Deadpool Creator Rob Liefeld On Saying ‘No’ To Cable And Fighting For Vanessa
Deadpool has become a fan-favourite character in the Marvel Comics Universe because he’s, well, batshit crazy. The Merc With a Mouth, also known as Wade Wilson, often breaks the fourth wall, and he even goes so far as to acknowledge that he’s in a comic book. He engages in witty banter with the voices inside his deranged head. He flirts with every man, woman, and alien around. Is he mentally unstable? Absolutely. But he’s also a hell of a lot of fun.
Created by Marvel Comics artist/writer Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza, Deadpool made his first appearance in The New Mutants #98 in February 1991. Introduced as a highly lethal, wisecracking assassin with two katanas, heavy artillery, and a curious link to The New Mutants’ then-leader, Cable, Deadpool quickly became a hit with readers. He was the ultimate trickster, a morally nebulous mercenary with an affinity for big guns and dick jokes.
The character was first introduced on the big screen in 20th Century Fox’s Wolverine: Origins. And fans hated it. The film stripped Deadpool of his two greatest features: his look and his humour. Luckily for Fox, and for actor Ryan Reynolds, they’d get a second chance to get things right in Deadpool’s first solo feature. Directed by first-time helmer Tim Miller, Deadpool didn’t just defy expectations; it kicked them right in the balls. (Deadpool has since become the highest-grossing R-rated movie in box office history.)
“At the time, it reminded me of, what if Quentin Tarantino wrote a comic book film?” creator Rob Liefeld said ahead of the film’s anticipated Blu-ray release (reviewed here). “Because of its grittiness and the violence and the level of bloodshed and cursing. There’s a lot of F-bombs in this movie. But it works.”
Deadpool did more than work. In fact, it was an irreverent and riotous twist on the formulaic superhero genre. We chatted with Liefeld about the character’s spirited first outing, why he nixed a Cable cameo, and what the film’s success means for the future of the genre.
In a lot of ways, Deadpool took the spirit of the comics and totally reinvented the character. Do you feel like these kinds of adaptations are often beholden to the comics?
Rob Liefeld: We’re supposed to live in this era now where Hollywood never gets it better than the comics, but that’s just patently untrue. The Richard Donner Superman was far superior than any Superman comic and [it] improved the product. I really believed that the Deadpool guys did the same. They wrote a love story that we never had in the comics — and I never gave Wade that heart [and] that depth. This is an original Deadpool. You can’t find this in a comic. People have asked me, “Where have Deadpool, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, and Colossus teamed up?” You can’t find it. “Hey, where’s the backstory with Vanessa?” It’s not there. These guys took the spirit of the character and they built a fantastic movie, and it is my personal favourite Deadpool and has been since I read the screenplay in 2010.
Has Ryan Reynolds’s performance, and this characterization, impacted the way that you see the character now? I know you’ve been working on new Deadpool material.
Oh, 100 per cent. Anything that is good influences the next thing. It’s inevitable. I believe that Hollywood influences the comics, and the comics influence Hollywood—it’s a cycle. Everybody has upped their game. I think the Deadpool comics are in the best shape they’ve ever been in. Sales have gone up dramatically over the last years, and it is 100 percent attributed to the excitement from the film. I’m currently doing a 100-plus-page graphic novel, and I’m aspiring to that material—to be that brilliant. So, yes, the bar has been set.
It’s funny because there was so much conversation around Deadpool’s R rating, and yet I have the cutest little Deadpool Funko Pop! Vinyl sitting on my desk. The character’s got serious range.
He’s run the gamut from kiddy, children’s stuff to being sold on a bottle of liquor at the 7-Eleven. So you can go to your Kmart or Target, and you can get your Funko, snuggly Deadpool, and on the way home, grab a bottle of alcohol with Deadpool on it. I’m not sure that there’s another character who has run that gamut in our time. The funniest is the moms who get really angry with me, and they bring their kid who’s dressed like Deadpool and he’s nine years old and they’re scolding me that their little kid can’t enjoy Deadpool. I always have to remind them, “You know, your son is dressed as an assassin who kills people.” He’s not a hero. That’s what I love about him.
Well, you created him as a villain.
That’s correct! Mercenaries, to me, were always able to switch sides because they’re motivated by cash. Deadpool has always been a shifty bastard. If I hired him to kill you, and you told him to kill me for more money, he’d do it. He’s morally ambiguous, which has always been the thing that sets him apart, and along the way, he’s had some very funny writers—none funnier, wittier, smarter than Rhett [Reese] and Paul [Wernick]. I don’t think anybody would argue with me on that.
The film has also endeared a lot of new fans to Deadpool. What made moviegoers fall in love with him?
When I first met with the production company in 2009, I said, “Guys, we have Ryan Reynolds here. You have to make this a better relationship.” I knew from my wife and all of her friends that he had a huge female audience, and they needed to tap into that. The key was utilizing Wade Wilson prior to being scarred and blistered—and the only way to do that was to establish the love story with the girl he’s fighting for. So they said well, which girlfriend should it be? And they gave me the three choices, all pulled from his relationship history in the comics, and I said it had to be Vanessa. She’s the grounded one. You can’t do Siryn and suddenly go, “He’s in love with Banshee’s daughter.” Who’s Banshee? It had to be Vanessa … Vanessa was the strongest character in the movie. She was the anchor for Wade the whole time. I honestly believe that without that relationship between Wade and Vanessa, we’re talking about a different outcome.
Was there ever a discussion to introduce Vanessa’s superhero alter ego?
At the time, the first thing the producers asked me was, “Rob, should we have Cable in this movie?” Cable is going to hate me for life for this, but I said no. This is Deadpool’s time to shine, and this is Ryan Reynolds’s time to shine. You don’t need Cable. Cable can wait. I remember my mind was screaming, “What are you doing, greedy comic-book freelance guy? You have the chance to see two of your creations instead of one!” But I felt like it was really important to keep it Deadpool-focused. That was the only time that I was presented with a choice.
I think it was the right decision to pass on Cable because that arguably gave more screen time to two characters who weren’t as well-known: Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus. It was especially cool to see Negasonic, given how she was brutally killed off in the X-Men comics. That, and her powers are new and greatly improved.
My connection to that is funny. Originally, I created another character named Kane, who was actually a dedicated Deadpool nemesis and was introduced in X-Force #2. He was in every version of the script right up until a couple months before shooting. When the movie got green-lit in 2014, Tim [Miller] had asked me if I had high-res illustrations and panels from the book because they weren’t finding many quality images online. The movie started shooting in March 2015, and in November 2014, I was still sending him Kane drawings. Now, he called me up—Tim’s a stand-up guy—and he said, “Rob, due to budgetary reasons, Kane didn’t survive the last round of cuts.” [Ed note. Kane has cybernetic arms that transform into heavy artillery, which sounds pretty pricey.] After cutting Kane, he was able to add Negasonic and Angel Dust because he really didn’t want the movie to turn into a sausage fest. Again, you watch the movie and you go, great call, man! Great call. I had nothing to do with the discussions on this stuff, but as a fan, it’s like, how are Negasonic and Colossus not in an X-Men spin-off of some sort? They’re so good! Colossus has been begging to get his moment, and for me, he’s the biggest laugh in the movie. I never thought I’d see that character come to life like that. I think people tend to sleep on how great the movie looks.
It’s impressive when you consider what kind of budget Tim was working with. By normal standards, $58 million is a lot of money, but for a comic-book movie in Hollywood, that’s tiny. Given how successful Deadpool was at the box office, there’s been a lot of talk that Fox might increase the budget, which would kind of ruin the aesthetic, don’t you think?
They worked really hard to make it look so much more. When I saw the first cut in December 2015, I could not believe how amazing it looked. Tim worked within the restraints of a smaller budget—he didn’t have anything on par with Civil War or Batman v Superman—and yet, you don’t ever feel like they cut any corners. That said, I hope they get somewhat of a bump for the sequel, just so they can tell the story the way they want to tell it. But the thing about Deadpool is that he’s never going to throw a pyramid on your head. There’s not going to be a statewide spaceship coming through the clouds. Deadpool is street-level, and that’s what I loved about the movie. It looked real. It smelled real. It was gritty. Even Ajax’s operation was kind of seedy. The world that we created in the comics was down and gritty. Now, I also say that as the guy who put Deadpool in a spaceship and took him to another galaxy in the Deadpool Core, so I’ve been on both sides, and I think the gritty, down-to-earth approach is where it’s at.
Now that Deadpool is the highest-grossing R-rated movie ever, do you think a precedent has been set for studios to green-light more R-rated adaptations in the future?
That door is open because of Deadpool. That door is only open because of Deadpool. Look, R was something everyone ran from, and I don’t give Fox enough credit. When they pulled the trigger, they stood back and let everybody do their jobs. We’re talking about $50 million as though it’s not a lot of money, but as you said, it is a lot of money. Maybe not for a superhero movie, but it’s a lot of money. So they placed a huge bet on Deadpool. Nobody else was making an R-rated superhero movie, and no one has made one in a long, long time. Everyone has embraced the family-friendly Disney approach, which is great. I see all of those movies, and I take my kids. But I grew up on Predator, Alien, and Terminator. People forget, but those were R-rated movies. So Deadpool put its money where its mouth is, and it changed the game. We’ve been surviving on a diet of vanilla, and Deadpool is mint chip.
Deadpool is a character who broke a lot of boundaries, and hopefully the sequel will find a way to push those limits even further. One of the most revolutionizing aspects of the character is his pansexuality. He’s our first pansexual superhero. In the comics, he flirts with everybody. I know Ryan has said that he’d love for Deadpool to have a boyfriend at some point. Is that something that will ever be canon?
Last year, I was at a convention and toward the end of the day a group of teenagers walked up to me. They all hugged me and thanked me for this pansexual character, and it really touched my heart. Ryan has really gone out of his way to emphasize that, and what I will tell you is that A) it was great meeting all those kids, and B) when you ask about canon, it is important to note that there are really two canons now. Fox controls and speaks for the film version, while Marvel controls and speaks for the publishing. When it comes to canon, I’m not sure you’re going to get a unanimous consensus on that. I don’t believe Marvel has addressed it, and I’m not sure if they will. It’s something that I think was introduced on the film end. If it happens in the film, you bet Ryan will play it with great heart … anything that’s all-inclusive, that’s great. But as far as canon, that’s above my pay grade.
He’s very flirtatious on the page.
It is the aspect of Deadpool we love the most, his flamboyant flippancy. He wears everything on his sleeve.