When his run was listed among the greatest of all-time in a CBR poll, I was expecting to find a comic that was quintessential Deadpool. Funny, irreverent, self-aware. Instead, what I found was a Wade Wilson who - for the most part - is not as humourous as he is obnoxious, and he finds himself as the central character in what is a damn good comic book, funny or not.
Now this omnibus has some great laughs. Deadpool compares stuttered comic speech techniques to Shatner while his reaction when confronted by "Black Talon" is funny as hell. Bystanders comment on how much speech Wolverine is able to get in during a single leap. There is also an all-time classic where Wade is sent back in time to a Spider-Man comic from the 60s by Lee and Romita, riffing on the Osborn family's hair and Mary Jane's ditzy disposition until the cows come home. It's a true comedy classic.
But the dark turns this series takes blows all that out of the water.
Deadpool is a sick, sick piece of scum. His irreverence and constant smart-ass remarks do not endear him past that point. But he is trying to become a better person, and it is this character element that drives the series.
Kelly's run on the title starts slowly. His first dozen issues or so are built around creating a cast of characters for Deadpool to bounce off of. There's his tech guy Weasel whose name is apt. There's the Chicago-based Hellhouse stuffed with a shady group of hitmen, the most fearsome of which is Wade's overmuscled rival T-Ray. X-Force's Siryn shows up from time to time as a potential love interest who Deadpool interprets as his prize should he become a good person. Contrasting that is Daredevil villain Typhoid Mary, a psychopath that plays to Wade's worst qualities. And then there's Blind Al, Deadpool's "prisoner" who seems to be more of a prankster den mother than a hostage. You wonder why she seems desperate at times to get away from Deadpool's cruelty when all he seems to do is attempt to put salt in her coffee.
And then you find out. Deadpool's life falls apart after being manipulated by Mary and getting his ass kicked by T-Ray. With Wade on the verge of a breakdown, he snaps at Blind Al and Weasel over a practical non-transgression. Wade then places them both in a private version of hell for Al, one nasty enough to freak out both. Coming so close to the Spider-Man parody issue, it's a shocking turn.
This is just one of many great, affecting stories from Kelly's time on the title which hits home run after home run. Deadpool's origin, for instance, which ties in the cosmic entity Death (as in the "Thanos' main squeeze" version) is one of the best ever. It's like a tripped-out version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest" with a lot more blood and a main villain the protagonist can actually punch. There's also the ongoing saga of Wade's involvement with world-policing (or controlling, one could say) Landau, Luckman and Lake. They position Wade as some kind of messiah. Well, not all of them. While the main liaison Zoe Culloden doesn't really take off, there's surprisingly good chemistry between the title character and skinless precognizant Monty. I would love to see the latter of those characters return in the new volume of "Deadpool" for a second gambling trip to Monte Carlo.
As with many good runs, all the little threads from Deadpool's universe begin to pull together, culminating twice. There's the three-part "Dead Reckoning" where LL&L makes its play and Wade finds his role... and has a practical nervous breakdown as a result of what happens to him. With his life in shambles, he has his "final" confrontation with T-Ray who has a devastating revelation.
It's really to Joe Kelly's credit that he manages to create such a layered story despite the threat of cancellation. Given how popular the character has become in recent years, it's easy to forget that even though his title was arguably Marvel's best during a very bad time for them that this was a commercial flop. I'm not sure whether it's that sales stigma or out of pure respect, but since Wade's resurgence under Daniel Way and renaissance under Posehn and Duggan, none of the supporting cast from Kelly's run has returned. No Blind Al, no Zoe, no Monty... not even T-Ray. Hopefully the release of this collection introduces more fans to this eclectic group, because - sadly - a lot of what happens in these 30+ issues remains unresolved. There's a degree of closure here for sure, but this is a creative gold mine waiting to be tapped.