This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 9, 2018.
Almost everyone remembers picking up a “Choose Your Own Adventure” title as a child. When you had to read in 6th grade and all of the Goosebumps titles were already taken from the classroom library, this was the best possible choice for a reluctant reader. You were transformed into being a part of the action and could lead your protagonist to a grisly end seemingly every few pages. These titles were a lot of fun, while also managing to make reading fun for even the most hesitant students and delivering some useful lessons about cause and effect in the doing. However, it’s hard to imagine that format being pulled off in comics, much less over multiple issues.
That’s exactly what Marvel Comics is doing in the page of You Are Deadpool though. Following on from single issue experiments in Adventure Time and 2000 A.D., the publisher is currently in the midst of a 5-issue miniseries in which readers take Deadpool through a complete journey that travels through all 5 issues, albeit not necessarily in the same order.
The comic from writer Al Ewing and artist Salva Espin puts Deadpool on the trail of a device capable of setting him loose in time (and between panels). After a brief tutorial it unleashes readers on the entire series to craft a complete story. This isn’t just about Deadpool’s propensity to break the fourth wall or another fun mini-series though. After reading the first 2 issues, it’s apparent that this may be the most ambitious comic published by Marvel in 2018.
Adapting this style of story to comics requires an impressive amount of effort, even more so than authors who compile entire novels with dozens of endings. Page numbers are suddenly sub-divided into panel numbers, which require each page to hold multiple storylines instead of a single one. That is further complicated by a page count requiring all ideas to be fit gracefully within an exact amount of space. There’s no room to leave off half of a page once a story ends or simply carry on; You Are Deadpool is a comic requiring front-to-back understanding before it could go into production. Every panel had to be in place before it can succeed, and the first two issues are flawless in their execution.
What really complicates the matter is that comics are a visual medium which makes the obscuring of outcomes vastly more difficult. Hiding a potentially catastrophic future from a reader as they flip between pages, or even attempt to read panels on a shared page, is almost impossible. Rather than ignore this potential bug, Ewing and Espin have transformed it into a feature in You Are Deadpool. Readers may notice a large explosion occurring in the panel above the one they are supposed to read, only to have it referenced as a key element of the action. The format of comics and their storytelling mechanisms are turned to the advantage of the story. It requires an incredible amount of design and consideration, but the payoffs are substantial.
More Than Fresh Paint
That problem is alleviated in the digital format of the comic, which combines its first several pages and panel into a single element, so that each additional panel matches with their matching page divisions. This simultaneously makes the digital reading experience different and reveals the further levels of thought that accompanied the production of You Are Deadpool. Reading it in print and on a tablet screen are both effective, but the experiences are different, adding a further metatextual decision to choosing your own adventure.
Ewing, having already created a similar narrative in the pages of 2000 A.D., doesn’t appear to have been satisfied with only giving readers a choice as to where they wish to go next. In You Are Deadpool he has added a elements of chance, choice, and character development. The introductory page of the comic provides a rudimentary character sheet similar to what readers might use in Dungeons & Dragons. It provides them with an inventory and two meters to track Deadpool’s “badness” and “sadness”. The former is determined by the reader as they notice items and can add them to 1 of 3 spots, only to find out if they are (or would have been) useful later in the story. The character meters are based on decisions made and their disparity or equality determines further branches in the story as it goes along.
The final addition takes the form of a six-sided die which players can cut and build from the pages of You Are Deadpool #1. It is used to simulate battles with each side being given a set number of dice to use and the larger sum of rolls winning the day. All of these devices stack up to create a truly unpredictable reading experience and one that actively encourages rereading. There’s also a valuable surprise to be found if readers do cut out the die, one not worth spoiling, but that speaks to the careful consideration of each choice made in this dynamic comic.
That single joke about cutting out a die from You Are Deadpool #1 speaks to the long term possibilities found in this comic. Both the considerations required for filling each page of a single issue and the many additional facets constructed by Ewing and Espin create a work that is far greater than its next gag. Multiple endings don’t simply allow for readers to reread the comic, but make the process rewarding. It toys with notions of choice and delivers games in ways that will surprise many. In addition to offering a great reading experience now, it also provides a future opportunity to entice reluctant readers and help others consider what goes into the form of comics.
While You Are Deadpool remains a comic that is simply fun to enjoy, that shouldn’t undermine the work and ambition present in every page. Constructing the experience of choosing your own adventure across an entire miniseries requires a complex understanding of how every element will fit together. In turn it helps readers to consider each of these elements. The function of page turns, cliffhangers, panel construction, and so much more are called into question. While having a good laugh, we are simultaneously given a better sense of just what makes comics unique. That seems like a worthwhile goal for such an ambitious miniseries.