Each “storyline” issue of Spider-Man/Deadpool inches closer to a conclusion and I long for the lightening, manic pace of the opening arc. Perhaps the denouement started too early (I would place the climax of the story at #10), but the falling action of Itsy Bitsy’s explosion onto the scene seems to be more of a gentle downhill slide rather than a tumble. Don’t get me wrong, Spider-Man/Deadpool #14 and its larger arc still shines as an example of how to tell a story in a comic book – with a few obvious caveats in relation to its shipping schedule.
Typical of a Marvel story featuring a character wrestling with violent impulses, this issue primarily takes place inside of a Catholic cathedral. Since resident Spidey confidant and card-carrying Catholic Daredevil is currently doing his own thing (in addition to getting his own OMD style re-masking right before Secret Wars), Kelly reaches back a little further in the Spider-Man mythos and brings out X-Man Nightcrawler. I joke about Marvel often employing its Catholic characters for such purposes, but Kelly at least was able to work Nightcrawler into the story in an organic way; Deadpool, using his own loose connections with the X-Men, calls on Nightcrawler (an Olympic-level fencer, if I recall correctly) under the guise of sparring lessons for him and Spider-Man.
The chaotic fight between Nightcrawler, Spider-Man, and Deadpool is actually one of McGuinness’s rare misses. This might not be an issue with the digital edition of this comic, but one of the biggest images of this issue is a spread of Nightcrawler leaping into action, attacking Spidey with two swords and Deadpool with a third held by his tail. The focal point of the spread is right dab in the center of the page, which means for those reading the physical copy, your eye is drawn straight to the crease in the page. Because the image is not completely flat here, this warps the focal point slightly. Also, Nightcrawler is posed in a way that is hard to follow. I’ve been trying to describe it for a few minutes now and I can’t really hammer out exactly how his hips are situated in relation to his shoulders. It’s difficult to tell which leg is in the foreground and which is in the back and this leads to a confusing image.
The next page is also something of a visual mess, with McGuinness employing a panel structure that looks both like a spider’s web as well as cracks from a gunshot. Having this many panels allows him to draw Nightcrawler in a more kinetic and true-to-character style of motion, but it pulls the reader out of the story somewhat as they awkwardly tumble through the page. So, while the gunshot/spider web might have been an interesting way to panel a fight, its execution was a little poor. It isn’t rocket science to figure out, but just like editing in film, the best way to panel a story is to trick the reader into forgetting they’re reading panels.
A conversation between Spider-Man and Nightcrawler about the current situation frames the majority of the issue, with the conversation taking place in narration blocks throughout the sparring match. It’s slightly ambitious, requiring the reader to keep track of the flow of two separate conversations both of which are emotionally charged but ultimately I found it a little clunky. Given the weight that both sequences carried, I think it would have better served the story to allow them their own space rather than happening concurrently as perceived by the reader.
However, this did allow for one of the more shocking moments to play out in a satisfying way. We see Deadpool, trying his best to get Spidey to realize how far he’s gone over the edge, mistakenly bring up neck snapping, which throws Peter into a violent rage. From the narration we understand that Peter was caught in the moment and knew Deadpool knew nothing of Gwen, but it’s still a shocking moment to have Spider-Man decapitate someone, even if he knows Deadpool will recover from it. More on this later though, because I want to bring up the other big narrative point in the story.
Upon Deadpool’s brief stint in hell, both the reader and ‘Pool learn the identity of Patient Zero. Back in the review for #10 I half-suggested that Weasel as Patient Zero’s identity and qualified it as a “Mason Banks level” of misdirection. Looking back that might have been a little harsh – supporting characters coming back from the dead as villains isn’t new to Marvel. Kelly himself writes into the script that this might have been a little underwhelming of a reveal (“I hate it when the Internet is right”), however he also suggests that Mephisto orchestrated the entire event as a way to torment Peter without violating the agreement he made with MJ during the pages of One More Day. So we see flashes of maybe an end game to this mega-arc, but there’s still plenty of juice left in this story.
Which brings me back to the point above with Spider-Man. It might be difficult to really believe that Spider-Man would willingly, even in blind rage, “kill” someone so violently. Kelly has been careful to establish a slow boiling anger in Peter starting with his double assassination. When looking at the “story” issues of Spider-Man/Deadpool this event happened only 4 issues ago, not counting this one. However, we’re on Spider-Man/Deadpool #14, and as stellar and out-of-the-box as this series has been, the scheduling has absolutely killed reading it month-to-month and I think that’s the biggest issue with this series by far. And unfortunately, as the last page indicates, it’s going to be another two months before we see exactly what happens when you arm Spider-Man with two Deadpool katana.