There’s a point, during Marvel Comics’ 2008 – 2009 Dark Reign saga, at which Deadpool has a big fight with notorious hitman Bullseye, who has been commissioned to assassinate the crimson cad by sometime Green Goblin, Norman Osbourne. I say “big fight”. It actually goes on for weeks, with multiple breaks for recuperation, hospital visits, advisory calls to radio helplines, and the fashioning of a suit made of meat that helps Deadpool withstand Bullseye’s arrows, because that’s what suits made of meat do. Also, Bullseye is dressed as Hawkeye throughout, because of Reasons.
The main point I want to address here though, is that at one stage of the fight, strange flashbacks - shared between the two - start to bleed through into the battle. We already know that Deadpool and Bullseye are weirdly friendly, despite frequently trying to murder the crap out of each other, but here we start to see their previously unrevealed childhood together. They’re schoolyard bros. They hang out, for some reason already wearing abstracted versions of their adulthood costumes. They do crimes together. They burn down their school and murder a teacher. And you know what? None of it ever happened. None of it. Unless it did. Which it didn’t. Probably. At least until the flashback happened, after which it might well have become true. But there’s no way to be sure.
Because that’s the thing. There’s one important fact that you need to understand about Deadpool: There are no facts about Deadpool. We know that he’s a smart-mouthed, fun-loving jerk who’s really, really good at killing people. We know that he was created as part of the same Weapon X programme that gave us Wolverine. We know that his original name is Wade Wilson (or at least we used to, but more on that later). But beyond that? Deadpool’s lore, backstory, place in the Marvel Universe, in fact the very level of reality he operates on, can and will change on a whim from one page to the next.
That’s the point of him. He’s not supposed to make ongoing narrative sense in any traditional capacity. He’s just supposed to be whoever he is at any given time. He’s self-aware. He knows he’s in a comic. And he understands all the weirdness, and conventions, and ludicrous, transient reality that comes along with that. As such, he takes very little entirely seriously, concerned primarily with whoever and whatever is most fun at any given time, including versions of his own identity. Also, he’s insane, so there’s that too.
As such, Deadpool isn’t so much a comic book hero as he’s an exploding, hallucinogenic deconstruction of the entire medium. Though he’d probably hate terminology that technical, so let’s just compare him to a hyperactive drunk kid, pulling his toys apart to see what else he can make them into. He’s no single, fixed point. He’s a whirling Rubik’s cube of potential histories, personalities, relationships and realities, constantly shifting and reconfiguring, each new one suddenly the default canon, until it isn’t again and never was. There’s a good reason every wiki you’ll read has a slightly different character bio. Hell, Deadpool ///knows/// he has wikis, and has pledged to update them himself in the past.
And that has me pondering just how much the movie is holding back from us at the moment. Because it must be, right? Because after various abortive attempts, everyone involved seems pretty resolute that this is a Proper Deadpool Adaptation. Okay, these people are all on the hype train to some degree, but when longtime Deadpool fan Ryan Reynolds – notoriously burned by the terrible version of DP he was made to play in X-Men Origins: Wolverine – is happy, and Deadpool co-creator Rob Leifield is saying the movie is the best version of the character in his 25 year history, you have to imagine it’s staying true to the spirit of the book.
But so far, the trailers have played things a little straight. Well, not straight straight. Deadpool quips in far more surreal fashion than any existing MCU super-quipper. His internal monologue is plentifully directed toward the camera. He slyly acknowledges Reynolds’ role in the awful Green Lantern movie. But nothing we’ve seen so far really matches up to the character’s true excesses. Did I mention the time he got super-rich and had no idea what to do about it, and so just ate tacos for weeks, killed himself out of apathy, and then went out the next day and became a pirate? He totally did that. He was really pissed off that his boat kept sinking, but then it turned out that he’d bought a submarine.
And – possibly more importantly – there’s the matter of the story. Going off what the trailers have shown us, that does seem rather straight. Deadpool’s Weapon X origin story. Romantic motivation, in the shape of his girlfriend Vanessa, who’s been captured by the big bad. It’d all be a bit basic even for the bad old days of pre-MCU comic book movies, but eight years after the original Iron Man kickstarted the evolution that led to the glorious madness of Guardians of the Galaxy, it feels a little flat.
And that’s before you even consider that romantic motivation really isn’t Deadpool’s thing at all. He did have a relationship with Vanessa – later the mutant Copycat – back in the day, with a similar storyline involved, but they’ve spent more time fighting and sabotaging each other since. Deadpool’s only serious, long-term romantic involvement has been with the sometimes human-looking spirit of Death. Other than that, he pretty much just flirts with everyone, sexual preference whirling like the reels of a slot machine. His ‘thing’ with Spider-Man is the stuff of fan shipping legend.
So does the relatively straightforward treatment in the trailers worry me? Well actually, it doesn’t. In fact it makes me excited. Or rather, its place within the movie’s overall marketing does. You see I’m somewhat suspicious – or at least, like Deadpool himself, believing so hard that I’m making it true – that those involved might well be making things a tad weirder than they’re letting on, and having a rather good time fucking with us along the way.
You see, that recent ‘parody’ marketing campaign got me wondering. Those new posters that frame Deadpool as a syrupy romantic comedy, released to coincide with Valentine’s Day. They could just be a japey bit of irony, playing into the goofy spirit of the comic, but I can’t help pondering the possibility that they might be working on a deeper level. Perhaps, by playing around with the context and narrative meaning of the events on show, they’re actually a stealthy acknowledgement of the way that Deadpool really works, a pre-emptive wrecking ball to the generic conventions we’re currently being presented with in the main trailers, before the movie itself crushes them into dust.
After all, for all of the marketing ramp-up, we’ve actually only seen a rather ‘specific’ view of the film so far. There was that ‘leaked’ test footage before the movie was officially confirmed. Then there was the reveal trailer, which was made up largely of the same footage. Since then, we’ve had variously lengthed remixes of the same action montages, built around the same two or three scenes. In an age when most blockbuster trailer campaigns can’t resist showing you the entire movie by the time it comes out, things with Deadpool feel (relatively) reserved.
I can’t help considering that all of this gives the complete movie rather a lot of breathing space in which to be hiding some very strange secrets indeed. Or at the very least, the spare running time to slow-release an escalating series of fractures in Deadpool’s reality, the simple-looking plot providing a comprehensible anchor-point for the audience, around which sensibility and logic can progressively crumble.
Am I expecting a full-blown narrative breakdown in Deadpool’s first movie? No. Even after the brazen weirdness of Guardians, that would probably be too much for an audience unfamiliar with the character. But Deadpool deserves more than to be just another wise-cracking Marvel screen hero, albeit one who talks to the camera every so often.
He isn’t a hyper-violent Tony Stark. He’s Wade Wilson, the guy who might not actually be Wade Wilson at all, but rather an identity thief who killed Wade Wilson and took on his persona before Weapon X, and then forgot. He’s the guy who once murdered a huge swathe of the Marvel Universe’s core roster, before leaping into the real world, killing a bunch of Marvel staff, and promising to go after the reader next. That childhood with Bullseye? It could have been real. Or Deadpool might have imagined it all. Or maybe Bullseye did. Though it’s even more likely that Deadpool imagined Bullseye imagining them both remembering it, and then decided it was all true.
So yes, I do hope that the Deadpool movie, and its marketing, are fucking with us right now. Because things surely - if this adaptation is as faithful as we’re being led to believe - can’t be as clear-cut as they look right now. Because fucking with his audience is, and always will be, exactly what Deadpool does best.