SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Deathstroke #40, by Christopher Priest, Carlo Pagulayan, Fernando Pasarin, Jason Paz, Jordi Tarragona, Trevor Scott, Jeromy Cox and Willie Schubert, on sale now.
It’s no secret that fans view Marvel’s Wade Wilson/Deadpool as a play on DC Comics’ Slade Wilson/Deathstroke (though his co-creator, Rob Liefeld, denies it). If the names aren’t enough of a dead giveaway, there’s also the similar costumes, their arsenal of weapons and the fact that both men are mercenaries.
Nevertheless, while Deadpool is generally the one known for breaking the fourth wall, Deathstroke #40 contains arguably the most metatextual moment in the history of either character.
The crux of the story is that Slade and his fellow Arkham Asylum inmate Devon, who now dons a similar costume and refers to himself as Death Masque, are attempting to prevent an invasion from an alien race known as the Pulorians. Slade, however, is beginning to believe that perhaps the aliens he and Devon fought weeks earlier were merely figments of their imaginations.
In positing this, Slade elicits a surprising response from his frenemy.
"But I know the key to the universe, Mr. Liefold!” Devon says. “You see... there is a man... with a typewriter... All right, let's admit... it would be freaking ironic if they sued us."
What exactly does this mean, though?
Well, “Liefold” is clearly writer Christopher Priest giving a nod to Deadpool's co-creator Liefeld, but the metacommentary runs far deeper than that.
In 1999’s Deadpool #34, written by Priest with art by Paco Diaz, Rodney Ramos and Shannon Blanchard, readers were first introduced to the notion of Wade Wilson breaking the fourth wall. In that issue, Wade learns there’s a new writer on his book (this was Priest’s first issue following Joe Kelly). Furthermore, he discovers that none of the events of his book are actually happening. In reality, they’re simply the product of the twisted imagination of a man sitting at a typewriter (aka Priest).
That Priest was willing to leverage his tenure on Deadpool and his current run on Deathstroke, all for the sake of one meta moment that only the most diehard fans would likely pick up on, is a true testament to his love for his craft.