Back from their second hiatus, the dream team of Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness return to deliver a Spider-Man/Deadpool story straight out of Weirdworld. For those who might not be exactly in the know, Weirdworld was a fantasy series Marvel produced in the late ‘70s that capitalized on the rise of high fantasy in popular fiction that started in the mid ‘60s. Informed by contemporary (in the United States) fantasies like “Lord of the Rings,” Weirdworld featured dragons, magic, wizards, and most importantly, no superheroes. Weirdworld was its own setting within the greater Marvel universe, much like Spider-Gwen exists as its own setting (more or less). Rather than existing as its own title or imprint, however, the setting jumped around between the several anthologies that Marvel was producing at the time, including Marvel Super Action, Marvel Premiere, and Epic Illustrated.
So what does that have to do with Spider-Man/Deadpool #13? Not a whole lot. Weirdworld was revived by Marvel during Secret Wars and has appeared in titles such as Black Knight as well as its own self-titled series. All of this being said, Spider-Man/Deadpool #13 acts as a strange foray into an incongruous setting to deliver a tale that acts like a stopgap for a story that needs to hit the ground running. The decision is a curious one that smells like it came from higher up the food chain than Kelly and McGuinness, but that’s just speculation.
We open the story with a “bait-and-switch narration” as Kelly-by-way-of-Deadpool puts it. Lumbering sadly, a half-Spider-Man half-Deadpool walks by as Deadpool narrates off panel about the dangers of teleportation. We quickly learn that Spider-Man and Deadpool are (relatively) okay and recovering from their death-defying escape from Itsy-Bitsy. What comes next is a somewhat tiresome and at times confusing adventure marred by panels of insignificant happenings which unfortunately delivers us to what should be a huge and momentous occasion: Spider-Man rejecting his oath not to kill.
Spider-Man/Deadpool has not been shy about giving wide berth to Dan Slott’s plots, but, if anything, the outright refusal to kill and insistence on always finding a different way has been the impetus of Dan Slott’s Spider-Man since he started using the phrase “No One Dies” in 2010’s Amazing Spider-Man #655-656. Kelly has seemingly acknowledged this by allowing this shift ample time to come about organically, yet #13 shows him failing to stick the landing. The heel-turn for Spider-Man is believable, especially given the reasons he states, yet its impact is lost because the stakes of this issue are so mild; Spider-Man himself even states that it’s like nothing in Weirdworld matters because it’s a “fanfic universe.”
Kelly was using this as an opportunity to showcase how Deadpool has somehow become the more empathetic of the two, but by being so blunt Kelly imparts the same feeling in the reader, reminding them that, so far, Spider-Man/Deadpool has been following the machinations of Patient Zero and then the immediate fallout of his assassination. So, in a title that has had its fair share of fill-ins, why are we spending a month in Weirdworld?
Deadpool’s subsequent speech is also undercut by silliness and a sight-gag before the implications of Deadpool’s new world view can really sink in. And that’s the biggest problem with this issue – it stretches some sequences out while rushing through others. Spider-Man/Deadpool #9 proves that both Kelly and McGuinness can deliver a full story that moves the plot forward while devoting the entirely of the page count to fisticuffs, and yet here we have Deadpool standing in front of a massive imposing monster and instead just talking to it. Thematically it makes sense, but as a reader its visually boring and for all of McGuinness’s strengths, he does not do talking heads very well. The sequence is paneled well and we get a definite sense of motion between the two figures, but because McGuinness typically skimps on the backgrounds, the sequence falls flat visually. And when the reader is not engaged visually, they are, no matter how good the writing is, disengaged at least partially from the total package.
Other than that, McGuinness is able to get in a few solid sight-gags including a quite literal portrayal of a pocket universe, but his depictions of Weirdworld’s denizens seem a little safe and tired compared to his monsters from Spider-Man/Deadpool #8. The only exception is the Dragon, who is drawn in such a way that evokes the iconic red dragon of Dungeons and Dragons lore, something I’m sure was intentional given that D&D was in its heights of popularity around the time the original Weirdworld stories were being published. Jason Keith’s colors are are expressive as ever, though he leans a little heavy on the orange gradients for backgrounds this issue, preventing some of the Weirdworld monsters from visually popping due to low contrast.
The opening arc to Spider-Man/Deadpool was one of the best Marvel produced in the 2010s, in my humble opinion, but the constant stopping and restarting has started to sour me on the series, and looking forward does not give me great hopes. Next issue promises a guest-appearance by Nightcrawler, if the cover is to be believed, and then the month after that will crossover with a Deadpool event (with Joshua Corin writing and Scott Koblish doing art.) While covers never tell the absolute truth, Kelly is going to have to work hard to justify adding in Nightcrawler only to have us wait at least until April to see what happens next, but it is never fair to prejudge a book before it hits the stands. My only hope is that we cover some serious ground with the next issue.