Deadpool is, arguably, one of the biggest characters in comics. His popularity has been built on a cult following of fans and cemented by the success of the Deadpool movie in 2016, but it all began with artist Rob Liefeld in 1991.
Liefeld created Deadpool, along with Cable, the concept of X-Force and several of the characters that made up the paramilitary groups' roster in the early 1990s. He's returned to his creations several times over his career, but he's about to break new ground with Deadpool: Bad Blood, his first ever Deadpool graphic novel.
Deadpool: Bad Blood, on sale May 17, teams Liefeld up with X-Men '92 writers Chad Bowers and Chris Sims, and pits Deadpool against a deadly threat from his past.
ComicBook.com spoke to Liefeld over the phone about Deadpool: Bad Blood, Deadpool's cinematic success, and what it's like to be at the center of Deadpool-mania.
Plus, enjoy some preview pages of Liefeld's work for Deadpool: Bad Blood.
Obviously, Deadpool is the lead character of Deadpool: Bad Blood, but I notice in the preview pages several other Marvel characters that you created. Is it fair to call Deadpool: Bad Blood a kind of Rob Liefeld's greatest Marvel hits collection?
Rob Liefeld: There's definitely a segment of the book that is a love letter to 1991. There's an important sequence that affects the present-day adventure that Deadpool finds himself in that he and Domino revisit. It's great. It's a lot of fun.
The best part about going out on tour is as I've been these last two years, and done over 32 different shows, is getting that face-time with the wonderful fans who support this work, and bought it, and love it the way I love the stuff that I grew up with.
Modern day business may not have a capacity to appreciate 5 million copies being sold, much less 1 million copies of the last issue of New Mutants. The reason I always bring the New Mutants up, the New Mutants #100 is the book that, really, X-Force debuted in. If you look at X-Force #1, and I was so inside the machine at the time and moving at Mach speed that I didn't take the time to appreciate it. These great fans remind me that when New Mutants went under, and X-Force launched, Cable was 15 months old. Then, you've got Shatterstar, and Domino, and Deadpool, who were all about three to four months old by the time they blew up in the pages of X-Force.
The thing about New Mutants #100 is it had no gimmicks. The gimmick was that they loved these stories that I was giving them, and they loved these characters. We went back to press four times on a book that had no trading cards, no polybags. I've been, myself, trying to track down copies of the first print, the second, and the third, and the fourth print of New Mutants #100. I mean, there they are, running right at you, Domino, Shatterstar, Feral, and Warpath. I think it would have been a big mistake not to revisit that, and shine the light on those X-Force days. A segment of this 100-page story is an absolute callback. The adventure actually takes place in 1991. I think people will totally dig it.
Everybody I have shown the pages to absolutely digs it. It's just great because currently, that line up is not available. This is a way to interface with that stuff. The interplay between the characters has always been one of the things that they enjoy. Cable and Deadpool play off each other wonderfully. The banter, the back-and-forth relationship that established Domino and Deadpool. Domino is in a lot of Bad Blood. She's along for the ride in a lot of it. I bought that Shatterstar action figure, the new Marvel Legends, and people online, on all my social networks, he has so much love. That depiction of him, that look, just the face guard and the shoulder pads, because he's been through many looks. People express how much they love seeing these characters. I think it'll be a great romp to see everybody back together again.
Bottom line, we definitely go back to 1991 for about 24 pages of this thing to set up what's going on in the present.
As you mentioned, you created these characters in the early 1990s. When you first drew them, did you expect you'd still be returning to them 25 years later?
RL: 100 percent, 100 percent. All I was trying to do was create the next Wolverine. Wolverine was my favorite character in the history of comics. When I encountered Wolverine, you have to understand I was eight, I bought the Hulk issue - #181 I think it is - off the stands, off the spinner rack. Who is this awesome new character? I loved the name, the look. When he popped up in X-Men, I flipped out. When [John] Byrne took over and they put greater emphasis on him. When he got his solo miniseries with [Frank] Miller.
Storm, Banshee, Nightcrawler, they were all great. They definitely had an impact, but Wolverine, how Hugh Jackman serves him in the film, the Wolverine character pulled the X-Men to the top of the charts, make no doubt about it. I was there, kids. The interest in him, his story. Look at how many tethers he has. Wolverine has tethers to Vindicator, who then turned into Guardian, who then introduced us to Alpha Flight, who then got their own series that ran for years.
The love triangle between him, and Scott, and Jean was the soap opera that drove the story for years. Then, obviously, his dalliances with the Yakuza, and the Japanese underworld, and the Samurais and being labeled as a Gaijin. Wolverine was the driving force behind the X-Men.
My job was to fix up fix up the New Mutants. New Mutants, people forget it was, on its own, so behind. They told me they were going to cancel it, which is why I could do anything I want with it. The reason I barged in the front door and brought Cable with me is I felt like, first, we have to change the entire voice of this book and the narrative. What I respond to is a bold character who could take command, which they hadn't had in The New Mutants. All they'd had for years in terms of leadership was this battle of different worldviews through Xavier and Magneto. It felt like we could have a guy who gets in the middle there, who doesn't agree with Magneto but is far more aggressive than Xavier in protecting mutant interests.
When Cable arrived, our sales started skyrocketing. I'm in the character-building business. I just described to you Wolverine, and how much I invested in him. [Chris] Claremont always changed him up. I walked through the door with Cable the time-traveler. As a time-traveler, anyone who comes from the future could've visited us at all these different points. My earliest pitch to Bob Harras was that Cable sold the technology for the Danger Room to Xavier. I believed that would explain that way back in the '60's, Xavier had floors that were opening up, and s--t that was coming out of the wall. You're like, "How does this guy have this, this Tony Stark level tech?"
I explained to Bob Harras, Cable, because he's from such the far future, has seen all these character's journeys, and their possible endings. Their deaths, their options they chose in life, and he was my badass science commando. As smart as Reed Richards, but a complete badass warrior.
I think people were looking for the same thing. People wanted a reason to like The New Mutants, wanted a reason to buy another X-Men book. I can tell you, with my first issue taking over this book, all of the other X-Men are doing 400 thousand or above in sales. New Mutants is selling 114 thousand copies. We were way back behind the pack. New Mutants #100 sold 1 million copies in the course of 13 issues. That is the greatest turn-around in the history of comics. When you see something happening, and you can feel it. You can feel it when you go to the comics store. When the retailer tells you how he's selling out of New Mutants, how he's doubled his orders.
My editor at the time told me he was making changes. He told me that writing the book was not out of the question, that the previous writer had been on for a long time. He was changing up the voices on the books. With a lead-in Wolverine and Cable battle six issues in, it's because I lobbied for that hard. I campaigned like crazy! I wanted to establish a connection with my favorite character and Cable.
I take over the writing duties. Again, I tell people, "Look at the credits." Every issue I did says, let's just clarify that, "Story by, Art by Rob Liefeld." I generated all of it. The names of the characters, their backstories, the way they are introduced, their motives, their agendas. I felt like I had gone to the Chris Claremont School of Soap Opera. I knew how to pull this off.
Deadpool comes in. What do I do immediately with him? I establish his connection to Cable. Cable is the character that is driving the book currently. Let's, now, make Deadpool have this immediate connection to our lead character, who has spent a year turning this team around, into a more dangerous fighting force than they were when he walked in per his instruction, not by accident. He was going to make them more capable of defending themselves and seeing the mutant plight through his eyes.
Deadpool walks in the door and takes them all down. How do I establish and make this character awesome? He takes everybody out. Then, he's looming over Cable, and Domino drops in. We reveal 10 to 12 months, later that that was all a ploy, a setup. I know soap opera. I know how to do this stuff.
People came along for the ride. They punched their ticket with higher sales, higher interest. Every month I would do a signing somewhere in southern California, and every month there was more and more people picking up the book. Twice as many people at the comic store. From 100 people to 200, to 400. You just go, "Wow. This book has caught fire."
New Mutants going back for four printings showed that there was more to this than gimmicks. They like the stories, and the art, and the characters. Deadpool appears in New Mutants #98, he's an action figure on my desk one year later. One year later. So is Cable, so is Shatterstar, so is X-Force.
Then, two years in, they asked me to help out with an issue of Cable. I did layouts. They were in a jam, and they called me up. I'm a friend. I'm a friend of the book. I'm a friend of my character. Of course, I'd say yes. Image wasn't just an opportunity to me. Image wasn't some statement about Marvel. Image was just, this is where I need to take my career next. Whether it was helping out on an issue of Cable, whether it was doing the cover to X-Force #50, doing the cover to X-Force #100, coming back and doing a stint on Cable, coming back and doing a stint on Wolverine, the future Deadpool. I did an X-Force series, I did Deadpool Corps. I am never far from these characters.
I am grateful that Marvel has always given me an opportunity to revisit these guys because I absolutely adore them. They are fresh in my memory, how I came about each name, each design, each backstory. They're 25, 26, years old now, and they're still readily recognizable to the public. They haven't been altered in some dramatic way. As I say that, I'm glancing up and looking at over 40 Cable and Deadpool, action figures, statues, banks that adorn my bookcases.
This stuff, it worked. Sometimes you strike oil. Now, it's weird, but I can go, "I did create the next Wolverine." That's awesome! I've always said, "If I could go back in time, I just want to give young Rob a giant hug, and say, 'You did good for the family, kid! You did good!'
This is the first time you've returned to Deadpool since the success of the movie made him into, arguably, a household name. Has the experience been different for you?
RL: Yes, and no. The comic book world adores Deadpool, always has. In 2010, I believe, Deadpool had five monthly titles. I was doing one of them, and I was paying particular attention. 2010 is - wow, that's a long time ago. You got to remember Deadpool was so prominent in so many video games. My two boys came to know him through video games, and they've loved him in Marvel vs Capcom 3, or Marvel Ultimate Alliance. He was in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. He was in the Lego Marvel Super Heroes. I had one of the presidents of Warner Brothers call me to see if I could give him the code to unlock Deadpool in the Lego game because that's all his kid wanted. I howled. That is funny stuff. A president of Warner Brothers film division, in 2013 or 2014, is calling me going, "Hey man, I was just wondering if you know the secret code because my kid really wants to get to Deadpool. If we could skip all these levels..." I just laughed.
The comic book world loves him. Marvel has a great book. When they came to me and asked me to do this graphic novel, at first I was like, "Why are you asking me to do a graphic novel?" They're like, "We consider this a really important format." Then, I was like, "Okay." I'm always addicted to the monthly thing, and try and do a monthly thing when I do it. This is the first time I did 100 pages, solid.
Marvel said to me when I'd start talking up the film to them, "Hey Rob, the film's great. If it comes out and does great, fantastic, but I love this, I assure you Rob, whatever happens with the film, Deadpool has a bright future at Marvel publishing." I was like, "That's rad!" That's like your kid got a scholarship that's going to last. I loved it when he said it to me.
Now, has Deadpool become a household name? Yes. In my own community, my kids' lives, when I go to sporting events and I see people in Deadpool jackets. HBO can tell you, the ratings on their repeats of Deadpool are through the roof. Deadpool is absolutely one of the biggest, most recognizable brands in the comic book world now. That's so exciting because he remains faithful to what I put on the page 25 years ago. Thor's had, maybe, 10 different outfits in that time. Iron Man's had 25 armors. I guarantee you, Spider-Man's had a whole lot of different looks, but Deadpool, that's him. There he is.
I championed to anybody who knows me, and it got me my street cred. I championed the Deadpool screenplay back in 2010, by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and told everybody, "It's really different, and bold, and innovative, and I think people would react really strongly to it." I invested in campaigning on that film's behalf.
It's because that version of Deadpool is so good. I think it wraps up what people like in him the most. It's that combination of action, humor, with a little tragedy, and it's grounded. That's the kind of Deadpool I respond the strongest to, and that's the kind of Deadpool I'm trying to give people in this book.
I want to, absolutely, sing the praises of Chad Bowers and Chris Sims. We started working on this about 15 months ago. 60 pages became 80 pages, became 100 pages. We spent a lot of time on the phone making sure that what we sought to put on the page remains true, and that we didn't get away from ourselves, and we really, really, doubled down on character stuff, which is why the book will hopefully resonate.
To me, I think that's why people loved Deadpool the film so much. I knew it when I read it, when I saw it, that the relationship that he had, and the stakes between him and Vanessa, It's about a guy and a girl, a guy that's wronged, and a sweet little tale of vengeance. It's really a simple story.
No one's trying to take over the world in Deadpool: Bad Blood. It's another character story, and really doubles down on the character stakes, and expanding some of Deadpool's mythology, some of his legend, and his backstory. The first thing I asked Marvel was, "Can I introduce a new character?" I got to be, waiting for "No." They were like, "Yeah, we don't care. Do this. That's great."
Chad and Chris, we have had a good time. I was proofreading the book last week and just laughing out loud. I am not your wordsmith. I'm your idea guy. The words that are coming out of the mouth of Deadpool and all the cast are very important. They determine a lot of mood and a lot of the humor, and a lot of the stakes. Chris and Chad are so good. Chad told me last week how hard he lobbied for this. which I did not know. He waited 16 months to tell me. When he heard that it was in play, he told Jordan [White], the editor, "I will do anything to be on this."
I'll tell you what's refreshing is getting back to touring for all these years in different cities. You listen to what people like. Listening is so important. Sometimes, it can help you regain your focus. Chad and Chris were kids when these books came out. I'm the old man of the sea, and they're like the fresh fish. They're really great because they'll remind me of what they like. Chad was a teenager. It's fun because it's a different perspective. I'm telling you, I'm encountering that across every level of entertainment. From the gaming world to film and TV, these kids who grew up on these comics in the '90's now hold positions of influence in the entertainment world. They want their favorites to see the light of day.
What can you tell me about the new character you created for Deadpool: Bad Blood?
RL: His name is Thumper, which is a funny name, but when you see how badly he beats down on people, you'll see it's well earned. I wanted to tell a story about a relationship from Wade's youth. The great part is when I called up and asked, "Have you guys depicted this part of his life?" They were like, "Nope, clean slate. Go with it."
Here's the other thing, any avid Deadpool fan believes there is a broad definition of Deadpool's continuity. Otherwise, where do you fit in Deadpool Kills Deadpool? Where can you fit in Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe? Where the heck do you fit in Deadpool: Classics Killustrated and Moby Dick?
At some point, it's just all out there. It's all available to consume. Fit it in where you want to. There's some really over-the-top stuff. The way to maintain it is by saying there's a Deadpool for everyone, which is what I've always said. This Deadpool, I'd like to think, has more of a tether in the continuation of the X-Force series, and any mutants work that I did.
Thumper has a shared past with Wade. It's a sweet relationship. You'll see how it soured. Young Miles (Thumper) looked up to Wade in a big way. It took him down a certain road. You're going to see where that road led. While you're seeing Thumper for the first time, this is not the first time Deadpool has encountered him. Thumper treats Deadpool in a certain way. He understands that Deadpool can't be killed. When Deadpool and Thumper have had encounters before, it's always treated in a certain manner. Now, Deadpool's beginning to figure out why this guy shows up when he shows up.
There's a great bit when we do the flashback. Deadpool's like, "You remember when this happened to me?" to Domino, and she's like, "Yeah, we were kind of busy defending ourselves against the MLF at that minute, so I'm sorry. I wasn't paying attention when you got completely trashed and disappeared." We had so much fun doing this book. There is some cool, cool, stuff as we get to the end of the saga. I think we kick it wide open. I'm hoping Thumper has the same longevity that Deadpool, Cable, Domino, X-Force have had.
Are Thumper and the other ideas in Deadpool: Bad Blood ideas you've have percolating in the back of your minds for a while, or were they brainstormed specifically for this graphic novel?
RL: No, no, no, no, no. I wanted to do this before they assigned me Deadpool Corps, back in 2009. In 2009, I introduced Lady Deadpool and then we broke out the Deadpool Corps. At that time, this is the story I wanted to do, but the priority was to do Deadpool Corps.
In the early 2000's I did a couple issues of Wolverine the feature Deadpool. Shortly thereafter, I had scribbled down a bunch of notes about a solo Deadpool project. That is Deadpool: Bad Blood, all the notes that I have from that. I felt like it was time to introduce somebody from Deadpool's past. Again, we're going all the way back to junior high here. It's a long-standing relationship.
There're some good bits. I'm editing myself because I want people to read it, and enjoy it. It's definitely a story I've had since the early 2000's. I asked Marvel if we could do this and get this going. They approved it, and I was thrilled. We put together a really entertaining yarn. I'm just excited for people to experience it.
The other thing about Deadpool: Bad Blood is that it's an in oversized hardcover format. I grew up in the age of the late '70's, early '80's when tabloid edition comics were really prominent. There were quite a few of them. Marvel and DC, both, all the publishers did these giant treasury additions. That's where you got the first Superman Vs. Spider-Man, Superman Vs. Wonder Woman, some of these great, giant, tabloid books that I grew up with. They took advantage of the format. There was definitely going to be Hulk Vs. Batman, by [Jose Luis] Garcia-Lopez.
There is some tremendous action in here. If you're not going to use the format, why use it? We wanted to do some extended action scenes because one thing people really loved in the Deadpool movie was the tremendous action. The freeway scenes, when he's hunting down Francis, there's humor, but there are some great action bits. He's a great looking character. He looks great when he's in motion.
I went out of my way to enjoy the format, to play, to make sure that we enjoyed it, and took advantage of the canvas that was available to us. There are no next issue breaks just one 100-page story. It's one of the things that [Marvel editor-in-chief] Axel Alonso told me early on. He said, "I hope you know, you're not going to have next issue breaks. You don't have to stop, start, stop, start. The format allows for different indulgences."
There are some great action set pieces, just fun stuff, that we put Deadpool through his paces. Sometimes, honestly, I could use a little more action in my comic books. I came from an age when there was, maybe, a little more emphasis on action. I definitely hit that hard in this book. Again, there's a lot of fun. When I look at it, and what we've come up with, it's a fun book. It works some of those Deadpool muscles that, maybe, you don't see on a regular basis.
You mentioned earlier that you were laughing out loud while reading a proof of Deadpool: Bad Blood. Now that the Deadpool movie is out there, do you hear Deadpool's dialogue in Ryan Reynolds' voice? Is it still the voice you had in your head when you created him, or does it depend on the writer?
RL: Deadpool was always an asshole, and he always sounded like an asshole. When I pitched him, it was based on the Spider-Man I grew up with. Not Peter Parker, but Peter Parker as Spider-Man fighting crime, was a smart ass. Stan Lee, all the guys, they portrayed him as a real smart ass. We took it a step further and just made Deadpool an asshole.
Now, do you really hear his voice without it sounding like Ryan Reynolds? I'd like to see someone try that. I can't. It's permanently etched, but Deadpool, at his funniest moments in the movie, is an asshole. That ending and how it plays out is essential asshole 101. "Deadpool, Deadpool, why you kill him?" That was great.
He's a lovable jackass. We play him as such. You'll see him as a formidable jackass, a lovable jackass, and you'll see him as a smartass. He definitely puts his brain to work in this. He's not being taken advantage of. Deadpool, while frustrated by Thumper, is able to connect the dots pretty quickly. I also take some real jabs at myself in the story, because why not? That's funny. Maybe the fact that some of the characters aren't always proportionally correct from panel to panel needs commenting on by Deadpool. Maybe those pouches need some wisecracks. I put that stuff in there, and they pulled it off wonderfully.
Again, the thing about Deadpool is Deadpool makes people feel good. They wear it, they collect it, they consume it, because he makes people feel good. Look at the counterpoint, when you get characters that maybe take themselves too seriously nowadays. People aren't having that. The one thing that the Marvel films do so well, whether it's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, they always have fun. The Marvel brand has always, to me, been about fun. All these characters having fun. No matter what the dire consequences that they're facing, are they having fun encountering them? That's Marvel. Marvel has fun. It never forgets with this jackass, smart ass, wiseass that is Deadpool that it's fun.
You mentioned earlier that you were a big campaigner for the first Deadpool movie. In light of that film's success, has your involvement with the sequel been any different?
RL: I generally get in trouble when I talk about Deadpool 2. Anything I say seems to upset somebody. For now, I have chosen to just observe.
As has been reported, they're heading towards filming this bad boy. The beauty of Deadpool was it was the movie nobody believed in. It was greenlit with a limited budget. Everybody was able to go off and make this vision, and it turned out tremendous. It couldn't have turned out better.
I hate when people forget to mention that it's an R-rated movie. R-rated movies have restrictions. My kid was not allowed to enter. He and his friends were turned away. They're 16, at the time 15, and couldn't see the movie. It's well-documented that they did the smart teenager thing, which is to buy tickets to something else and sneak in, but the really crappy thing is that means making sure that money didn't go to Deadpool, so they got chewed out by me for it.
Whatever Zoolander 2 made that opening weekend, some of that money belongs on the Deadpool ledger. As my son confessed, "We all bought Zoolander 2 tickets, and then went and saw Deadpool." I was pissed, but I was also like, "Pretty good, kid. Smart. You're smart." They told me that some parent was going to walk them all in. That parent didn't show up, so they took matters into their own hands.
Deadpool 2 has, I think, a different barometer. I read ComicBook.com and it tells me it is one of the most anticipated movies of 2018, and it should be. It should be. I think that just cracks the surface.
But again, if I start talking, I get in trouble. You have no idea how many people I get commented to by. As I have reminded these people, when they're not making Deadpool, I'm in the Deadpool, Cable, X-Force business 24/7. Always have been. If one of those characters isn't on the racks every week, some merchandise is. Kudos to Marvel. I'm like, "Is there a new action figure every week? Is that it?" If it's not a new action figure, it's a bank, it's a statue, it's a coloring book, it's a Pop! figure, it's a model.
Here's the deal: Deadpool 2, for the record, is going to be great. I think they've taken great pains to make the sequel very special. I'm counting on that. I'm counting on Deadpool 2 being very special. They've only scratched the surface. As the world of Deadpool expands, I think people are going to be really excited and rewarded.
Let's just go back to how big these characters were in an age where the X-Men books were the standard of the business. We're, just now, starting to put these characters on screen.In the films, it's been 16 years of Professor Xavier, Magneto, and Wolverine. That's the dynamic. Deadpool turned that on its head.
I did have somebody from Fox say, "You've been telling us how appealing these X-Force characters are. I guess we have reason to believe that's right." That may have been my favorite statement of the last year. I'm like, "I've lived it! I've seen it! I'm on the road!" These people are excited. It should be a really fun experience and I'm anticipating it very much.