Yesterday, we explored Deadpool’s destruction of the Myth of Redemptive Violence and thus the very foundation for most comic conflicts and their resolutions. But the Sassin’ Assassin is far from finished. It’s time to embark on a Postmodern literary criticism like no other as Deadpool faces off against the literal (and literary) inspiration for comic book superheroes and villains! He also tackles the very notion of originality, forcing the (again, very postmodern) question of whether or not original ideas can exist. Cullen Bunn and Mateo Lolli helm this next level of Meta Madness in Deadpool: Killustrated, the second graphic novel in Bunn’s Deadpool Killology. As with yesterday’s post, there’s no major plot spoilers here, just a discussion of the book’s themes and philosophy.
Reading Deadpool: Killustrated made me think often of my Postmodern Literature course, from my undergrad days. I can say that this work is just about as postmodern a piece as I’ve ever encountered. With that in mind, working on this post I wondered just how much postmodernity I should incorporate. Remembering the sheer academic joy and the excruciating academic headaches reading Jacques Derrida and John Caputo gave me during my senior year, I decided on the less-is-more approach. We’ll discuss the aspects of Postmodernity we need to to understand the brilliance of Bunn’s work but we’ll go no further. If you’re intrigued, you’re already on the internet and that’s what Google’s for! Also, there’s always the Philosophy Section at Barnes & Noble. That being said, let’s move on!
The book begins where the previous volume left off, critiquing the Myth of Redemptive Violence. Surrounded by the corpses of dead superheroes, Deadpool laments the multiverse. He says, “I kill and I kill and I kill…but it’s never enough. There’s always another Spider-Man…another Captain America…another Ms. Marvel…” Again, the truths expressed here are twofold. First, this is the Spiral of Violence. Violence begets more violence which begets more violence which…it’s a never ending cycle. Second, violence can never truly accomplish anything of value. No matter how many characters Deadpool kills or how often he kills them, he can’t accomplish his goal.
Deadpool realizes that he must do more than simply kill the comic book heroes and villains (again and again across the multiverse). Rather, to end it all, he must destroy their source. He begins his journey to what he calls “the Ideaverse” and starts murdering his way through classic literature. Deadpool sees the truth; these classics are the “foundational realities” for the comic book worlds. So, logically, as Deadpool kills these inspirations, the characters that were born from those ideas would also begin to change/die. Deadpool understands “If he destroys [the classics]…he destroys every iteration of his prey.”
Thankfully, while equally intelligent and trippy as Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, Deadpool: Killustrated isn’t as dark. In this volume, Deadpool retains/has regained much of his hallmark humor and sass.
The hallmark of Postmodern Literary Criticism on the other hand is deconstruction of a text, working under the idea that there is no objective truth. All the beliefs we have, all the ideas that shape those beliefs, all the stories we tell ourselves to express those ideas, all the words we use to tell those stories, all the definitions we use to understand those words are constructs agreed upon by a set group of people. Everything is constructed. As such, everything is inherently meaningless, save for the meanings we give something. If we’ve constructed it, it has no inherent, objective meaning outside of what we’ve given it. It’s our creation and thus carries our meaning alone.
Some argue this approach advocates relativism (at best) and chaos (at worst). Chaos, however, is exactly where Deadpool lives. And it’s what he’s seeking to unleash. As Deadpool bounces around the Ideaverse he is pulling apart the very inspiration behind heroes he seeks to end/liberate. As one classic is destroyed, the others begin to shift too. Everything affects everything else. It is all interconnected.
As with the last volume, the beginning is very important. In Deadpool: Killustrated, Deadpool begins by hunting the white whale of Moby Dick. Obviously (and ironically) the symbolism here is important. To be succinct, there is A LOT written about Moby Dick. Exactly what the white whale symbolizes is a source of endless discussions amongst literary scholars in literary circles (and, I’m sure, for literature majors). Many advocate the idea that the whale represents something different to everyone in the novel, and for all the readers as well. So, by killing the white whale, Deadpool is (in a way) killing the very idea of symbolism. All of the superheroes that populate comics serve symbolic purposes. All fictional characters do! It’s part of the way literature works. So, if Deadpool is looking to end the existence of all the superheroes, he begins this quest by killing the idea of symbolism. With no symbolism, the heroes can’t spring into existence from the original characters that served as their genesis nor can they give birth to other ideas or characters themselves.
Bunn brilliantly illustrates some of the myriad heroes and villains who are derived from the literary classics as Deadpool sees flashes of those very same heroes and villains he knows as he’s killing the classics. Much of the fun of this book lies in seeing who Deadpool is hunting and why. As I did in the last post, I’ll leave all of that for you to discover yourself should you choose to give it a read. (If it’s not clear, I TOTALLY THINK YOU SHOULD DO THIS.) Instead of going through all of Deadpool’s kills, I’ll examine only one.
Deadpool heads inside Bram Stoker’s horror classic Dracula to kill the archetypal vampire and his brides. The web from Dracula through popular culture and literary works is immense. Without Dracula in the Marvel Universe alone we’d lose Morbius, Blade, Baron Blood, Hannibal King, perhaps Dr. Strange, Elsa Bloodstone…the list goes on. In popular culture, without Dracula we don’t have Penny Dreadful, True Blood, I Am Legend, Twilight, Nosferatu, and countless others.
This begs the question – where, if at all, does original thought exist? It seems no matter where we look, the inherent symbolism and inspiration of everything we enjoy comes from something else. Everything is created contextually. Take away the context, the idea ceases to exist and/or is forced to change. As postmodernity asserts, there is no objective truth. It is all subjective, thus dependent on the forces that shape it. Even Dracula itself was born of preexisting ancient myths and the actions of historical madmen and women. So if nothing is original, if nothing has inherent meaning, where does that leave us? Where is Deadpool taking his readers this time around?
The point of postmodernity’s approach to meta-narratives (the postmodern name for the stories we use to explain life and give it meaning) and deconstruction isn’t to leave us meaningless. Rather it is to show us that if there is no one, set, universal meaning then we can get rid of things that don’t serve us. We can tear down ideas and structures that are discriminatory or violent or unhealthy. There is nothing we must serve. It’s all a subjective creation! And then, once we’ve torn down the stories that no longer serve us, in their place we construct new structures that breed a healthier, happier, and more balanced existence. We must create the meaning in life! To use a bumper sticker cliche, “The meaning of life is to give life meaning.”
In the first volume Deadpool is wrestling (and by extension forcing the reader to wrestle) with how perverted it is that we create characters only to derive pleasure from their constant pain. In the second volume, he is showing us it doesn’t have to be this way. All narratives, all life is a construct. As such there is nothing inherent in us, nothing inherent in creation, that says we must gain enjoyment out of suffering or find violence and killing entertaining. If we decide that this is unacceptable, if we decide we want something else to entertain us, then everything will change. Part of the beauty of postmodernity is it reminds us both of the changing nature of everything as well as our own inherent ability (and responsibility) to create healthy and sustaining meaning in our lives.
Whew…okay, yeah. I know. Postmodernity can be rough sometimes. I’m going to go take a little break now, maybe read something a little more mindless. BUT we’re not done yet! We’ve one more leg left on our journey through Deadpool’s most meta experience ever. Yesterday he took apart the idea that grounds most comic book conflicts and their resolutions. Today we watched Deadpool take apart the very idea of the characters themselves as well as the idea that stories must operate in any specific way. The meta-madness will conclude tomorrow as Deadpool turns this unstoppable (and bloody) train of deconstruction inward and tries to pull himself apart. It’ll be interesting… Tune in tomorrow for more sassy swordsmanship and our thrilling conclusion!