, both do give us retro-action galore.
Perhaps the payoff for these series really is just around the corner. Or it’s not! Fool me twice… It seems Percy is open to tossing up new spinning plates that have thematic relevance with the rest of the franchise even while expressly acknowledging that they may not have anywhere to land—see below for DP’s footnote on Hickman’s flash-in-the-pan Sidri subplot; remember that?!
Deadpool & Danger’s Dirty Deets
Deadpool is not remotely a founding member of X-Force—but debuting in New Mutants #98, months away from the title’s relaunch as X-Force, he was part of the regular cast, as nemesis and irritant. Thank you, Rob. We’re just eternally grateful (You did give us Shatterstar and impossibly beef-bubbled Daddy Cable).
As an alum of the Weapon X school of torture, Wade was infused with Wolverine’s DNA—blessing him with that cartoonish healing factor, which is also, of course a curse, cosmetically, as it is not for Wolverine (who’s cursed by it in a manner more purely inward/existential). Deadpool is not a mutant, just as those antagonists who vivisect mutants and graft on their genetics or parts to take on their powers are not. Deadpool’s case is simply faux sad and hopeless.
Blind Al developed Stockholm Syndrome with her longtime captor Deadpool way back in his first ongoing; she not too reluctantly became his irascible surrogate mother. Beyond that foundational era from Joe Kelly, she’s rarely appeared.
The Legacy House’s Madripoor auction of the mindwiped Maverick and what seemed to be Logan’s hand, the CIA’s Delores Ramirez in attendance, occurred back in issues #9-10.
Danger was once indeed the Xavier Mansion’s Danger Room, as revealed in her debut arc in Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run (#7-12). It was revealed there that Xavier always knew this piece of Shi’ar tech to be sentient but kept mum about it until she rebelled. Thereafter, she infrequently haunted the X-Men, returning either as ally or nemesis but always as a kind of guilty conscience, bearing the burden of guilt that really is Xavier’s alone (but ol’ Chuck’s rarely around to take responsibility for what’s his—huh, funny that).
(Danger’s debut story, “Dangerous,” kicked off with a young depowered student, Wing, committing suicide in the Danger Room. As of Leah Williams’ X-Factor #4, he was recently resurrected and living on Krakoa.)
Now, with AIs being on the outs with Krakoa in this new era, Danger’s reintroduction here could have been put to really interesting use. She was once an X-Man, after all, which is more than Deadpool can say! She even had a place on X-Factor for a hot minute.
Yes, there could have been something here—perhaps in the way that Zeb Wells reintroduced the Right and Cameron Hodge, with Nanny secretly adopting one of the Right’s “baby” AIs. That was an amazing story, short, sweet, sad and fierce. Percy doesn’t even come close to trying for this.
But we do get an answer to the nature of Logan’s seeming hand. No, it’s not a Larry Hama-era easter egg (duplicate Logan skeleton from a parallel timeline)—it’s Danger’s own baby!
Basically, in trying to retrieve his supposed “hand” from the CIA, Wolverine and Deadpool (who’s helping because he wants a spot on the Krakoan X-Force; wild) are caught in the crossfire as Danger attempts to rescue her offspring or whatever from Ramirez (sending an army of X-Men-themed robots after the suits, and later Logan and his hanger-on once they track her down (courtesy of Blind Al’s surprising connections) to the abandoned Xavier Mansion—Danger’s once and future home.
Why did Ramirez want the hand in the first place? She wanted Danger to make those mutant-themed bots for the CIA’s own nefarious purposes. Danger’s baby was collateral.
But why else might Danger agree to make X-Men-lookalike robots?
Logan’s narration in issue #23 criticizes the idea of “going home again,” and while he’s not explicitly criticizing Danger, I guess that’s the idea?
(Remember the Sidri infesting the old school back from Hickman’s Giant-Size: Nightcrawler? Yeah, that never went anywhere—which Percy, through an interstitial page from DP in issue #23, acknowledges. Yeah, that over-sized comic, it was a waste of your money. Hope you read it on MU!)
Along the way, Maverick and Weasel (another early Deapool mainstay, DP’s tech guy*) steal the briefcase containing the “hand” from Logan and DP because they think it contains those Shi’ar logic diamonds that have acted as mostly meaningless plot macguffins since issue #13 of this title.
*His recent history is briefly footnoted; see Joe Kelly’s Spider-Man/Deapool of the late 2010s.
Ultimately, Danger reiterates her motherly feelings toward the X-Men who used to daily use her facilities, never knowing she was in fact watching over them as a sentient being. So, she has her X-Men robots, and they can all be one big happy family again—though now she won’t scruple to keep them safe from herself or her old programming as the Danger Room, metastasized across the whole otherwise abandoned Mansion.
Kudos to Percy for this creepy sci-fi/Shirley Jackson mashup! Unfortunately, it took a lot of nonsense to get this one appropriately gothic and uncanny moment at the old ruins of Xavier’s on a gloomy starless night.
We could’ve perhaps spent more time with this and less with the ’80s splatterpunk action movie stylings—after all, Deadpool wraps up the rest of what happened that night for us while reading the comic book of it and sunning on a Krakoan beach next to Blind Al, who’s feeling much better now thanks to wonder drugs that Logan would of course given her regardless of DP’s assist (and really it was Blind Al’s help throughout that allowed Wolverine to get resolution on that missing “hand” and the rest of it with Danger).
Still, DP gets his chance at being an X-Forcer—appearing next in X-Force #30.
Who says that cussed Canuck can’t be a swell nice guy? Percy reminds us that Logan does in fact always act from the heart—whether out of hurt or affection, he’s all love muscle. Awww.
NEXT: The Progenitor gives Logan more of a chance than anyone else on Earth. Awww. And we finally get some solid Solem moments, mostly to tell us more about how noble our cussed Canuck is. Awww. See, Percy just wants us to love on that lovable unlovable macho mush-mush. So adorbs.
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