Superhero 101: Deadpool

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Ahead of ‘Deadpool 2,’ learn more about the comic book origins of the crass and witty superhero.

Deadpool wasn’t the first R-rated Marvel movie to land in theaters (Blade, then Punisher) but it was the first of its kind in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ryan Reynolds’ portrayal of Deadpool was lauded by critics and gobbled up by audiences. It was a different kind of Marvel movie, one rife with vulgar language and not-so-subtle sexual innuendos. Deadpool joyfully poked fun at superhero movie tropes, all the while becoming another smash hit in Marvel’s long line of box office successes.

Those who’ve seen Deadpool know he falls under the X-Men umbrella, but he’s not exactly like the mutants we’ve come to know and love throughout the myriad of X-Men films. We’ll see more of that differentiation in Deadpool 2, as the foulmouthed hero continues to carve his own path by forming X-Force, a more radical superhero team of mutants than the better-known X-Men.

Ahead of Deadpool 2, let’s take a look at the red-suited hero’s comic book origins, which are, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite hilarious.

Deadpool was created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza in 1990. An avid Teen Titans fan, Liefeld conceived Deadpool’s name and look and sent it over to Nicieza. Noticing the startling similarities between Liefeld’s new character and a certain DC-owned Teen Titans villain, Nicieza called him and said, “This is Deathstroke from Teen Titans.”

Indeed, Deadpool’s core abilities — superhuman strength, speed and outrageous durability — mirrored Deathstroke’s. Even Deadpool’s expertise in hand-to-hand combat lined up with the stylings of DC’s popular villain. Deadpool, however, was given a unique bag of tricks. His magic satchel carried a teleportation device and holographic disguise.

Liefeld apparently wasn’t shy about the inspiration, because after hearing from Nicieza, he gave Deadpool the alter ego of Wade Wilson, an on-the-nose play on Deathstroke’s alternative identity, Slade Wilson.

While this seemed like a recipe for a lawsuit from Marvel’s chief competitor, you might be surprised how many times Marvel and DC have had similar heroes, and even heroes with the same name. Both DC and Marvel have a character called Captain Marvel, Spider-Girl (DC drops the hyphen), Sabre-tooth (again, DC drops the hyphen), Bane, Magneto and a whole host of others.

So, in short, Deadpool’s obvious nod to Deathstroke wasn’t as big of a deal as it may appear. Not to mention, Deadpool was created with a much different, arguably unhinged personality.

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Left: Deadpool #1 (1997), Right: Deadpool joins X-Force / Marvel

In addition to Deathstroke, Liefeld also drew inspiration from Spider-Man and Wolverine. He envisioned Deadpool as an edgier version of Spider-Man, who also happened to carry guns. As for the Wolverine influence, Liefeld came up with the idea that Deadpool would be the mutant that was experimented on prior to Wolverine, otherwise known as Weapon X, thus linking Deadpool to the X-Men.

Deadpool made his first appearance in 1991 in The New Mutants #98 (a series that’s also being turned into a movie in 2019). In that issue, Tolliver (also known as Genesis), a mutant and Wolverine foe, recruits Deadpool to fight another Liefeld creation, Cable, and the New Mutants superhero squad.

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Deadpool meets Nathan Christopher Charles Summers, aka Cable. NM #98 / Marvel

From there, Deadpool became a regular in another Liefield creation, X-Force, the series Marvel started when the New Mutants arc ended. In fact, Deadpool was a major reason fans were interested in X-Force. The debut issue sold an astounding five million copies, making it the second-best-selling single issue of all time, behind X-Men Vol. 2 #1. The second issue in X-Force, with Deadpool on the cover, eclipsed the million mark in sales.

Deadpool also made guest appearances in such well-known series as Heroes for Hire (Luke Cage, Iron Fist), Daredevil and The Avengers.

Deadpool received his first solo starring role in the The Circle Chase, a four-part miniseries that ran in late 1993. This was followed up by another four-issue miniseries the next year, this time going simply by the title Deadpool.

After the second series wrapped, writer Mark Waid highlighted a facet of Deadpool’s personality that made the character so polarizing at the time. “Frankly, if I’d known Deadpool was such a creep when I agreed to write the mini-series, I wouldn’t have done it. Someone who hasn’t paid for their crimes presents a problem for me,” Waid said.

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Left: Deadpool #69 (2002), Right: Deadpool: The Circle Chase #1 (1993) / Marvel

Indeed, unlike many superheroes, Deadpool doesn’t follow a strict moral code. He wasn’t fashioned as a role model to look up to, or even as a noble vigilante. He’s a free spirit who almost always looks out for number one. In Deadpool’s early appearances and miniseries, he helped people, but only when there was something in it for him — typically money.

Deadpool rubbing people the wrong way, even people involved with the comics, possibly contributed to the lull in Deadpool appearances from 1994 to 1997. Until then, Deadpool was more of a classic, albeit charming, villain than an antihero. Still, a subset of comic book fans were eager for more Deadpool stories.

In 1997 Deadpool finally obtained his own ongoing series. The 71-issue arc refined the fledgling character and gave him a persona that, although still brash, was more approachable and, dare I say, likable. Deadpool became an unexpected parody of the antihero trope, rife with daring comedy and stylizations not typically used within the medium. As viewers saw in the first Deadpool film, Wade began addressing the reader, breaking the fourth wall.

At the time, those working on Deadpool weren’t exactly optimistic about the character’s longevity. Writer Joe Kelly said, “With Deadpool, we could do anything we wanted because everybody just expected the book to be cancelled every five seconds, so nobody was paying attention. And we could get away with it.” Ironically, this sort of attitude probably contributed to Deadpool garnering a fervent following, especially among young people.

X-Force and Cable

Deadpool 2 will bring in new characters and story lines from the comics. As mentioned earlier, X-Force will take center stage in the sequel. Considering that Hugh Jackman’s role as Wolverine has come to an end, look for X-Force to become the new focal point of the X-Men film series, with Deadpool posed to become the leading character.

The introduction of X-Force also means fans of the X-Men universe will finally see Cable on-screen. Played by Josh Brolin, Cable is the original leader of X-Force. Otherwise known as Nathan Summers, the son of Cyclops, Cable was raised in the future before being transported back to the present with a unique set of mutant skills. In the comics, his whole purpose for aligning with Charles Xavier and forming X-Force is to prevent the disaster of the future he knows. He can use telekinesis and telepathy and, like Deadpool, is experienced in ranged weapons and hand-to-hand combat.

For at least a portion of the movie, Deadpool and Cable will be at odds, but definitely don’t be surprised to see them come together — Cable has been one of Deadpool’s most consistent partners in the comic books and even costarred in a 50-issue series dubbed Cable & Deadpool from 2004 to 2008.

Deadpool 2 arrives in theaters May 18. end


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