The Rob Liefeld of today may be older than the man responsible for selling millions of comics in the early ’90s, but at 48 years old, he’s lost none of the energy and exuberance that fueled him as a young artist and writer. After a brief stint at DC Comics, Liefeld ended up at Marvel where he spearheaded the reinvention of the flagging “New Mutants,” transmogrifying it into “X-Force” and introducing characters that would almost instantly become fan favorites and remain stalwarts of the company’s X-Men franchise to this day, including Cable, Domino and, of course, Deadpool.
Propelled by that early success, Liefeld became one of the co-founders of Image Comics, though he has found himself constantly drawn back to his most popular creation, the Merc With a Mouth. Over time, Deadpool has emerged as one of the most enduringly popular and highly marketable characters created at any company in the last 25 years. A near-indispensable staple of Marvel’s publishing line, the character has been spun off into TV animation, video games, trading cards, toys and other consumer merchandise.
Now, Liefeld is celebrating Deadpool’s most significant achievement to date: headlining his own feature film as part of 20th Century Fox’s line of “X-Men” movie spinoffs. After weathering an ill-conceived appearance in 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” the character has returned in a new cinematic incarnation that hews much closer to his comic book roots. This time, the Merc arrives on the big screen with a look derived from Liefeld’s enduring design and an off-the-wall wisecracking attitude in line with co-creator Fabian Nicieza‘s joke-a-minute dialogue.
Liefeld sat down with CBR News to discuss his excitement over the release of the new film, the dedication of star Ryan Reynolds to shepherd a more faithful version to the multiplex and how Wade Wilson made his mark when every new character was striving to be the Next Big Mutant.
CBR News: Here you have a character that is one of your creations that is joining the great pantheon of film superheroes. The latest landmark in the life of Deadpool.
Rob Liefeld: Yes, and how exciting that is! Because, look, every artist wants to see their character come to life, you know what I mean? One of the things that really sparked my going, “I need to do more of this than I can possibly control myself,” is when, within a year of Deadpool being created, they handed me the Deadpool action figure.
I said, “Excuse me, you just made your first line of X-Men toys.” And they said, “Yeah.” And I said, “But that’s a big deal: the X-Men had never been a line of toys. So you’ve got Cyclops and Colossus, and you’re telling me that the second line of X-Men toys, you’re jumping 30 years and just going to X-Force?” And they said, “Yeah, that’s what we told you. We thought you’d be excited.” I said, “No, don’t get me wrong! I’m thrilled, but the idea that what was on the page would be standing on my desk in 3D plastic…” And you can tell what toys do to comic book guys, because we kind of get a little nutty about them — I mean, Todd McFarlane went so far as he just makes toys now. I mean, it’s toys that have giant pull with us.
I have two boys that are — they have been my pop culture lab and have kept me young and focused because they have kept me from getting jaded. They both point me in the right direction, because they consume a whole different level of entertainment than I do. They are video gamers, and I am not, and over the last eight years Deadpool has been prominently featured in five Marvel video games.
And they have encountered him through those games, and again from the page to the action figure to all these different video game renditions. I’m always watching — so yes, the movie is like the ultimate arrival of his, of his ascension to fully rendered person and that’s exciting — that’s always exciting.
The amazing thing is, you did get him onscreen before, but now you get him much more close to your version — with the same actor.
Look, you know what? It’s a testimony. “Wolverine: Origins” — why was that movie polarizing? Of course, it’s because Deadpool wasn’t portrayed in a way that anyone was familiar with. But it is because Ryan [Reynolds] sold it so well in the first 20 minutes. Man, I’m like, “That’s him. That’s him. Oh my gosh. That’s him.”
When he cuts the bullet and splits it in two, he’s holding everybody in the elevator, he kinda gets on everybody’s nerves. You’re like, “They’re building something great.” He closes the deal in the first 20 minutes, and then you are like, “Wait, uh, wait, uh, excuse me, Mr. Producer. What did we do there? That is not the Deadpool we know. Why are you calling that person Deadpool?”
But Ryan — there was never, there was never, anybody else for that role. He fits the physical command of the character, and then that mouth of his — I mean, Ryan’s got it. He’s got that lip. It is a great triumph for him. I’m so excited. All these guys who I’ve gotten to know over the years — [director] Tim Miller, Ryan, [screenwriters] Rhett [Reese], Paul [Wernick] and [producer] Simon Kinberg, who are kind of the nucleus — they fought to give you this version and they are all great guys and you can’t help but root for them. I’m so excited for them.
I mean, I saw, I was nearby Rhett and Paul when the trailer played in Hall H [at Comic-Con International], We were all standing off the side of the stage with the Fox people. They were nervous — this is their baby, this is all their words on the screen. I’ve been to a lot of Hall Hs — I was there when [Robert] Downey Jr. came out and assembled the Avengers for the first time. When [Kevin] Feige said, “We’re doing… oh, uh, oh excuse me, actually we have one more thing.” And they had previewed “Captain America” and “Thor,” coming for 2011, so this was 2010, and when Downey Jr. came out I rose to my feet, I was shaking and cheering, and I said, “I can’t believe the Avengers assembled.”
[After the “Deadpool” presentation], I ran out across the street. I was having dinner with Robert Kirkman and I said, “You do not understand what I just saw.” I have never seen a crowd rise to their feet after Hall H showed the clip. [Chants] “One more time! One more time!” You can see it on tape: [Chris] Hardwick is like, “What do I do here? This wasn’t in the script.” And I saw Paul and Rhett and I said “Congratulations. You are the Deadpool guys now. I’ve been the Deadpool guy for 25 years. You are the Deadpool guys. Welcome to the club, it’s a great club.” Y’know? And so they’re all the Deadpool guys now.
The world is going to go, “This is the Deadpool that we know.” It’s exciting. It is so fresh and original, I think people are just really going to be thrilled.
Tell me a little bit about Ryan, who has been such a champion of the character, a fan of the character. Tell me about your interaction with him over the years.
Ryan was not going to let “Deadpool” not happen. You can’t ask for a better champion… He carried a lot of weight and would not let “Deadpool” be dismissed and kept it at the forefront and — look, all the right pieces came together from when Rhett and Paul came on, to Ryan’s continued involvement. Tim was the right hire, they nailed it. A first-time director in film, but who has directed a bunch of video games and video game bumpers and trailers and influenced those campaigns for some of the most popular games, especially Star Wars games. He was always involved in that world, and so now, to say, “Hey, we think you should be one of those guys who brings this to the big screen.” Getting him was crucial.
What people don’t realize is that Simon Kinberg, since “X-Men: First Class,” has had a great deal of influence on the franchise. Simon wrote and produced “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and he’s a producer on “The Martian.” This is a first class producer who they’ve now kind of given the reins of the X-Men to. He put his considerable weight behind “Deadpool,” and I’ve praised him publicly, because I believe he deserves a lot of credit for pushing this to the forefront. And he always responds, whether it is public or otherwise, and tweets back and says, “Rob — great talent, great script, great director, it was easy to get behind this.”
All the right pieces came together, and that’s not always the case. There are some productions where you go, obviously, “Maybe that guy wasn’t the right call to direct this movie,” or “Maybe that wasn’t the best script to go forward with.” And in this case it was, like, everything. Rhett and Paul’s script was the document everybody rallied around.
I got a big kick when my buddies at Marvel Productions, I would go to dinner and lunch and grab something with them, they’d go, “Hey, I’m not supposed to say this, but that ‘Deadpool’ script is awesome.” “That ‘Deadpool’ script is fantastic — are they going to make that soon?” I’m like, “Every day it is getting a little closer.” So I just think that it was the amount of talent came together to give us this.
Do you have memories of the first time that he came out of your pencil?
Oh, 100%. That is like yesterday to me. Young Rob Liefeld, his dad was very sick — a 20-year battle with cancer, on the ropes. Mom and Dad — broke. “New Mutants” was my ticket. I needed to make that work. I told my friends during the time, I said, “Look, you are not going to see me for a while. They’ve given me what I want. I can write and draw my own book. They’ve rewarded me.”
“New Mutants” was the dog of the line. “Wolverine,” “X-Factor” and “X-Men” outsold it, five to one… [Marvel] said, “You can fill it with whatever energy, ideas and creativity you have, because we are going to turn the lights off, otherwise. This is kind of like the last chance.” They let me introduce Cable, and “New Mutants” #87 has eleven new characters in the first issue. It is like we showcased all new villains and this powerful new character that was designed to take over the book and transform it. And our sales went boom! We went up twenty-five thousand, and then we went up fifty thousand, and then in no time, we were at half-a-million.
So when Deadpool is on the cover of “New Mutants” #98 and they’ve given me the reins of the book, I feel a tremendous amount pressure, because I’m 22 years-old, I want to take care of my family, my mom and my dad. I’m not married, I have no connections at that time, I am just dedicated to succeeding at comic books. But it is scary when they go, “Hey, Rob — we are going to let you write the whole book now. You get to do everything, you get to direct the path of this book and these characters.”
I convinced them to not call it “New Mutants.” I loved the name “New Mutants,” it had a glorious logo, but it needed an “X “in the title. I talked to marketing, and they said, “Yes, an X would make a tremendous amount of difference.” I lobbied and I said, “Look, we’ve drastically changed the makeup of this book, with all the new characters and designs, and so now we are rushing toward X-Force. And Deadpool and Domino and Gideon are there for a reason, just like Cable’s on the cover when he’s announced.” Not every character I’ve created has been given the cover treatment. If you are on the cover, you are important. This means, “We are going to affect your saga.” Now, Gideon eventually faded into the background, but two out of three ain’t bad! Deadpool and Domino stuck the landing.
Cable and Deadpool have one thing that ties them together: I needed to have a connection to Wolverine. Wolverine was my favorite character growing up. He transformed the X-Men franchise, as far as I was concerned. People forget that “X-Men” was in reprints for years in the ’70s. You’d go to the stand and go, “Oh, it’s another reprint of ‘X-Men.'” They just kept the book alive with old stories.
When the international cast came about, Len Wein said Colossus was designed to be the star of the group, but Wolverine came to the fore. I thought, “Yeah, he had weapons! He had six knives that he would stab you with!” To a kid, that’s exciting, you know? When you played cowboys and Indians as a kid, you either had a gun or a knife — and here comes six knives! And the violent nature of that… Boys like action, we like a certain level of action and violence. And it was more than that: they put that soap opera in. I saw how Chris [Claremont] manipulated Wolverine over the years, so I knew that my characters needed to have mystery and if I could tie them in with Wolverine.
With Cable, we established that he and Wolverine had a past in their encounter a few issues earlier. Well, now I said, “I want Deadpool to matter. I have given him this role as a mercenary, as a bounty hunter. He’s collecting a contract on Cable — he’s very much a Boba Fett. He’s been hired by Jabba the Hutt, and Cable is the Han Solo.” My Star Wars influence — I’m wearing it proudly at this time!
I told Marvel, “Wolverine is Weapon X. Weapon X is Roman numeral X. Is that correct?” They’d say, “Yes, Rob, that’s correct.” “To my knowledge you’ve not introduced Weapon one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Have you done that? Do you have plans for that?” “No.” I said, “Guys, he’s the guy that went right before Wolverine, and they screwed him up because they had to break a lot of eggs before they made the omelet.”
At that time — and I cannot be any bolder than this — walking out of “Twins,” a very popular movie in the late ’80s: [Arnold] Schwarzenegger and [Danny] DeVito, and the whole thing of this comedy was, “How are they twins?” And in the third act, when they are with a scientist, because they were genetically manipulated, they go to Arnold, “How are we twins?” And they go, “Well, you’re all the good stuff.” And he goes, “I’m all the good stuff.” And then Danny goes, “Wait, wait.” “You’re all the crap.” He’s the waste of the program. Deadpool is the crap of the Weapon X program. And scarred, mutilated, disfigured — he ran away from the program and took his talents to use as a mercenary and bounty hunter.
My favorite issue of “The Avengers” is when Ultron walked in and took them all on, put them all through the wall and just established, “I am your worst nightmare.” There is nothing better than when a villain comes in and he takes down all of your characters that you’ve spent a year [developing]. Cable’s come in and made them a fighting force, and Cable himself is formidable. Deadpool walks into the mansion and takes them all out. “This is what a badass I am.”
Marvel had actually forwarded that mail on to me. I had thought they had sent me a washer or a dryer. I thought, “I’m getting some awesome gift from Marvel!” But it was all the mail from “New Mutants” #98. My editors said, “Rob, can we fast-track Deadpool? This is the most mail we’ve seen on a character in 15 years. People love him.” It’s why Deadpool is a trading card with “X-Force” #1, and a Fact File, and why he is the first 12 pages of “X-Force” #2. “X-Force” #1 is the second best-selling comic of all time; it sold five million copies. You have to ask yourself, “Why does the second issue begin with Deadpool for 12 pages?” Because the fans demanded it.â€¨
What Cable and Deadpool were was job security for that kid who is sitting at that board. It meant that I got to keep doing what I’m doing. They like my Cable, they like my Deadpool, they like my Domino — they like what I’m doing. I’m going to keep expanding. And again, to further the Weapon X connection, “X-Force” #3 opens and you meet Kane, because I’m like, “Can I make Weapon XI?” So we made Kane the experiments after Wolverine. You’ve got Weapon IX battling Weapon XI and I’m digging my claws into the Wolverine legacy. Because that’s my ultimate — I’ve achieved my goal. I’ve connected things to Wolverine.
Deadpool, he got a life of his own. And I’ve always said that the fans will not let you put Deadpool in a corner. They will righteously come out, and whether it is this comic or this movie, they let their voices be known, and it’s fantastic.
Check back with CBR tomorrow for the second half of our interview with Rob Liefeld, and check out “Deadpool” in theaters this weekend.
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