This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 24, 2018.
Deadpool 2 has managed to capture the same, seemingly impossible, spark that the original Deadpool unleashed in 2016. It is a superhero movie unlike any other superhero movie. While there are still giant set pieces, increasing power levels and stakes, and even a heartwarming moral, that’s as far as either Deadpool resembles what we’ve come to understand as the superhero movie. It is rude and crude, breaking the R-rating ceiling before Logan got close. It is self-aware, referencing both the franchises it shares a genre with and the world in which it was produced. It is a comedy, emphasizing laughs before action or drama in almost every scene. Even a couple of years after it arrived to break February box office records, we’re still stunned at just how unique Deadpool and its sequel are in the modern craze of superhero movies.
That Deadpool is unique within that craze doesn’t make it independent from those movies though. This doesn’t mean that Deadpool is technically an X-Men movie or that it shares a studio with other superhero franchises. Arguing that viewers need to have seen prior X-Men films before walking into either Deadpool doesn’t hold up under any scrutiny. There are certainly jokes that will be misunderstood without having seen Logan or X2: X-Men United, but they’re a drops in an ocean, and only as important as references to Avengers: Infinity War or Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. These individual elements aren’t nearly as important as a general understanding and appreciation of the superhero genre.
That is why the most important element in the success of Deadpool and Deadpool 2, outside of its own production, is the existence of the Marvel Studios’ shared cinematic universe. In order to understand that connection, you have to go back to the comics.
The Comics Origins of Deadpool
When Deadpool first appeared in comics, co-created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza in 1991, he was an action anti-hero designed for the times. Wade Wilson was strongly influenced by the DC Comics mercenary Deathstroke (a.k.a. Slade Wilson), but also incorporated elements of Wolverine and Spider-Man in his powers and attitude. He was built to compete with the most popular properties of the day. The modern incarnation of Deadpool known by moviegoers developed slowly over time.
The biggest shift in the character came in 1997 when Joe Kelly was paired with artist Ed McGuinness to work on an ongoing series. Kelly took the humor in Deadpool’s character so far and amplified it considerably. Working with McGuinness’ stylized superhero cartooning, Kelly began to rebuild the character as a parody of the popular superhero comics of the time. Both his mannerisms and supporting cast (including the introduction of Blind Al and Weasel) were intended to draw attention to the silliness present across Marvel Comics. This was the series where Deadpool’s popularity as a solo star, rather than supporting cast or villain, really exploded.
The Comics Basis of Marvel Studios
The Kelly and McGuinness version of Deadpool doesn’t work in a vacuum though. It was built on years of X-Men comics featuring Deadpool and decades of comics featuring his inspirations. This was more than a matter of references, like the homage to Amazing Fantasy #15 in Deadpool #11, it was a structure built on the foundation of Marvel Comics.
There is no better adaptation of superhero comics, not just Marvel Comics, to film than the shared set of films produced under the Marvel Studios banner. Each of these movies adapts their individual properties to varying levels of success. While some fans might not enjoy the overt humor of Thor: Ragnarok or love its Jack Kirby aesthetic, what’s really important is how it fits into the overall collection of 19 films to date. Together these movies recreate the same essential elements that made Marvel Comics so popular in the 1960s when they first appeared. These movies have featured the crossovers and cameos that made early Marvel comics appealing, building a shared universe that acknowledges other characters while building plots for future adventures, both independent and shared.
The single most important quality though is how they establish a genre. Readers picking up Marvel Comics every week come to expect certain things from their stories. Marvel Studios has constructed a familiar model for the modern superhero adventure, with familiar elements in the origin, rising action, and villains throughout almost all of their movies so far. Comparing the first films in the Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Hulk franchises all reveal more similarities than differences. It is only recently that films like Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther have begun to move in different directions, and receive praise for undermining the familiar narrative that even made them possible. Embracing these changes only occurs because Marvel Studios was the first place to establish rules for a superhero universe in film.
Deadpool: The Jester
While the many references in both Deadpool films make for good jokes, they aren’t the core attraction of the films. They primarily parody the superhero genre as a broad concept. Deadpool works against type as he dismisses common notions of superhero morality and plays against audience expectations. It speaks volumes that many parents brought their children to the first Deadpool without even considering the R-rating, simply because it was a superhero movie. Marvel Studios is the force that solidified a mass understanding of what a superhero movie is, and allowed Deadpool to play against that understanding for laughs.
Deadpool is to superhero movies what The Naked Gun was to spy films, and Marvel Studios is every bit as important to the former as the James Bond franchise was to the latter. They function as the king to Deadpool’s jester or the straight man to his joker. There has to be a subject for any sort of humor and none of the superhero franchises that preceded Deadpool were titanic enough to deserve a complete film of comedic jabs. The Spider-Man and X-Men franchises only released a new film every few years. Marvel Studios transformed the superhero movie into a sprawling phenomenon with 3 of their own films competing against many others each year.
Deadpool requires that cultural zeitgeist in order to succeed. It needs to be surrounded by superhero narratives to poke fun at them and generate new jokes. Marvel Studios made that possible more than any other franchise or studio in Hollywood, which is why Deadpool and its fans owe a debt of gratitude to the competition.