Q&A: Chimichangas and Post-Modern Superheroes

Deadpool is a protagonist who kills people. How would you suggest pulling this off in book form? Since killing is usually a ‘villain’ thing to do.

Have you ever really thought about what a her or villain is?

I mean, honestly, the film has this line:

You’re probably thinking, “My boyfriend said this was a superhero movie but that guy in the suit just turned that other guy into a fucking kabab!” Well, I may be super, but I’m no hero.

Personally, the Deadpool joke has run a bit thin. It’s still a good joke, and like most astute comedy it’s getting at a few good points you might want to consider.

In spite of his arguments against being one, Deadpool is a superhero. At least now. Originally, the character was a one note villain added by Rob Liefeld. He was a standard, humorless, 90s antagonist that was later repurposed into the character we have now. But, he is a hero.

Heroes and villains aren’t synonymous with good and evil, right and wrong, moral and immoral,or any number of other dichotomies. The simplest implementations embrace this.

In Star Wars, Luke wears white, Vader wears black, one’s good, the other’s evil, one is a scion of the light side, the other has embraced the dark side; they’re a study in contrasts. It’s black and white storytelling, and while you can use this as a pejorative, it’s not inherently bad.

As a genre, superheroes naturally build out of this kind of sharp relief. You have heroes, who are paragons of purity, and goodness, and villains who are irredeemable monsters. Most real people aren’t like that, but it serves the story, and there is a lot you can do with this, so it’s not bad writing. At least, not on its own.

In a weird kind of way, Deadpool is probably the most 90s superhero possible. Sure, we have Rob “MOAR POUCHES” Liefeld’s design, but it doesn’t stop there. The hyper-angst backstory is almost indistinguishable from characters like Spawn, Jackie Estacado, or any number of other contemporary heroes. But, that’s not why I’m writing this; Deadpool embraces the 90s post-modern critique of superheroes as a genre. To the point that 20 years later, the jokes still work. He exists in a far more rarefied environment, along with comics like The Mask or The TickDeadpool is a natural evolution off of what Alan Moore started with Watchmen.

Stepping back for a moment, there were two major direction changes for comics in the 80s. Alan Moore, and Frank Miller. These two writes basically set the tone for where the format would go. Before Moore and Miller, yes, Deadpool would have been a villain.

Miller’s influence started with his work on Daredevil. He took over a c-list superhero, and started retooling him into the obsessive, self-destructive, character we know today. Miller set the tone for the dark and edgy heroes that would follow, even if that’s not entirely visible in his work on Daredevil. Similarly, Batman: Year One, and The Dark Knight Returns fundamentally altered Batman into his modern incarnation. Miller’s characters were darker, and more violent takes on existing characters, and it infested the market. Now, I am being a bit reductive, there were other extremely violent comics in this era; several 2000AD series come to mind, including Judge Dredd, but Miller had a massive influence on what as permissible in superhero comics.

It’s unfortunate to reduce Moore’s influence to just Watchmen. He’s a very good, if overly verbose, writer. However, Watchmen was very different from comics of the day. Where Miller was presenting darker, violent heroes, Moore was attacking the foundations of the superhero as a genre. Watchmen is a deconstruction of superhero comics. The term gets thrown around a lot, but Moore was engaging in literary critique. I could probably do an article on Watchmen alone, but, I’ll hit the high points.

Watchmen argues that you can’t save the world from any realistic threat (in that case, mutually assured nuclear destruction) by punching muggers in the face. Throughout the comic, violence doesn’t actually, achieve anything tangible.

Watchmen criticizes the image of superheroes as inhuman paragons, this is a much bigger deal than it may seem today. Presenting superheroes as flawed individuals was a radical departure from the contemporary genre.

Just because you’re a superhero, doesn’t mean you’re a good person. We see this explicitly with many of the characters. Again, this was a massive departure for comics, and along with Miller’s work it opened the door to a lot of characters that simply wouldn’t have been possible a decade earlier.

To be fair, I’m also abbreviating a lot of comic book history. Both Miller and Moore benefited from the decline of the Comics Code Authority. If that had lasted a decade longer, we could easily be having this discussion about writers like Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis or Mark Millar.

Moore’s critique lead the way for a lot of writers to poke at the superhero and say, “this is idiosyncratic.” Deadpool may not have been written, intentionally thinking about Alan Moore or Watchmen, but the mindset that lead to his rebirth as a fourth wall breaking smartass is indebted to Moore’s work.

Deadpool’s habit of breaking the fourth wall is a doubled sword. It’s part of why I started to find the character grating, but it’s also used to engage in meta-commentary on comic books as a format. There’s no, “how I would do it,” retort here. I think it’s well done (most of the time.) It’s also critical to the commentary you get from Deadpool. The comics roast the rest of the industry (viciously), while the film takes that approach and hoses down the modern superhero film.

There’s an expectation in that starting quote, “…this was a superhero movie…” It is, but so are Watchmen, Blade, and Dredd; I’d be hard pressed to say any of those are have “nice” protagonists.

So, what is a hero? Deadpool is pretty sure your answer is wrong. That’s the point of the character. He is a hero. When the time comes he can put aside his selfish inclinations and do the right thing (even if he does it in protest.) Is that enough to be a hero? I don’t know. It’s certainly a credible attempt to strip the concept (at least within the context of superheroes) down to it’s core.

A hero can do the right thing for the wrong reasons and still be “a hero.” Can you do the wrong thing (killing people) for the right reasons and still be one? That’s what the character is trying to explore.

Thanks to Moore, there’s a lot of different takes on this. Dysfunctional superheroes, heroes struggling with the aftermath of prior traumas, villains trying to make amends for past wrongs, explorations of ethics and morality with superheroes who have radically deviant views of the world. Accidental heroes, who will still do the right thing, for entirely selfish reasons. None of these are entirely new concepts, but they were a sharp departure from superhero comics.

Now, if it seems like I’m being overly harsh on you, I’m not. Asking your question is very important. It’s easy to create a protagonist who has no qualms about killing, and then go overboard with it. There’s a lot of ground to explore, and asking, “is this still a hero?” is a good step. Your protagonist’s outlook (almost always) defines that of the story, so remaining critical of their views can be a good thing.


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