This Valentine's Day weekend, movie audiences will experience Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin as Wade Wilson and Vanessa Carlysle, respectively. It's a timeless story about a hitman who is diagnosed with terminal cancer; volunteers for an experiment intended to grant him healing abilities and super powers, and winds up a disfigured, virtually unkillable mercenary who won't stop snarking; has a deep, unapologetic love of the late Bea Arthur; has an alarming craving for chimichangas; and seems to think that he's a character in a comic book.
It all started in Marvel's New Mutants series, a spinoff of Uncanny X-Men. Rob
Liefeld already served as artist on New Mutants and had co-created several new characters, including the time-traveling soldier Cable. In late 1990, Liefeld became co-writer alongside new series regular Fabian Nicieza.
Nicieza and Liefeld's first issue together was New Mutants #98 (published in late 1990, with a cover date of February 1991). It introduced a snide, sword-wielding assassin hired by the mysterious Mr. Tolliver to kill Cable. WadE WILSON, AKA DEADPOOL, had enhanced physical skills and a regenerative ability that made him virtually immortal, helping him to shrug off otherwise lethal injuries. His creation was also inspired by DC Comics assassin Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke the Terminator, but that's a whole conversation by itself.
New Mutants was rebooted into the series X-Force, and Deadpool continued making recurring appearances as an assassin intent on killing Cable. Fabian Nicieza shaped Deadpool's personality in the early stories, portraying him as an intelligent and skilled mercenary who doesn't kill without reason, and whose jokes were calculated to distract and anger his enemies.
In the pages of X-Force, readers learn that Wade has a romantic past with the mutant shape-shifter Vanessa Carlysle, codename Copycat, but now regards her as an adversary. Vanessa is the same character Morena Baccarin is playing in the new movie, though it's not clear whether she'll have powers — or whether she and Wade will wind up enemies there too.
In Deadpool's first miniseries, Deadpool: The Circle Chase, Nicieza gives more details about the man's past, revealing that Wilson was diagnosed with terminal cancer and offered salvation by the Weapon X program, which sought to duplicate the healing abilities of the mutant hero Wolverine. Wade agrees
to be a human test subject and gains a regenerative power that's actually stronger than Wolverine's — but it doesn't distinguish between his healthy cells and his cancer, so the cancer spreads through and disfigures his entire body. Practically nothing can kill him now, but he's also in constant pain.
Later stories add even more details, such as the fact that Wade was initially seen as a failure and sent to the "Hospice," a secret facility for other genetically modified outcasts. The Hospice is run by Dr. Killebrew, a vicious scientist who continues altering and enhancing Wade through traumatic experiments, hoping to create a perfect biological weapon. During this time, other patients create a "deadpool," each of them wagering on when Wade and other subjects will die from repeated experiences in the lab. Wade eventually escapes the Hospice and resumes his mercenary activities, now wearing a mask and adopting Deadpool as his new name.
Of course, neither character death nor universal destruction is necessarily permanent in superhero stories. The Marvel Universe was restored at the end of Secret Wars, with a few changes, leading to a companywide relaunch. Deadpool is still alive and very active, now starring in a new solo series by Duggan and artist Mike Hawthorne. This series begins with Wade forming a team of anti-terrorists, bounty hunters and weirdos, all of whom now fight evil while wearing Deadpool costumes. Simultaneously, the merc with a mouth is now working with Steve Rogers in the pages of Uncanny Avengers. Will he stay on the team or annoy everyone into throwing him out a window? There's no telling what the future holds for Deadpool, particularly now that his movie will increase his notoriety.
Alan Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is a comic book historian, geek consultant and author of the New York Times best-seller Doctor Who: A History. He is the creator and host of the podcast Crazy Sexy Geeks. Like Deadpool, he too has a deep love for Bea Arthur and Mexican food.
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