Deadpool and The Punisher don’t exactly have a lot in common. Sure, they both have painful pasts and fall into the anti-hero category more than many of their Marvel contemporaries. But as characters they inhabit very disparate comic book worlds.
Just compare the screen adaptations of each, which we can do, because the trailer for Netflix and Marvel’s The Punisher was released last week!
In one corner, we have the wisecracking Wade Wilson, who brings just as much hilarity as ultra-violence to any story he stars in.
In the other corner, we have Frank Castle. The man is stoic, ruthless and cold. The style of his stories, to keep with the trend of describing things with three adjectives, is grim, gritty and blood-soaked.
So how do these characters work when combined? As it turns out, they work bloody well; and here ‘bloody’ is both used for emphasis, and to describe the aftermath of the fight sequences.
In Deadpool vs. The Punisher, from writer Fred Van Lente and artist Pere Perez, the crooked money launderer ‘The Bank’ hires Wade Wilson – Uncle Wade to the Bank’s son, who Deadpool has a genuine connection with – to kill the Punisher.
But it turns out to be a harder job than Deadpool could have anticipated, especially as our antiheroes keep finding themselves fighting on the same side, even as they try to take each other out.
The set-up might seem a bit imbalanced: it’s a man with a grudge versus a man who has been mutated through scientific experimentation. Deadpool’s healing powers were always going to make for an unfair fight between these two fan-favourites, and Van Lente has cleverly constructed a story that sidesteps this mismatch of science-fiction superpowers.
The narrative twist works best without spoilers, but suffice to say that in each issue collected in this trade the story effectively resets – so Deadpool struggles to gain the upper hand over the Punisher.
Perez’s art brings together Deadpool and the Punisher’s styles. There is comedy with carefully chosen facial expressions, blended with the bloodiness of a classic Castle tale. Perez also works hard to make the frequently occurring fight scenes interesting. One of his more effective techniques uses smaller, boxy panels in a checkerboard, where the action occurs disjointedly. It can be a bit disorienting, but then sucker punches are supposed to be. This stylistic choice makes you pay attention to the action.
Perhaps what’s most enjoyable about this mini-series is that Deadpool and the Punisher seem to genuinely get along. Their disparate personalities make them the perfect odd-couple, and Deadpool even tries to figure out what their ‘ship’ name would be: Punpool or Deadisher.
There’s even a panel when you almost think Castle is going to crack a smile at one of Deadpool’s jokes. (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t.)
We all know that Deadpool is an overtly comical comic character, it’s part of his shtick. While the Punisher is … less so, to say the least. This setup means we get to see him more as a genial ‘bad cop’ to Deadpool’s ‘good cop’. Okay, ‘good cop’ might be taking it a bit far, let’s go with ‘morally ambiguous cop’ for them both.
Van Lente also goes all-in on absurd humour, including a laugh-out-loud meta reference to the ‘Martha’ scene in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. You know, that scene where Batman and Superman decide to talk their differences out over a cup of tea, just because their mothers are both called ‘Martha’? Deadpool vs. The Punisher plays it for self-referential laughs, without mentioning DC or the title characters once.
This is a romp of a crossover comic that makes the most of its mismatched pairing. To put it simply: we ship Punpool.
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