Not long ago, it was hard to believe Deadpool — an irreverent, ultra-violent superhero — could be the centerpiece of the year’s biggest film. The smarmy soldier has a legion of fans who would flock to any movie with an ounce of reverence to his comic books, but Deadpool is not exactly family-friendly. Deadpool has no place on Happy Meals. Deadpool can’t sell in China. But following a long, arduous road to production, Deadpool starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by Tim Miller, was finally released in February; and earned glowing reviews, fan admiration, and a staggering $760 million at the global box office.
“It happened when it was supposed to happen, and the movie was embraced because everybody brought their A-game,” says Rob Liefield, the comic book artist who created Deadpool in The New Mutants #98 in February of 1991. “That script by Rhett [Reese] and Paul [Wernick] is genius. It goes hardcore action movie to raunchy comedy to cancer drama to love story. Tim juggled it the entire way.”
In an interview with Inverse, Liefeld detailed his involvement in the movie (which hits DVD/Blu-Ray on May 10) and its sequel, as well as writing Deadpool’s first upcoming graphic novel Deadpool: Bad Blood and what he thought about Batman v Superman.
As the creator of the character, what was your influence in the making of Deadpool?
I was helping run interference early on [in 2009], telling [the producers] what they could and couldn’t use. In the first meeting I said, “You can’t use that character. You don’t own Serpent Squad. You can’t use Taskmaster.” They were like, “Well, what storylines?” There was one entire 60-issue run. I said, “None of this is accessible.” That meeting was also, “Hey, who would you have as love interest? Would you have Siyrn? Vanessa?” Vanessa, 100 percent. More grounded. You can build off this.
The movie was, quite unexpectedly, a love story. How did that come about?
Ryan was going to star and be a producer on the movie back in 2009. Ryan has a huge crossover appeal with female audiences. I knew the best way to sell Deadpool to the public is, you’ve got to have a love story in place. I was there during the bar scene, seeing Ryan [Reynolds] and Morena [Baccarin]’s chemistry like, “Oh my gosh. They are fantastic. They could not match up better than this.”
What out of Deadpool can you say was yours? Any specific lines of dialogue or action sequences?
The interesting thing out of the movie, my son said, “Where’s that freeway scene with the 12 bullets in the comic?” Doesn’t exist. That’s Rhett and Paul. I get from everywhere, “Hey, Mr. Liefeld, do you know when the first appearance of Deadpool with Negasonic and Colossus is in the comics?” That’s not in the comics.
I was floored like Thor’s hammer landed on me when the script came in from Rhett and Paul, who crafted their own original tale that’d never seen before. I created Vanessa. I created Wade. I never got them that right. We implied a relationship, but we never gave it the heart they did.
For a while Deadpool looked like a dead project. How did you keep the momentum going until the green light from Fox?
It was a series of stops and starts. What began as my frustration became frustration on behalf of wonderful people. Cameras should be rolling. [That] was frustrating because Ryan proved what everybody knew. The frustration from Wolverine, you see how well he’s selling it, then he’s given terrible direction. Why didn’t you just let Ryan do his thing? He was perfect for it!
When Deadpool released and the end-credits scene showed Cable, it was a big deal. Why wasn’t Cable around the first time?
Half of us believed the movie should involve Cable. I could feel Cable breathing down my neck. I said, “No. Don’t put Cable in the first movie.” If Cable comes later, great. Deadpool is a vehicle for Ryan to shine. Cable bogs it down, I’m not sure it works as a first film with a general audience. I got in the car and I said, “Did I really just kill the appearance of my other more popular character?”
You started Image in the ‘90s, as one of many comics creators who wanted to own their work unlike at Marvel or DC. When it comes to a windfall like Deadpool, do you feel you have to compromise that principle?
I brokered the sale of these characters [Cable, Deadpool] to Marvel, given the parameters of the deal they were offering because they seemed like good deals. You mean I can plant a tree in the X-Men universe and watch it grow, and I’d get some of the bounty? In 1991, I’m like, “I’m in!” Those were my testers, and they grew into giant oak trees, they bore a ton of… Well, they can’t bear fruit if they’re oak trees, but they were very fruitful, and that’s what gave me the courage to go out on my own. “Maybe the next round, I own myself.”
Cynical people go, “Do you regret it?” No. Being in the X-Men universe is why Deadpool got the eyeballs he did. New Mutants was dead, I took it as a challenge. They offered me X-Factor. No thanks. I don’t want to follow Bob Layton and Jackson Guice. Bad career move. But I’ll fix New Mutants. They let me run, and that’s where Cable came from. The minute they let me influence the story, I won my slot in the history of Marvel. I won my showcase. I’ll have some great narrator read that one day on my documentary. I proved my case putting Cable, Deadpool, and Domino in the book, turning it from a doormat to a $5 million selling launch. I thought for sure X-Force would fall, but now I’m convinced it’s never falling. Jim Lee and I are Michael Jackson and The Eagles. We’re on top.
Just a month after Deadpool, fans saw Batman v Superman from Warner Bros. and DC Comics. What do you think Deadpool did that Batman v Superman didn’t to win its audience?
Easy. Having seen both, Deadpool is fun. Deadpool is the pace car for 2016. It gave people a great time. The characters, even in dire sequences, were having fun. The movie enjoys itself. My son, during the holidays when they were promoting BvS, he would see the commercials and see them grimacing and growling. “Dad, is that a parody? Is that real?” I think the age of taking yourself too seriously, this is the wrong period for that. I’ve seen Civil War, [it] carries the fun baton. It shares the same fun Deadpool does. Deadpool can do things with an R rating, but it doesn’t stop from being fun.
You can look at the three big hits over the last six months: The Force Awakens, Deadpool, and The Jungle Book. All ridiculously fun. You’re going to add Civil War in there. Fun. That’s what escapist entertainment is about. If I told you I think we’re in for a decade of Deadpool I don’t feel like I’m being hyperbolic. It’s going to be a great ride.
What can you tell me about Deadpool: Bad Blood? How’s that coming along?
I always wanted to tell the story of Wade’s youth, people he met that affected his life and people he’s tangled with along the way you haven’t been exposed to. Now it’s come to the fore. It’s a fun new nemesis for Deadpool, which hats off to Marvel. I didn’t know if they’d approve, but they have been gung ho. I’m nearly finished with it. It is a giant undertaking, 100 pages in today’s comic world is about six issues, half a year’s worth of comics, but it is exceeding expectations. The reactions when I send pages to Marvel, they are so generous with how pleased they are. I love working with Chad Bowers and Chris Sims.
I believe all Deadpool books have upped their game lately. I believe because of the anticipation building from the set photos, Ryan on social media with those great advertisements and clever spots he did. Even before the movie, everyone’s expectations were through the roof because they had communicated the quality of what as coming. Bad Blood, it’s meant to fit nicely with the film.
In the comics Deadpool sided with Iron Man, but who would Deadpool side with in the movie Civil War?
He would play both sides against the middle. I think he’d be team Captain America and team Iron Man simultaneously throughout.