There’s been a frequent face in recent issues of Marvel comics. Not so much an Easter egg; not so much a key character in these other books, but definitely one in his own. Maybe you’ve seen him before; his name is Deadpool.
In recent months, the Marvel Comics character Deadpool has burst onto the pages – and covers – of virtually every Marvel book out there. Although already well known for his penchant to break the fourth wall and talk with readers just as readily as he would with other characters in the book, the recent groundswell in appearances for him have been staggering. With a tongue-in-cheek series of variant covers numbering 21 in one month alone, the character has also shown up as a guest star in several other series as well. And let’s not forget his own titles: in addition to the ongoing Deadpool series relaunched in 2008, the “Merc With A Mouth” also has ongoing series with Deadpool Team-Up and the just released Deadpool Corps. Empire magazine ranked him 45th in their list of the 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters of all time. But why?
“Deadpool scratches an itch that no other character does,” said Axel Alonso, who manages the character’s stories as Executive Editor at Marvel. “He combines the Punisher’s ruthlessness, Spider-Man’s gift of gab, Wolverine’s healing factor, and the Thing’s self-loathing. And deep-down he’s a regular dude that likes, pizza and porn, tacos and Tecate, so readers can relate.”
“Violence and comedy together,” said writer Victor Gischler, who has written two series with the character so far. “I think our culture has finally arrived at a pint that it is ready for Deadpool. We're living in postmodern times, and Deadpool's self-referential breaking of the fourth wall, his pop culture connections, etc. make him the perfect postmodern hero.”
During the X-Men panel at the recent Wondercon convention in San Francisco, questions about the character were fast and frequent. While at the panel, Executive editor Axel Alonso spoke very openly about the character.
“My humble theory,” said when asked about the character’s recent popularity,” is that he’s scratching an itch that no one else is right now. He looks cool, captures the imagination of kids and is a nerd just like many of us.”
Although his debut was nineteen years ago, it seems Deadpool’s popularity is just now blooming – and thanks in no small part to his portrayal by Ryan Reynolds’ in last year’s movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
“[The movie producers] were definitely caught off guard as to the extent of Deadpool's popularity,” said Liefeld, who created the character with Fabian Nicieza in the pages of New Mutants. “One of them even said they believed Gambit was the more important character in the film.”
Although the character’s screen time in X-Men Origins: Wolverine amounted to little more than a dozen minutes on screen, the casting of a well-known actor like Ryan Reynolds who seems a genuine fan of the character in his own right gave the character a lot of credibility.
“Despite our collective disappointment with how Deadpool was treated in the finale, my two sons taught me to see him through their eyes,” explained Liefeld. “Their reaction to Deadpool and their friends, all ages 7 to 12, was an eye-popper; they viewed him as the ultimate bad-ass who took on both Sabertooth and Wolverine and fought them to a standstill.”
“Seriously, kids their age see Deadpool as a super cool Boba Fett / Darth Maul character. There’s nothing but upside with Deadpool from here on out.”
Although at times the script diverged wildly from the comic version of Deadpool, it stuck with the formula well enough for casual viewers and comics fans alike to see the possibilities for more screen time for the character.
“Though they kind of botched it, my seven year old son loved it,” said Marvel Executive Editor Axel Alonso at Wondercon this year during a panel. “Imagine how cool it will be when they get it right.”
In the days and weeks after the film’s release, the idea for a movie spin-off of the Deadpool character was arguably just as popular as a sequel for Wolverine.
“[Once they realized the character’s popularity, they quickly got up to speed and by hiring the Zombieland writers they are clearly positioning the Deadpool film for great success. He will be in costume, kicking all sorts of ass and cracking everyone up at the same time. Lauren Schuler Donner is a bright producer and she knows that she is sitting on a huge opportunity with the Deadpool film. She has Ryan Reynolds and Marvel's most popular modern character; they are going to do everything they can to make Deadpool shine.”
As that glimmer of mainstream recognition for the character grew, Marvel was quick to capitalize in their own backyard of comics. Marvel launched two miniseries for the character in 2009 with Deadpool: Merc With A Mouth and Deadpool: Suicide Kings, along with several one shots such as Deadpool: Games of Death and the special Deadpool #900.
“It's incredibly satisfying and tremendously exciting to see Deadpool return to blockbuster form,” explained Liefeld. “He has really blossomed again after a period where he was sort of treated like the red-headed step-child.”
After his debut in the waning issues of New Mutants back in 1991, Deadpool quickly returned in Liefeld’s X-Force with a trading card in the first issue even though he wasn’t on the team, and appearances several times early on. Marvel quickly followed with several miniseries squarely spotlighting the character, although it was the mini by co-creator Fabian Nicieza and rising star Joe Madureira that “solidified him as a superstar” according to Liefeld. An ongoing Deadpool series soon followed, lasting sixty-nine issues before being re-jigged and relaunched in odd fashion as Agent X, with doubt as to if Deadpool was even in the book.
“There was that weird period where he was Agent X and he was wearing goggles,” said Liefeld. “He wasn't in costume; it was strange and I believe the fans weren't real pleased that he was without is costume.” The Agent X title lasted fifteen issues, but original writer Gail Simone left halfway through the series over creative differences with the series editor. In the end, and because of the title’s inability to capture an audience according to some, the titular Agent X was revealed to not be Deadpool and the series finale saw Deadpool regain the spotlight.
Deadpool once again returned to the fray with a four-plus year run on a series he shared with another Liefeld creation, Cable, aptly titled Cable & Deadpool. “That book had a great run,” said Liefeld,” but it was clearly not big enough for both characters. I recall people saying that Deadpool wasn't given enough space in that titles and that Cable dominated the book, then Cable fans would get upset if he wasn't given enough love. It was agreat idea but a no-win for both characters that had proven that they were both capable of carrying their own titles.”
After fifty issues of Cable & Deadpool, each character went their own ways – straight into their own ongoing series, though Cable’s just ended with him being rejoined by his old partner, taking the old title for the final issue.
The success of the movie midway through 2009 sparked a roughly 20% spike in sales for the Deadpool, and subsequent promotions such as the Deadpool variants, one-shots and miniseries have performed well for the company. Earlier this month, Marvel debuted a new team book comprised of different variations of Deadpool that although unusual for any other character seems in-line with Deadpool’s unique personality.
“When we first conceptualized the idea of a “Deadpool Corps,” we couldn’t stop laughing,” said Editor Axel Alonso. “I mean, a super-team of self-absorbed hotdogs – if that’s not a recipe for calamity, what is?”
Deadpool Corps features Deadpool and several alternate versions of himself, such as Lady Deadpool, a disembodied zombie head named Headpool, as well as a child and dog version – named succinctly enough, Kidpool and Dogpool.
The series is written by Victor Gischler, who recently penned a miniseries of the character, and drawn by the character’s original co-creator Liefeld. Although Liefeld drew the character on numerous occasions in New Mutants, X-Force and several covers, this is the first time the artist has actually drawn a full book with the character. “When [Axel] offered me the Deadpool Corps, I freaked at the sheer insanity of what Victor was doing. Look I'm obviously very proud of the Deadpool phenomenon. When I see all these people at all these shows dressing up in costume as a character I created and designed, it's a huge jolt of excitement!”
In modern society, people are determined to be adults when they reach the age of eighteen. With his big screen debut X-Men Origins: Wolverine just after his eighteenth birthday, Marvel has turned the character into a franchise. With several monthly series, miniseries, one-shots and variant covers, the character is neck-and-neck with the comic company’s flagship character Spider-Man when it comes to space on the new comics rack of your local comic store.
“Deadpool is a guy that doesn’t make sense to the outside world,” said Deadpool Corps scribe Victor Gischler. “But in his own mind what he does seems like the ‘correct’ way to approach things. [With the launch of Deadpool Corps] multiply that times five.”