The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for Deadpool Assassin #1. Enjoy!
Who doesn’t enjoy a good revenge story? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m dead serious. Is there anyone out there who isn’t enamored with a story about sweet, bloody revenge? I know the success of movies like “John Wick” and the iconic status of Batman do plenty to answer that question.
The question is still worth asking because the answer says just as much about the appeal of stories about forgiveness. To some extent, it shows that forgiveness isn’t as sexy as revenge. A revenge story can be bloody, action-packed, exciting, and cathartic. Almost every moment in “John Wick” and every issue of the Punisher is like that. It’s not hard to see why that is the basis of so many movies, TV shows, comics, and video games.
That’s not to say that a story about forgiveness can’t have appeal as well. It most certainly can. Forgiveness may not offer the same spectacle as revenge, but it can incur a uniquely powerful emotional impact. There’s a reason why forgiveness has been shown to have therapeutic effects and was the basis of a major religion.
This brings me to a very special comic book entitled “X-men Red Annual #1.” Yes, I am going to tie this powerful human experience to a comic book. No, I’m not going to apologize for it. If you’ve had a chance to read this comic, you’ll understand why.
It’s been a while since I singled out a specific comic that I believe conveys a much larger message, but sometimes a comic comes along at just the right time and strikes just the right emotional chords. This one does all that and so much more, especially for a die-hard X-men fan like me. However, it’s the forgiveness themes I want to focus on here.
Without spoiling too much about the comic itself, which I encourage everyone to go out and buy, it’s important to establish the circumstances that make those themes work here. Those circumstances revolve around Jean Grey, a character who is no stranger to death, resurrection, love triangles, and clones. Even by superhero standards, she deals with a lot of emotional baggage.
Until recently, though, she didn’t have to deal with any, largely because she was dead. From 2004 until earlier this year, Jean was among the numerous superheroes who were “officially dead.” I put that in quotes because “dead” in the world of comics tends to have a pretty loose meaning, well past the point of absurdity. The fact that Jean Grey stayed dead for that long is, in and of itself, pretty remarkable.
However, it was never a matter of if she would return from the dead or even whether Marvel would resort to time travel to replace her. It was only ever a matter of when. Her return was bound to have a huge impact on the X-men and the entire world of Marvel comics. “X-men Red Annual #1” simply built a story around it and it’s a damn good one.
It unfolds mere moments after Jean officially comes back to life again on the final page of “Phoenix Resurrection #5.” That moment, in and of itself, is full of emotions that writer, Tom Taylor, captures beautifully. It provides insights into Jean’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions at that moment. It’s a lot to take in, but in addition to the joy, there’s also a heavy bit of sorrow thrown in.
In a sense, Jean Grey picked a lousy time to come back to life. She’s coming into a world where her mentor, Charles Xavier, is dead. Her best friend and occasional love interest, Wolverine, is also dead, although that’s already changing. Most painful, though, is that her husband, Cyclops, is dead due to the events that unfolded in a series aptly named Death of X.
These are people near and dear to Jean Grey. She’s not the kind of character who just brushes off that kind of loss, hardens her heart, and moves forward. She’s someone who wears her emotions on her sleeve and does it with pride. It’s part of what makes her such a lovable, endearing character. Sure, those passions attract destructive cosmic forces every now and then, but she makes it one of her strengths.
As she reconnects with those who’ve sorely missed her, she has an opportunity to confront the one most responsible for her husband’s death, namely Black Bolt of the Inhuman royal family. While Cyclops’ death was largely an accident, he’s still the one whose decisions ended up killing him and many other innocent mutants. For that, Jean has many reasons to hunt Black Bolt down and make him pay.
Had she gone that route, I don’t think anyone would’ve blamed her. Hell, some within the X-men would’ve gladly fought by her side, including a few who hate her guts. Accident or not, Black Bolt killed her husband by doing what he did. There’s no way around that. She has every possible excuse to channel her inner John Wick.
However, that’s not what happens. Yes, she still assembles a team of X-men to confront Black Bolt and the Inhumans. Yes, she has a very tense exchange with Black Bolt. What she doesn’t do, though, is seek vengeance for her husband’s death. Instead, she seeks forgiveness and that ends up being far more powerful.
Think about the mentality it takes to forgive someone like that. Imagine you knew there was someone responsible for the death of a loved one. Even if it was an accident or unintentional, chances are your first inclination wouldn’t be to forgive them. More than likely, you would rather see them suffer and pay for their crime.
Even if that person ends up going to jail or is held legally liable for your loved one’s death, you’re still going to resent them. They took the life of someone you loved and, assuming you’re not in a world where people regularly come back from the dead, you can never get back what you’ve lost.
That feeling would be even more intense if the person responsible never faces consequences for what they did. In the case of Black Blot, he didn’t face any repercussions for killing Cyclops. He wasn’t charged with murder or even for involuntary manslaughter. In fact, Cyclops becomes vilified for a while.
If anyone would be motivated to pursue retributive justice, it’s Jean Grey. She even has the perfect opportunity to do so when she fights her way towards Black Blot. At one point, she uses her telepathy to show him just how much she loved Cyclops and how much losing him hurt. She even admits she could make him feel some of that pain, if only to let him know why he deserves punishment.
She doesn’t do that, though. She doesn’t attempt to impart her pain onto him. What she ends up doing is much more heartfelt and meaningful. She gives Black Bolt a chance to offer genuine, sincere remorse for his role in Cyclops’ death. He ends up taking that chance. He apologizes for what he did and, more importantly, Jean accepts it.
For a woman confronting a man responsible for her husband’s death, even if she is a comic book character, it’s a pretty powerful moment. It’s one that carries a unique emotional weight that you wouldn’t otherwise get if Jean had just shot him in the head with a 44 magnum. It very much reflects the power of forgiveness.
It’s the kind of heart that is exceedingly rare outside of Superman comics. At a time when we expect our superheroes to be edgy and tough, Jean Grey offers a very different approach in “X-men Red Annual #1.” It’s one that Tom Taylor uses to full effect, reaffirming Jean’s incredible capacity for love and compassion. It’s an approach that feels refreshing in an era of superhero civil wars.
It also reminds us that while vengeance may still be more appealing to our most basic instincts, it’s also incomplete at times. No matter how many criminals the Punisher kills or how many villains that Batman beats up, their loved ones are still dead. The pain continues and so too does the struggle. Forgiveness, on the other hand, offers a way forward.
Jean Grey feels the pain of loss like anyone else. She also has the choice to seek retribution or forgiveness. Forgiveness is, by far, a much harder recourse because it means accepting painful circumstances and even a certain level of injustice. Given how most of us are wired with an innate sense of justice, such acceptance seems untenable.
That’s what makes forgiveness so hard, but that’s also what makes it more impactful. Rather than focus on making Black Bolt pay for her husband’s death, Jean chooses to channel that pain into something positive. The very end of “X-men Red Annual #1” has her acknowledging how much it hurts losing her husband, but it also shows how this pain has inspired her.
Jean Grey is, essentially, doing the most heroic thing a superhero can do and it doesn’t even involve her powers. She decides to forgive the transgression that killed her husband and chooses to use that pain as motivation to make the world around her better. It’s still not as big a spectacle as watching John Wick kill 77 people over a dog, but it’s more dramatic for all the right reasons.
We’re living in a golden age, of sorts. If you’re fan of comic books, superhero movies, and complex villains, you’ve got a lot to appreciate. Between the emergence of complex villains like Walter White and the dominance of superhero movies at the box office, “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” being the latest, these are amazing times indeed.
It wasn’t that long ago that villains were barely distinguishable from a well-designed speed bump. Sure, there were memorable villains, but unless they came from the mind of George Lucas or Francis Ford Coppola, they weren’t that memorable. They only ever existed to make the hero more heroic.
That all changed when Health Ledger raised the bar as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” That Oscar-winning performance, more than anything, proved that villains could be both compelling and have motivations that go beyond pissing off the hero. More recently, Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War” has set a new standard that would make the Joker’s grin even wider.
As wonderful a time this is for fans of heroes and villains, alike, that added complexity comes with a few uncomfortable side-effects. In order for a villain to be compelling, they have to have some kind of motivation beyond just wanting to kill the hero. They have to have a goal or desire that ordinary, non-villainous people can understand and empathize with.
Heath Ledger’s Joker was an agent of death and chaos, but he found a way to make that seem right in the twisted, crime-ridden world of Batman. Thanos did the same with “Avengers: Infinity War.” What he did was on a much bigger scale than the Joker, but why he did it is actually part of what made him so menacing.
He didn’t want to wipe out half of all life in the universe out of sadism, hatred, or vengeance either. He didn’t even do it for the same reason he did it in the comics, which involved him falling in love with the female personification of death. I swear I’m not making that up. It’s one of those rare occasions that it’s good that the movie didn’t follow the comics too closely.
As the action-packed spectacle plays out in “Avengers: Infinity War,” Thanos goes out of his way to justify what he’s doing. It’s monstrous, brutal, and outright genocidal. At the same time, however, he really thinks he’s doing the right thing. He genuinely believes that the universe will benefit more than it loses by killing half of all life.
The way he goes about justifying such an atrocity is part of what makes “Avengers: Infinity War” such an incredible movie, as I made abundantly clear in my review. His motivations are presented so well that it’s hard not to ask the disturbing, yet pertinent question. Is Thanos right? Even if it’s only in part, is there some twisted merit to culling an entire population at that scale?
They’re deplorable questions with even more deplorable answers. Nobody who isn’t openly pro-genocide can condone Thanos’ methods. Even so, it’s a question that’s hard to leave unanswered. Even if that question itself disgusts us, it’s still one worth asking.
With that in mind, I’m going to make a concerted effort to answer it. Moreover, I’m going to try and answer in a way that doesn’t skew too heavily towards heroic or villainous biases. I’m just going to try and assess the merits of Thanos’ idea that culling life on a massive scale is necessary to save it in the long run.
The answer for such a daunting question is not simple, but it’s not as complex as those posed by other villains like the Joker, Baron Zemo, or Erik Killmonger. There’s a short and a long answer. To start, here’s the short answer to that daunting question.
Thanos is wrong, even if his intentions are right.
I think most sane people would agree with that. “Avengers: Infinity War” did an excellent job of giving context to Thanos’ action. He believed overpopulation on his home world, Titan, would destroy it. He turned out to be right. He saw, with his own eyes, his entire world destroy itself. In terms of raw numbers, he’s not wrong. Half a world is still better than no world.
There’s even some real-world parallels. Granted, they rely on immense amounts of suffering, but the implications are hard to ignore. It didn’t happen with the aid of infinity gems or talking raccoons though. It happened through an aptly named period called the Black Death, a period in history that I’m sure would fill Thanos with glee.
Most people with a passing familiarity of history know what happened during the Black Death. A wave of disease, mostly in the form of Bubonic Plague, ravaged Eurasia. It was so devastating that it’s estimated to have killed between 50 and 200 million people. In some cities, more than half the population died over a five-year span. Even by Thanos standards, that’s pretty brutal.
At the same time, though, the consequences of the Black Death had a few silver linings. Those lucky enough to survive inherited a world in which the flaws of the previous order had been shattered. Thanks to the Black Death, the old feudal order ended. A new middle class emerged. Old traditions and dogmas that helped spread the disease collapsed. From the ashes of that destruction, a stronger, healthier society emerged.
Thanos himself pointed that out in “Avengers: Infinity War” at one point. A massive onslaught of random, chaotic death has a way of getting society to reorganize itself. That kind of devastation makes it much harder to cling to the old order, especially if it relies on a mass of disease-prone peasants to do hard-labor for subsistence resources at best.
That’s the benefit Thanos sees. That’s also the danger that influential scholars like Thomas Malthus saw when he noted the dangers of overpopulation. Unlike Thanos, though, Malthus didn’t favor unleashing waves of death. He simply favored encouraging people to restrain themselves from having too many children that they couldn’t sustain. There was no need for an Infinity Gauntlet.
Both Thanos and Malthus saw overpopulation and strained resources as a problem, one that has to be solved by either restraint or mass death. However, the crux of their philosophy still relies on a series of key assumptions that are inherently flawed. This leads directly to the longer answer to that distressing question I posed earlier.
Thanos is wrong because his sample size is too small and justifying his actions requires assumptions that are demonstrably false.
I don’t think the answer needs to be that long, but it’s worth further elaboration. Not long ago, I cited a man named Dr. Norman Borlaug, a man who is basically the anti-Thanos. Rather than using death to fight hunger, he channeled the power of science, compassion, and good old grit to create new tools to improve food production, thereby feeding a growing population.
It’s worth noting that while Dr. Borlaug was hard at work, there were a lot of doomsayers out there like Thanos, warning that a growing population would lead to war, starvation, and conflict. Paul R. Ehrlich was probably the most famous with his book, “The Population Bomb,” which might as well have been written by Thanos.
Unlike Thanos, though, Dr. Borlaug and men like him helped prove that idea dead wrong. Ehrlich, Malthus, and Thanos all worked under the same flawed assumption. The carrying capacity of the world was finite. Once life approached that finite limit, it would lead to conflict that included starvation and war.
In the case of a species that could make weapons, like humans, that conflict could potentially destroy the entire world. That’s what happened to Thanos’ world. It almost happened to humanity on more than one occasion. However, there’s a fundamental flaw in that assumption. It’s the idea that humanity, or some other advanced species, is incapable of finding ways to transcending natural limits.
Part of what sets humans apart from other animals, who are very much at the mercy of a land’s carrying capacity, is their ability to make tools and modify the environment to improve survival and enhance resource management. As flawed as humans are, that’s still one of humanity’s greatest strengths. It’s part of what has helped us become the dominant species on this planet.
The human race, especially with the rise of modern civilization, has created amazing new tools that have helped us transcend the limits that once ravaged our species. Old limits like famine, disease, and even large-scale war have either been eliminated or mitigated. Even as our population increases, thereby straining our resources, we keep creating new tools that help us progress.
For Thanos to be right, humans and other alien species have to be incapable of making such tools. To some extent, Dr. Norman Borlaug proved Thanos wrong before Thanos was even created by Jim Starlin in 1973 . By then, Dr. Borlaug had already received a Nobel Prize for his work in helping to increase food production in places vulnerable to famine.
Maybe Thanos’ people never had a Dr. Borlaug to help improve their ability to prosper. From his perspective, someone like that is impossible. He goes onto assume that if it’s impossible on his world, then it’s impossible on every other world in the universe. It’s a flawed assumption, a sample size fallacy mixed with a faulty generalization fallacy.
Like a true villain, though, Thanos also works under the assumption that his world, Titan, is somehow representative of all worlds. It’s inherently egotistical, something that a lot of villains deal with. From Thanos’ perspective, though, he’s still doing what he thinks is right. He can’t possibly imagine that any other world could escape the fate of his.
There’s one more element he and other doomsayers like him have to assume that’s impossible to know. It’s also an element that undercuts many of the benefits that devastating events like The Black Death might foster. Even if killing half a population results in short-term benefits, those benefits are only justified if those killed weren’t going to aid in the progress of a society.
Think back to all those who died in The Black Death. Think back to those who’ve died in other terrible atrocities. How many of those dead might have gone onto become a Leonardo Di Vinci, a Martin Luthor King Jr., or a Nikola Tesla? Sure, there might have been a few nasty personalities mixed in, but they’re far less common than those with ideas, ambitions, and dreams.
It’s another significant assumption, believing that some of those lost in the atrocity might have gone onto solve the problems that Thanos foresaw. However, the fact that it’s every bit as possible as the contrary is further proof that Thanos’ logic, and that of other population doomsayers, is inherently flawed.
While I doubt these arguments would convince Thanos he’s wrong, seeing how he is still a villain and has a reputation for being mad, they’re still worth scrutinizing. Even if it’s possible to understand and even sympathize with Thanos to some extent, it’s refreshing to remind ourselves how flawed his assumptions are and how wrong he is in the grand scheme of things.
If nothing else, it reminds us why we should keep cheering the Avengers on when they take on Thanos again in “Avengers 4.” It’ll make that moment when they finally triumph that much more satisfying.
When a movie becomes an unexpected hit, both with critics and at the box office, the biggest question isn’t whether or not the studio will make a sequel. Major studios just love money too much. It’s just a matter of whether or not the sequel will be able to capture the magic of what made the first movie so great.
The first “Deadpool” movie was an unexpected hit that Fox didn’t even want to make. It broke so many rules, both with its R-rating and with its unorthodox approach to making superhero movies. In fact, it spent a good chunk of its overly violent first act establishing that “Deadpool” is not a superhero movie and Deadpool, the character, isn’t a traditional superhero.
By daring to be different while also embracing everything that’s lovable and unique about the character, “Deadpool” found a way to work, despite a paltry budget and an audience that still hadn’t forgotten Deadpool’s disastrous first appearance in “Wolverine Origins.” Now, “Deadpool 2” faces a new, but less daunting challenge in following up the unprecedented success of its predecessor.
Well, I’ll gladly spoil one detail about this movie. It matches, exceeds, and kicks the ever-loving shit out of those challenges. If you enjoyed the first “Deadpool” movie, then you’ll find plenty to enjoy with “Deadpool 2” and then some. Even if you found yourself unsatisfied with the first “Deadpool” movie, “Deadpool 2” will hit leave you feeling content in a way not possible without the aid of heavy stimulants and skilled hookers.
I realize that’s an overly vulgar way of saying that “Deadpool 2” is a great movie, but after seeing it, I think that’s perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the movie. It is, like its predecessor, an R-rated spectacle that does plenty to earn that rating. There’s plenty of profanity, violence, adult themes, and a lot of butt jokes.
Seriously, this movie doubles down on the appeal of butt jokes. It’s not quite in the same cartoonish mold as “South Park,” but it works because it’s a Deadpool movie. It needs to be vulgar and crude for the same reason water needs to be wet.
However, it’s not just the butt jokes, the violence, the crude humor, or the inherent lovability of Ryan “Mr. Blake Lively” Reynolds brings to the table. There are deeper, less juvenile appeals in “Deadpool 2” that help distinguish it from other superhero movies. It’s true to the Deadpool brand, but still finds a way to transcend its genre.
In the same way the first “Deadpool” movie mixed its superhero narrative with that of a genuine, sex-positive romance story, “Deadpool 2” does something similar. Instead of a romance story, though, the movie frames itself as a story about family and how to find one in an unfair, unjust world.
It’s a story that deals with serious issues of abandonment, abuse, and injustice. It does much more than its predecessor to incorporate the struggles minorities face that have played out in previous “X-men” movies. However, “Deadpool 2” never feels too much like an X-men movie. It keeps things personal and that’s key to making its story work.
Besides butt jokes and breaking the 4th wall, the underlying theme that drives the narrative in this movie is how everyone’s family gets shattered by various forces. Deadpool loses his family. Cable loses his family. Russell, also known as Firefist, is basically without a family from the beginning.
Those respective losses are what drive the characters through the story. That gives it a level of emotional weight that you wouldn’t expect for a movie based on a wise-cracking, exceedingly violent character who was heavily derived from an established DC character. That emotional weight is critical for both Deadpool and his supporting cast.
It’s here where “Deadpool 2” further improves on its predecessor. Unlike the first movie, it digs a little deeper into the vast catalog of X-men characters. The most important of those characters is Cable, the time-traveling badass whose convoluted origin story involves a clone of Jean Grey. It’s a character that Josh Brolin brings to life perfectly.
Already riding high from how he played Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War,” Brolin’s Cable brings a gruff balance to Deadpool’s quirky persona. That’s not just critical for the overall feel of the movie. It’s a critical element to their relationship, as established in the comics.
It’s not at all necessary to be familiar with their history in the comics to appreciate it in this movie, but as a life-long X-men fan, it’s nice bonus to see the spirit of the comics find their way into the movies. Given how often superhero movies take liberties with comic lore these days, that does count for something for fans like me.
As a result, Cable’s gruff, overly serious demeanor complements Deadpool’s eccentricities perfectly. Having both suffered immense personal losses, they both seek the same thing. Their methods are just very different and that makes for some glorious conflict, complete with references to Brolin’s role as Thanos and his role in “The Goonies.”
Aside from Cable, “Deadpool 2” also brings in other familiar X-men characters. That includes Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who had significant roles in the first movie. It also involves newcomers Bedlam, Shatterstar, and most notably, Zazie Beetz’s Domino. While not all these characters get a chance to shine, Domino does plenty to steal the show in multiple scenes.
There’s even a lengthy list of cameos throughout the movie and not just of the Stan Lee variety. The movie, even with its more serious themes involving family and loss, still finds plenty of ways to lighten the mood and have fun with itself. It never takes itself too seriously or gets too dark. It finds a way to mix in just the right amount of humor into everything.
By nearly every measure, “Deadpool 2” checks all the necessary boxes for an appropriately uncanny sequel. It offers a rich array of content that builds on what the first movie established along with plenty of bonus material, including one of the best post-credits scene of any superhero movie. Even if you don’t care for the movie, that post-credits scene will put a smile on your face, especially if you hated “Wolverine Origins.”
That’s not to say it’s a flawless movie. I wouldn’t put this movie above “Avengers: Infinity War” and not just because it’s a different kind of movie. “Deadpool 2” does a lot of things right, but it leaves some things unfinished. There are times when it rushes certain plot elements. As a result, characters like Vanessa and the lovably under-powered Peter feel wasted.
There are also a few instances where the the story feels choppy. Those instances are minor, though. While it would’ve been nice to establish a few other details about characters like Cable and Domino, the overall structure of the movie still works because it keeps the plot of “Deadpool 2” concise. It never tries to cram too much into the story, which has derailed more than a few superhero movies. See “Spider-Man 3.”
Overall, “Deadpool 2” is awesome because it has an identity and sticks to it. There’s crude humor, violence, and plenty of 4th wall breaking. There’s also genuine heart. In the same way the romance elements in the first movie felt sincere, the themes of family and finding a place in an unjust world feel just as sincere in this movie.
You’ll laugh and you’ll feel throughout “Deadpool 2,” but chances are you’ll probably do more laughing. As a whole package, “Deadpool 2” gives you plenty of reasons to leave the movie with a big smile on your face. Whether you’re an X-men fan, a superhero fan, or a fan of neither, this movie gives you something to enjoy.
If I had to score “Deadpool 2,” I would give it a 9 out of 10. It’s not flawless, but it’s pretty damn close. It’s exactly what you want it to be and then some. The ability to make more butt jokes is just a nice bonus.