More than two decades after he first debuted in New Mutants #98, Deadpool is more popular than ever. Thanks to an explosion of appearances in comics, video games, T-shirts, and, of course, one big Ryan Reynolds blockbuster, the Merc with a Mouth is now one of Marvel’s most iconic superheroes.
There’s even more on the horizon, thanks to the highly-anticipated film sequel and a newly-announced adult cartoon series from FXX, courtesy of Atlanta star and all-around wunderkind Donald Glover. But Deadpool’s not slacking on his home turf of comics, either. This week sees the release of Deadpool: Bad Blood, an original graphic novel starring the foul-mouthed superhero and illustrated by his original creator: Rob Liefeld. Chad Bowers and Chris Sims also co-wrote the book, based on Liefeld’s story. The story features a new villain with some interesting ties to Deadpool’s own history, as well as plenty of cameos from old X-Force favorites like Cable and Domino.
EW caught up with Liefeld to talk Bad Blood and all the other developments in the wild world of Deadpool. Check that out below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the genesis of this project and what did you set out to do with it?
ROB LIEFELD: Marvel called me in summer 2015 and they said, “Rob, would you be interested in doing a Deadpool Original Graphic Novel?” I’m wired to do monthly comics, and as my friends will tell you, I’m a crazy paranoid person, so I spent the next 24 hours calling up retailers I respected and asking for their take. They all weighed in and told me it was a good thing. So I was like, yeah I’ll take it.
I requested some new voices to work with. Chad Bowers told me he told Marvel he would fight anyone to get this gig with me. I was like yeah, that’s what I expect from someone who writes X-Men ’92! If you’re swimming in the ’90s pool, you gotta get down with the Liefeld! I had actually started drawing this story about 9 years ago because I thought I would get to it earlier. I set out to tell this tale of the man we know in this story as Thumper: His past and his connections to Deadpool. When I was a kid I saw Bambi on the big screen at the local drive-in, and Thumper was a rabbit who thumped his foot and says “I’m Thumper!” Now he’s gonna be this giant brute who beats the crap out of Deadpool. They all went, “That’s a great name, we’ll get that cleared.” I was like yes, give me Marvel synergy!
In addition to Thumper, we also hang out with old friends from the ’90s like Domino and Garrison Kane and X-Force in this story. What did you like about that walk down memory lane?
I have gone to 35 comic conventions in the past two years. I have pressed a lot of flesh. I have sat and spoken to these wonderful fans who have been supportive of my career and these characters for years. I meet fans young and old and I listen to everything. The great thing is, we both like the same stuff out of Deadpool. He’s a smartass, he was designed as Marvel’s premiere a–hole, and he still likes to shoot guns and use his katanas. So what I heard from a lot of people was they when he’s funny while kicking ass, as he was intended. So we set out to make a funny, kickass Deadpool saga.
Deadpool was not born in a vacuum, he was part of a phenomenon I’m proud to say I shepherded called X-Force. So we tried to focus on moving the character forward while respectfully revisiting his roots, which are powerful to a lot of people. That’s why we decided to set the flashback in what looks like 1991, complete with Cable, Warpath, Shatterstar, Domino, and the Mutant Liberation Front. That part of the book is a kick, especially the way it’s recounted with Deadpool and Domino debating what they remember from that. And it relates to Thumper’s history with Deadpool, so it was just a great way to get people on board.
When I got together with Chris and Chad, I said we’re gonna make a graphic novel that an age-old Deadpool fan will enjoy but also something we could put in the hands of someone who just walked out of the movie, and they could immediately enjoy. It does have that feel to it. One thing I loved about the movie was that it was really grimy. Not grim-n-gritty, that implies something else, but grimy. I was on those Vancouver sets. They were dirty, lived-in: That bar, that freeway, that shipyard. I liked how grimy and earth-y the film felt, so I pursued that in terms of story and palette. So we just had a great time, and the Thumper aspect of it gives you some characterization to keep your interest along the way.
Even before the movie, Deadpool has exploded in popularity over the last few years. What’s that been like for you?
Here’s the deal. Ryan brought Deadpool to global worldwide icon status. But the road getting there didn’t just happen overnight. I have three kids, two boys, and as they were growing up in the mid-2000s, they were deluged with Deadpool product via Marvel’s excellent implementation of Deadpool on video game platforms. Their interaction with Deadpool was all video games and action figures. They were not informed dad had anything to do with Deadpool because that’s how we roll, so it was thrilling to see my two boys consume pop culture and migrate completely toward this character, alongside their friends.
It started with Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, where you could unlock Deadpool. Then he’s a boss on Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Then, and this is when I really saw Deadpool explode, was Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Deadpool was the favorite character. I would come home on the weekends and my giant leather couches would be full of kids, all fighting to see who would be next, and everyone’s playing Deadpool vs. Deadpool. That’s when I saw Deadpool’s awareness expand. And then a few years later, he got a foul-mouthed, ahead-of-its-time feature video game of his own. That’s four Deadpool video games that came out in like seven years. Again, I didn’t experience it on an island, I saw it through my two sons who totally dug Deadpool. And then of course eventually I got the “what are you saying? You created Deadpool, dad??” I was like, “Yeah, sorry, I know he’s not gonna be cool anymore because your dad created him.”
But on top of the video games, you’ve got the T-shirts, the wallets, the belts, the toys, and statues. Sometimes you just strike gold, and he has to be the best costume design and name I ever came up with. It’s been a blast to see him take over. I go to these comic book store signings and conventions, and I’m signing more Pops and little Deadpool bobble heads. This is what I didn’t see coming: The cute and cuddly lovable aspect of Deadpool. I can’t even tell you all the cute fan art I get from little kids drawing me Deadpool. That’s awesome. I love that.
Cable and Domino are going to show up on the big screen in Deadpool 2. What are you looking forward to about that?
Uh, everything! Casting Cable became a pageant I’ve never seen in my life. When it became official, I bet the neighborhood watch groups got nervous because I’ve never yelled so loud and jumped so high as when Josh Brolin was cast. I could not be more thrilled, and it’s the same thing with Zazie [Beetz]. She’s perfect. The whole thing is the chemistry. Chemistry is gonna dictate how the audience receives all of their relationships. But Zazie and Ryan, everyone better get ready. I’m not sure we’re ready for that chemistry. It could not be more exciting. The fans of that era are so excited, you have no idea. The ’90s have been underserved. Marvel has really been servicing the original legacy of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, but Fox has the keys to the ’90s — and finally, they’ve ignited it. As one executive said to me: “Wow, you weren’t kidding, Deadpool’s popular!” When comics sold the most, these books were at the top. You had the largest population ever consuming them, and these were the best sellers. Chad Bowers tells me he was 13 years old reading X-Force, and now he’s 36 years old doing Deadpool with old man Liefeld! That’s rad, I dig it and he digs it. I love being the old guy listening to these young guys who now have kids and families of their own. At these conventions I see people bring their kids up, and their kids dig it as well. We all pass along the stuff we like to our kids. I think the future with these characters is extremely bright. 30 years in!
The latest big Deadpool announcement, of course, is the upcoming “adult cartoon” TV show from Donald Glover. What’s your involvement in that?
My involvement is that I’m an awesome cheerleader. I heard about this early from my buddies in the entertainment industry, but I can, in fact, keep a secret. But I came at Donald Glover like a heat seeking missile at the Golden Globes after party, like “Dude! Rob Liefeld! Deadpool! Awesome!” He was like, “Oh, you heard about that?” So we talked a little Deadpool, but he’s Donald Glover, he’s got a line of a thousand people wanting to congratulate him, so I said my piece and told him how thrilled I was. Like, dude, you’re Donald Glover! You’re the award winning critically acclaimed writer/producer/star of Atlanta, you’re spending this summer playing Lando freaking Calrissian, and now over in the top drawer, you have Deadpool to play with. I think this guy is doing pop culture better than anybody on this planet at the moment.
As far as my creative input: zero. You don’t tell Donald Glover your ideas. He’s his own genius. If you were gonna tell me 10 years ago, Ryan Reynolds is gonna spearhead the Deadpool film movement and make him a global icon, and Donald Glover is gonna take over on TV and make an adult cartoon, I would’ve been like, are you kidding me? It’s an embarrassment of creative riches.
And of course, as you were saying, what’s so cool about this is that it’s the fan interest in Deadpool that’s kept him going over the years.
100 percent. You can leak footage, but unless 25 million fans see it on YouTube, you don’t get a green light. Deadpool was front and center on New Mutants #98. When you’re the front and center guy, you’re announcing your arrival as important. And sure enough, Marvel got the biggest amount of mail for a new character in a long time. That accelerated him in his next appearances because Marvel was like we need to get him back out there. He was a trading card in X-Force #1, he’s on the cover of X-Force #2, because the fans willed him into that position. The fans carried those characters, those characters carried me, and I could not have had a better experience. It’s gone on for 26 years now. I walked into the comics store recently and I saw Domino is front and center on Weapon X #1, Deadpool has five titles, Cable will be here in a few weeks, and they’re all featured in Deadpool: Bad Blood. I tell you, this month feels like I’m back in 1992. Did Youngblood just sell out? Am I 25 years in the past? I’ll take it!