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[The following article is an updated version of a piece that was previously published at A Critical Hit!]
With the recent announcement of the fourth-wall-breaking merc-with-a-mouth getting his own Deadpool game, a number of gamers will no doubt be wondering just where this guy comes from. What's his story? Where's a good place to read more? I've been a Deadpool fan since 1997, so I'll try my best to fill you in, including a few bits of trivia about the character’s pre-Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 videogame connections.
Deadpool began life as a character design in the sketchbook of Rob Liefeld, who at the time was the artist (and co-writer) on Marvel’s New Mutants series. When he proposed the character as a new villain for the series, co-writer Fabian Nicieza pointed out that the design appeared to be a Liefeldized version of Deathstroke The Terminator, from DC’s Teen Titans. Undeterred, Liefeld introduced the character as is, with a color scheme reminiscent of Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Deathstroke in videogame form, in Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe
As a sort of in-joke, Nicieza gave Deadpool the name Wade Wilson—in reference to Deathstroke’s secret identiy Slade Wilson—and decided the character should deliver banter during fights, like some sort of evil Spider-Man.
However, these aspects of his character had yet to be developed when he made his first appearance in New Mutants #98. As a result, his portrayal in this issue comes across as out of character compared to the Deadpool of today, with no banter to be found as he informs Cable that he’s been hired to kill him, nor in the resulting fight.
Deadpool: The Circle Chase #1
The series New Mutants eventually transformed into X-Force, and Deadpool continued to make occasional appearances for the next several years, during which his personality was gradually fleshed out more. Among the revelations, it was revealed that DP had also been in involved in the Weapon X program, just like Wolverine, and that he volunteered for an experimental treatment that would give him a healing factor after learning that he had cancer.
Eventually, in 1993, he got a shot at his very own four issue mini-series, now referred to as Deadpool: The Circle Chase. Written by Fabian Nicieza and illustrated by a young Joe Madureira (whose most recent work was as creative director on the game Darksiders), the story introduces several elements which would feature prominently in the first ongoing series. One of those is the first appearance of Weasel, Deadpool’s version of Microchip (the character who at the time supplied The Punisher with all his weapons and gadgets, until he was written out sometime in the mid-’90s). Also, the story ended with what was possibly the first time Deadpool had ever saved a life rather than taking one.
A year later, Deadpool found himself with a second mini-series. Now known as Deadpool: Sins Of The Past, this one was written by Mark Waid (reportedly Nicieza initially pitched a story for it, but had it shot down due to being “too dark”). Waid’s arc established a friendship of sorts between Deadpool and Siryn of X-Force. It also revealed to us for the first time what he looks like under his mask. The previous mini-series had shown that his skin didn’t exactly look normal, but this was the first time we actually saw his face.
Deadpool: Sins Of The Past #1
There have been several explanations over the years for why his skin looks the way it does. It was sort of hinted in the first mini-series that it was due to his healing factor actually working too well, keeping his skin in a constant state of regeneration and thus always scab-covered. The irony being that his skin would start to look normal again if his healing factor was ever turned off, but then his cancer would return. However, this particular explanation may or may not have since been retconned.
Unfortunately, these early stories are a little difficult to read now, due to stylistic conventions that were popular at the time. Artists in the ’90s enjoyed creating non-traditional and sometimes chaotic panel layouts, which didn’t always make for easy reading. Also, it was in fashion for writers at the time to phonetically write out how a words were being pronounced anytime a character had some sort of accent.
After this, several years went by where Deadpool made only a handful of guest appearances here and there. Then, in 1997, he unexpectedly received his first ongoing series. It was written and illustrated by two relative newcomers: Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness. McGuinness’ cartoony and stylized art created contrasted with the violence of Deadpool’s adventures in a way that worked surprisingly well, Joe Kelly (who has since also co-written the games X-Men Legendsand Darksiders, and co-created Ben 10) may have had a greater impact on the character’s development than any writer before or since.
Deadpool/Daredevil '97 (Annual)
Deadpool #1 introduced us for the first time to DP’s living situation. To say he’s not a very good person would be an understatement; it’s revealed that he’s been keeping an old blind woman, Blind Alfred, captive for several years. We’re not told much about her at first, but it appears she’s developed something like Stockholm Syndrome, though the two now have a sort of playful, friendly relationship, trading insults and playing pranks on each other. Deadpool keeps his prisoner hidden from everyone, including his pal Weasel, who we haven’t seen since the first mini-series.
But events are put in motion that begin to change Deadpool. He finds himself inspired to try and be a better person—maybe even a good person. A hero? I’m probably not spoiling anything by saying that he never quite makes it; he gets about as far as Chaotic Neutral, where he has largely remained ever since. But it was watching that struggle, his attempts to try and be something better despite his broken moral compass, that made these stories so interesting. You began to sympathize with him, beyond just seeing him as being Marvel’s most entertaining sociopath.
And he was definitely entertaining. Under Kelly, Deadpool’s banter became genuinely funny. The first mini-series had it’s moments, but most writers almost seemed to write the character as though he was really only funny to himself. Yet Kelly not only wrote a Deadpool that could make readers laugh, he also knew how use that humor to lull readers into a false sense of security, so he could pull the rug out from underneath them with a suddenly serious moment that seemed that much more intense by contrast. When Blind Alfred reveals why she doesn’t try to escape when none of the doors are locked (“that is how you build a prison”), it’s horrifying. And yet at the same time, when Deadpool later not only decides to free her, but actually has to force her out of his house, you almost wish he wasn’t losing that potentially positive influence in his life.
This incarnation of Deadpool developed a small but dedicated following of internet savvy fans. When it was revealed sometime around the end of the first year that the book was about to be cancelled, readers rallied in support of the series. And actually succeeded. Unfortunately, it led to only a temporary stay of execution, and soon it was once again on the chopping block. Which led to more fans writing in, and the book being uncancelled once again. This dynamic soon became the status quo, the book eternally right on the cusp of cancellation.
Unfortunately, this is what led to Joe Kelly leaving. The assumption that the book could be cancelled at any time led him to be able to do practically whatever he wanted, because nobody cared what he did with the character. However, it eventually became a source of frustration, being told the series will end with this particular issue and beginning to wrap things up, then told it’s continuing, then cancelled again, screwing up the pacing of the stories. Ed McGuinness had already left by this time, with issue #10 (incidentally, to draw a new series for a company started by Rob Liefeld), and had been followed by artists who were sufficient yet not quite on the same level. Ultimately, Joe Kelly stayed on until issue #33. Yet his frustrations near the end may have been what led to Deadpool’s tendency to break the fourth wall…
The earliest instance of DP breaking the fourth wall was in issue #28 (see left). I remember this panel being especially funny at the time, because it was so completely random and unexpected. The next instance occurred at the end of Kelly’s final issue: Deadpool has died, and is reunited with his old friend Death (the Grim Reaper in female form). Death informs him that his stay is only temporarily, thanks to that pesky healing factor, “but more than that—the big wigs in the sky took a vote and decided you have to go back…you’re not done suffering yet.” Deadpool responds, disappointed, “and I had a spot all picked out in the land of cancelled heroes, too…”
Joe Kelly was followed by Christopher J. Priest. He was known for having a sense of humor himself, as shown in his comedy/action superhero comic Quantum And Woody. Published by Acclaim (yup, the videogame company once had a comic book division), Quantum And Woody had the same problem as Deadpool—a loyal yet small following of fans. My only exposure to Priest at this point was from the other Marvel series he was writing at the time, a reboot of Black Panther. But I was already looking forward to seeing where he’d take our Merc With A Mouth, based almost solely on the strength of a particular darkly hilarious subplot in that series, in which a supporting character encounters Mephisto—Marvel’s version of the devil—as they both wait for Black Panther’s arrival:
Unfortunately, Priest’s Deadpool run didn’t go entirely smoothly. His stories were marred by artists who perhaps weren’t quite the best fit for stories that, say, required clear visual storytelling. The result is that the best issues ended up being the small handful that were illustrated by Jim Calafiore. Also, when Priest first agreed to take the assignment, he didn’t initially know a great deal about Deadpool. He says, for example, that it took him several issues before he was comfortable with the idea that it was okay to make the star of your book “look stupid.” He has since claimed he just wasn’t the right guy for the job, but I think he had a greater impact on the character than he might realize.
In reaction to the way Joe Kelly ended his final issue, Priest begins his first issue with Deadpool passing through limbo on his way back to the land of the living. While here, he’s directed over to a room that turns out to be filled with appears to be every character whose series was ever cancelled while Priest was writing it. DP turns back, declaring that he’ll never end up like “those losers.” The man who pointed him to the room responds:
“You idiot—you don’t get it. It’s already happened to you. Why do you think they brought him in? Name me one healthy project he’s ever been assigned to? The man has one purpose in life…and now he’s been assigned to you.”
Deadpool defiantly pushes onward. Soon he awakens, inside a large liquid-filled tube in a strange laboratory. Trying to get answers from the scientist working the lab, the two have the following conversation:
Deadpool responds, “Mister, if I didn’t, I woulda ate my gun years ago.”
Joe Kelly might’ve been the first to have Deadpool break the fourth wall, as a throwaway gag, but I think Christopher J. Priest may deserve the credit for it becoming such a core part of the character.
Priest ended up leaving with issue #45, his prediction that the book would be cancelled during his tenure ultimately proven incorrect. The next important chapter for the series came a few years later, with issue #65 and the arrival of a new creative team.
Agent X #15
Gail Simone was a writer best known at that point for her weekly comic book parody/satire column “You’ll All Be Sorry!” One of the most distinctive aspect of Simone’s run was her tendency to have Deadpool monologue via narration boxes, something that he character hadn’t done a great deal up to this point, aside from things like a throwaway gag on the first page of Joe Kelly’s Deadpool #1.
Joining her on the book was an up and coming art studio by the name of UDON (who have since gone on to do work for Capcom, such as redrawing all the sprites for Super Street Fighter II HD Remix). UDON’s art style recalled the style of the early issues drawn by Ed McGuinness, and Simone’s off-kilter humor was a perfect match for the series. So of course, it would only make sense that the people in charge would decide right then on a dramatic change in direction for the book, renaming the series Agent X and restarting the series from #1, without Deadpool. I mean, that’s only the logical thing to do, right?
And so, the book that had cheated death so many times was finally cancelled, with issue #69 (I still can’t tell if ending on that particular number was intentional or not). Simone stuck with Agent X for awhile, but eventually left the title due to the ever popular “creative differences.” However, when that series was announced to be cancelled, she was invited back to wrap things up and bring back Deadpool. And return with a bang he did—almost the moment he returns, he’s immediately shot in the head. As his brain slowly regenerates, he spends nearly an entire issue playing with himself off-panel. And again, I wonder: issue #69?
Meanwhile, Cable’s series had similarly been cancelled and relaunched under a new title, which had then been cancelled. Rather than restart both of their series from issue #1, it was decided that perhaps they could share a book together. Or perhaps more accurately, be forced to share a book together, like a super-powered version of The Odd Couple, except they first met when one was hired to kill the other?
Thus began 2004′s Cable & Deadpool #1. Surprisingly, the character pairing actually worked quite well. Over the course of 50 issues—written by Deadpool co-creator Fabian Nicieza—the two characters who were initially against each other eventually found themselves on the same side, Cable playing straight-man to Deadpool’s insanity. In fact probably the only reason it was cancelled was that Cable had gotten pulled into a major X-Men crossover storyline, leaving Deadpool all by himself for the last half-dozen issues.
Wolverine: Origins #21
But plans were already in motion for Deadpool (Vol. 2) #1. Unfortunately, it was to be written by Daniel Way.
It was clear right from the start that something was wrong. As a lead-in to the new series, Deadpool showed up in Daniel Way’s other (and completely unnecessary) series, Wolverine: Origins. And it’s almost as though the only thing Way knew about the character was that he’s “crazy,” so he said to himself, “hey, all crazy people hallucinate and hear voices in their head, right?” Thus, DP now inexplicably has two different voices in his head that argue with each other, and with himself. We’re also occasionally shown glimpses of the world through his eyes, and apparently everything he sees is a warped version of reality.
The problem is, Deadpool isn’t a schizophrenic. He’s a sociopath, with a sense of humor, who is sometimes motivated to try and do the right thing—when he can figure out what that is. I keep waiting for Typhoid Mary to show up, wanting to kick his ass for stealing her arguing-voices shtick. But he probably didn’t read any of those issues, either.
Visual hallucinations are something Deadpool had experienced before Daniel Way’s run, but he generally always seemed alarmed by them (also, I believe Deadpool’s nemesis T-Ray may have been responsible for them). Once such instance occurred in the Joe Kelly written Deadpool (Vol. 1) #27, the issue where the “Shoryuken!” page comes from that regularly seems to make people’s “Favorite Deadpool Moments” lists. In this particular issue, he’s experiencing some prolonged hallucinations, and can’t figure out why they aren’t going away. While having a session with an old B-villain turned therapist, it’s suggested that a good fight always seems to clear DP’s head. And DP figures, who better to fight than Wolverine?
But where Way portrays Deadpool as having no fear of fighting Wolverine due to his hallucinations making Wolverine look like some sort of frightened Looney Tunes character, Kelly’s DP wants to fight Wolverine because he knows their healing factors will result in the fight lasting a good long time.
The ever popular “Shoryuken” page occurs when Deadpool can’t get Wolverine to fight, because he just wants to hang out with his old friend Kitty Pryde (who in the comics has a similar relationship with Wolverine as Rogue does in the movies). Suddenly Deadpool gets a terrible idea:
Maybe Way’s version of Deadpool wouldn’t seem so bad if there had at least been some sort of explanation given for why these hallucinations started happening. At the very least, it wouldn’t seem so completely out of nowhere. But it seems pretty clear that the only real explanation is that it came out of bad writing from someone who just plain doesn’t get the character. Way hasn’t just missed the mark; he’s not even pointed in general direction of the mark. He might not even be in the same building as the mark. I’m not sure whether he’s even holding a gun—he’s possibly holding a banana while hallucinating it’s a gun, pointing it at a poster on his wall that he imagines is the mark.
Cable & Deadpool ran from 2004-2008, and at some point during those years, something changed. Ever since the Joe Kelly run, Deadpool had always had a small yet loyal following of internet-savvy fans, but now there was a variety of fan that didn’t exist during that first decade. I’m not sure exactly when or in what manner it occurred, but at some point Deadpool was discovered by 4chan. Initially dubbing him “Ninja Spider-Man,” scans of the character’s antics quickly won him a new audience, with some eventually declaring him to be “4chan In Superhero Form.”
''Let's not quibble over details when we have such a huge philosophical conundrum here!''
It was also around this same time that Deadpool first started appearing in videogames. He first showed up in 2005′s X-Men Legends II: Rise Of Apocalypse as a playable character you earn after defeating him in a boss battle. However, if you’ve used the “all characters” cheat code and have him in your party when you activate the boss battle, enemy Deadpool’s usual pre-battle dialogue will instead be replaced with dialogue in which he has a conversation with himself. I was completely unaware of this the first time I played the game, and got quite a surprise.
He has since appeared as a playable character in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (2006) and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (2009), and as an enemy in X-Men Origins: Wolverine(2009) and Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (2010). Marvel Vs. Capcom 3: Fate Of Two Worlds will be his sixth game appearance.
''You mean you couldn't see any of my little yellow boxes? Maybe they're in one of the subtitle tracks...''
He also appeared in that so-so 2009 movie X-Men Origins: Wolverinethat I’m sure none of you heard about, right? Look, all I’m going to say on the matter is: face it, if they hadn’t sealed his mouth shut, he would’ve stolen the whole movie, y’know? In the interest of ensuring Wolverine remained the star, what they did sort of made sense.
I’m not sure how much of an impact the videogame appearances, movie appearance, and 4chan have had on sales of the comics, but it’s become clear the old status quo is no more. Once the series that was always on the cusp of cancellation, now there was a newDeadpool (Vol. 2) series in the works before the final issue of Cable & Deadpool even hit the stands. But Marvel didn’t stop there.
Marvel’s typical response to noticing a character has become popular is to flood the market with a glut of books featuring said character. And Deadpool was no exception. So first, a new mini-series Deadpool: Suicide Kings was launched in 2009 alongside the ongoing series. Then, a second simultaneous ongoing series was launched, called Deadpool: Merc With A Mouth. Then, a third going series: Deadpool Team-Up! Then another mini-series (Prelude To Deadpool Corps), which lead into a fourth ongoing series (Deadpool Corps)! And another mini-series (Deadpool: Wade Wilson’s War)! Deadpool: Merc With A Mouth gets cancelled (or ends), but is replaced with Deadpool MAX! And in between all this, various one-shots!
Confused about where to start? I don’t blame you. Thankfully, things are starting to become a bit more sane. Deadpool Corps and Deadpool Team-Up are both cancelled (or ending, depending on who you ask), leaving only Deadpool (Vol. 2) and Deadpool MAX as the two ongoing series. Though the character also just joined Uncanny X-Force, so he’s there as well.
The worst part of all of this is that at least half of the writers doing these books are people who probably only had a vague notion of who Deadpool is, and familiarized themselves with the character by reading Daniel Way’s schizophrenic version of the character. Fortunately, there are still a few writers who snuck in there that actually know how to write the character (namely, Jeff Parker and Duane Swierczynski).
So let’s say you were interested in reading some Deadpool comics, and you weren’t completely put off by how overwhelming it sounded from the above paragraphs. Where should you start? I’ll try to point you in the right direction:
JOE KELLY’S DEAPOOL
- Deadpool Classic, Vol. 1The only Joe Kelly story in this volume is Deadpool #1, which Marvel stupidly split from the rest of the series, I guess so you’d be forced to buy the first two mini-series. Also contains New Mutants #98.
- Deadpool Classic, Vol. 2Collects Deadpool #2-8, plus Deadpool #-1, and Deadpool/Daredevil ’97.
- Deadpool Classic, Vol. 3Collects Deadpool #9-17, plus Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #47.
- Deadpool Classic, Vol. 4Collects Deadpool #18-25, plus Deadpool #0, and Deadpool/Death ’98.
- Deadpool Classic, Vol. 5Coming in June. I assume it will collect Deadpool #26-33, plus Baby’s First Deadpool Book #1, andDeadpool Team-Up (Starring Deadpool & Widdle Wade) #1.
CHRISTOPHER J. PRIEST’S DEADPOOL
- Deadpool Classic, Vol. 6Collects Deadpool #34-43, plus Black Panther #23.
GAIL SIMONE’S DEADPOOL
Sadly, none of Simone’s run is in print currently, but the Deadpool Classic series may get there soon.
FABIAN NICIEZA’S DEADPOOL
Now that Deadpool is more popular than Cable, it appears they’ve decided to rebrand the most recent collected editions as Deadpool & Cable. Each of these contain around 17 issues per volume, collecting the entire 50-issue series into three volumes.
JEFF PARKER’S DEADPOOL
- Deadpool Team-Up #889Jeff Parker is one of the current Marvel writers who really gets it. Unfortunately, he’s hasn’t been able to do a Deadpool series yet, so I can only point you to a few stories. Deadpool Team-Up #889 is collected inDeadpool Team-Up, Vol. 2, but I can’t tell you whether its worth it to get that whole book just for the one issue.
- Hulked-Out HeroesAs a shameless tie-in to some random Hulk-related Big Event, a few stories were written features other characters getting Hulked-out, including Deadpool. Normally these stories end up being pretty stupid, but leave it to Jeff Parker to actually make it work. The premise: Hulkpool doesn’t seem to remember that he is Deadpool, but does remember that he hates Deadpool (a self-loating thing). With the help of Bob, Agent of HYDRA (think Marvel’s version of Number 21 from Venture Bros. ), he goes back in time in order to fight Deadpool, a plan that Bob describes as “almost too awesome a plan.”
The collected edition fills things out with a couple stories by other writers unrelated to Deadpool.
DUANE SWIERCZYNSKI’S DEADPOOL
- Cable (Vol. 2) #25After the events of Cable (Vol. 2) #24, Cable ended up dying (SPOILER: he’ll be back eventually). And wouldn’t you know, the death of your main character can be rather inconvenient when you still have one more issue to go. Fortunately, Deadpool was more than happy to fill in. Renamed Cable & Deadpool #25, the issue tells a flashback story that fills in the space between Cable leaving Cable & Deadpool, and the beginning of Cable (Vol. 2). Deadpool can’t resist breaking the fourth wall toward the end, poking at plot holes from the book’s first 24 issues, and envisioning a future where there’s not just one monthly Deadpool, but four of them. Swierczynski does drop in a bit of the Daniel Way voices, but sparse enough to not be annoying, and sometimes reads more like the author bantering with the character. The story is collected in Cable Vol. 4: Homecoming.
- Deadpool: Wade Wilson’s WarThis is the best Deadpool mini-series I’ve ever read. Well, that might be hyping it up to much. But seriously, it is the best Deadpool mini-series I’ve ever read. It’s an out of continuity story that tells a different version of the character’s origin, while trimming out all the excess, in the same manner as a movie might do. It’s got several little twists scattered throughout (which I always love), and an ending that leaves a degree of uncertainty as to what exactly happened. Without giving too much away, it sort of asks you to decide whether you really want a schizophrenic Deadpool, or the classic Deadpool.
JOE KELLY/DEADPOOL REUNION
In recent years, there have been a few new, one-off Joe Kelly Deadpool stories. These are:
Superman/Batman Annual #1
- Superman/Batman Annual #1A group of DC characters including Deathstroke encounter alternate universe versions of themselves. And let’s just say the alternate version of Deathstroke likes to talk a bit more than the regular version. (Also features Ed McGuinness helping out on art.)
- Deadpool #900This is a deluxe-sized issue containing short stories from various writers (including a short one by Swierczynski). Joe Kelly’s contribution is a frenetic romp illustrated by none other than Rob Liefeld. I think Paul O’Brien put it best when he described the reading the story as “like having sugar injected into your eyes.” However, this one hasn’t been collected into a larger edition yet.
- Amazing Spider-Man #611For I believe the first time ever, Spider-Man and Deadpool battle it out. But this being Joe Kelly’s Deadpool, the fight somehow manages to devolve into trading yo mama jokes…
I've read some Deapool comics, and played some of the games with him in them, but I never really got the story from the beginning. Thanks!
thanks! I really like Deadpool and it was nice to enrich my history for the character.
I think its crazy how he is getting so much hype now, though
wow! i learned a lot of stuff i didnt know about deadpool. i thought i was a deadpool fan! lol. i cant wait until the game. does anybody have any info on the game yet? if so could you let me know?
Thank you for finally giving me direction for which Deadpool to start reading!
I wonder if all my New Mutants and early x-force comics are worth much these days...
Wow, really cool blog. Very professionally done :) I may start reading some Deadpool comics. I actually gained a lot of interest in him after MvC3. Can't wait to read more of your work in the future.