I’m about to write a line I never expected to write. Are you ready? Gerry Duggan, Mike Hawthorne, and Matteo Lolli’s Deadpool is the best Secret Empire tie-in I’ve read. By far. Without question. No contest. Now, I love me some Deadpool! But with Sam Wilson: Captain America and Steve Rogers: Captain America and Champions and all the one shots (Uprising, Underground, and United) being on my pull list, I never thought ol’ Wade Wilson’s tale would be the best. But it is! Deadpool presents the everyman’s tale inside this massive, emotionally-heavy crossover event. It shows Secret Empire from the perspective of the “regular person” trapped within this system, struggling against the banality of evil growing around them while having no choice but to play their part in the new regime.
Secret Empire is a story of hope and how we find it in truly hopeless circumstances. I applaud Nick Spencer for the story he’s crafted and I thank Marvel for getting behind it so enthusiastically. I’ll admit I was skeptical at first but it’s completely won me over. Deadpool adds a necessary and very personal dimension to this story, smaller and more intimate in scope than the other titles. What do you do when the world goes to hell around you? What do you do when you realize you’re on the wrong side but challenging the evil endangers your family? How do you survive when the world stops making any sense whatsoever? This is the story Gerry Duggan, Mike Hawthorne, and Matteo Lolli are delivering in Deadpool and it gives the emotional punch of Secret Empire even more weight.
Wade Wilson isn’t spending his Secret Empire time fighting Chitauri invasion forces in space with Captain Marvel and Alpha Flight. He isn’t battling demons in the Dark Force Dimension bubble around New York City alongside Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones. Nor is he tracking down Cosmic Cube fragments with Iron Man or trying to uh, kill Steve Rogers with Black Widow. He isn’t doing anything larger than life. He’s just trying to do the best he can when he’s stuck and scared and he doesn’t have many options open to him. As a result, Deadpool gives us the story we can most readily identify with. Wade believed in Steve Rogers. He believed in him until it was too late…and the country had gone to hell in Hydra. But Wade can’t draw his swords and go toe-to-toe with the evil empire because he has his daughter Ellie to worry about, a girl with a mutant gene yet to kick in living in a country where all mutants have been imprisoned or deported. To protect her, he’s hunting Resistance leaders for Steve. Deadpool finds and takes down Speedball (and other D-listers) but doesn’t bring in any major leaders. When he finds Hawkeye and Quicksilver at the Mount in the desert, he decides not to report it. He tells Hydra the base is empty. So he’s trying to make the best of a shitty situation even if no one will ever appreciate or understand his efforts…which is often Deadpool’s lot in life.
All the while Deadpool’s wrestling with regret, doing something he knows is wrong, trapped in circumstances born from him trying to be a better person. Deadpool has always aspired to be a hero. No matter how hard he tries most of the heroes still never want him around. The X-Men, the Avengers, Spider-Man…nobody really likes to hang with the Merc with a Mouth, at least not for any stretch of time. But then Captain America took him under his wing. When everyone else rejected him, Cap believed in him! Cap welcomed him and made him a part of the Avengers Unity Squad! He loves Cap. He idolizes Cap. He trusts Cap. Who wouldn’t trust him? He’s Captain America. Wade’s lifelong idol is treating him like a friend and an equal. His life is finally turning around.
Naturally, Deadpool would do anything for Captain America. Steve Rogers knows this and when he learns, on the eve of his move to take control of the country, that S.H.I.E.l.D. Agent Phil Coulson is on to him, he calls in Wade. Steve sends him after Coulson, telling Wade he needs to be killed on sight. Of course Wade accepts. Deadpool hunts Coulson through the woods, runs him down, and puts a bullet in his chest. As he dies, Phil Coulson tells Deadpool he’s on the wrong side. Wade replies, “Has anyone ever said that about Captain America…and been right?”
This is so important to our overall understanding of Secret Empire. The mental movement Deadpool is making here is the exact sort of thing that allows totalitarian corruption and fascism to grow again and again through our history. In the 1960’s, Hannah Arendt was covering the Nazi war crimes trials going on in Jerusalem. As she reported on the trial of Adolf Eichmann – the chief architect of how to most efficiently transport Jewish prisoners to the Nazi death camps – she coined the term the banality of evil. What Arendt realized watching Eichmann on the stand was that he wasn’t a hateful, psychotic monster. Rather he was a man just doing his job. Arendt explained, “The Nazis had succeeded in turning the legal order on its head, making the wrong and the malevolent the foundation of a new ‘righteousness.’ In the Third Reich evil lost its characteristic by which most people had until then recognized it. The Nazis redefined it as a civil norm. Conventional goodness became a mere temptation which most Germans were fast learning to resist. In this upside-down world Eichmann…seemed not to have been aware of having done evil.”
This is how it begins with Deadpool. He has no idea that what he’s doing is wrong. He is completely wrapped up in following his hero. We glimpse many others – teachers, parents, politicians, police forces, etc. – in the main title doing the same. For Arendt, “Evil comes from a failure to think. It defiles thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil.” In Nazi Germany, evil became the daily norm. There are frightening parallels to what’s happening all around us here in the United States every day (as we normalize racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, marginalization and punitive attitudes towards those on the margins to a dangerous new degree) as well as to what’s going on in Secret Empire. Yes, there’s the Resistance. But the majority of the people in Hydra America are spinning amidst this new way of living. Some fight. Some join. Some know it’s wrong, others don’t. Some trust their government because it’s the government, others don’t.
When Deadpool realizes who Cap’s become and what he’s done, he’s haunted by his collusion. He killed Coulson before Coulson had the chance to get the truth out about Cap. Now Wade’s trapped in a world he hates. He and Ellie are living in D.C. as part of Cap’s new world order. Deadpool’s an Avenger again (part of the Hydra Avengers, alongside the Odinson, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Taskmaster, Black Ant, and the Superior Octopus) but he doesn’t like working for Hydra anymore than Ellie likes her new school. Yet what choice does he have? He thinks, “But she clearly ain’t lovin’ her new school. Whatever. I don’t love my new job, either.” He stays because he has no other option if he wants to protect Ellie.
It isn’t an entirely bleak tale of course. Deadpool’s humor naturally shines through. I love how he’s quietly subversive with his chants of “Fail Hydra!,” “Gail Hydra!,” “Nail Hydra!,” “Kale Hydra!,” and “Hail Yada, Yada, Yada!” in return to the classic “Hail Hydra!” salutes. In his humor, Deadpool gives us something else to identify with. Often our initial reaction (if not our only reaction) when we come face to face with the absurdity of existence is to laugh. Looking at the news each day, while it’s not an avenue to fixing anything, I still need to laugh at it all. It’s a defense mechanism as well as a way of processing what we can’t process in any other way. Deadpool’s humor also symbolizes another purpose. As we see with Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and the like, humor can often serve as a subversive force to speak truth to power when corruption reigns. Deadpool’s trapped in a situation he never expected to find himself in, unable to see a way out, yet is still actively trying to figure out how to make things better. Despite his fear for Ellie, his conscience and his heart won’t stay quiet. His joking in the face of both the absurdity and the evil of the Hydra regime illustrates that he’s still got fight left in him.
Deadpool can’t just help Hyrda. He has to try and do something. But every move must be made with extreme caution lest he put Ellie in danger. Putting ourselves in Wade’s shoes we find another of the philosophical questions this story raises – do we listen to our conscience when we know doing so will actively put us – and those we love – in danger? To what do we owe our highest responsibility? The good of all or the good of our family? We may be laughing…but this is heavy.
One of my favorite things about Gerry Duggan’s Deadpool has always been how he captures the emotional pain just below the surface. Yes, he’s cracking jokes and making inappropriate comments and pop culture references the whole time but you can always tell they so often come from (and mask) a place of pain. Deadpool’s life has never been easy and you can feel the weight of that pain, even as you’re laughing, with Gerry Duggan’s writing. For me that’s a central part of Deadpool’s character and Duggan presents it with melancholic perfection. This becomes all the more relevant in the Secret Empire setting. Wade Wilson is actively working to help a fascist regime hunt his friends. But what choice does he have? I can feel his pain and regret in an almost visceral way when I read these comics.
Herein lies the great philosophical question Deadpool adds to Secret Empire. If you know the bad guys are doing bad things and you know you’re helping them do bad things but if you stop it will harm your family…what do you do? It’s so easy to say superheroes should fight the forces of evil! That’s kind of their job. But as modern myths they also help teach us lessons. We don’t always find ourselves in compromising situations with a clear way out. So what do we do? This is the struggle Deadpool’s walking through and we, as readers, walk this road with him. Answers aren’t always easy. Not only do we feel Wade’s pressing imprisonment in a bad situation, we can appreciate his struggle to convey all this to Ellie, who wants nothing more than to “go home” again.
Deadpool – “Ellie, there are some things that a kid shouldn’t have to deal with…but unfortunately you’re going to have to navigate some pretty adult @#$%. Everyone has their own problems, and we never get to choose what our burden is.”
Ellie – “I don’t understand. I just want to go home. Back to the Preston’s.”
Deadpool – “I know, and I’m trying to tell you — you can’t. Not ever.
Ellie – “Why?”
Deadpool – “Because one day we woke up and the world was different. And because…you are different.”
Sometimes shit goes down and we have no control over it. We feel trapped in a world not of our own making, reacting and doing our best to keep our heads above water. We have no sense of control over our circumstances and we just have to do our best to survive minute-to-minute. This can come from our experience of the political/national landscape around us. This can come from our experience of the global landscape around us. Or this can come from far more intimate events – loss of a job, illness in the family, end of a relationship, etc. That’s what Deadpool’s experience of Secret Empire is. That’s what he’s dealing with. He’s in the middle of a shit storm and he’s just trying to do what he can do to keep his daughter safe, even if it means doing some dirty stuff.
Gerry Duggan, Mike Hawthorne, and Matteo Lolli have made Deadpool the best Secret Empire tie-in for presenting that very emotional, psychological, and spiritual tension with unflinching honesty. As we read, we see a dark and violent story of compromise and sin. Yet we understand why those steps were taken. Even if we don’t agree with Wade’s actions we can’t help but empathize. We’ve all been there, moments in life where we felt like all we could do was struggle to stay afloat and we’d do anything to keep from drowning. That’s what Deadpool is adding to Secret Empire – the intimate story of seeing evil become banal all around while wrestling with a seeming inability to do anything to directly change it without putting those you love in danger. Yes, we laugh while reading Deadpool but we also can’t help but wrestle with these very real questions…and wonder what we will do when corruption transforms the country around us.
 Hannah Arednt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), xiii.
 Ibid., xiv.