Right now, as you read this, DEADPOOL is testing the waters of R rated comic book movies. This is the one area that comic books haven’t been able to conquer on screen, despite some honest attempts. PUNISHER WAR ZONE is easily one of my favorite comic book movies and DREDD, while missing the wit of the comic, is really well made. Still, both of those, along with a pretty terrible PUNISHER, all failed to find an audience. Has DEADPOOL broken the streak? Time will tell.
All the same, today we’re here to discuss the character as he appears in comics. Deadpool first showed up in NEW MUTANTS issue 98 as an assassin hired to kill Cable and the other members of the team. Created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza, the character was an instant hit with readers. His real name, Wade Wilson, is a goof on the DC Comics character Deathstroke, who is also known as Slade Wilson. Nicieza gave Deadpool his name because the look and concept of the character reminded him of Deathstroke. Personally, I don’t see many similarities in the look. Here is a picture done by the great comic book artist, and co-creator of Deathstroke, George Perez, showing half of Deadpool and half of Deathstroke so you can decide for yourself.
As Deadpool became more and more popular, his past was revealed. Well, it was kind of revealed. What is known is that Deadpool was a part of the Weapon X program, the same program that gave Wolverine his adamantium bones. As with Deadpool, the process of Weapon X left him with little to no memory of his previous life. Over the years, Deadpool has been told that he is not really Wade Wilson, but a vicious killer who took the name in order to hide out, that he is Canadian, that he was in the US army, and that he is the son of Loki. In general, the character himself doesn’t really care, since he knows he is actually just a comic book character.
Yup, what is arguably Deadpool’s most important power is that he knows he is a comic book character. He often uses this to his advantage, reading previous appearances of characters in other comics so that he will have information on them that he should not know. He’s a kooky one!
This is all well and good, but how does Deadpool fit into horror? Have you seen his face? The man is gross. Super gross. All scars and ewww. He looks this way because of another of his powers, one that was given to him in the Weapon X program, a healing ability that rivals Wolverine’s. When Deadpool joined Weapon X, he had cancer, and when they gave him his healing powers, it not only powered up his healthy cells, but his cancerous cells as well. While the cancer can’t kill him, it has covered his entire body, turning him into one large tumor.
Deadpool is far from the first character to suffer from terrible disfigurements. Not long before he showed up, Sam Raimi brought DARKMAN to theaters. Going a little further back, you have Freddy Krueger, the burnt monster of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, including the comics (and if you haven’t read it, Rob wrote a great piece on Marvel’s NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET comic series. Get on it here!).
Of course, all of these characters owe at least a piece of their heritage to one of the most famous of all disfigured characters in film, stage, and literature, Erik. You may better recognize him as The Phantom of the Opera. Written by Gaston Leroux (who is the guy right above this paragraph so you can see that if they ever make a movie about him, Seth Rogen should get the role), The Phantom made his first appearance in 1909 in a serialized format. The chapters were collected into a novel in 1911. The story, one so simple and so perfect, is one of unrequited love, hope and misunderstanding. Erik, disfigured and never having known love, not even from his own mother, hides in the bowels of an extravagant opera house. For years, there have been rumors of his existence that the managers have denied, but know is true. Erik often leaves notes, making demands of changes to the shows the Paris Opera is performing. If these demands are not met, he sabotages the show.
One night, when the Paris Opera is performing Faust, Erik sees Christine and falls in love with her. He kidnaps Christine, planning to hold her for only a few days so that she will come to know him and fall in love with him as well. When Christine accidentally sees Erik’s real face, with no nose or lips and yellow skin, she freaks and Erik figures “to hell with it, I’ll keep her here forever.” Then he lets her go two weeks later.
Christine and her love Raul begin to plan a way to get away from Erik. They come up with the plan while at the opera house, which seems like a bad idea since they know Erik is creeping around the place. Sure enough, Erik hears their plan and decides to blow the place up. If you haven’t read the book or seen the opera or any of the movies, I won’t spoil what happens. You really should see it or read it. Great story.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has been made into a movie more than 20 times and still the best version is the 1925 Universal Studios take. Starring Lon Chaney, Sr. and directed by Rupert Julian, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is right at the start of the classic Universal Monsters movies. Two years before, Chaney, Sr. had starred in the first Universal monster movie THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, which has a very similar story and is considered the first of the classic monster films that Universal would release for the following 35 years, ending in 1960 with THE LEECH WOMAN – though others would say that PSYCHO is really a classic Universal Monsters movie and I would agree.
Seth Rogen… sorry, Gaston Leroux started his writing career as a reporter before moving into fiction. He became the French equivalent of Arthur Conan Doyle, writing some of the greatest early detective stories, but his most well known work – hint, we’re talking about it here – first came to him when he was writing an article on the Paris Opera and learned that the opera house contained a cell built to hold prisoners of the Paris Commune. Leroux also had heard a story about the use of the skull of an opera hater in a production of Der Freischutz.
As the story goes, told by Hector Berlioz himself, when he was a young man, he would attend the Paris Opera regularly. He and his friend, Eugene Sue, became obsessed with the work of Carl Maria von Weber, and more importantly his opera Der Freischutz. According to Berlioz, he and Sue would attend the opera every night, applauding Weber and his crew of artists bringing to stage an opera like no other. But for every cheer Berlioz and Sue gave, there was another man who would hiss. Soon enough, annoyed by this jerk who came to every show just to heckle the performers, Berlioz and Sue attacked him. The man was removed from the opera house never allowed to return. Years passed and Berlioz became a composer himself, while Eugene Sue became a doctor of some renown. One night, well into their adulthood, Sue came to Berlioz and told him a fantastic tale – a man in his ward at the hospital had just passed. The man died from a disease of the brain, a disease that deformed his skull. The man, Sue claimed, was the same man who heckled Weber’s work! Astonished to have found the man after so many years as well as by the odd disease that took the man’s life, Eugene Sue kept the deformed skull.
Years passed and Berlioz had become the head of the Paris Opera, a dream since he was a child. Having the chance to revive his idol’s greatest accomplishment, Berlioz decided to put on Der Freischutz in all it’s glory. As he and the many artists and craftsmen put together the sets and plotted out the show, he realized that he needed a skull. Berlioz went to his old friend Eugene Sue, now a novelist, to see if he happened to keep any skulls from his doctor days. Things were way weird back in the 1860’s, I guess.
Sure enough, Sue had kept a few curiosities from his medical days, including a deformed skull, He gladly lent it to Berlioz under the promise that no harm would come to the skull itself. According to Berlioz, it wasn’t until halfway through the first performance that he figured out who the skull belonged to. He went to Sue in order to confirm his suspicions. Asking Sue if the skull belonged to the dead heckler, Sue admitted that it was.
Over time the story changed. It went from a heckler to a student of the ballet who died tragically. Then it came to be told that the spirit of the skull’s owner haunted the opera house. These stories were repeated for years and not a single part of it was true. Berlioz made it all up. He was known to make up stories like this from time to time to get people to come to the opera or just to keep his name in the papers. The guy created a great story though, huh?
I’m guessing here, but I’d bet that it was the haunted version of the story that sparked Leroux’s imagination, leading to the creation of Erik and his tragic tale. A tale I think we can all relate to in some way. Who among us has never felt ugly and unloved? Who among us has never fallen for someone who has no interest in us? Who among us hasn’t wanted to blow up an opera house? OK, that last one is hopefully none of us, but I think we all get the inherent idea of wanting to destroy something beautiful.
*Photos: Marvel Comics