It is the professional comic book reviewer's job to know everything about every comic, and to review each book with an informed, dispassionate opinion, borne of a wealth of understanding of the history of the art form and how it works in the most minute detail. This will inform the reader in a fair and unbiased manner if the book is worth reading.
And that's why there aren't any professional comic book reviewers.
I'll just come out and say it here: I went into this book more or less blind. My knowledge of both characters is at least a decade out of date.
This is comics, though. If we can't learn to jump on something without forcing ourselves to catch up on a decade of continuity, we'll have nothing to read from The Big Two.
Let's take a look at "Spider-Man/Deadpool" volume 1, "Isn't It Bromantic?", collecting the six of the first eight issues of the series. (We'll get into that debacle later...)
Yes, there's some serious continuity that this series plays into. I had heard that Deadpool got married, so that wasn't a shock to me. I had no clue he had a daughter, to the point where I was sure that scene was a deception Deadpool was playing on Spider-Man. Guess not?
Peter Parker now runs an IP firm or something, while Spider-Man (played by numerous people, including The Prowler) is his bodyguard. That makes sense.
Deadpool is hired to kill Peter Parker, at the same time he decides he wants to go straight. Er, "straighter." So he enlists Spider-Man's help to become a better good guy. Whoops.
There's a natural friction between the two and it works like gangbusters. Kelly starts the book off with a scene to prove it, setting the stage and the reader's expectations for what he's about to deliver.
The continuity thing doesn't get in the way, for the most part, though I was lost or confused by things a few times. For starters, where did that black costume with the Black Widow-ish symbol on Spider-Man's palms come from? And that one Peter Parker with the robot neck was a bad guy in a mask, and not some kind of Life Model Decoy?
OK, I assumed too much there.
Live and learn.
These are side distractions to what is otherwise a good story that I was mostly comfortable with jumping into cold.
There's a Story Here, Too
It's the "bromance" between Deadpool and Spider-Man that stands at the center of this series. It also forms all the best parts of it. Once again, character trumps plot. The plot should be in service to the character, and should happen only because of what the character does in reaction to it.
Deadpool's wisecracks can get a little obnoxious at times, unlike the more conservative Spider-Man one-liners that, at worst, cause a small groan at a piece of verbal wordplay. Humor is such a matter of taste, though. I thought I had had enough of the cheap and occasionally putrid/anatomy-specific one-liners after the first issue, but I learned to accept and enjoy them as the book went on. Thankfully, Kelly's script doesn't lean on those quips like a crutch.
The two characters have obviously similarities, from the red costumes and face masks to the wise-cracking antics. Kelly explores both of their characters in relation to one another, pushing each in interesting directions to the point where they need to question who they are and why they do what they do.
There's a great variety of characters in this book, from a re-imagined Styx and Stone to Deadpool's Mercs for Money. Deadpool has a repainted Spidey-Mobile, Hydro is the butt of a few jokes, Dormammu is the surprise baddy at the start, etc. Kelly gives McGuinness lots of chances to draw lots of interesting looking characters, and it helps keep the book alive. Even with all the greatest gags, a talking heads book might get boring. McGuinness' art is never that.
The Growth of an Artist
The worst thing you can say to an artist is "I liked your old stuff better."
I won't say that about Ed McGuinness here, whose art has obviously evolved and grown in the 20 years since he drew those first "Deadpool" series comics. It's not as simple, clean, and cartoony as it once was. His style has changed into something with more detail and more superhero dynamics. It blends in more than it used to with the rest of comics, though that base bubbliness in still there.
Most importantly, he still "gets" Deadpool. The strongest stuff is his comedic material. His characters can act goofy, or they can act deadly serious if that's what's required to sell the gag. They always choose correctly, which sells every scene that Spider-Man and Deadpool are in together.
The final polish on the art is secondary to all that. I think McGuinness is more consistent in his art now than he was then. There's less random weirdness in anatomy or off angles in this series than there was in the original. But the style has definitely gotten a little more detailed and has drifted more towards Super Hero Standard.
Page layouts have grown into something a little wilder, moving out of the grid format and into more bizarre combinations and even some double page spreads that wreak havoc digitally on an iPad.
It's still enjoyable, and Deadpool still has that weird little wisp on the back of his head with the costume. I'm not sure I need all the rest of the detail and the lines on the costume that everyone seems to insist modern superhero comics need.
But, hey, he still draws Deadpool with lots of pouches, so I'm happy.
Weirdness of the Format
"Spider-Man/Deadpool" volume 1, "Isn't It Bromantic?", collects issues #1-#5 and then #8. Issues #6-#7 are included in the second collection of this series and are done by different creative teams, but are referenced on the back cover as part of this first trade.
This is all part of the larger problem with comics publishing today, though. There's no focus to this series. It should be Spider-Man and Deadpool in one long story by the same creative team throughout.
Kelly and McGuinness' run on the series is scheduled to end soon with issue #18. They will have done twelve of those issues as two six part storylines, with fill-in issues scheduled in the middle of both arcs, sporadically. Issues #6-#7 interrupt the first story arc before it's conclusion. Then there are interruptions in issues #11-#12 after the first two parts of the arc, and again with issues #15 -#16 for a crossover with other Deadpool titles.
It makes no sense.
This isn't wrong; It's just ridiculous. It takes 18 issues to finish two six part stories, with neither arc happening in consecutive issues.
But, hey, the book came out every month with something in it and that's all that counts. Right?