SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Secret Empire as a whole, and Deadpool #32, in stores now.
Once upon a time, there were two little boys named Phil Coulson and Wade Wilson. Both of them worshiped Captain America, and both grew up to work with the patriotic superhero; Coulson as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Wilson as the Avenger named Deadpool. But their hero turned out to be the opposite of what they believed: rather than an unwavering paragon of all that is good and decent, Steve Rogers had always been a member of Hydra, the fascist organization ostensibly headed by his World War II nemesis, the Red Skull. Coulson discovered this, and Rogers, attempting to silence his former-ally, sent Deadpool to kill him, just before the Hydra takeover of the United States.
Written by Gerry Duggan, with pencils by Matteo Lolli and inks by Christian Dalla Vecchia, Deadpool #32 shows Wilson, now as full time Hydra operative. His assignment is to ferret out members of the resistance and to deliver them to Hydra Supreme, Steve Rogers. On top of being a full-time agent for his childhood hero, he’s also dealing with his daughter Ellie, who is having trouble fitting in at her new school in Washington, D.C. It seems his progeny shares his propensity for violence, which doesn’t square well with the administration of the recently renamed Baron Zemo’s School for Superior Students.
Despite his wisecracking it’s all starting to get to the Merc with the Mouth.
The issue opens with a nightmare: Wade is dreaming that Coulson is an evil ghost who “deserved what he got.” But his Ghostbusters-style fantasy dissipates and he wakes up screaming. “‘cause someone got something they didn’t deserve.” The Merc with a Mouth has a conscience, after all. Even though he dispatched the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent without question, as ordered by his hero, he’s now starting to doubt the new order, and its head.
Deadpool’s rebellion is relatively quiet by his standards, at least outwardly. Much to the annoyance of a number of anonymous troopers in green, it mostly consists of riffing on the Hydra salute while performing his duties as one of Captain America’s premier bounty hunters. But there is more going on under the surface, and unlike Frank Castle (The Punisher), whose faith in Steve Rogers is unshaken, Wade is starting to question the edifice of his allegiance to Cap.
“So Captain America has had some kind of crazy multi-decade plan to take over America,” he muses, “And I didn’t realize he’d gone all lawful evil until it was too late.” The AD&D reference suggests that Wilson believes he’s been played, and that the deception began long before Rogers convinced him to execute Coulson.
The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook defines the lawful evil alignment thusly: “A lawful evil character sees a well-ordered system as being easier to exploit and shows a combination of desirable and undesirable traits. Examples of this alignment include tyrants, devils, and undiscriminating mercenary types who have a strict code of conduct.” The tyrant and the mercenary are certainly aligned at the moment, and Wilson is obviously regretting his choice. But is he also realizing that Rogers, who made him an Avenger and appointed him the successor to Wolverine, selected him because he saw the bad in him rather than the good, as he’d initially assumed?
At the end of Deadpool #31, after Wilson has eliminated Coulson, he asked Captain America what the hit was all about. Rogers told him that it was a “necessary sacrifice,” explaining that “some seismic changes” were coming to America, changes he knew he could count on Deadpool to help “make them happen.”
The assassination of Coulson was thus framed as a trial as well as a mission, but in light of Wade’s emerging doubts, he may be starting to question whether there had been an earlier tryout.
2014’s Death of Wolverine: Deadpool & Captain America #1 established the current relationship between Steve Rogers and Wade Wilson. The depowered Captain America and Deadpool headed to Moscow to recover a knife covered with Wolverine’s blood, thus preventing A.I.M. from cloning the newly-deceased mutant hero. Upon the completion of at the successful sortie, Rogers left the weapon in Wilson’s care. Did he know Deadpool had access to Butler’s Weapon X equipment? Was Rogers expecting him to clone Wolverine on the sly? Wade wrestled with the question at the time, telling himself that Rogers trusted him to do the right thing. But in retrospect, what had the right thing been? More importantly, what is it now?
As he stands in front of a screen displaying former allies who are now members of the resistance — and therefore targets — Deadpool contemplates Rogers’ true nature before going hunting. But how committed is he to Rogers’ America and the newly minted Hydra regime? After he captures Speedball, another anonymous henchman remarks, “Not exactly bagging the resistance leaders, are we?”
As he heads cross-country looking for resistance hideouts, Wade encounters one abandoned location after another, finally confirming an active site while scouting out the Mount, an underground facility once used by the Pantheon, a group founded by the immortal Agamemnon, with a view to ending war, famine and pestilence. Upon spotting Hawkeye and Quicksilver, Deadpool has a moment of clarity—or perhaps a crisis of conscience. “Taking it down is gonna cost lives on both sides,” he muses. Upon returning to the Capitol, he informs Hydra that the Mount is empty.
As is usual for his writing on the title, and the character, Duggan infuses Deadpool #32 with equal doses of horror and humor. As he rides to work, the Merc with a Mouth tells us that he fully supports the new government, and that some of his best friends are Hydra. As he happens upon a book burning, he muses, “Teen Vogue has never been more lit.” Neither has Deadpool, but it remains to be seen where his conscience will lead him. Perhaps the clue is the issue’s last salute. By finally getting it right, instead of wisecracking, has Deadpool chosen a side?