Once A Nerd: Where did Deadpool come from?

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Deadpool (Marvel Comics)Where did Deadpool come from?

That’s a rhetorical question. I don’t need anyone to list his first appearance, or describe the Weapon X program, or map the nuances of Rob Liefeld’s brain (please, anything but that). I mean, as a character ranking alongside Batman or Spider-Man when I ask kids if they’d like a superhero drawing nowadays – where did Deadpool come from?

I’ve been “officially” drawing comic book characters for kids since 1997, when I was a teacher’s assistant in a third grade classroom, and I sketched a Batman for a student’s birthday. I inadvertently opened a floodgate of requests, which, at the time, were pretty much either Spider-Man or Venom. Looking back, at the time, I probably asked myself the question – Wow, where did Venom come from?

I go to the comic shop at least three times a month, and I rarely see third graders – much less any other school-aged children – so, I’m always curious where they see and get to know new characters. Understandably, Venom and Deadpool have become staples in other media, like Spider-Man cartoons, Wolverine movies, and video games. So, where do kids get to know new characters from comics? Anywhere but comics.

Further, I’m using the word “new” rather liberally here, in comparison to characters like Superman or the Fantastic Four. Consider my context: when I started reading comics, Venom and Deadpool didn’t exist. Now, kids don’t know of comic books without Venom or Deadpool. Is this how longtime readers in the ‘80s felt about the Punisher?

Now, I’m naming Venom and Deadpool specifically because they are my most frequently requested characters for drawings from kids, aside from the classics (including the recent surge of Avengers after the movie). Consequently, I believe they represent the last real surge of memorable characters from the comic book industry. Venom’s first appearance (as we know him) was in ’88, and Deadpool’s in ’91. Who, since then, has made an impact on the zeitgeist of kids’ perception of comic books? What other characters since the early ‘90s can stand next to Superman or Spider-Man as household names in 2012?

I wonder if their tenacity in pop culture has anything to do with the similarities in their development. I mean, both were initially drawn under the pencils of artists destined to leave Marvel for Image Comics. Both were variations of previously established characters – Venom, a twisted version of Spidey, and Deadpool, a comical version of Deathstroke. Both evolved from villains into anti-heroes, now worthy of Hollywood consideration for their own film franchises after floundering as shoehorned additions in other superhero flicks. Both have strange ovals around their eyes.

The struggle for originality is the consistent theme there. From Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld pining for their own identity in the industry, to the characters’ derivative designs, Venom and Deadpool were born from an era in comics trying to be different. Now, they’ve become just as popular as Superman or Spider-Man. Just as requested by the kids wanting a superhero drawing. Just as common. Now, not very different at all.

I don’t really wonder where Deadpool came from. I was just blindsided by his popularity. I guess the real question is, where will the next Deadpool come from? And, is the comic book industry even capable of creating another one?

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