“Hey—didja see it when I stabbed that dude with his own femur?” That is a quotation from Deadpool #40, spoken by the titular protagonist after he hospitalizes fellow patients at an asylum. Alternatively referred to as the Crimson Comedian or the Regeneratin’ Degenerate, Marvel Comics’ Wade Wilson is endearingly known to fans as the Merc With a Mouth. Regardless of whether readers sympathize with him, idolize him or just consider him an imitation of DC Comics’ Deathstroke, it is certain that the funniest scion of the Weapon X program is not for the light-hearted, despite the comedy. While Deadpool’s banter is often hilarious, something that has played no small part in the character’s rising popularity, the laughs hide a deeply disturbed and unstable individual. It is for that purpose that, when I hear of Deadpool starring in his own video game and film, I become a bit concerned. The depth of the character is at risk of being ignored and just as we saw the bowdlerization of Gotham’s most ruthless vigilante, we may witness the mutation of another great character that is perhaps too nontraditional to become a household name.
No other individual superhero has been as successful at the movies as Batman, something that has allowed him to overtake his Boy Scout counterpart as the premier comic book character of our times. The Dark Knight Rises, for example, is the most anticipated movie of the year. However, behind the triumph of Christopher Nolan’s incredible trilogy are the protests of the select few who still prefer the Batman that was not just the antithesis to Superman, but the traditional superhero in general. Whereas superheroes stood for ideals such as peace, justice and patriotism, Bruce Wayne was a maniac who avenged the death of his parents by punishing any that went against his moral code. In Detective Comics #27, the first appearance of the World’s Greatest Detective, Batman punches the villain into a vat of toxic waste. As cheesy as that may sound, the supposed hero then proclaims, “a fitting end for his kind.” Then, in what is perhaps one of the most iconic graphic novels of all time, Batman demonstrates his true colors in The Killing Joke when he actually laughs at a disturbing comment by the Joker, made after the Clown Prince of Crime has paralyzed Barbara Gordon and forever scarred her father by forcing him to view pictures of the incident. If there was ever any doubt in the minds of readers, this incident makes clear that, on a fundamental level, Bruce Wayne is more akin to his villain than he is to any other hero.
On the other hand, the iterations of Batman that have become popular bear little resemblance to the original pulp-fiction styled protagonist. The Adam West television series found humor in a story where there was none, something George Clooney’s version did well to follow. Val Kilmer’s adaptation and Michael Keaton’s interpretation were more serious, but the former played up the comical insanity of Jim Carrey’s Riddler while the latter was directed in Tim Burton’s trademark style, something highly inappropriate for the character.
And then there’s Christopher Nolan’s version. While I intend to operate carefully because some people defend the famed director with dangerous vigor, it must be stated that Nolan offers a rather soft take on the protagonist. The trilogy may be gloomier than most movies, but the darkness is absent in the titular character himself. In Batman Begins, Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul was the psychopathic fatalist who felt that order must be maintained upon the corpses of the people while Batman fights to save the people; the original character, while stopping the villain, would have likely agreed that the people weren’t worth anything. In The Dark Knight, the insane constantly invites Batman to embrace the darkness, with Nolan’s Batman refusing and even sacrificing his hero image towards the end so he can always be the “knight.” In the original vision, the demented clown was always aware that Batman was fundamentally just like him and it was that knowledge that inspired the subsequent mind games. In The Dark Knight Rises, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman has to persuade Bruce that he has done enough for the people because the hero is unwilling to accept it as sufficient; the original did not give a damn for the people, fighting only because he had seen his parents slain in front of him with, demonstrating a desire not to save but to kill. In short, Nolan’s Batman is a champion of the people, a “dark knight” if you will, but the original was even darker and less altruistic.
And perhaps that is the only way a character could survive in the mainstream: as a flawed individual with noble intentions. In that regard, Nolan’s Batman is more akin to Rorschach from Watchmen, even that being a stretch because the latter was rather sanctimonious. While self-superiority was a part of the original Batman, as implied by the nickname “The Caped Crusader,” it was removed in the films. In short, the angry, selfish, self-righteous avenger that was Batman became, for the sake of popularity, a self-sacrificial knight. Certainly, it played no small part in his popularity but, for all the people that knew the original, it was a drastic change.
And that is what Deadpool’s destiny seems to be because, in his purest form, Wade Wilson is not someone that is easily acceptable. Deadpool originally volunteered for the Weapon X program to rid his body of cancer, something that the program ultimately handled but the end result was a man with bulging tumors and a warped mind. In that regard, he has a tragic aspect like Wolverine, the individual whose DNA gave Deadpool his regenerative abilities, but Deadpool is not easy to sympathize with. In the aforementioned Deadpool #40, the character exploits the low self-esteem of a well-intentioned doctor. In the animated film, Hulk vs. Wolverine, the character talks about how he hates babies, even taking a pretend shot at one he sees in the distance. In Marvel Ultimate Alliance, it is mentioned that Deadpool stabs his only friend, the hacker Weasel, in the knee for taking his snacks; what’s most disturbing is that the bag of Cheetos was Weasel’s to begin with. Is this the kind of character people would be okay seeing? Perhaps, but it’s risky and executives often have a way of shutting down risky ventures.
Also a matter of concern is the humor and style in which Deadpool’s stories are presented. The best narratives written on the character reflect Deadpool’s state of mind, meaning they are erratic and inappropriate. In Deadpool #49.1, the entire issue is a musical, set to tone of, among others, Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” and Tay Zonday’s “Chocolate Rain,” complete with a part where the character moves away from the mike to breathe in. In Deadpool Team-Up #887, Deadpool’s pilot is a heavily accented Asian man who cries about his parents not sending him to private school, as a result of which he does not drive a sports car and does not look like Vince from Entourage. In short, the character’s stories are irregular, offensive, and highly based on pop-culture knowledge with jokes that someone either gets or they don’t. Are the producers willing to truly recreate a character for the big screen that may only resonate will a small group of people? I hope so but I think not.
In short, my wish is that Deadpool gets the treatment he deserves. Reynolds has stated that he wants an R-rated film and has called for a small budget, something that he states will allow the creators to take more risks. It is a good decision, but the question is how risky are they willing to make it? I am already cautious of the movie because Reynolds, while funny, has never demonstrated the darkness or remarkable acting talent that is necessary for the character. Fans often cite his role in Blade: Trinity as proof of his ability to play a hilarious killer, but that role required little more than action and quips. I do not want to see Deadpool become another wisecracking superhero like Spider-Man; Wade Wilson is darker and more complicated than that. Even the game’s first trailer focuses on the humor, but there is hope because games can generally get away with more violence than movies. Batman’s darkness was toned down and his intentions were made nobler in order to make him more likeable. Deadpool is sinister and his intentions are not noble; he is flat-out despicable and that is the way we love him. Whether the mainstream can respect that is a different story.