What to say about about yet another filler issue of Spider-Man/Deadpool? I’m not sure if it’s even fair to call them filler issues at this point; almost half of the series has been guest arcs, one shots, or crossovers. Regardless, here we are with one last story until the Legacy initiative sees Spider-Man/Deadpool retitled to Spider-Man vs Deadpool and we get a new permanent creative team.
So, what about this particular story? Like all of the others, Spider-Man/Deadpool #21 seems to only exist as a stopgap – a way to put a comic on the shelf for September and move on. Spider-Man/Deadpool #7 shows that you can try something creative and different with these fill-ins (even if I wasn’t too hot on #7), and yet it seems like since then we’ve had artists content to write a small caper and call it quits. And that’s what’s most frustrating about #21. All the pieces for a deeper story are on the board, and yet writer Eliot Kalan doesn’t want to play. Yes, that was a Murderworld joke.
Before I get further let me preface this review by saying that there was nothing inherently wrong with this story. It’s competently told with nothing majorly offensive other than its total banality. But to say it was good because it wasn’t offensively bad is setting the bar far too low. That’s not what ignites a passion for comics. Not every comic has to be the writer’s magnum opus, but the lack of quality control for Spider-Man/Deadpool’s B-sides is disheartening as both a fan of the title and a fan of Marvel Comics in general.
My main issue with this comic is how by-the-numbers it handles the characters. Spider-Man is thrust into a shallow moral quandary, Deadpool gets up to some wacky and violent antics. Arcade teases the reader by saying he might force Spider-Man to make some tough choices regarding the hostages Arcade has thrown into Murderworld, but the quandary is solved in the safest way possible – the girl Spider-Man is protecting ends up being a booby-trapped robot. Deadpool alludes to the character growth he experienced in the Kelly penned issues, but never acts true to them. Perhaps this is from editorial, that the permanent team gets to direct the series while the guest creatives get to use the characters in name only. I suppose we’ll never really know.
Arcade is one of those gimmick villains that keeps returning, and I honestly do not know why. The concept of Murderworld seems like a fun one, especially in today’s ultra-genre savvy and self-aware style of comics, but the gimmick is tired. Dennis Hopeless shook up the concept in Avengers Arena by changing Murderworld into a more “Hunger Games” style survival match, but none of that gentle reinvention is seen here. Instead, we get the same old “living game” set up that’s so bland and predictable, that it’s become predictable that the characters within the comic will comment on how predictable the scenario is. Comparing a two-issue arc to a full blown series based on a very popular book and movie series might not be fair, but at least something that showed a little creativity or effort would be nice.
The issue ends with Deadpool getting dumped into Murderworld and reuniting with Spider-Man, so perhaps I am judging the shallowness of the arc a little prematurely. Artist Todd Nauck does a decent job, drawing Spider-Man, Deadpool, and Arcade in appropriately cartoonish way. The three people Spider-Man gets stuck with, a Martin Shkreli stand-in, a Fox News type, and a climate destablization-denying scientist, are all fun and easy – if not tired – targets for comedy. They absolutely do not work as characters but they each stand for an idea that is self-gratifying to mock (that is, if you agree that these are people to mock, but I assume conservative readers are used to this by now).
Perhaps next issue will bring a tighter, more Spider-Man/Deadpool take on Murderworld rather than a story going through the motions as we’ve seen in #21. I’m hoping that something special happens since is #22 the last issue before the Spider-Man and Deadpool friendship runs its course, but I’m not counting on it.