‘The Conspiracy against the Spider-Man’ is a four-volume look at the history of the Marvel Universe from the perspective of Peter Parker. Volume one, The Fantastic Mr. Parker, looked at the events of Peter Parker’s life from Amazing Fantasy #15 through The Amazing Spider-Man #122; Volume two, The Black Suit, explored the events of The Amazing Spider-Man #123 through Spectacular Spider-Man #200; and Volume three, The King in Red and Blue, looked at everything within the pages of Web of Spider-Man Annual #9 to Iron Man. The following excerpt comes from Volume four, The Death of the Marvel Universe, and explores Deadpool #1-3. If you would like to see the full version of The Conspiracy against the Spider-Man, please send four payments of $1,000,000 to my PayPal.
PREVIOUSLY: For reasons currently obscure, various members of the Marvel Universe, in particular Tony Stark, have collaborated, intentionally or not, in a ritualistic sacrifice to the demonic entity known as Mephesto. Said sacrifice ultimately resulted in the omphalos of the Marvel Universe, Peter Parker, being destroyed and replaced with a mere pastiche of his former self.
In the wake of this, two things of note happened. First, the omphalos, the central heart of the narrative of the Marvel Universe, shifted away from Peter Parker and towards another individual: Wade Wilson. Secondly, something has begun to brew in the distance. A second universe with the general outline of the Marvel Universe. A monstrous evil that seeks to consume everything in its wake and leave only itself.
The death of the Marvel Universe is at hand. We have seven years left.
Considering where history ultimately goes, it is perhaps fitting that the first ongoing series (written by Daniel Way and Drawn by Paco Medina) featuring Wade Wilson would open with a tie-in to the event comic Secret Invasion. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Secret Invasion was a 2009 event comic about the shape-shifting alien race known as the Skrulls invading the planet Earth after disguising themselves as Superheroes. As Grant Morrison notes in their 2011 book Supergods, the comic made “some slightly hamfisted attempts to compare Skrulls to radical Islamists.”
The repugnant, monstrous nature of the series is exemplified within the opening pages of the first issue of Deadpool. Here, we are presented with a crowd of humans at a Phillies game looking in horror as an alien spacecraft descends into their view. As the Skrulls prepare to capture the humans, they discover that one of them, dressed as a copyright-free version of Phillie Phanatic, isn’t quite human but is heavily armed. They shoot the mascot down only to discover that he was, in fact, wearing body armor. As to be expected, the mascot was secretly Deadpool all along.
There are many truly gobsmacking aspects of this opening. The motivation for the Skrulls targeting a baseball game is that the sport is an obscene spectacle and its destruction is described as “one of countless blessings bestowed upon the human race by the new order.” As Wilson slaughters the various Skrulls, he quips, “Psst. Boys, how do you say, “Oh, $#@!” in Skrull-ese,” harkening back to the racist yellow peril stories featuring aliens like Ming the Merciless or Korax. But perhaps the moment that truly solidifies the racist implications of the event comic comes from the opening page itself.
As mentioned before, humanity is born witness to the coming invasion. But the thing about the humans represented in this opening page is that they are, with one or three exceptions, all white. (The exceptions include a light skinned black man and two men who might be Asian, though it’s hard to tell given Medina’s messy artwork that tries for Mark Bagley style realism and misses. Tellingly, all three of them are players of the sport rather than fans.) The culture that is being attacked by these foreign invaders is that of white people and especially white Americans. The sport of baseball is, by most accounts, extremely white. While its fans are not uniformly white, it is nevertheless the largest demographic of baseball fans.
Equally, the sport is considered by many to be key to the American culture, from the ritualistic opening of games with The Star Spangled Banner to the various advertisements of American life that focus on the sport almost as often as they do American flags and the beer being sold to the existence of Field of Dreams. The sport itself is nothing to write home about, ultimately a rather dull affair occasionally enlivened by copious amounts of alcohol. But that the American culture values it while the Skrull culture sees it as something worth destroying is telling.
It is in this light, then, that we must understand the function of these three issues of Deadpool. The attack on the baseball stadium was a ploy on the part of Wade Wilson as a resume to collude with the Skrulls. This is actually a feint on Wilson’s part, as he’s trying to infiltrate the Skrull ship for information on the behest of Nick Fury. Said information being how to kill a Skrull queen. If it sounds like I skipped a lot, rest assured that I did not. The first three issues of this Deadpool run, like a lot of Way’s Deadpool, is defined by a sense of frivolity.
The comic doesn’t even try to make the status quo of Wade Wilson, Traitor to Humanity seem the least bit plausible. It’s a, in the comics words, “WTF” ending page to issue one before being clear within issue two that this is a ploy. Wilson is fucking with the Skrulls because he would never actually betray his home. What kind of human would betray Earth when it’s being invaded by these godless Skrulls? (Tellingly, when confronted by the Skrulls for his treachery, Deadpool’s response is “What–to the Skrulls? Of course! But to Earth? To America? Hell, no. These colors don’t run.” This is despite the fact that Wilson is Canadian.) The comic moves at a rapid fire pace where things aren’t allowed to breathe. (Ironic, considering these issues are tying into a Bendis comic.)
Not helping matters is Way’s depiction of Deadpool as suffering from hallucinations. He had previously done this within the series Wolverine Origins with artist Steve Dillon, but it worked there because of the (relative) thematic unity. In that story, Way had Wilson be hired to kill Wolverine in a pastiche of various Looney Tunes cartoons. The hallucinations, in turn, make things look and feel like a Looney Tunes cartoon. While by no means Dillon’s best work, his style nevertheless is capable of shifting back and forth between the cartoony world of Wilson’s “Pool-O-Vision™” and the more realistic world of the Marvel Universe.
Conversely, Medina’s more Bagley-esque style does not contrast enough with the style used in the hallucinations. At most, characters look chibi, though not chibi enough to be distinctive from what’s come before. Furthermore, the hallucinations themselves are rather drab and uninteresting, from “The Skrulls as Deadpool fanboys” to “So there are two voices in his head that are both not him.” The hallucinations, ultimately, act less as a narrative device and more like a quirky gag to fill space. As with Way’s run as a whole, nothing truly stands out. It’s just another Marvel superhero book.
Except, that is, for the final page. As I mentioned earlier, all of this is a ploy on Wilson’s part to get some information to Nick Fury as part of the campaign against the Skrulls. Your basic “double agent” plot, seen time and time again in superhero comics. Even the specific information asked for, how to kill a Skrull Queen, is typical of such stories. Things take a turn when Wade Wilson does not deliver the goods. But even this is to be expected, as the Merc With a Mouth rarely actually delivers the goods, both in terms of his stories frequently being mediocre and because he’s a colossal fuck-up.
What isn’t expected, however, is where those goods went: into the hands of Norman Osborn. We have discussed the role of Norman Osborn frequently within the previous volume, but it’s perhaps best worth recapping his status in the Marvel Universe. This is not the Norman Osborn who killed Gwen Stacy, but rather an abused child’s memory of an abuser given flesh. A vile, monstrous man who acts not out of self-interest but out of sadistic glee. A man who will hurt others for pleasure, kill for power, and curdle the universe. He is the dark mirror of Spider-Man: a man who has great power and uses it for himself.
And he has just stolen the power to kill the Skrull Queen, something he will use in the final issue of Secret Invasion. But what’s more important is what that theft means. For all intents and purposes, this should have been Deadpool’s moment. At the time the comic was coming out, Marvel Comics™ was beginning a massive push for the character, releasing countless spin-off books, adventures with alternate versions of himself. Deadpool was practically everywhere in 2009. But what he didn’t get, what he would never get, was a big moment. A moment where all the world looked to him and saw him for his greatness.
Such moments are key to the omphalos, the heart of the Marvel Universe from which the tone and meaning springs. But there’s not enough substance within Wade Wilson for him to fully function within that role. Sure, he has some great stories within him, both before and after Way’s mediocre run. But he isn’t a substantial enough character to be able to hold the status of omphalos, at least not for long. But then, the same could be said of most characters.
It’s fitting, then, that Norman Osborn would take that starring role away from Deadpool, especially given this story. The Norman Osborn defined by this story was reconstructed by Warren Ellis as one of his despicable bastards in the then-recent Thunderbolts into an arm of the US government in the wake of Civil War. In a blatant steal from the DC Comics series Suicide Squad, the Thunderbolts of this era are a team of Supervillains press-ganged by the Government into hunting down Superheroes who do not fall in line with the law at the time that all US Superheroes must be agents of the US Government or they will be shot and caged.
While many incarnations of the Thunderbolts had an almost grey morality, this incarnation (while having some sympathetic members) was filled to the brim with psychopaths, sadists, and incest Nazis. At the head of the team is Norman Osborn, an agent of the US Government dealing with a psychotic break that leads him to killing people while dressed up as a Green Goblin, strutting around naked while plotting his evil schemes. Which is to say, about as insane as the average leadership of the US Military.
It’s fitting that Osborn would be propelled to omphalos status by Secret Invasion: a story about how America is justified in its imperialistic actions in the Middle East because they not only struck first but have also been hiding among us in plain sight, making us think they were normal Americans. That monsters such as Norman Osborn are a necessary evil when fighting against terror. Who cares if someone gets hurt? As long as it’s not us, it’s fine.
In the wake of Secret Invasion, Norman Osborn would be given complete control over the superheroes of Marvel’s America. As we continue forward, we will see just how horrifying that prospect truly is.
But for now, we must also turn our gaze towards the second universe. It is building itself bit by bit. It’s not fully formed, not yet. In the time since we have last looked at it, the Omphalos of its universe, Tony Stark, has begun making deals. Previously, he was accosted by government agents, in particular one Nick Fury, about making a larger world.
Now, he meets with an agent of the US Military. This is rather unsurprising considering his previous business. As we’ve said before, this second universe is built on the imperialistic and monstrous actions of the US within the Iraq War. A weapons manufacturer horrified by the effects of his weapons. But, as we’ve noted, the universe errs towards America. We may see individual actors in America framed as villainous, but America ultimately is good within the eyes of the second universe.
Because, as with all worlds centered around an Avenger, the problem with a system is not the system itself but rather those who use and exploit the system. Individual actors who would disrupt American interests and American values. And, perhaps most horrible of all, an Avengers World, ultimately, leads to destruction.
TO BE CONTINUED…