Humane Dickishness: Talking ‘Deadpool’ with Co-Writer Gerry Duggan [Interview]
On sale now from Marvel is the fourth issue of Deadpool, one of the many series recently relaunched as part of the publisher’s Marvel NOW initiative designed to galvanize interest, sales and stories across the superhero line. The plan was particularly successful with Deadpool, whose first three issues have gone to multiple printings and are among the best of Marvel’s current slate. Written by comedians Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn and drawn by Tony Moore (Fear Agent, Venom) with colors by Val Staples (Criminal), the first arc finds the titular mercenary with pronounced psychiatric problems recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. to re-kill (and in some cases re-re-kill) all the dead presidents of the United States, who’ve returned all evil and undead as a consequence of some really dodgy magicking by a necromancer in a kilt.
Duggan talked with us about Deadpool and where he and co-writer Posehn will be taking the Merc with a Mouth when the next arc begins with April’s issue #8, featuring new artist Mike Hawthorne (Conan: Road of Kings, G.I. Joe: Origins) whose Deadpool work you’re seeing here for the first time.
The Marvel NOW series is in some ways a departure from the one or two-dozen Deadpool-starring comics that have been released in the last ten years. Certainly, Deadpool is still a hideous, obnoxious, insane, indestructible, ultra-violent freak who nobody wants to hang out with, but as co-writer Duggan told ComicsAlliance, he and his collaborators are balancing Deadpool’s dickery with some humanity. The result is a more sympathetic and — dare I say — funnier Deadpool.
ComicsAlliance: We’re coming up on four issues of Deadpool. How has the response been from your readers and the bosses?
Gerry Duggan: Honestly, better than we dared hope. The shop owners ordered pretty big, and then Deadpool fans, and fans of mine and Brian [Posehn], pitched in by making sure those copies didn’t sit on shelves. They’re even reprinting issues #1, #2, and #3, so we’re thrilled. We almost had two books in the top 20 for November! And issue #3 was at #25 on the list before reprints. I’d like to be even higher up, but maybe after a trade or two hits and folks that might have passed can see what we’re up to?
As for pleasing the bosses, I hope we did. We’ve gotten some really nice feedback on Twitter, and in the comments sections of many of the articles. I try not to descend into the comments sections very often, but it’s hard when I’m just starting something like this. So, I know that’s a little bit of a ramble, but I’m very grateful that the core audience of the character stuck with us, and I think we brought some new readers in. Or lots of people were lying to us. Also possible.
I know I felt the burden of being a hit because we had been given several wonderful gifts, namely Tony [Moore], [cover artist] Geof [Darrow], and [colorist] Val [Staples]. Could you imagine if people had hated it, or the issues just sat on shelves? There would be no one to blame but us. Luckily the fans and shop owners got our back, but I didn’t want to let [Marvel Editor in Chief] Axel [Alonso], [Senior Editor] Nick [Lowe] and [series editor] Jordan [D. White] down if we flopped.
CA: One thing I thought was pretty cool about the launch was actually Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld’s disparaging tweet about how Marvel had put a couple of “no-name D-list” scrubs on the book or whatever it was he said. You guys seemed to embrace that immediately and amusingly in a way that I think was actually quite in keeping with the the spirit of Deadpool.
GD: Well thanks. I mean, we were thrilled to have been the biggest comic story for a couple of hours, and then we were the biggest story again! But for our part we pretty much ignored it. I think I said I was “D-lighted to join Marvel,” but by the time the tweet had been brought to my attention some other folks that had written the character had chimed in — making it irrelevant for me to do so.
CA: One thing I’ve noticed about the last ten years or so of Deadpool’s ascension has been this kind of meta-trolling dimension to it. These wry titles like Deadpool Max and Deadpool Killustrated and Deadpool Team-Up and so forth — that they even exist is a kind of gag because it’s, like, Deadpool? Really? And like Lobo for DC in the ’90s, it drives some fanboys insane that Deadpool gets all this love even though he’s not a proper superhero at all. And there was that thing where they wanted fans to vote for which Deadpool title gets cancelled, which I thought was great because it was the sort of thing Deadpool himself might even participate in. Cruelly stealing DC’s thunder by renumbering his comic to issue #900 before Detective Comics could get there legitimately. There’s a lot of stuff happening that seems very in the spirit of anarchic fun that defines the character.
GD: We did seem to swing on at the apex of [Deadpool's popularity]. I mean, the movie seems ready to go if given a green light, depending on who you might listen to, and the video game is for sure coming out so there’s nowhere for us to take him except down!
The nice thing about DP is that when you want him to he can wink at the audience. Other times, when it call for him to break the fourth wall like the Kool-Aid man, he can do that too. We’re trying to save flexing those muscles for special moments and focus on how this guy relates to people around him as we go deeper into what is will henceforth be known as “our run” since nobody at Marvel came and fired us right away.
CA: Speaking of his character and “your run,” I feel like in the past Deadpool has been this sort of aggressively dickish dude. I mean, always funny and obviously always popular, but kind of a jerk. In your book so far, Deadpool seems more like a sympathetic character than before. Like, Thor won’t hang out with him. The “life is beautiful” line in issue #1 was so sweet and earnest and pathetic.
GD: I think… those first moments are what we’re trying to really hold onto as the cornerstones of our take on the character. He’s extremely capable and dangerous. He’s damn near impossible to kill. So why isn’t he the tip of the spear on the Avengers? Why isn’t he the first guy through the door on the X-Men? And it’s because he’s so unpredictable that you don’t want to around him. In a universe inhabited by dangerous and unsavory characters, he’s the top of the list that you don’t want to be seen with.
We had a bit that we couldn’t quite make work in issue #3 where the press began to circle Deadpool, Dr. Strange and Wong, and Strange made it appear as if he was the Silver Surfer and Wong was his surfboard, and they flew away rather than be photographed next to Deadpool. Deadpool was going to look up and say “Whatever he’s paying Wong isn’t enough,” or something. I mean, it didn’t make it for a reason, we cut it. It’s a little light on dignity for the Sorcerer Supreme (which Strange is not right now, by the way), but we had some other business to get to at the end of issue #3 that was more important. However, I mention it because that’s the length we imagine that characters will go to not be seen as his friend or teammate, and that creates possibilities for comedy. Boring answer, but there it is.
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CA: I’ve always liked Deadpool as a character but I’ve read more consecutive issues of your book than any other Deadpool series. The politics angle appealed to me because, and I think dare say you’re the same way, I follow politics the way some people follow sports. There’s a lot of political humor mixed in with all the vulgarity and violence. In fact I was kind of surprised by it. You joked about people coming in and firing you guys, so I wonder, is Deadpool as much its own thing at Marvel as it seems? Do you guys have to worry about company-wide standards? Can you make political jokes without anybody getting nervous?
GD: We’ve only lost one joke that I can think, and it was not politics, it was just for taste. Marvel has given us quite a bit of freedom. We pitched the Dead Presidents for the opening act, thinking they would say no, but they said yes. We had prepared three other stories that are also approved that we might get around to, but we’ve since pitched and begun writing some other material.
To get back to what you were saying (very kindly too) about this first arc: we’re probably capitalizing on what can only be described as complete political exhaustion. No matter where you fall, you just must be sick of what 2012 turned into, right? That election was hell. So to see these old figures from America’s past attack Deadpool, and not each other or the country, hopefully it’s fun. I’m proud of where this ones goes too. It’s a fun bit of business. Deadpool was given this job because nobody else wanted to be seen even doing it, but in the end he’s the only one that could have done it. And of course, undead presidents opens doors to comedy. We have a short list of Marvel Universe characters that we want to see interact with DP, we’re making pretty good progress, too.
CA: Let’s talk about the new arc. Deadpool takes a job from the Devil? What’s up with that?
GD: Well, Deadpool leaves the first arc… changed. Some would say improved. This arc deals with some of the blowback and ramifications of that. I don’t want to freak any longtime fans out. We’re not replacing his brain with Doc Ock’s but his status quo is shook up in a fun way.
CA: And you’ll be joined on this arc by artist Mike Hawthorne?
GD: Hawthorne is the only guy we would want to have follow Tony. Mike is so talented, we’ve asked him to draw some really varied things. He can do gore, comedy, horror, and intrigue. Issue #8 contains a story beat that is the beginning of a mystery that will ripple onward in our run for a long time. It’s the basis for the big story at the end of our first year that has some very big guest stars. Issue #7 is a standalone issue that only seems inconsequential, but in fact knocks over some dominos that set up our second arc, which is Deadpool taking care of some personal business for both he and some friends. Being a good friend can be hellish. Literally.