Spider-Man/Deadpool #22 marks the end of the first era of the title, with guest writer and artist Elliot Kalan and Todd Nauck’s “It’s a Murder, Murder, Murder, Murder World” leading into the new permanent creative team featuring Robbie Thompson and artist Chris Bachalo. As a last hurrah for Spider-Man/Deadpool’s strange release pattern (I hope) #22 is indicative of a lot of the problems with these guest issues compared to the Kelly/McGuinness issues.
Like the first part of this two-issue arc, there is nothing technically wrong with Spider-Man/Deadpool #22. In fact, it’s a few steps better than #21 with more action, some interesting paneling, and exciting set pieces. The plot moves at a decent clip, the art is mostly there, and Kalan even slides in some brief flirtations with the themes set up in Kelly and McGuinness’s arcs. Like all these fill-in titles, the cardinal sin committed here is the feeling of irrelevence. This arc, like the one before it, just catalogues an adventure shared by Spider-Man and Deadpool that only acts as a skeleton to hang up some jokes and verbal barbs.
Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #32 shows us that one-shot stories don’t necessarily have to move the plot to have impact – much like how Spider-Man/Deadpool #21-22 catalogs an adventure, ASM #32 catalogs Norman’s attempts to repower himself. Both stories end with the chips exactly where they were when the story began, and yet, in my humble opinion, ASM #32 is the most compelling story Slott has written in years. The difference is that ASM #32 explores the character of Norman Osborn in a way with clear stakes that offers the character the option to change or refuse to do so. That’s what every good short story boils down to – does a character change or do they stay the same and why? “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” shows the choice Peter has – kill the Goblin in justifiable rage or ascend base emotion and show mercy, essentially will Peter change his morality and give in to the human temptation of violence or will he remain heroic and exemplary?
Clearly, a B-title like Spider-Man/Deadpool can’t do anything close to a status-quo shifting story like “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” but they can still ask those same questions of character. We can still watch Spider-Man and Deadpool struggle with who they are as long as the toys are back in the chest by the 20th page. These guest creator comics don’t have to be throw-away stories that build from nothing but the promise of both Spider-Man and Deadpool in a comic together. Moving back to the pages of Spider-Man/Deadpool #22, we see Deadpool mention a “What Would Spider-Man Do” bracelet, which is a nice shout out to the greater Kelly/McGuinness arc, but why couldn’t this comic be more about Deadpool’s actual struggle with trying to find out exactly what would Spider-Man do? Spidey himself was having hesitations about protecting the Shkreli/O’Reilly/Climate Denier caricatures last issue, why couldn’t that be the focus of the drama rather than banal fisticuffs and yet another iteration of Murder World?
It’s not fair to judge a comic on what it isn’t, but after eight guest comics I would have hoped that at least one of the issues had addressed the Spider-Man/Deadpool dynamic in some sort of meaningful way or at least done something to prove that these characters are more than, as Kalan puts it this issue via Spider-Man, “the universe’s two biggest compulsive joke machines.” These two characters have real emotional depth and other aspects that they can explore. Kelly and McGuinness did the groundwork breaking down the barriers between the two characters, so it is frustrating to read story after story where that effort it wasted.
So that is why, despite being an inoffensive comic by itself, I am so disappointed by Spider-Man/Deadpool #21-22. It was one last chance to do something with the dynamic set up by Kelly and McGuiness, before Thompson and Bachalo shift things to fit the story they want to tell (which is entirely within their prerogative and I have no issue with.) Perhaps I set myself up for disappointment by expecting anything more than a filler story, but then what was the point of publishing Spider-Man/Deadpool these past four months?
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Elliot Kalan and Todd Nauck tell a surface-level Spider-Man/Deadpool story with some good, fun spreads including a robot dinosaur exploding and a daring water rescue. Unfortunately these qualities do not overcome the sense of aimlessness the series has taken since Joe Kelly and Ed McGuiness's departure, and suffers for it.