So, Spider-Man and Deadpool have a new comic, released last Wednesday 6th Jan. You know what the title is? Spider-Man/Deadpool. Uh huh. You know what you get when you Google that? Fic. That’s what. (And go ahead, this post’ll be here when you get back…)
For anyone who has not been anywhere near the recent mainstream media furore over fandom, let me introduce you to the concept and practice of ‘slash’ fiction. It’s fanfic, about two same-sex characters having a romantic or sexual relationship or relations. Usually, characters who do not have such as relationship in the original (or ‘canon’) work from which they were drawn. The name comes from the convention of describing the work in zines and in hashtags by the formula ‘name/name’. This is a long-standing practice, going back to at least the 1970s Star Trek fandom and Kirk/Spock. It’s also a widely reported on practice; pieces in The Economist, New Statesman, The Guardian, The Daily Dot, LA Weekly etc. etc. etc. (to read in Yul Brynner’s voice) The accuracy of these pieces is variable, but the general concept of the naming practice is recognised in all. You want something better, here’s The Toast’s Brief History of Slash.
So, with all this popular public discussion, comic creators definitely know what’s going on. And Deadpool’s creators have long suggested that Deadpool’s sexuality is anything but the simple ‘no homo’ of every other hero-bro. This panel, from Spider-man/Deadpool #1 is absolutely typical in every way:
The comic is structured on the basis of the two funniest, fast-quipping guys, of the Marvel ‘verse working together, one liking the situation, and the other hating it. It’s a pretty foolproof and traditional comedy set up. According to the writer, Joe Kelly “Spider-Man does not really like Deadpool, but Deadpool really loves Spider-Man.” Kelly jokes that Deadpool just smells really bad. However, he recognises that Spider-Man’s value system is in complete opposition to Deadpool. Spider-Man is the living embodiment of truth, justice and the American Way. Or, as I prefer, and Deadpool probably does too, Spike’s ‘for justice, and for… the safety of puppies, and Christmas, right?’ (‘Doomed’, BtVS 4.11)
These guys are a really complex ‘odd couple’. As I have written about here before, Deadpool represents all that’s gone wrong with patriarchal over-determined masculinityand Spider-Man is in danger of becoming a Nice Guy™. Marvel, and moreover parent company Disney, do not want Spider-Man sullied too much for their key pre-teen and teen audiences. This is much more complicated than a battle of wits over the respective heroic approaches to saving or not-saving puppies. And Joe Kelly, author of ‘What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?’ (Action Comics #775, 2001), knows this.
Slashing the Wade Wilson/Peter Parker relationship has certainly been done by fandom already. I find it a bit creepy – Wade is an experienced perv, and Parker is young and naive.* I worry that the deployment of Wade/Peter as an official joke is simply going to end up as ‘queer-baiting’. A serious look at Parker’s discomfort with Wilson is welcome, an exploration of Wilson’s appalling sexual politics likewise. But I fear they will instead be making non-heternormative sexual attraction the butt of a string of jokes (pun totally intended).
Joe Kelly, I expect better from a man of your intelligence and talent.
*My preferred pairing is Wade/Logan, of course; damaged by the Weapon X programme, in different but complimentary ways, two immortals balancing each other’s worst tendencies towards self-destruction and misanthropy.
“SLASH ah ah!” ©Evan Gledhill, originally posted 13 December 2016