Deadpool – Broadly Speaking
The 90's were, broadly speaking, a pretty good time to be a nerd* growing up in America. There was no internet or social media, and personal electronic devices were either calculators or Tamagotchis, so the bullying was strictly analog. School could be a living hell, but if your tormentor wanted to take it to the next level they had to physically follow you home; if they wanted to spit on you they had to do it literally, accounting for things like distance, wind speed, and saliva viscosity. Nerdery itself was a much more tactile experience, involving an intimate relationship with physical objects, be they Magic: The Gathering cards, lead figurines, or comic books. Alas, the 90's were not—again, broadly speaking—a good time to be a comic book fan. The news was full of stories of mint condition antique comics being sold for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, a proposition the industry embraced wholeheartedly, making everything a Limited Print Run Special Edition One Time Only Hologram Cover Something Or Other, willfully ignoring the fact that the only reason something like Action Comics #1 was valuable was scarcity, and they were so rare because no one knew they would ever be worth anything, a possibility the big 2 were destroying by flooding the market. There are many reasons why the comic book crash of '93 happened: short-sighted money grabs, gross mismanagement and the ubiquitous abuse of talent, to name but a few. The net result was that publishers got desperate and—yet again, broadly speaking—mainstream superhero comics got worse, all of which is a roundabout prelude to me saying deese kids today don't know how good dey gots it, what with the Iron Mans and the New 52s and the Grant Morrisons and the blacktino Spider Manses and whatnot. I, for one, know precisely how good I gots it, and can cite the new Deadpool video game as a prime example.
As long as I've been playing video games I've been playing Marvel games. I remember whiling away the hours at my local library playing the original 1990 The Amazing Spider Man on a black and white PC, playing the X-Men arcade game and thinking Wolverine's adamantium claws really should be making short work of these bush league sentinels and wondering why are the sentinels so small and why are they on Magneto's side and why can Wolverine shoot energy out of his claws and why aren't they using the yellow costume which is clearly superior and crap I need to get more tokens, playing the 1994 X-Men game on Sega Genesis and getting killed again and again until I was out of good characters and had to play as Nightcrawler, telling my father the video game I was playing was called Maximum Carnage and his less than enthusiastic response, not knowing that it was just named after a story event in the comics featuring a bad guy named Carnage, playing Captain America and The Avengers on Genesis and realizing if I used auto-fire while playing as Captain America he threw his shield crazy fast, playing Spider-Man: Mysterio's Menace and feeling drunk with power when I realized I could web-swing wherever I wanted, being frustrated and more than a little disturbed during Wolverine: Adamantium Rage when the timer kept running out and Wolverine embraced a lost little girl who then blew the f@@k up and killed him, a character who hadn't even been introduced in the comics yet so you didn't know she was a killer cyborg, she was by all appearances a blond child who's lost and seeking affection and just inexplicably explodes. Deadpool's scatological ultraviolence seems downright wholesome by comparison.
If Deadpool had come out when I was 8 I would've been incensed that it didn't let me play as Wolverine or—dare to dream—Gambit, but one of the nice things about growing old is accepting that many of the things you liked as a kid** sucked. Deadpool may not be worthy of the kind of voluminous praise heaped on a title like Telltale Games' The Walking Dead, but it does a similar job of effectively translating its source comic into a game, it just happens that the The Walking Dead is a tale of pathos, conflict, and tragedy, while Deadpool is a tale of poop, boobs and tacos. Does that make it a less legitimate piece of art?
Yes, it certainly does.
It's still pretty fun, though.
Originally, Deadpool was just one drop in the flood of indistinguishable ninja assassin badasses that drowned mainstream comics in the 90's and was largely the fault of Rob Liefeld, one of the worst and most inexplicably successful comic book illustrators of all time. As usually happens with these things Deadpool didn't morph into the Manic Pixie Dream Lunatic we know now overnight, but grew into the role over the years, with each successive writer making him a little bit crazier than he was before, gradually adding bats to his belfry until he reached the operatic heights of schizophrenic crazytown bananapants he enjoys today, putting him in a unique position to make a unique video game, uniquely.
Deadpool plays the role of the Trickster God in the Marvel pantheon, embodying all the classic traits of the mythological trickster archetype.
The Trickster figure is present in nearly every civilization's mythology, even the really stuck up ones.**** They exist as expressions of the human desire to subvert, to undermine, to covet, to overindulge, and while they may be the product of unbridled Id, they're usually mere annoyances, and often quite useful. Ideally, Tricksters teach us to accept our flaws, not take ourselves too seriously, and tolerate those who exist at the margins of society; however, if a Trickster becomes too marginalized their actions can change from meddlesome to cataclysmic, like in Norse mythology. As the Marvel Universe's designated Trickster, Deadpool tends to vacillate between benignity and malignancy, often within the same scene. Since he's both completely insane and aware he's in a comic book, he can incorporate as much violence as he wants into his usual shenanigans, and he tends to want a lot.
The Deadpool video game's combat may just be okay, but its story makes excellent use of video game mechanics to illustrate the insane, obscene, ultraviolent space Deadpool's scrambled mind occupies. His behavior appears insane to everyone else, but it makes perfect sense from his perspective. The craftsmanship High Moon Studios put into to even the most vulgar and inane of the game's many, many jokes is nothing short of incredible. When Deadpool's head gets twisted around and he has to chase after the dog that's run off with his severed arm, the controls are reversed. When Deadpool can't get the giant sentinel boot he's piloting to work, the button prompts reflect his growing desperation. On one occasion Deadpool sneaks offscreen leaving the camera behind him, and he impatiently beckons from around the corner for the player to follow. None of this is necessary for, or even remotely connected to, the plot, which Deadpool flagrantly ignores. It's included because it's in keeping with the manic spirit of the character, and High Moon Studios' affection for the source material shines through in the final product. Deadpool's whimsically homicidal madness and awareness that he's in a video game is exploited to its full extent, allowing the world he's in to shift in dynamic, bizarre, and legitimately creative ways. If I had to chose between a game with a great combat system but a mediocre story and a game like Deadpool with an okay combat system and a story that's a volcano of creative insanity, well, it's really no contest. I'm not saying Deadpool is a better game than God of War, but I undeniably had more fun with the former. I don't want Kratos to revise his own script or routinely hurl abuse at the player or indulge in a musical interlude where he floats down a river with a Día de los Muertos-style sexy lady incarnation of Death who sings Patsy Cline's Crazy, but I'm glad someone finally sacked up and did it.
A while ago I was in a discerning mood and tweeted “If something by François Truffaut and something by Russ Meyer can both be called a movie, why do comic books have to be called graphic novels?” It met with the usual indifference, but I feel like I had a point, a point that could just as easily be applied to video games. The Deadpool comic book isn't The Watchmen or The Invisibles, but it's fun, over-the-top and satisfying like a good exploitation movie should be. The Deadpool video game isn't Bioshock or Mass Effect, but if you're vulnerable to its particular brand of perverted whimsy it's damn fun, and I dearly want to inhabit a video game culture that can accommodate its ilk.
*white, male, middle-class
**fast food, Saturday morning cartoons, Christianity
****I'm looking at you, Ojibwe nation.
For another take on Deadpool, see DM Agony's review