Dawn of the Deadpool

He’s known by many names – the Regenerating Degenerate, the Merc with a Mouth, Ninja Spider-Man – but thanks to a hard R-rated movie that’s exceeded even the most miserly Fox executive’s expectations, you’re about to see a lot more of him. At least if you are going to suffer a DP OD, it’ll be on the good stuff – Ryan Reynolds has brought a version of the character to the screen that remains faithful to the best incarnations of his comic-bound counterpart. But before assessing how well Reynoldspool fills the blood-splattered spandex, let’s take a look back at the elements that made Wade Wilson into the superhero we know and sometimes tolerate today.

THE ORIGIN

Deadpool is perhaps the most self-aware superhero in the Marvel universe. Originally conceived by Fabian Niceiza and Rob Liefeld as a Deathstroke rip-off, Deadpool quickly made a name for himself by refusing to take the tropes of the superhero narrative too seriously. It’s a theme that begins with Joe Kelly’s run, when Deadpool – at that point a decidedly un-heroic mercenary – is tapped by one of those cosmic organization tribunals to step up and become a prophesized hero. Right from the outset, Deadpool must decide whether or not he can fulfill the genre-dictated requirements for a hero.

While this fulfillment of genre requirement might be enough alone to qualify Deadpool for most self-aware superhero, the narrative takes it one step further, especially by dramatizing the conflict between Deadpool and T-Ray, an early nemesis. T-Ray declares that Deadpool has stolen his past – his origin story – and claimed it for his own. Thus begins a long tradition for the character of a shifting and unstable origin: depending on the writer and the storyline, Deadpool’s past and origin may contain any number of different variables.

The moving nature of Deadpool’s origin itself acts as a commentary on superheroes as a whole: does it matter what their origin was? Does it matter if details are changed? Is anyone – including the characters themselves – even paying that much attention to the continuity? Deadpool charges into such abstract concerns head-on, then drops a joke about Mexican food and shrugs his way into the next plot point.

THE ALLIES

One of the biggest defining characteristics of any given Deadpool story is the group of misfits he’s conjured to be his friends at the moments. These characters are spread across a wide spectrum of both temperaments and alignments: for Brian Pohsen & Gerry Duggan’s run of Deadpool, these friends included a heroic S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Benjamin Franklin’s ghost; during Gail Simone’s run super villain Taskmaster and mutant mercenary Outlaw join his ranks; for Victor Gishler’s Merc with a Mouth, he’s paired with an over-sexualized anthropologist and a parallel universe decapitated zombie head version of himself.

These allies are a crucial element of any Deadpool story for several reasons. They allow Deadpool a wide variety of viewpoints to bounce off, an integral element of a character as outrageous as Deadpool: his insanity has no frame of reference unless another character is there to occasionally react. Often they prove useful to the plot, either bringing necessary skills to assist Deadpool, or providing character motivation for him (issues with his friends have often provided motivation for Deadpool’s more insane actions). Finally, given that they comprise such a vast and varied spectrum, the allies themselves bring texture and variety to the Deadpool stories.

THE HEROES

But beyond interacting with his allies, Deadpool must also be allowed to interact with other superheroes. Given his unique, self-aware perspective, placing Deadpool alongside established (and serious) heroes has created a long history of excellent scenes for the regenerating degenerate. From scamming Loki into letting him borrow Mjölnir to harassing the Superior Spider-Man about what the internets would say if it could see Deadpool piggyback riding him, interactions with other heroes is a key element of the Deadpool formula.

THE FREAK

Part of what makes Deadpool’s interactions with the other heroes so memorable is his naked desire to be accepted by them. Often dismissed for being disgusting (even when he isn’t gory, he smells of leftover farts), or insane (he keeps babbling about how he’s in a comic book), or unstable (he’s killed… oh, a lot of people), the superheroes of the Marvel Universe have traditionally kept their distance from Deadpool, unless absolutely necessary.

In return, Deadpool has frequently attempted to join the teams established by the Marvel heroes: despite the fact that he is not technically a mutant, he has repeatedly attempted to gain admission to the X-Men, and at one point, he laments a disingenuous offer of Avengers membership made by Tony Stark. A lonely outside, Deadpool longs for both the acceptance of team membership, and the validation of his heroism membership would entail.

THE META

Finally, Deadpool seems to be aware of the fact that he is a fictional character in a comic book. Although he typically remains in character during the most climactic moments of his narratives, he will frequently refer to events that happened “last issue,” or demonstrate an awareness of comic book tropes (as when he consoles a friend lamenting the late Wolverine with assurances that a superhero won’t stay dead for long). This provides Deadpool with a wider scope of self-awareness, as well, as he is one of the few Marvel characters that will acknowledge non-Marvel superheroes (Batman is one of Deadpool’s most oft-used punch lines).

In some instances, other characters will acknowledge Deadpool’s ravings (asking who Batman is, or inquiring to whom Deadpool may be speaking when he addresses the reader), but to these players, Deadpool’s perspective is simply insane: only the reader is savvy to the accuracy of Deadpool’s dialogue, binding him closer to the reader than his comic-bound peers.

CONCLUSION

Although his detractors would like to write him off as a two-dimensional clown capable only of spouting a non-stop stream of outdated pop-culture references, Deadpool is a more complex and unusual protagonist in the hands of those writers that understand the character. By maintaining sight of the reasons Wade constantly babbles, and the pathos beneath that inform the character, a competent writer can ensure Deadpool is given the chance to be hero he has the potential to be, rather than the detestable Memepool.

UP NEXT: We’ll apply the Deadpool Analysis to Reynoldspool. Be sure to bring a towel!

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