Spider-Man/Deadpool #6 kicks off regular writer and artist duo Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness’s two week vacation while they take some time to get everything ready for the next big story arc. Stepping up to the plate as writer is Scott Aukerman of “Comedy Bang! Bang!” fame and veteran Cable & Deadpool artist Reilly Brown on pencils. While Aukerman is best known for his podcast/television show (and his work on “Mr. Show,” for all you out there with refined taste), he has written a handful of stories for Marvel, with the most recent appearing in Secret Wars Journal #1. Aukerman has previously penned issues for Deadpool, but he’s never had the distinction of writing a story featuring everyone’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. What results is a perfectly acceptable, if not one-note, comedic issue.
First I’d like to talk about the art. As I’ve said, Brown cut his teeth at Marvel with a long run on Cable & Deadpool, but he’s also been involved with fan favorite The Incredible Hercules, penciling the arc where Hercules and Thor switch places – a highlight of a series made almost entirely of highlights. To us Spidey-Fans, his work can be see in Amazing Spider-Man #661-662 – the Avengers Academy guest issues. Brown had rather large shoes to fill as a guest artist, and while his lines aren’t quite as strong as McGuiness’s (and honestly, that might be more on the inkers Rick Magyar, Le Beau Underwood, and Scott Hanna than Brown himself), the sense of motion seen in his art rivals that of more exaggerated art styles like Humberto Ramos or Scottie Young while maintaining a clean, polished look. On top of that, Brown’s sequencing and use of panels to convey particular beats is top-notch and works in perfect tandem with Aukerman’s own punchlines. I love McGuinness and put him on the top of my list as far as Marvel artists go, but if he were to leave the title for one reason or another I think Brown would be my preferred replacement, given what I’ve seen with this issue.
What about Aukerman though? The issue’s premise is extraordinarily self-aware in a way that is reminiscent of the style of parody seen on Aukerman’s television version of “Comedy Bang! Bang!.” “Comedy Bang! Bang!” features near constant acknowledgment of the tropes and scripted moments found in late-night talk shows, and his comic seems to be equally aware of not only its role as a fill-in issue, but also its placement in the Marvel conglomerate as a whole. So yes, there are jokes about mutants being segregated from the other books. There are jokes about the logical leaps the characters must take to find themselves in a typical comic book caper. There are jokes about this being a fill in issue. It’s all laugh-out-loud funny and largely inoffensive, even when Aukerman dredges up some of the more tired complaints that come out of the DC movies vs Marvel movies camp.
While I found this issue enjoyable, I hesitate to call it a good comic and I think this ties into a larger conversation about the state of Marvel and DC in the writer-auteur era. Spider-Man/Deadpool #6 was satisfying in the same way that a fast food greaseburger can be satisfying. That is to say it’s something crafted specifically to be enjoyed by the widest possible audience, but that enjoyment is only surface level. While funny, jokes about the cold war between Marvel and Fox are low hanging fruit, well used by keyboard warriors the internet over. Slippery Hollywood execs, jealous actors, and the star-eyed newcomer are all old hat types and while they are employed with success by Aukerman, I’m left with feelings that I had difficulty placing after closing the back cover.
The more I thought about the issue, and honestly, the more I thought about what numeric score I would give it, the more dissatisfied I became. It’s not fair, I thought, to judge the book and characters against what Joe Kelly established, because this is Aukerman writing, not Kelly. But actually I was wrong; it’s perfectly acceptable to do that. Continuity has become something of a dirty word as more and more writers and editors attempt to remove the shackles of years upon years (or, depending on the writer, sometimes months upon months) of continuity, wanting to free up a character so that their artistic vision is not compromised by perhaps a story that was established a decade and a half prior. DC’s Co-Publisher Dan DiDio has gone on record saying DC is less interested in continuity and more interested in storytelling, and while no person that high up the chain of command at Marvel has said similar, I think stories like Civil War II are evident of a similar philosophy being held.
So what does that say about a comic that places itself before the events of Spider-Man/Deadpool #1 (clearly for the sake of not muddying the sequence of events in Kelly’s story), but ignores the early dynamic between the two characters in favor of the more buddy-buddy relationship we saw in Spider-Man/Deadpool #4? Or ignores the huge step their relationship took at the end of Spider-Man/Deadpool #2 when Spider-Man trusts Deadpool with his phone number, by having Spider-Man chide Deadpool in this issue (which again, is stated to take place before #1) for not texting him? These particular quibbles don’t detract from this story in a vacuum – as I said starting this review, #6 is an enjoyable entry – but these stories do not exist in a vacuum. Can we honestly call this good storytelling if it flies in the face of what has been established, even if the issue is enjoyable on its own merits?
So begins the balancing act between story and continuity – but that way of thinking betrays what is unique to the superhero comic book medium. Art is at its best when it is forced through constraints. It fosters creativity, ingenuity and innovation. The idea of the unfettered artist producing the purist art is romanticism and a misunderstanding – restraint and nuance is what allows a work of art to permeate our minds, not reckless abandon with the observer being lead by the seat of their pants. By having these long standing continuities between characters, we as readers are able to follow their lives and adventures in a way that film franchises can only approach and serialized television has only begun to realize. I realize that as time goes on it becomes harder and harder to detail the subtleties of a long-standing, universe continuity and certain things slip, but I’m not talking about Z-listers or obscure tie-ins from the ‘80s. What is important are the big beats, consistent characterization across the line, and proper acknowledgment of the universe around the characters in these stories. Yes, this can interfere with a writer’s plans, but they should be encouraged to adapt their story, not told to forge ahead with their vision. Because every time they do, they’re taking away something that makes the Marvel Universe or the DC Universe special.
All of this is to say that Spider-Man/Deadpool #6’s narrative strikes the cords that it desires with the effect it is aiming for, but its technique for doing so is sloppy. In fact, this issue stands as the argument against what I’ve been talking about for this review; if continuity and attention to those specific details is important, how did we, in a book that I say ignores those finer points, end up with something enjoyable? My counterpoint would be, conveniently enough, Spider-Man Deadpool #1-5. The first five issues are enhanced, not held back, by the circumstances surrounding the current status quo of these characters. Peter’s new occupation gives him reason to fall into Deadpool’s crosshairs, and Deadpool’s connection via marriage to Marvel’s demonic cast gives reason and credibility to Mephisto’s reappearance in Spider-Man’s life. The lives and current status of these two characters in their main titles swirl together in this B-title to create a total that’s better than the sum of its two parts and builds upon, rather than paves over, what has already been created. This creates a sense of narrative motion and development rather than the “back to square one” status-quo reset that so many complain about.
But ultimately, even if Aukerman ignores the established characterizations given for the two title characters of the book, he is able to piece together a book that delivers the laughs when it demands the reader to laugh. It’s accessible, but for a book that has been so rewarding for those willing to dive deeper into the complex relationship between Spider-Man and Deadpool, Spider-Man/Deadpool #6 is, upon deeper reflection, filler. And that disappoints, but that’s not Aukerman’s fault. He acknowledges this on the first page (“Hmmm… This could fill up twenty pages. Not a bad plot for a fill-in issue, ya gotta admit!”), it’s just up to us as readers and Marvel (and DC) enthusiasts to accept or resist the idea of story-over-continuity.