“Deadpool is Spider-Man with guns and katanas. He’s a smartass, and he’s going to make jokes as he takes you out.”
Superhero movie fatigue? Bite your tongue — or, in this case, go eat a chimichanga. Over this past three-day combo Valentine’s Day/President’s Day weekend, Marvel’s latest collaboration with Fox, the R-rated Deadpool starring Ryan Reynolds, exceeded expectations to rake in a cool record-breaking $132.7 million, subsequently climbing to over $150M for a full four-day President’s Day weekend best. (Suck it, 50 Shades of Grey — you look like an avocado had sex with an older avocado.)
“I’ve met all these fans who say to me, ‘I started buying your work when I was 15, and now I’m 35,’” says Rob Liefeld, the fan favorite comic-book artist/author who co-created Deadpool with writer Fabian Nicieza 25 years ago. “Just as I got all weepy seeing Iron Man and Cap and Thor all standing together in the Avengers movies, they want to see their childhood on film. And they got it.”
But the Merc With a Mouth ain’t done yet, as a sequel is already in the works. “The thing that’s really exciting is that director Tim Miller, producer Simon Kinberg [The Martian, the X-Men franchise], and Fox all want to get going on it,” Liefeld notes, before citing one of his other prized character creations. “They’ve all mentioned Cable numerous times, so they’ve opened the door that he’s going to be featured in it.” (If you stay through the credits — spoiler alert! — you just might hear Deadpool himself confirm it as well.)
Liefeld and I actually go waaaaaay back, having both been contributors to a Teen Titans apazine (to use the nomenclature of the day) called TitanTalk in the mid-1980s. Rob and I sat down outside the Javitz Convention Center in New York following a long day of booth signings at the New York Comic Con last October to conduct an exclusive chat for Digital Trends about Deadpool’s not-so-secret origins, how superhero movies have matured over the years, and how a new generation has embraced the mouthy Merc. Surprise — this is a different kind of superhero story.
Digital Trends: Is it somewhat surreal seeing a character you created 25 years ago for the comics hit the big screen and now have millions of new fans?
Rob Liefeld: You know what’s surreal, Mike? It’s exciting for the fanboy in me. I remember when they first sent me the molds for the character: “Here’s what Deadpool’s going to look like.” When you hold something you created, drew, and conceived, and now here it is, in 3D plastic — it is a rush. Now it’s speaking, and it’s talking.
How happy were you when you heard Ryan Reynolds wanted to play Deadpool, and then you saw him as Wade Wilson onscreen in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)? He kicked some ass in it, but then it kind of veered a bit off course.
Ryan was perfectly cast. But after that movie came out, I met with the Donners, [the producers] who called me and said, “We know we didn’t nail Deadpool, and we want to get him right.” This is September 2009. I’m up in their offices, and we’re all brainstorming for the character. “Let’s not do this, but let’s do that.” I mean, if you have Ryan Reynolds, you want to have some kind of love story in there. You want to give women a reason to show up, even if it’s going to be bloody. It is going to be a date-night movie.
And then they hired the writers from Zombieland [Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick], and I think they exceeded every damn expectation right off the page. Everything they wrote for the movie was electric. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
Deadpool’s voice was me trying to recapture the Spider-Man I grew up with, only more sinister.
I know! And how great will it be to eventually have this movie on Blu-ray to watch at home?
Oh man, my house will be made of Blu-rays. I’ve got a nice home theater, and I can’t wait to never come out of it. (Both laugh.)
Why do you feel the characters you create connect so directly with people?
You and I go way back, so you know why we connected with Teen Titans, X-Men, New Mutants — what excited us about it was the new. I always bought Teen Titans, but I didn’t always love it. But with Cyborg and Starfire there, that was a fresh coat of paint.
I knew what the New Mutants needed badly was exciting visuals. And you needed a 21-year-old who was into manga, anime, and little bit of video games to tell kids’ stories to the kids, so I stormed the castle. Cable took the book to another level, and to follow it up, they’re going to let me write it too? Wow!
Todd McFarlane asked me, “Why are you giving all of these characters to Marvel?” “Well, I’ve got a ton of them.” I did it selectively. Like I said, the visuals matter. And Deadpool I felt was black and red, and guns and swords.
You had the name Deadpool right from the beginning?
100 percent. When I pitched him, he had the name Deadpool, and he was a smartass. I had the backstory, the cancer, and the connection to Weapon X as one of the projects that didn’t take. I said to Marvel, “So Wolverine is Weapon X, and X means 10, right? Have we ever seen Weapon 8, or 9, or even 6 or 7? No? Great. I’m going to show you the mistakes they made to get there.”
Imagine going in there wanting to be a super soldier, and instead, you came out worse. But you’re powerful, and you have abilities. I love the way they put that in the early movie trailer, too. The kids saw me walking around the house, going (mimes movie music): “We can make you better!”
Did you have a certain specific tone in mind for how you wanted Deadpool to speak?
When I pitched him to Marvel, you have to remember what Spider-Man was at the time — he was married, and he was having problems in his marriage to Mary Jane. But when we grew up, Spider-Man was a smartass. He talked to you and put webs on you and hung you upside down. I said, “Deadpool is Spider-Man with guns and katanas. He’s a smartass, and he’s going to make jokes as he takes you out.”
And if Deadpool is hired to kill you, when he shows up, he’ll give you a chance to pay him more not to kill you, and then you pay him to go get the guy who hired him to kill you. His voice was me trying to recapture the Spider-Man I grew up with, but with a more sinister vibe. And we were able to capture that.
Yeah, you sure did. At the time you created him, did you have any thought of, “This would make a great TV show, or movie…”?
You know what I was doing, Mike? I felt like I was creating toys. First and foremost, I thought, “This would make a great action figure.” Before X-Force came out [in August 1991], Marvel called and said, “The toy company has seen X-Force already, and the next X-Men line is going to be them — Cable, Deadpool, Shatterstar, Warpath.” And I thought, “I’m a toy designer!” I felt that was what I was really good at.
How fresh Deadpool was in comics is how fresh he is onscreen.
This was also when the superhero movie genre had not quite yet matured.
At that time, I was more about “toys and cartoons, toys and cartoons.” I’m not a fan of the Michael Keaton Batman, which came out in 1989. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t now. Parts of it were OK, but I’m not a Batman guy, so I didn’t really like those movies.
I never thought we’d live in an age where we’d get to 2008’s Iron Man, which I think is a perfect movie. And now we have Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), and Deadpool. I think people are ready for how different Deadpool was when he arrived 25 years ago. How fresh he was in comics is how fresh he is onscreen.
There’s a whole world of people who have no experience with Deadpool as a character in any way before they go see this movie.
Fortunately, the buzz has traveled. The older generation has always carried Deadpool, but a couple of years ago, I saw Deadpool really blow up with this younger generation.
About 5 years ago, I saw Deadpool clicking with my kids’ and 8- and 10-year-old friends. When Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 came out, it was a huge video game, and Deadpool was the most exciting character in it. One day, I come in from running errands, and eight kids from the neighborhood are all piled up on the couch playing on the console, yelling, “I’m Deadpool Vs. Deadpool!” I really saw it clicking through the video games, and all the merchandising.
Deadpool is a cool visual. I tell people I thought Boba Fett — before he died like a sorry-ass bitch in Return of the Jedi (both laugh) — was the greatest bounty hunter in the world. When he appeared on the back of my Star Wars packages in 1978, all he had was a name and a visual, and I thought he was the greatest character that ever lived.
And then he got swallowed up by that large vagina [i.e., the mouth of the sarlacc in The Great Pit of Carkoon], and you go, “Wait, he got bumped by a blind Han Solo and fell into that?” (both laugh) But in our minds, Boba Fett is still cool even though, onscreen, he did not live up to his potential, ever.
Sometimes, a name and a visual can carry the day, and maybe even survive a poor run. I mean, look — not every run that Spider-Man has had has been good, but we still like Spider-Man, because he’s a cool idea. Wolverine, same thing. Sometimes he’s done well, and sometimes he’s not done well. But you still go, “I love Wolverine.” And I think Deadpool is in that category. With the movie, it’s just going to explode.
At any given convention, you see hordes of cosplay Deadpools going around together, doing whatever they want to do.
Seeing all those people, I’m saying, “I’m your Calvin Klein, I’m your Louis Vuitton. That’s my outfit!” (both laugh) If I never design another good character, I nailed this one.
Deadpool taps into that inner lunatic we all know, and sometimes want to access more than we do.
And we never thought we’d get to see it done that good onscreen, either.
No, never! And we deserve it. That’s how I feel. It’s all three letters to me right now: f-u-n, fun. It’s just fun.