Is Deadpool a real character?

A number of co-workers have asked me that question about Deadpool, whose movie, starring Ryan Reynolds, premieres Feb. 12. And yes, he’s a real fictional character published by Marvel Comics.

One of the things that sets him apart is that he also knows he’s a fictional character.

When he first appeared in a minor X-Men book in 1991, Deadpool was just another supervillain, with a healing factor like Wolverine’s, an outfit like Spider-Man’s and martial arts/weapons training like Elektra’s. In short, he was derivative and unremarkable.

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However, a number of guest appearances raised his profile, and eventually he was awarded a series of series by some of the biggest writers in the business, including Mark Waid and Gail Simone. They developed him past his one-note origin to a character who was crazy popular. Or just crazy.

That characterization expanded in his first ongoing series, written primarily by Joe Kelly and Christopher Priest. The chocks were off, as they say, as Deadpool was established as zanier than an outhouse rat on meth. He constantly conversed with two other voices in his head, as well as the reader. That latter was used primarily for comedic effect, and there was plenty of slapstick too, especially with a lead character who could survive any injury — much like a cartoon character, which Deadpool came to resemble more and more.

And even when Deadpool wasn’t conversing with the voices in his head, he was running his mouth constantly. That gave rise to his nickname “Merc with a Mouth,’ which is probably the nicest nickname he’s got.

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In short, Deadpool put the funny back in funny books — despite being a psychotic assassin.

Deadpool’s back story was written — or re-written, where necessary — to explain his dementia. Whatever he was in 1991, the story now is that a professional assassin named Wade Wilson suffering from cancer went through the same Weapon X program Wolverine did, and gained healing powers even greater than the feral X-Man’s. He can’t be killed — he’s returned from decapitation, incineration and Hulk smooshing — but the downside is that his neurons are constantly regenerating at an accelerated rate, making it nearly impossible for him to think in a linear fashion.

Oh, yeah — the cancer? He’s still got it, and it can’t be killed either. So his skin looks — as is said in the movie — like “an avocado had sex with an older avocado.’ And that’s the most printable thing that is said (the “Deadpool’ movie is rated R, as it should be).

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The first ongoing “Deadpool’ series also established something of a supporting cast, including Weasel (Deadpool’s weapons supplier), Blind Al (a sightless old woman who is some sort of hostage as well as surrogate mother) and Ajax (super-powered arch-enemy). All three of those will appear in the movie, played by, respectively, T.J. Miller, Leslie Uggams and Ed Skrein.

Which is kinda odd, because none of those characters are currently important in comics featuring Deadpool — and there are a lot of comics featuring Deadpool! After Marvel rebooted its universe last year in a big summer event called “Secret Wars,’ we’ve been introduced to a new world where Deadpool is an Avenger, the most popular superhero in the world and shares a book with Spider-Man. We don’t know why yet, but these developments tend to de-emphasize Deadpool’s past.

Which is s shame, because some of it is so snickery that it deserves mention. For example:

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— The series “Marvel Zombies’ featured an alternate universe where all the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe had become the walking dead. That world’s Deadpool had been decapitated, but being Deadpool, that wasn’t enough to kill him for good. So Deadpool’s zombie head — called “Headpool,’ naturally — found his way to our universe, where he co-starred with our guy in “Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth.’ (Thereby disproving the old expression “two heads are better than one.’)

— A later series named “Deadpool Corps’ teamed up Deadpool with other versions of himself that were largely unexplained, including not only Headpool but Lady Deadpool, Kid Deadpool and Dogpool. (Who are exactly what they sound like.)

— A series titled “Agent X’ appeared to feature an amnesiac Deadpool calling himself Alex Hayden. After 15 issues, it turned out not to be Deadpool at all. (Talk about bait and switch!)

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— Ever wonder why supervillainesses are so gorgeous? When the blonde, bodacious outlaw appropriately named Outlaw was brought in as shooting instructor (and romantic interest) in “Agent X,’ she cheerfully admitted that her gorgeous blonde locks were a wig, and that she had had breast-augmentation surgery. (Her Texas accent is real, though.)

— In a battle with Hydra in 2007, Deadpool forced an agent with the real name Bob to fly him to safety. Having betrayed Hydra, Bob became Deadpool’s minion for a number of years. Hydra Bob has no special training aside from running and hiding when confronted with danger. He had only joined the terrorist organization because his wife nagged him into getting a full-time job, and he had heard Hydra had full dental. (It was actually A.I.M.) It’s possible that Bob hangs out with Deadpool because he thinks they’re friends, but it’s equally possible that he is just an incompetent henchman who doesn’t know what else to do. (Bob tends to shout “Hail Hydra’ when under stress, which is often, as he is coward.)

— Other versions of Deadpool that have appeared over the years include Hulkpool (self-explanatory), Veapon X (a World War II version created by the Nazis from Frederick “Wheezy’ Wilson), Zenpool (a calm, centered Deadpool with a personality inverted by magic) and The Deadpool Kid (a.k.a. Kiddypool, a Wild West version). Mention should be made of Gwenpool, a female version of the character invented by cosplayers at comics conventions, based on Spider-Man’s dead girlfriend Gwen Stacy, and soon to have a series of her own. (Her real name, evidently, is Gwen Poole.)

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Interestingly, Deadpool has been married three times. His current wife is Shiklah, Queen of the Undead, who rules all monsters (who are not vampires). Because why not? Shiklah starred in the “Secret Wars’ series titled “Mrs. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos’ (where she died, but it appears she got better).

How much of this back story will be used in “Deadpool’ (and sequels, if any) is unknown. But one version of Deadpool will definitely NOT appear, and that is the one featured in “X-Men Origins: The Wolverine.’ That version had some similarities to the new one — he was played by Ryan Reynolds, he was an assassin — but all the rest of it is being studiously ignored.

As it should be. The version of Deadpool in the comics is one that has inexplicably attained popularity, so that is the version the new movie’s producers are using. If we get Headpool, Dogpool or Kiddypool, that will just be a bonus.

Posted by:Andrew A. Smith, Tribune News Service