Gail Simone’s tenure on Deadpool starts well as she drops him into Japan where leaders of all four of their major crime gangs are meeting for a conference. Let’s just say the fight to become the new leader began within hours. Simone has the right comedy touch for Deadpool, but a greater imagination than some of her predecessors when it comes to the plots. While the wacky dialogue and surreal comments are still provided, a lot more of the jokes come from surprises rather than the constant chatter. it’s complemented by the art being of a high standard, although it’s difficult to determine who did what.

That’s because Udon Studios don’t provide credit for specific components of the art, so at various stages Dave Ahn, Omar Dogan, Andrew Hou, Alvin Lee, Calvin Lo, Rob Ross, Arnold Tsang, Eric Vedder, or A-Zero could be individually responsible for the pencilling, inking, or colouring, or could have contributed to all aspects. There’s little inconsistency, though, and it’s imaginatively drawn, so no complaints, and whoever is responsible for the colour takes the unusual approach of toning everything down. It’s as if a grey wash has been applied over the remaining colour, giving the panels the look of animation stills.

Over the first part of this collection Simone decides who her major villains are going to be and introduces them early, although things don’t quite work out for the Rhino, a favourite villainous punching bag of Marvel writers since the 1990s. Something about a guy in a Rhino costume just sets them giggling, and Simone subjects the Rhino to a parade of hilarious indignities. The main threat is the Black Swan, an assassin with pretensions and mutant powers, meaning that for much of the book Deadpool is operating under full capacity, as his learned skills have been toned down.

An abrupt switch occurs halfway through. Is it still Deadpool, but not as we know him? He’s been rebranded as Agent X, and is now in white and without a mask, but the pertinent aspect is that his personality is intact, while his memory has completely gone, leaving only his instincts. He wants to be a great mercenary, and it initially falls to Taskmaster to train him, after which he quickly acquires ownership of an abandoned amusement park and strikes up a relationship with fellow mercenary Outlaw. The changes add a freshness, but otherwise it’s Simone and Udon supplying the same enjoyment as before, and the credits are clearer, with Alvin Lee noted as the pencil artist. Simone mixes in known Marvel personalities with her own new creations, Mary Zero being notable, with the over-riding plot concerning the machinations of Japanese corporate criminals extending into New York. Everything builds to an action finale with some great surprises in which Simone and Lee manage to incorporate almost everyone who’s played a part for longer than a single chapter earlier in the book.

In 2002 the look and approach was a departure for Deadpool, and unlike some of his earlier appearances, this collection is still fun. The exploits of Agent X continue into Deadpool Classic Vol. 10, but with considerably less Simone and Udon.