With a Lapham/Baker Deadpool MAX, my expectations were high, but it is possible that someone mixed up the contracts. Hiring Kyle Baker to write Deadpool MAX with David Lapham to draw it would make so much sense. Instead Lapham shows that he is more than capable of writing some seriously nasty stuff, but his humor is distinctly mean-spirited and Baker’s art only compounds the misery.
There was a time when I was a ridiculous Kyle Baker fan, I mean a total fangirl kid, doing things like standing in line at a convention to ask him to draw Twitch from The Shadow (he did.) I loved his artwork on The Shadow, his incredible sense of humor and love for the characters just shining through on every panel. Following on from my absolute favorite artist Bill Sienkiewicz, Baker did an excellent job of perpetuating a similarly expressive, vibrant body language with the addition of some truly hysterical facial expressions. At the time Baker had a warmth and familiarity with his characters and it definitely pulled me into the story further.
Then I discovered his writing in tandem with his artwork on the well-observed Why I Hate Saturn, where Baker did a marvelous job of creating an action-packed romantic comedy in the form of the adventures of two sisters and their rather observant (but short-sighted) guy friend. Years since I last read it, I can still remember the opening as the main character complained about the nonsensical circumstances of buying a slice of pizza. I loved that grumpy woman.
Soon after I found his bitterly sarcastic book The Cowboy Wally Show. What a fantastically hysterical, surreal, silly book. A device that is hard to carry off in comic books, Baker produced a rough-cut, behind-the-scenes documentary-style retrospective of a fictitious character. It sounds more complicated than it felt… It felt natural, like Cowboy Wally simply sprung out of Baker’s head and onto the page, a fully-grown, perfectly formed, angry, loud, alcoholic, middle-aged baby. He was crustier than Krusty the Clown. He was the self-aggrandizing boss in The Office before that boss was a glint in anyone’s eye. He was making his vain, reality show comeback before anyone on TV ever thought of making reality shows or comebacks. The book is gold.
Then he did some other work, things people really liked. I bought some of them and liked them alright; You Are Here, I Die At Midnight, Plastic Man… But somewhere in the intervening time his style had evolved. I know from random interviews I read at the time that it was somewhat influenced by his experience working on animation and that (more importantly I think) it was a style that he liked better; Somewhat more cartooney, having a feel of early Disney perhaps, with a lot of color and a very cute look to characters. While it wasn’t for me, I could definitely see the quality of it and enjoy his sense of humor. His interest in classic cartooning and emulating that style is something I can understand and so even if I personally preferred his older stuff, I still keep an eye on what he’s doing.
Recently I began to hear buzz about his Deadpool MAX, enough talk from friends that I thought it was probably worth a look. I picked up the first three issues to see what I’d been missing. The fact is that although I’m not a regular Deadpool reader, a lot of people talk with great fondness about working on the books. Gail Simone has credited her time on the book with allowing her to play and Philip Bond has posted some of his excellent drawings from the book – all in all, the issues I’ve read have borne out the idea that Deadpool is generally a character which comic book creators can have a bit of fun with. This made the idea of a Kyle Baker Deadpool pretty appealing. Writing by David Lapham was of some interest to me too, even though I am probably one of the few people I know who hasn’t read Stray Bullets. (It is enough of a behemoth to be more than a little intimidating.) That omission notwithstanding, I have enough to know I can enjoy what he does. He’s got storytelling talent and his art has an attractively strong line to it so that even when his book Young Liars went off the rails, I could still appreciate the art.
With all of that background, obviously over the years I’ve learned caution in picking up Baker titles. While I know that I’ll like his stuff more than most, I realize that I won’t love it like I did The Cowboy Wally Show, but I was surprised at the bad taste that Deadpool MAX left in my mouth.
Brutal, sadistic, scenarios, involving violent rape, toilet humor and genocide aren’t funny. They can be interesting story devices, but they aren’t that funny. Maybe it was the use of Baker’s Bambi-like art, but the whole thing just felt really dismal and pathetic, some kind of schoolboy attempt to shock on the Lapham’s part, compounded by Baker’s cute little drawings.
Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not averse to reading comic books about sadism, rape or feces, (enjoyed both Hellblazer and Neonomicon recently, both of which were vaguely rapey and scatological at times.) Naturally I don’t seek out these revolting subject-matters (what do you think I am?) but I can enjoy a book about nearly anything. Unfortunately something about Deadpool MAX‘s really abysmal mismatching of talent made the stories seem desperate and sad, instead of amusing and outrageous (which is what I think they were going for.)
It would be fantastic to see Baker’s lively, sassy sense of humor writing a book like Deadpool Max. He could take those ridiculous scenarios that Deadpool gets into and imbue them with substance and intelligence (or at least playfulness) that could round out the silliness. Combining that with Lapham’s messy, powerful, pop-art influenced drawings could really give the story some punch.
It makes no sense to me is to take a man who draws in an early Disney style and ask him to create art which works with these depressing stories. It is just a criminal waste of talent. This does not work. These are simplistic, heavy-handed, spiteful stories, combined with pointlessly cute drawings. It’s really disappointing to see two great comic book creators used so inappropriately and it makes no sense to me.