The idea of a Deadpool novel is exactly as strange as it sounds: how can one of comics’ most comic-booky heroes work in a medium that’s so completely different? But what’s even stranger is that Deadpool: Paws actually works ... when it stops trying to be a comic book without the pictures.
Paws is certainly unafraid of hiding its zaniness. It’s got a suitably bizarre premise for the Merc with a mouth: SHIELD has hired Deadpool to track down and eliminate a number of puppies. Not because SHIELD are cat people or anything, but because said pups have been genetically modified by a maniacal villain so that, when triggered, they mutate into nightmarish, rapidly-regenerative monsters with a thirst for human flesh. Deadpool must track down the pups, identify whether or not they’re harmless pooches or monstrous ticking time bombs, and eliminate them before they’re used to take over the world. It’s a totally ludicrous setup, but it’s meant to be: It is a Deadpool book, after all. I mean, look at the cover, wonderfully referential as Wade Wilson is wont to be:
The thing is, Paws itself is a lot like its titular hero. A whole identity that can be split into two halves: one that’s ridiculous and wacky and totally manic, and the other that tries to take itself a little more seriously. The first half of the book, that manic half, is surprisingly the bit that’s the least enjoyable aspect.
Author Stefan Petrucha tries too hard to play up Deadpool’s fourth-wall breaking commentary, and he does so to mainly have Deadpool whine to the audience about how much more exciting this adventure would be, and how much easier it would be to tell, if it were in a comic book rather than a novel. Honestly, it’s an accurate sentiment—the early beats of the book play out like they’re meant to be lifted from a page of a Deadpool ongoing. In trying to constantly remind you that this is a Deadpool story, it also tries to constantly remind you that it’s comic-book-y, too.
Everything is a description of a lavish, visual set piece, be it a fight or a chase scene or a monster reveal. Petrucha starts using italics and emboldening and even using different fonts to signify the voices bouncing about in Wade Wilson’s head. Even the arc of the story, as Wade ticks off dog after dog on his list to hunt down the monsters they turn to, feels like you can split it into single comic issues in a story arc. There are even guest cameos in each “issue” from Spider-Man and the Hulk. In rare moments, it gets literal, with the paragraphs broken up by word bubbles reading “Kapow” and “ZZT!”, trying to accentuate the action. On the very first page of the book, a little Deadpool illustration even shows up to introduce himself:
I’m not sure how many of these “original novels in the Marvel Universe” were available before Paws, but it feels like it’s desperately, breathlessly nudging at you and going “huh, huh, just like the comics!” like it’s trying to prove itself. That’s further accentuated by Deadpool himself, serving as a first person narrator, who is constantly knocking on the fourth wall to remind the reader how great this would all look in splash pages of a comic.
And honestly, it would be better in a comic, because trying to read it as a novel is not particularly pleasurable. The sentences are short, sharp, and come flying at you without time to sink in, like you’re flicking through an action sequence in a comic at high speeds. Chapters start coming in the incorrect order, one is just a sentence long (in a testament to Deadpool’s zaniness, of course). There’s some pretty severe tonal whiplash moments that would work in the heightened, concentrated emotional work place of a superhero comic—where everything is exaggerated a bit—that feel jarring in a novel. Not only is Deadpool the narrator constantly telling you that this should be a comic book, the flow and feel of Petrucha’s writing is, too, and in the medium of a novel, it never quite works. Almost like it’s trying to prove its own point—“A Deadpool novel? Ha! It’ll never work!”.
But there’s a turning point about halfway through where that eagerness to be a comic book fades away, and Petrucha just concentrates on using the novel format to tell a good story that just happens to be told from Deadpool’s perspective. Everything slows down a little, becomes a bit more measured—and most importantly, Deadpool’s metatextual humor stops being used to jam comic-bookiness into a novel, and instead is used to play with literary techniques like unreliable narration and withholding information from the reader, because Deadpool knows he’s in a novel, and can do that.
It’s used to serve the novel format, rather than constantly remind the reader of its differences to comic books. Hell, it even actually lets the book be a little funnier in terms of actual jokes, instead of just playing up to the zaniness of Deadpool as a character and trying to find humor in cramming comic book-iness into a novel. It’s still that sort of juvenile Deadpool humor—for example, the villain of the story is named Dick, and as the book reaches its climax, Deadpool finds it hard to resist trying to think of some penis innuendo to use in his moment of triumph—but it got a few genuine chuckles out of me. It had stopped trying to be a comic book and just started being a funny Deadpool adventure.
So when the final page of the story comes to a close and another Deadpool illustration comes up, it’s weirdly jarring and disruptive:
Especially as it once again gives up the pretense of being a novel and just wants to shill some Deadpool comics at you. The desire to read Deadpool comics isn’t something I had felt by the time I’d finished the book—it was a desire to see more books in the Marvel universe that were like the second half of Deadpool: Paws. The reminder of the comics themselves punctured that feeling a little, as if the enjoyable novel was an interlude to the “proper” comics, and I’m guessing it’s not the intention.
Deadpool: Paws isn’t going to be the best book you read this year, and it never set out to be—but when it sets its mind to it, it can be an enjoyable, page-turning romp. It just needed to remember that, even though it was set in the fantastical world of the Marvel Comics Universe, it didn’t need to try be a comic book to tell a good Deadpool story.
Deadpool: Paws is available now. A copy was provided by Marvel for review.