Guest Writer: Michael J. Miller
Cullen Bunn and Ramon Rosanas, the author and illustrator on Marvel’s 2014 graphic novel Night Of The Living Deadpool, taught me two very important lessons with their book. First, I learned they know the genre. The whole book is filled with references, direct and subtle, to all manner of zombie dystopias from Night Of The Living Dead to The Walking Dead to I Am Legend to Zombieland. Second, and much more importantly, I learned if the zombie apocalypse ever does occur I think I want to go through it with Deadpool! Sorry Rick. Sorry Darrell. Sorry Glenn and Maggie (our zombie apocalypse version of Jim and Pam). Sorry Carol. I love you all. And you kick ass. But Deadpool’s the one I want getting me through the apocalypse because he’s the one joking about it the whole time. With Deadpool by your side you might even enjoy yourself. That’s the attitude you’d need! Who wants bleak and depressing reflections on humanity and death when you can own your last-man-on-earth status and walk through the apocalypse singing Tiffany??
The whole graphic novel is brilliant. In fact, it’s easily one of the best entries I’ve read (or seen for that matter) in the zombie subgenre. Entirely in black and white (save Deadpool), they pay homage to Night Of The Living Dead and the comic book version of The Walking Dead while also maximizing the potential for creepiness that the medium offers its visuals. Deadpool’s humor elevates the tone of the story though, making it the type of book that’s sort of embarrassing to read in public because you find yourself uncontrollably laughing out loud, something I did multiple times. However, most remarkable of all, is the philosophical depth of the book. Zombies are everywhere (as I wrote about here) in pop culture. But Bunn and Rosanas take the concept to new places and use it to make some powerful and poignant critiques of our society along the way.
It opens with a unique read on the apocalypse. The story begins with Deadpool waking up from a chimichanga-induced food coma to find the zombie apocalypse has broken out around him. Narrating, Deadpool observes, “We’ve all heard that old, apocalyptic adage, right? That the world will end not with a bang…but with a whimper. The painful truth of the matter is a little different, though ain’t it? Because the fact of the matter is that the world keeps on keeping on. We just ain’t in charge anymore.”
There’s so much truth to that idea. We tend to associate the end of the world with the end of us. But in reality, the world existed before we got here and it will exist long after we’re gone. We can’t destroy the world…but we can make it uninhabitable for us and many other life forms along the way (something we’ve gotten far too good at for comfort). The comic opens by shining a light on this. Is this one of the reasons we are so fascinated/scared by the post-apocalyptic dystopia? We are simultaneously scared by a world where we can no longer bend it to our will and fascinated by what it’d feel/look like to live like that. Perhaps there’s a little human hubris in the fact that we so often envision worlds where we’re no longer on top/in control as living hells too…
While reflecting on the coming of the apocalypse Deadpool notes, “My guess is…nobody noticed the little things…otherwise we might’ve nipped this — whatever it is — in the bud before it got out of hand.” Again, how true is this of us? We spend our lives ignoring so many “little things” – climate change, gun violence, poverty, slavery, war, racism, sexism, and all manner of ingrained, societal injustices. Rather than face these issues, to own them and try to change them, we ignore the fracturing of our society. We believe ourselves to be invincible. But Night Of The Living Deadpool warns us that those “little things” are coming for us. If left unchecked, they’ll make monsters of us and bring about a hell on earth.
The story takes one of its most terrifying turns when we learn the zombies are conscious of who they were and what they’re doing. As they approach Deadpool they beg for death, horrified by what they’ve become and a hunger they have no control over. This adds to and develops their social critique. If we ignore the “little things” for too long, not only will we become monsters, but we won’t notice until it’s too late to do anything. Then we will have to live with the guilt of our willful ignorance and apathy as we reap the consequences of our detachment. These are not easy thoughts to entertain. We rarely like a light shining down on our sins, forcing us to consider what we can (and should!) do to make things better. Deadpool speaks for us all when, looking at the world he’s now in, says, “This — this — is just downright unsettling.”
Portraying a bit of the diversity of human thought and experience, the zombies themselves have different reactions to their living hell. Most are begging for death. Others ask questions, concerned for those they once knew and loved. Others still feel, if they have to suffer, then they should take Deadpool (and anyone else left alive) down with them. Misery loves company right?
Since the zombies are cognizant of their fate and are begging for death, Deadpool observes, “And — hey! — I’ve played video games! Whacking dead folks is supposed to be fun! But all the whimpering and pleading and weeping is really killing my zombie-slaughtering buzz!” Death is a regular (and often central) part of our entertainment. (That in and of itself is really, really weird if you think about it.) We kill scores of enemies in our video games. We cheer for the death of villains in our movies and TV shows. We even read comics about people “whacking” the undead and living alike. But there is nothing glamorous about death. It’s not entertaining or exciting. Despite how we often treat it in popular culture, death is not to be taken lightly. In reality, all life is a noble and beautiful. In any circumstance, its end is something to mourn, not an exciting climax to a narrative. Marvel’s favorite mercenary comes face to face with that reality here.
Deadpool also eventually finds a small group of survivors. Among them we meet Joey, who was in fifth grade before the world went to hell, and his sister Willow who was in third. They have (obviously) given up their ordinary childhoods for lives of guns, knives, and a brutal fight to survive. When we thoughtlessly endorse the systemic injustice of our society, we both rob children of their innocence (like, for example by exposing them at a painfully early age to a sexually charged world of objectification and teaching them their worth comes from how they comply with its standards) and heap upon them the consequences of our sins (they have to live in an unjust world because we ignored the problems and in so doing transformed nothing). Joey and Willow are growing up too quickly in a hell they didn’t create…but will become the only world they know. The truth of the metaphor is painful.
Ultimately (without giving too much away, obviously I’ve loved this graphic novel and highly recommend you read it yourself), Deadpool finds one of the people who helped unleash the zombie apocalypse – an A.I.M. scientist named Clarence Sykes. He tells Deadpool, “You must understand. We were all believers. We were scientists, yes, but we shared a common faith. What we were doing…it was for the betterment of mankind. First and foremost it was for increased profit margins…but a better world was a definite secondary consideration.” While some say the world will end in fire and some say in ice…Night Of The Living Deadpool proclaims it is our idolatrous love of money and a tragically misplaced faith in our own abilities that will bring us down, robbing us of our humanity and turning us into monsters that feed on one another and live in a hell on earth.
For a graphic novel starring Marvel’s Merc with a Mouth traversing a world of zombies, this book was filled with thought-provoking allusions and brilliant symbolism. It moved me at parts and left me in deep reflection at others. Yet, it never felt heavy or preachy. You can enjoy it as a fun, zombie adventure or you can allow it to teach you, to challenge you. Bonus – with Deadpool at the helm – you’ll be laughing the whole way through. To be able to laugh in the face of the zombie apocalypse (or societal injustice) is to say it has no final power over you. No matter how bleak it seems, you can still laugh because you still have power. You can still see the light. If Deadpool’s cracking jokes while fighting the zombified-tied of evil around him, that’s the party I want to be at. Because maybe while I’m laughing, and my mental guard is down as I’m relaxed, I’ll learn something. And maybe what I learn will inspire me to act. And maybe I can make the world a little bit better by my actions And maybe if a lot of us decide to act… Well, if Deadpool can help get us there, what better guide for the zombie apocalypse (or fighting injustice) could we ask for? To challenge, to learn, to protect…all while laughing at the darkness around us? Sounds like a good deal to me.