Wolverine, in some of his significant early solo stories, tells us "I'm the best there is at what I do, bub, and what I do isn't very pretty". Cue Deadpool, assassin and anti-hero wreaking havoc on the Marvel universe, telling us in the thick of his latest “job”: "And now I'm better at whatever it is Wolverine does."
And that is just typical of the way Deadpool in his comics makes quips which reference the medium, being amusingly disrespectful of other Marvel creations. (On another occasion, during his absurdly pitched fight with the Hulk, he even starts singing the theme tune to the old Hulk TV show. Another time he cuts someone short with: "Shhh... My common sense is tingling.")
What keeps drawing me back to this zany comic character though is not merely his unique position in relation to the Marvel universe – but also the way the writers at various times have worked hard to show how conflicted Deadpool is.
My favourite period of Deadpool history so far was when the comic was written by the inventive Joe Kelly* in the late 1990s. So let me give you a run-down of interesting moments: Following the explosive events of miniseries Circle Chase** in which we see Deadpool’s sensitivity about his horrifically scarred face, which he won’t let anyone see, Kelly has Deadpool become creepily obsessed with mutant and former X-men team member, the beautiful Siryn. He values the way she doesn’t reject him as an ugly (and cruel) killer, and so, in a vain (unnoticed) effort to please her, he attempts to refrain from killing, choosing mercenary jobs that only require “capturing” perps. Of course, this doesn’t prove to be easy, and an enemy bounty hunter, T-Ray, claims Deadpool has gone soft. And Siryn still (understandably) spurns him in the end, leading him into a damaging (but brief) relationship with a psychotic killer he is paid to free from a high security prison – bad idea, Deadpool.
Writer Kelly keeps issues of identity as the focus though, as it seems Siryn isn’t the only one who hopes Deadpool can change. It isn’t long before a secret hi-tech agency that has been watching the mercenary abducts him and tells him they think he will one day save the world. Deadpool, not having a very high view of himself, laughs and tries to forget this episode (but of course gets embroiled in "saving the world" eventually, but not in the way you'd think).
So we have a character who is at times seems to be looking for some kind of redemption, but who often finds it is snatched away in the end. He feels that fate isn’t allowing him a chance. There’s even a point at which it seems we find out he isn’t Wade Wilson at all (although this has been changed by a later writer, grrr).
Later Deadpool writers have taken him in other directions, still exploiting this idea of making Deadpool’s life as bad/confusing as it can get, and seeing him try to cope, making quips and jokes as he tries to stay on top of everything. Increasingly he seems to have the ability to break the fourth wall, seeing the big joke that he is in a comic book.
I’m now working through Gail Simone’s story, which has Deadpool seriously beaten up and driven insane, totally losing his aim, and making even less sense than normal – but amusingly, he is still able to take on new jobs and come out on top, much to the annoyance of his new bitter, unseen enemy!! In the process he decides to hire a random bum to be his biographer, and even uses some of Antman’s shrinking gas to turn Spiderman’s old enemy the "rampaging" Rhino into a key ring-size beastie he can wear around his belt – you can bet Rhino isn’t pleased to be this small though!
With current plans for a Deadpool film, and 2 new comic series having started in the US, interest for the character is growing – but, so far, I can’t see much topping Joe Kelly’s work making this funny character relatable, even though he is so ruthless with people, being uncomfortable with close relationships because of his deformed body, which his healing power can not alter; a character at times well-intentioned, struggling to do the right thing, but at other times giving up on that, being totally amoral, and having fun with it, or facing foes in a rage of bitterness against the world. Take a look!
*Kelly is currently working on independent projects, including I Kill Giants, and sharing writing duties on Amazing Spiderman
**The Circle Chase, written by Fabian Nicieza, is basically a race - and battle royale - between lots of mutants to get hold of the will of a guy called Tolliver, who was in X-men comics quite a while back, apparently. It’s good, quite funny and action-packed, and was the first thing that got me interested in Deadpool.