LIEFELD: The 'Funny' & Contradictory Evolution of DEADPOOL and His Debt to Video Games

Deadpool: Bad Blood
New Mutants #98
New Mutants #98
Credit: Marvel Comics

Deadpool: Bad Blood marks the Merc With the Mouth's first OGN-format comic book. It also marks a first for another important person in Deadpool's life - his creator, Rob Liefeld, who had never worked in the format prior to Bad Blood

But according to Liefeld, despite the fresh new format and the new storytelling opportunities that come with it, he and his co-writers Chris Sims and Chad Bowers aren't trying to reinvent the wheel - they're here to put a new spin on the Deadpool fans have known and loved for over 25 years. According to Liefeld, while Deadpool - and the ways fans interact with the cult favorite character - have come a long way since New Mutants #98, the core of the character has stayed true the one fans fell in love with in the 90s.

Newsarama caught up with Liefeld just prior to the release of Deadpool: Bad Blood to dig into the origins of the project, the enigmatic villain, Thumper, at the heart of Wade's mission, and the future of the Deadpool legacy.

Newsarama: Rob, how does it feel to come back to Deadpool in such a big way, right as he’s more popular than ever?

Rob Liefeld: Well, I want to thank Marvel for calling me up in 2015 and saying “Rob, would you like to do the first ever Deadpool graphic novel?” and for being patient with me when I said “Can I get back to you?”

I called around and said “Is a Deadpool graphic novel a good thing to do?” And my retail buddies said “Yeah, go for it.” So I called Marvel back and said, “Why did you offer me a graphic novel? I’ve never done one. What’s with this format?” And Marvel very kindly, very patiently sat with me and said “Well Rob, we see this as a prestige format. We give Jim Starlin the same treatment on Thanos, and it works very well for us.”

So I said “Everyone told me to say yes, so I’m saying yes!” That’s just typical, paranoid Rob Liefeld. But I’m glad they opened the door and made this happen.

Nrama: How did you wind up working with Chris Sims and Chad Bowers on Bad Blood?

Liefeld: When I said I wanted to work with some fresh new people on the scripting end, they introduced me to Chad Bowers and Chris Sims. I realized later that I liked their X-Men ’92 stuff, and I kind of had an inkling they were inspired by the 90s stuff from that book alone.

Then when I talked to them, it was so awesome. Some people you have an instant connection with, and some people it takes a long time to blend. But we blended immediately, and when I sat down and read the final script over my finished pages, it was so good. They did such a good job with the wit, the dialogue. I especially love the last page, which sets us up for a sequel.

Halfway through writing, I realized there was no way I was gonna be able to fit everything in one 100 page story, cause we’re adding so many new elements. So I wound up changing the ending, like the last 16 pages, because I had to facilitate the cliffhanger, which I didn’t anticipate in my original outline. I think it works out great.

We really gelled well together. I’m really happy with it. I’m supposed to get my copy today, and I’m anticipating ripping that envelope open faster than I’ve ever opened anything.

Nrama: Deadpool has evolved significantly as a character since you first created him almost 30 years ago. How has your approach to drawing him evolved in that time?

Liefeld: Deadpool was created as a mercenary who’s an a**hole, who wears a red and black costume, and who subjugated himself to the Weapon X program to be healed of cancer. That hasn’t changed in almost 30 years.

What is very obvious is that Deadpool has become a character for all age groups, where I believe has spectacularly taken this wonderful mercenary, and made him adorable Pops, and adorable Dorbz, giving him Classics Illustrated adventures where he’s jumping into William Tell and Moby Dick, that I will tell you is a complete departure. And on that end, also, the crucial work – if you were to as me to do the autopsy on Deadpool’s 30 years, maybe the most crucial work was done in the early 2000s, around 2011, where he appeared in four consecutive video games from Marvel.

I know this because I had two young boys, who grew up and all their interactions with Deadpool were happening on the video game level. There was Marvel Ultimate Alliance, then Spider-Man: Dimensions had a Deadpool level, and then immediately after that, what, in my eyes, really blew Deadpool up in the way that he transcended comics for the first time and in the biggest way, was when he was part of Marvel Vs. Capcom III. You can ask anybody – Deadpool was the most popular character in that game.

I would walk into my living room on a Saturday afternoon with 8 kids on my couches, all trading controllers and waiting to play the game, and they all just wanted to play Deadpool Vs. Deadpool. I didn’t even tell them that was one of dad’s creations, they just found their way to it on their own, which was a complete delight.

Then there was Marvel Lego. Deadpool was the ultimate unlockable character in that game. I had an executive from Warner Bros. who called me desperate to see if I had the unlock codes so his kid could play as Deadpool – and the irony was not lost on me. I laughed, and I said “Buddy, I wish I had those codes for you, but little Billy’s gonna have to play the game just like everybody else.”

The evolution of Deadpool as cute and cuddly, and as a kid’s character is the funniest thing I ever saw. Cause on a certain level, he’s a murderer. He’s a killer, that’s what he does. His name is Deadpool. And then you get these adorable kids dressed as Deadpool with their swords and their guns, and it’s like, this is just funny. I’m seeing more Deadpool Pops and toys come across my table than comic books at this point.

And then Ryan Reynolds made Deadpool go worldwide, bigger than ever. So the responsibility it great when it comes to Deadpool, that’s not lost on us. But I won’t lie to you – we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel with Bad Blood. We’re here to have fun. Comic books are fun.

Nrama: What’s the deal with this new villain Thumper? What’s Deadpool up against here?

Liefeld: What I wanted to do was bring a sustainable nemesis into his world. Much of his rogue’s gallery is borrowed. It almost seems Deadpool-esque – he doesn’t have his own villains, he’s got to borrow from everyone else. If he’s battle the Serpent Society, they’re from Captain America. If he’s battling Sabretooth, that’s Wolverine’s buddy. If he’s battling Doctor Bong, as he did on multiple occasions, that’s an old Howard the Duck character. We can go down the list, they’re all borrowed.

After all this time, I thought maybe we should invest a little more into a more sustainable villain. I was scared to tell Marvel that I was calling him Thumper, cause I thought they’d laugh at me, but they said “No, you’re good to go.” I guess it benefits me that Disney owns Marvel, so we can make the Bambi joke – and the segue from cute little bunny to a guy that pounds Deadpool into the pavement.

The relationships are what interest me at the end of the day, and Thumper has ties to young Wade Wilson, back in the day. So this figure from his past, and how that relationship evolved, and the many times he’s encountered Deadpool in the past are really important to this book.

Wade Wilson, before Weapon X, he had influence on people. And maybe there was someone who looked up to him, who wanted to follow in his footsteps to absolute letter, and that’s where we come to Thumper.

Nrama: You mentioned being worried about the name Thumper for the villain. Were there any elements or characters you wanted to bring in but couldn’t? Did Marvel ever tell you no?

Liefeld: Nope. Cable, the ’91 X-Force team, Domino, they’re all in there. The Mutant Liberation Front all make an appearance. There’s a flashback that really feels like it could be taken out of 1991. It goes back and shows an encounter with Deadpool, Domino, and Thumper. But it has kind of a different ending for Domino than it does for Deadpool - they don’t remember it the same.

When they gave me 100 pages, Axel Alonso said “Rob, there’s no issue breaks, just 100 pages,” so in thinking of that format – I’ve never done an OGN before, and I think it’s slightly oversized like the old Treasury Editions. Bad Blood isn’t a Treasury Edition, but it is slightly oversized. All those Treasury Editions were in the 80 to 100 page range, one long story. Those artists like Jack Kirby and John Buscema took advantage of the format. So I tried to pick some spots to add in those big shots and big moments that I’m known for, to take advantage of the format. There are no blurbs or recaps, it was a good exercise.

Nrama: Your art and creations have become definitive of the 90s, especially the X-Men of that time. Is that legacy something that you consider when approaching a project like Bad Blood?

Liefeld: Deadpool was created as a smartass. He was pitched to Marvel, by me, as Spider-Man with swords. Now the Spider-Man I grew up with, around the time of Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Gerry Conway in the 70s, he was a smartass. He was in college, he wasn’t a kid anymore, but a big part of those stories was his quips that he’d make while fighting crime and beating up bad guys.

By 1990, the McFarlane era of Spider-Man, that’s post-Frank Miller, post-Dark Knight Returns. Everyone was trying to make the characters darker. And Spider-Man, the most popular version of Spider-Man, was extremely dark. If you don’t remember, go back and revisit it. Very darkly drawn, lots of shadows, and Spider-Man is an adult. He’s having marriage issues – does Mary Jane love him? Can he pay the bills? – he had a lot of burdens. He was no longer the wiseass I grew up with. So I felt there was an opening to create Deadpool. I’ll make no bones about it – I modeled Deadpool after Spider-Man. Lots of younger kids see it right away, and ask if Spider-Man was my inspiration. Yeah, definitely. Red and black, red and dark blue, those big eyes.

The number one question I get asked is what I was thinking when I came up with Deadpool. And really, I just needed a new nemesis. By New Mutants #98, I was getting a story credit, and I was plotting the book. Cable had established himself as a heavy hitter, with the New Mutants as a fighting force, so who better to come in and take them all down than this wiseass?

Along the way, he’s gotten funnier, he’s gotten funnier writers – some writers funnier than others. Credit where credit is due, Joe Kelly broke the fourth wall. That’s maybe the most significant addition anyone has made to Deadpool. To me, the best version of Deadpool was the Rhett Reese/Paul Wernick movie version. Now when I’m drawing him, I hear the movie Deadpool in my head, and it’s been there a long time. I would watch that leaked footage, and I had read the screenplay back in 2010.

The voice that Chad and Chris gave Deadpool in Bad Blood is consistent with all of that. The aspect I didn’t see coming was that he’d be so cute and lovable – he’s got something like 60 Pops.

To me, he’s a guy with a mission. We establish early in the book that the guy that’s pursuing Deadpool knows all about him – he knows how to trip him up. How do you inflict actual pain on a guy with a healing factor? This guys knows how to do that to Deadpool. These are the things I wanted to immediately establish. And then Thumper becomes a part of the mission as well.

In doing the graphic novel, me, Chad, and Chris all agreed let’s make this accessible to both the hardcore comic book fans, and the kind of thing that, if someone just walks out of the movie, you can put it in their hands and they’ll dig it. If someone picks it up and has a good time, then we’ve done our job because we certainly had a good time creating it. We’re fleshing out some new characters and establishing some new relationships, but we never forget to kick ass and have fun.

Nrama: On that note of Legacy, Marvel is renumbering some of their longest running series to match the classic issue numbering. Is that something you’d like to see happen with Deadpool?

Liefeld: Didn’t they do an anniversary issue a few years ago? More power to ‘em. There’s been some weird serendipity with Deadpool with the fact that Deadpool was released exactly 25 years after the character was created. The film came out in February 2016. New Mutants #98 came out in February 1991, so it came out on his 25th anniversary. He’s got a great history. I gotta be honest – I’m old school. I like the old comics. I like Mark Waid’s early stuff – those are some of my favorite Deadpool comics. But I pick up everything with Deadpool in it. There’s some great stuff coming out on a monthly basis. We just hope Deadpool: Bad Blood is as good as the stuff people are enjoying every month. We’re just adding to the lore.

Wouldn’t it be great if they were suddenly on some number in the hundreds? That would be awesome. That would be phenomenal.

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