My name is Brett and I’m a former Deadpool fanatic. I’m also the writer of a new regular column here at CBR, as well as a fan of writing cliches. I’m entering my third decade of comic book fandom by proudly reclaiming my history of ’90s-soaked superheroes (soaked in Surge, BTW) and I am proclaiming them worthwhile. I’m also looking towards the future of the industry by ditching adherence to tradition in favor of adherence to storytelling. My opening statement about Deadpool encapsulates everything about my column-defining exposition, a fitting beginning to this gentle, gentle stroll we are about to depart on, dear reader. Yeah, I’m going to be really IN YOUR FACE about this stroll, too.
IN YOUR FACE JAM is a phrase I cherish because of it’s utter ’90s-ness. It’s loud, exuberant, cocky and dependent on outdated slang. If you recognize it, then you must be as big of a fan of the original incarnation of X-Force as I am (and also, let’s be BEST friends). That phrase, in some form or fashion, introduced the credits in almost every issue. “X-Force” wasn’t about adding to Marvel’s heroic tapestry. “X-Force” was about JAMMING X-Force all up IN YOUR FACE. Now, of course, there was a lot more to “X-Force” than Cable and whatever was going on with Shatterstar’s hair, but that debate (one in which I am 100% right) is for another time. This entry is about Deadpool, who upon his introduction in “New Mutants” #98 and early appearances in “X-Force,” was just about as in your face as they come.
In 1991, Deadpool was violent, obnoxious, abnormally quippy, derivative and possessed a needlessly overcomplicated background. All of that sounds like story poison to most adults, but to kids? Dude was basically Snake Eyes with Bugs Bunny’s humor, Raphael’s attitude and Wolverine’s mystery filtered through Spider-Man as drawn by Rob Liefeld. Deadpool seems so necessary to the early ’90s that I don’t know if Rob Liefeld created Deadpool so much as channeled him into existence. So yeah, when 9 year old me ran across Deadpool in the pages of Fabian Nicieza and Greg Capullo’s “X-Force,” I had to like him. I had no choice.
I said earlier that I would prove why this ridiculous artifact of a Day-Glo era is worthwhile — but what about Deadpool is worthwhile? What aspect of Deadpool kept my attention as I turned from a kid to a teenager? If you know your Deadpool history, then you know what I’m about to gushingly discuss.
Joe Kelly’s “Deadpool” hit me when I was 12 years old.
Almost a decade after his then-forgotten run had ended, I tracked down Joe Kelly at New York Comic Con to let him know how much his run meant to me. The 2008 New York Comic Con was my first big comic convention, and even though I was there as a professional, I still had to have one fan moment. And that moment had to be with Joe Kelly. As long as you can remain professional, courteous, mature and reasonable while maintaining a wider, objective perspective on the experience, I totally recommend tracking down the people that shaped your worldview during your formative years and confessing your undying love. Oh, and also you should be able to control what your tear ducts are doing. I did all of this with Joe Kelly, but I make no guarantees should I get the chance to meet Joss Whedon.
With an issue cover-dated January 1997, Joe Kelly started a run on “Deadpool” that would last for 38 issues (33 regular issues, #-1 and #0 issues, two annuals and one special). He would collaborate with artists Ed McGuinness, Walter McDaniel and Pete Woods to create what holds up as one of the greatest comic book runs of all time. And I’m not just letting nostalgia speak, because I reread these comics on the reg. Whatever praise you have read about this run in the past, know that it is well-deserved.
Personal revelation time: I matured as a comic book fan because of “Deadpool.” That comic book demonstrated that comics could be disturbingly dark. Not “excessive violence masquerading as maturity” dark; this comic focused on the struggle between an intense character striving to better himself and his flaws that led him to personal tragedy repeatedly. The part of my brain that loves the dramatic rise and fall of tension on “Breaking Bad” was shaped by “Deadpool.” Joe Kelly showed his downright genius, taking an incredibly shallow character and adding dimensions, a supporting cast of integral characters who personified his mistakes and aspirations and a clear character arc. Joe Kelly did not get the memo that Deadpool was supposed to be a bodacious bounty hunter and nothing more.
And as dark as “Deadpool” got, the pendulum swung equally high on the comedy side of things. Deadpool has never been as funny, nay, no comic has ever been as funny as Joe Kelly’s “Deadpool.” You’ve undoubtedly heard about “Deadpool” #11, where ‘Pool switches places with Spider-Man in an actual Stan Lee and John Romita classic. But have you read his first battle with Taskmaster? When Deadpool impaled the Hulk? You do know that Deadpool took Daredevil’s seeing eye dog, right? What about that one guy whose head just explodes over and over again? Oh, and Batroc the Leaper happened! Then there were all of Blind Al’s pranks! And and and — I can just keep going on. I am now a comedy writer, and I cite “Deadpool” as a big influence, right up there with “Saturday Night Live.”
“Deadpool” was also my first experience reading a solo character’s book, so his supporting cast was the first one I ever cared about (sorry Spidey). To this day, I have a very special place in my heart for Blind Al, Zoe, Monty and Weasel. I also got to experience fretting over cancellation thanks to this book, thus preparing me for my relationships with “Slingers,” “Runaways,” “The Order” and “Captain Britain & MI: 13.” This series structured its storytelling based on years, which was something I had never experienced before. All the X-Books were engaged in an ongoing soap opera, with no clear benchmarks or end points in site. “Deadpool” had three during Kelly’s run, and the status quo and tone of the series shifted with each one.
If you are one of the ’90s detractors, then you definitely view Deadpool as an abomination. But a character should not be defined by the circumstances under which they are created. If that were the case, Valkyrie wouldn’t be kicking ass month-in and month-out in “Secret Avengers,” since she was originally created as a plot device to mock Women’s Lib (“Avengers” #83 has aged atrociously). Deadpool should not be judged because his original appearances failed to portray him as anything other than a trope-tastic ’90s nightmare. Dude not only got a real personality and a real character arc, but dude got a RUN. Deadpool has a long run consisting of some downright classic issues told through inventive, genre-defying methods. Can you say that about Hawkeye? Or Gambit? I love the guys and have the highest hopes for their new ongoings but — seriously.
So yeah, Deadpool was my guy for almost three years. And then Joe Kelly left the title, replaced by Christopher Priest (who was replaced by Jimmy Palmiotti, who was replaced by Gail Simone, Fabian Nicieza, Daniel Way, etc.). And it all changed for me. Just like Deadpool taught me about drama and storytelling, this shift of power demonstrated to me just how cruel comics could be. You mean they can put a new writer on my comic? And they can write my character differently? And they can pretend like none of the stuff I liked ever
When I checked in on Deadpool years later, he had become 1. Unbelievably popular and 2. Fixated with things that absolutely bewildered me. Bea Arthur? Chimichangas? How is Deadpool now synonymous with these things? The handful of times I have read Deadpool in the last five years has felt like an unexpected reunion with a high school friend. This friend meant so much to me at one time, but now they have all these kids! And kids change your life and, honestly, I just can’t fathom what it’s like to have kids. The “kids” in this case are “chimichangas.”
This became incredibly apparent when the Deadpool video game was announced last month. A tiny part of me was curious, so I watched the trailer. And, nope, nope, the Deadpool I loved is gone. This Deadpool doesn’t have complex feelings towards heroism so much as he has simplistic feelings towards boobies. The character of Deadpool simultaneously embodied everything I loved about comic book storytelling and embodies everything I hate about…everything. From my viewpoint, he’s back to the role he played in the early ’90s, except this current version has been willed into existence by the new millennium. He’s a laugh riot, super-violet, horndog jokester that is YouTube friendly and totes meme-able. And he’s obviously touching on something the internet-savvy comic book-buying audience needs, because he’s more popular than ever.
But this Deadpool is not my Deadpool.
As the second half of my opening paragraph (remember that paragraph, so long ago?!) stated, I’m trying to approach comics with a maturity fitting for someone who has been around the block twenty times. With that in mind, after ruminating on the aggressively off-putting T&A in the Deadpool video game trailer, I realized that loyalty to characters above stories is downright dumb. Sure, every fan has to have a handful of characters that they love unconditionally (mine are Multiple Man and the Capullo-era X-Force cast), but literally no one wins when fans allow that unconditional love to drag them through awful reboots and stories. You end up reading comics you hate just because they star a character you thought was bodacious when you were in the fifth grade. Those comics from your childhood still exist. If the current comics get you down, stop reading them and read the comics that made you love the character to begin with. Bad comics do not physically erase good comics from existence.
After realizing that I don’t have to like Deadpool anymore, and realizing that it’s totally within Marvel’s rights to publish Deadpool comics that don’t cater to my very specific idea of the character, and realizing that Deadpool has enough fans as it is and can do without me, I saw how this applies to a lot of the characters I’ve been digging lately. I’ve started identifying my favorite characters more specifically by the stories they are in. I love Greg Rucka’s Batwoman and Nova by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. I feel no need to seek out and read every appearance by either character, because I recognize that what those creators brought to those characters was incredibly unique. Black Widow may be my favorite on-screen superhero of all time (if not, she’s up there), but I hadn’t found her as captivating in the comics until Ed Brubaker’s new “Winter Soldier” series. And that’s fine. Comics are about enjoying a medium, not proving your undying appreciation for fictional characters, especially when proving such sucks your wallet dry for comics you don’t enjoy.
All that being said, I am going to give Marvel’s upcoming “Deadpool” series a try, if only because having an actual stand-up comedian (Brian Posehn) handle the Merc With a Mouth is positively inspired. But I’m not going to approach the series with crazy-fan expectations or with my Joe Kelly baggage slung over my shoulder. The Deadpool that changed how I read comics still exists, bagged and boarded on my shelf, just waiting to hang out again. This is a new Deadpool and it’s one that I am eager to meet. He won’t mean as much to me as my old pal does, but maybe we can find some common ground and kick it for a while.
I used a lot of ’90s slang in this and I make no promises to stop in the future. Gnarly.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre sketch team Everything Rabbits. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).