Thursday, April 7, 2016

Deadpool the Troubling Non-Character

I’m told that not much happens in the movie “Deadpool.” Story-wise that is. It is an extended scene with origin story intercut. It is all jokes of the middle-school caliber variety and violence of the cartoonish variety. That sounds about right if you are trying to adapt the character from the comics.

Deadpool has been around since 1991, when he was introduced as a super villain with a great, marketable design. But, with kids these days liking the villains so much, and this being an increasingly “style over substance” world, they turned him into an “antihero” and the rest is history.

The frustrating thing about Deadpool is that he has no character. He is a stand in for rebellious, but pointless teen age attitude. Next to him, James Dean’s character actually seems to have a cause. In the 25 years since his creation he has had around 383 issues devoted to him. It is rather telling that over 150 of them have been miniseries in nature, often being “alternate reality” versions of his story. (And most of these titles have been published since 2010.) But really, the character has no through story. He doesn’t grow. He doesn’t have any defining characteristics outside of wise-cracks, mental illness, and a meta awareness that he is a comic book character.

Early on, Mark Waid, one of the first writers to tackle Deadpool after his creator, said:

“Frankly, if I’d known Deadpool was such a creep when I agreed to write the miniseries, I wouldn’t have done it. Someone who hasn’t paid for their crimes presents a problem for me”

To see how ridiculously void the character is, you just have to look to the issue of his sexual orientation. The creators have been quoted as claiming that he has both “no sex and all sexes.” He is whomever the writer, and the reader for that matter, needs him to be. Once you realize that this is not a character with a story and simply a cypher for irreverence, he loses any chance to compel a thinking reader.

I have only read about 30 issues of Deadpool comics, so less than ten percent. But I would find it hard to believe any direct translation of the comics to screen would get more than a PG-13 rating if it weren’t for the violence. The comics hint at a lot, but self-censor most language and sexuality. So it was a surprise to hear that the film uses its rating for so much sexual humor. That is a trend I hope the revenues don’t promulgate in comic movies going forward. I can accept films with more nuanced and compelling characters and stories having a higher degree of violence. Characters like Wolverine, Batman, and Hulk all have something to say about facing evil and violence in kind. Deadpool, however, just relishes in a world without consequences or meaning.

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