Annuals are once-yearly, extra-sized issues that allow writers to develop big storylines with style or provide something different from what’s currently appearing in the ongoing title. They usually cost a little more for an increased page count and try to hold long term-relevance, either by being seismic issues or just being easy to pick up and read. The Annual issue is not a science, the rules are really more guidelines that have accumulated over time. Still, this may be a first. I can’t remember the last time I saw an Annual for a series that was canceled over ten years ago…
Yes, in keeping with the time traveling shenanigans of its protagonists, Cable & Deadpool, the bizarre and oddly touching humor comic that helped to turn Deadpool into the memetic media juggernaut that he’s become, returns for an annual issue by David F. Walker a decade after its cancelation. The premise is pretty simple: Deadpool’s mom is in danger, as his future enemies seek to erase him from time by sending killer robots after her! It doesn’t take long to get all the major players into position and then its one random™, anachronistic battleground after another.
Despite the sizable delay and the change of writer, Cable & Deadpool reads the same as ever. Walker nails the tone, helping this really feel like a timelost annual rather than some strange pretender to the throne. Unfortunately, Cable & Deadpool reads the same as ever. Much as I’ll defend the best elements of the book forever, there are many elements of the classic series that have aged poorly or have been more than played out in the intervening decade and they’re replicated here too.
Even more harmfully, the length of the annual actually works against this story. The longer page count allows some gags and concepts to stay in when they would have been edited out of a shorter story, and there’s not enough time to build to the emotional payoff of Cable & Deadpool’s best. Put simply, the various eras that Wade and Nate visit aren’t interesting on their own and I think Walker knew that, focusing on the frenetic jumps between them rather than building any one up. They’re just springboards for jokes and, if we’re being honest, the jokes of this issue have neither matched the best of the original series nor evolved past the sometimes simplistic humor of the mid 2000s.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some really good bits in this issue – the moment that Cable checks if Wade realizes that he’s just acting out the plot of Terminator is great – but there are also plenty of clunkers and even more that were good for a chuckle but were used as the core of a panel rather than seasoning – such as the very next moment when Deadpool explains that he sometimes confuses his personal experiences with good movies for two panels. Like the original Cable & Deadpool, this issue leans on Wade’s madcap ramblings too much, neglecting other characters and plot development. Cable gets the worst of this, setting up a solid punchline here and there, but otherwise just spouting vague reminders that the space time continuum is damaged.
The plot is solid. The issue suffers for not having more real vulnerability in its leads, but Deadpool’s desire to protect and connect with his mom is an effective motivator. Before too long we get a believable motivation for our villain that doesn’t need much time or explaining to feel immediate and the story rides that line between telling a familiar narrative and staring the frequency with which it plays out in the face. It provides a natural hook for the issue, which comes in handy whenever Wade is getting too deep into his own world. The story naturally picks him up or just rolls on without him until he’s ready to come back to it.
Unfortunately, for everything that works here, there’s twice as much time spent on zany Deadpool jokes, one third of which didn’t need to be here and one third of which needed to be pithier. And, perhaps most frustrating of all, the central mcguffin of the story seemingly undoes the need for Deadpool to get involved at all. No amount of lampshading can change the fact that the villain’s actions seem to actively set their plans back. It’s possible that this just wasn’t explained clearly enough, in fact some of this is part of a willful deception, but that deception is also unnecessary. Combined with the problems I mentioned above, this contributes to a sense that the familiar humor was the prime concern, to the issue’s detriment.
If I sound hard on the writing, it’s because I care. Cable & Deadpool was a fantastic series and, updated to hit the same buttons in the modern day, it would still be. David Walker is an incredibly talented and incredibly smart writer and that allows him to write stupid things really wonderfully, but it’s too hit or miss here.
I think one of the strongest elements of the book is the sheer sense of discovery in Wade’s voice. You can absolutely feel his fractured psyche click onto a new idea or fascination. There’s a perfect rhythm to his speech that sells his excitement just the same, regardless of which of the many talented artists renders the moment. The degree to which Walker replicates Fabian Nicieza’s style is superb and the majority of jokes are really funny or would be if they just cut things a little shorter. One wonders if Walker was a fan of the original series who was too close to the material.
The art comes from a slew of sources, with some artists stopping by for just a page, including Marco Rudy, Edgar Salazar, Flaviano, Francesco Manna, and Leonard Kirk. With some comics that’s a certain sign that something went wrong behind the scenes, but it feels rather intentional this time. Generally things look good and the story provides plenty of opportunities for natural shifts in art.
Talking about the art completely would be a herculean task, but the greatest majority is the work of Paco Diaz, who handles the frame of the narrative, bookending the other artists along with Chris Sotomayor as colorist. Diaz’s characters do some fantastic acting, selling the peculiarities of Dr. Gamble and the energy of Deadpool, especially out of his costume…very out of his costume…
The look in Wade’s eyes as he realizes that he could live up to the movies he idolizes is perfect.
Unlike many, the more detail Diaz is called upon for the stronger his panels. Wade looks fine in his costume, but the swollen eyelids and pockmarked skin of his face are a particular treat. Likewise the clean, ‘attractive’ look of our heroine leaves her a little awkwardly generic while the shrink-wrap skinned battle dinosaurs that Diaz provides for the final battle look fantastic no matter the angle. The dinosaurs prove especially useful as set dressing, ensuring that there’s an interesting flow to the panel no matter how much or little else is present.
Danilo Beyruth is a little rougher around the edges, with some minor anatomical weirdness, but his squat, exaggerated faces have an undeniable charm to them. There’s some old-school comics excess to these pages, suiting their placement in time, and they combine with the classic Cable & Deadpool colors, courtesy of Jason Keith, beautifully. Plus Beyruth draws one of my favorite sight gags, identifying a street gang I think we’ve all been part of at one time or another.
We also get three pages of Nick Bradshaw doing what Nick Bradshaw does best. Full of wild ideas and legibly packed with lines and detail, Bradshaw’s work is iconic, beautifully arranged, and kinetic, even if it’s as boxy and occasionally stiff as any of his work.
The final penciler for the issue is Luke Ross, whose hatched, realistic style could easily have read poorly, but comes off very strong. It feels like there’s just enough of his work, a lovely interlude that looks great throughout, rather than attempts to make the style work for the entire book. Drawing regular people can highlight some of Ross’ exaggerations but it never distracts and this same quality does wonders for Cable. Moody lighting and an unusually realistic take on Deadpool’s mask make for a memorable couple of pages.
All in all, Cable & Deadpool’s first annual is a mixed bag. A cornucopia of artists make it a varied visual treat and Walker absolutely nails the character of Deadpool and the tone of the series. Unfortunately the script is something of a jokefest and the jokes could have used a stricter editor. They’re true to the spirit of the series, but not the best of the series and what worked in 2004 doesn’t necessarily work now. Plot, character, and emotion are put second to pumping out gags and, while there are a number of winners, many fall flat or overstay their welcome. If you’re looking for more Cable & Deadpool, this Annual scratches that itch with admirable fidelity, but it’s sadly middle-of-the-road in most other respects.
The Cable & Deadpool Annual #1 is currently available from Marvel Comics.