The Shoddy Guide to Deadpool
“So who is this Spiderman looking fucker with the guns anyway?”
That quote came from my workmate Dave, and for authenticity you should read the question aloud in an agitated middle aged Aussie accent. Dave couldn’t give two shits about Comic Book films, but he has two lads who love the stuff – and are forever prattling on about the latest Superhero films. Dave sometimes comes into work wondering what the fuck his offspring were yapping about at the dinner table the night before, and hits me up for some clarity. The quote above inspired this whole series of posts, and I thought it pertinent to open this first chapter of our journey.
The “fucker with the guns” is a curious character to start this series. Having only hit the scene 25 years ago, he’s a toddler compared to the age of the other Heroes featured this year. He is also one of the most insane characters to hit comic books, and I mean that both figuratively and literally.
However, what he lacks in prestige he more than makes up for in intrigue – Deadpool was actually sculpted by the two most fascinating periods of modern comic history. We now take ourselves back to a glorious time:
Thanks to the work of enterprising chaps such as Chuck Rozanski in the late 1970’s, comic book collectors became infatuated with the idea of speculation. Basically the principle of long term financial gain from investing in Real Estate or Art could be applied to Comic Books as well. Old comics featuring Superman and Batman were raking up big bucks at auctions, and so that X-Force No. 1 you picked up for a few bucks, if properly stored and looked after, could be worth thousands a few years down the track.
The most sought after Comic Books were number one issues, the second most sought after were the ones that introduced new characters that went on to be icons. The comic Book companies cashed in on the craze by (surprise, surprise) creating an endless surprise of new comic book lines. If sales lagged in a new line, they would introduce a new character. In the middle of this boom, Frank Miller and Allan Moore proved comic books could be profitable and critically received with the likes of their more ‘Adult’ take on the genre with The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen respectively. Marvel wanted a new character for their X-Men line (during the boom there were 15 separate X-Men comics) that could surf this new ‘Adult’ interest (which they read as gratuitously violent) and asked hot new talent Rob Liefeld if he could come up with something. His answer came in the 90th issue of The New Mutants in February 1991.
Rob Liefeld was a popular artist at the time, but he wasn’t the most inventive. Deadpool’s profession and weapons were basically a rip off of a DC character named Deathstroke, his mask and one liners were ganked from Spiderman. Future updates would give him a healing ability swiped from Wolverine. Of curious note – Deadpool started his life as a serious villain, but would end up an anti-hero of sorts (and a pretty goofy one at that).
Meanwhile, the Comic Book Boom ticked on for a few more years. Marvel and DC offered multiple covers for new issues. Foil covers, holographic covers for every 25th, 75th 100th issue. When sales lagged, they would kill off a character and offer up special editions of that issue (The highest saturation point came in January 1993 with the Death of Superman issue). New companies popped up on a regular basis, cashing in on rip offs and cashing in on rip offs of rip offs. I mean, check out this shit right here:
Publishers wanted to create, Shops wanted to sell, Collectors wanted to buy – it was a euphoric time. Everybody was happy.
Unfortunately it couldn’t last forever. We now take ourselves back to a less glorious time:
Eventually, the collectors started to realise an uncomfortable truth. The comics they were collecting were not increasing in value. Here’s a head-slapping fact that Speculators were not taking into account at the time – those Golden Age Comic Books that were making a pretty penny, were doing so because they were incredibly fucking rare. Comic Books from that era were often thrown out as waste after being read, and the unsold stuff was recycled at the publisher’s end. The paper drives of World War II chewed up a large chunk of this stuff.
That Action Comics No. 1 that features the first appearance of Superman? There are only 50 copies left in the world. There is only one truly “pristine” copy in existence, and it fetched $3,207,582 in 2014.
That X-Force No. 1 from 1991 I mentioned earlier? 5 million people bought a copy. There’s probably a few more million still in storage at Marvel. It cost $2USD in 1991. You can now pick it up for $1USD on E-Bay.
The Collectors who were initially Comic Book readers stopped buying up everything and went back to solely the titles they were interested in reading. The collectors who weren’t initially fans just stopped buying comics altogether. The market crashed. Publishers were driven out of business. Two-thirds of all of the comic book stores closed, and even the mighty Marvel declared bankruptcy in 1997 (though they were still able to continue publishing).
This was a defining moment for our man Deadpool. During this period he was given a miniseries written by Mark Waid, followed by a regular series written by Joe Kelly. As the rest of the X-Men catalogue came tumbling down, the writers knew their Deadpool comic could be cancelled at any minute – so just said “fuck it” and went completely clown-shit insane with the comic.
Deadpool was not only crazy (with not one but two voices inside his head), but actually knew he was in a comic book – often breaking the fourth wall to talk to the reader. His Super-regenerative powers made him pretty much indestructible, sending him on such kooky adventures as: killing classic literature characters as Sherlock Holmes, Moby Dick and the Little Women. Killing every U.S President resurrected from the dead (Yes, all of them). Killing every other character in the Marvel Universe, on his way to killing the writers of the Comic, and then the actual audience themselves (what!?).
The demented book caused waves, and wasn’t without it’s critics. Most detractors deriding the puerile sense of humour – one that relied on topical jokes that dated easily.
Exhibits A through to C: Gang signs, Twerking and (for fuck’s sake) Gangnam Style.
It also relied heavily on niche internet humour. Don’t be too ashamed if you don’t get this reference:
As it turned out, those naysayers didn’t really matter, as the hyper violence and juvenile humour had tapped into the lucrative mid-teen market. I mean, which 15 year old kid could resist stuff like this?:
Deadpool had not only survived the Comic Book Crash, he had thrived in it.The character became a hit with the Generation Y-crowd (and eventually millennials), and it wasn’t long before his adventures were outselling even Superman.
With a character this popular, a film was pretty much a certainty. Artisan Entertainment announced a deal to distribute the film in 2000, which never eventuated. New Line attempted to produce a film starring Ryan Reynolds and written by David S. Goyer in 2004. Reynolds became interested in playing the character after this quote from the comic book (shar-pei being those dogs with the wrinkled up faces FYI):
However, Goyer lost interest and moved onto other projects, and New Line ditched the project in 2005. The main problem was that although Deadpool was popular with the Comics crowd, he was unknown to the general public – lacking the decades of recognition that the other players had. 20th Century Fox eventually rolled the character into a side role in their 2007 Wolverine film, in one of the most abortive onscreen reconstructions of all time. How the fuck do you take a character renown for his witty banter…and remove his ability to actually fucking speak?
The film sucked, fans were irate, and it seemed Deadpool was thrown to the curb for the foreseeable future. However, Ryan Reynolds never gave up on his Deadpool dream.
Fast-Forward to the middle of 2014, when a mysterious Deadpool video was “leaked” online. Turns out the two minute clip was actually test footage from 2012 created by Visual Effects Supervisor Tim Miller, and voiced by Ryan Reynolds (who had been motion captured for the scene). The action scene was a representation of how they imagined a proper Deadpool movie, and the internet went absolutely fucking crazy for it (if you haven’t seen it, don’t seek it out – it spoils the best sequence of the film).
While the Deadpool clip was drumming up interest on the web, Guardians of the Galaxy was reaping incredible Box Office rewards at the same time, proving that even the most obscure Comic Book properties had a chance at turning a decent profit. The Studio had no option but to Greenlight a Deadpool film.
Even then they were pensive about a Superhero relatively unknown outside of Comic Fan circles – One that would carry an NC17+ age restriction rating (the equivalent of an R18+ here in Australia) cutting out a sizeable portion of the viewing public. Studio heads panicked and chopped $7mill from the budget at the last minute, causing several characters and an expensive office shootout ending to be gutted from the film. The budget scraped in at $58 million, the studio hoping to make about $120mill domestically and a combined worldwide total of $250mill. They were well off the mark.
Thanks to a clever marketing campaign (unofficially credited to Ryan Reynolds’ drunk ideas), and a crowd pleasing film buoyed by an Actor and Director with free range to do whatever they wanted (creatively speaking, the budget was limiting), Deadpool was a Box Office Smash breaking several February records in the process. As of writing the film is still in cinemas, currently recording these grosses:
That puts it as the thirtieth most profitable film of all time at the US box office, not bad for such a vulgar and violent flick. Deadpool’s massive success has changed Superhero cinema. The next Wolverine film will now be R-Rated. Ultra-violent characters such as DC’s Lobo have been pulled off the trash heap and put back on the table. Even Batman V Superman will have an R-Rated cut released on Blu Ray.
Thus concludes our introduction to Deadpool. A rip-off character born in the Comic Boom, that not only survived, but thrived in the Comic Crash, and after a series of false starts went on to become one of the most successful Superhero films of all time.
Next Up: Batman