Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]
It's one task to have a great run on a title; it's quite a larger one to set the parameters for anyone else writing said character at the same time. During the Deadpool glut a few years back, one of the biggest problems was that the books couldn't settle on a solid persona. Either Deadpool was a ruthless anti-hero or a complete farce, sometimes within the same mini-series. The Marvel NOW! relaunch cleared the field and allowed Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn to restart the franchise in a more controlled way. Four important tie-in issues have been collected in Deadpool: The Ones With Deadpool, and they show how this new, consistent characterization paid off in the long run.
I mentioned in my review of The Wedding of Deadpool that the title's first annual is printed both in that trade and in this one. What I didn't get to mention was how Ben Acker and Ben Blacker artfully pulled off two major transitions that otherwise happened off-panel. Here, we learn that just before Secret Invasion, Deadpool and Madcap were competing for a price on Matt Murdock's head. Their overactive healing factors saved them after being electrocuted by Thor and they merged into the Daniel Way version. Evan “Doc” Shaner masterfully illustrates Deadpool's downward turn and the mental struggles between the voices in his head; Madcap's voice balloon even turns into a humanoid form in one memorable sequence
What splits the two invulnerable lunatics apart is another lightning blast from Thor combined with a punch to the head from Luke Cage; their separation leaves Wade a little empty despite Madcap driving him insane. This is a crucial detail that wasn't present in Dead Presidents, where Deadpool's reset just seemed like yet another semi-reboot. I don't think I've read an annual this essential to a book's plot since the two Transformers annuals from a few years back. More importantly, this is a retcon that not only fixes plot holes, but it brings back an interesting character to use in future stories without killing anybody. That's an impressive feat these days.
The second annual, while by no means of poor quality, is just a side story in comparison to the first one. Its two main draws are a Spider-Man team-up and Christopher Hastings of Dr. McNinja fame as the writer. This annual takes the unusual step of Spider-Man being the crazy one and Deadpool being the ... okay, he's still crazy, but he's the voice of reason. The Chameleon has been stalking Spider-Man at all hours of the day and night; whenever Spidey tries to capture him, he ends up catching the innocent bystander he was impersonating. Exhaustion and a tranquilizer force Spider-Man to sleep and Deadpool takes his costume in order to draw the Chameleon out. Acting like a hero grates on a merc's nerves as he constantly has to remember to not kill anyone. Longtime fans might remember that at one point, the Chameleon professed his love for Peter Parker, which makes the entire thing even ickier. Hastings hints at this aspect of the Chameleon without using homophobia as a source for jokes or tension; it's the obsession that makes the Chameleon frightening in this story, without additional negative subtext.
Next up is the Deadpool Bi-Annual, called such because the editorial team screwed up and put two annuals on the schedule in the same calendar year. (And that, kids, is why you have to be careful when scheduling release dates three months in advance.) It was a fortuitous mistake as Paul Scheer and Nick Giovannetti get an opportunity to let loose with one of the most obscure teams in Marvel's history. More readers know about Brute Force from Linkara's hilarious reviews on Atop The Fourth Wall than from anyone actually reading the book. This group of animals in power armor is played mostly straight; they're clashing with Deadpool because he's being paid to protect a corrupt whale-oriented theme park from the Brute Force's attempts at justice.
The issue is tied more closely into the main book than the annuals are by having Agent Adsit appear. Another agent appears later on: Phil Coulson, who back in the day was the Brute Force's SHIELD contact. Somehow, adding Coulson into the mix just accelerates the humor, leading into a great part where, after switching sides, Deadpool reveals what his traps would have been. His method for capturing a super-intelligent, ambulatory dolphin has to be seen to be believed. Sea World gets hit fairly hard early on but it's tricky to keep that up when the villain's main henchman turns out to be Not!Shamu in a giant mecha suit. Salva Espin's art is gorgeous with just the right amount of cartooniness to convey the tone.
Gerry Duggan finishes with a tie-in to the “Death of Wolverine” mega-event; it's an epilogue to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, the wonderful Captain America/Wolverine/Deadpool team up from the third trade. Since then, not only has Logan died, but Steve Rogers is an old man due to the events of Original Sin. Duggan and artist Scott Kolins, whose style is close to Shalvey's artwork, took what could have been a difficulty and turned it into an advantage. Steve might be old, but he's certainly not out of the fight; in his old age, he's become Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino (minus the racism, of course). The greatest heroes of the USA and Canada raid the camp where the Korean X-Men were created to find a copy of Logan's DNA. Will they clone him? That may be on the cards in the future despite Cap's objections.
One final advantage of Deapool: The Ones with Deadpool is that it serves as a good jump-on point for new readers. All four stories are excellent -- enough so that I don't mind them including the first annual in two separate trades. The Secret Wars plans for Deadpool haven't been announced, but I hope the quality doesn't drop.