As a life long comic book enthusiast, it does my heart good to see more and more superheroes gaining mainstream popularity thanks to movies and television shows. However, even for those who are largely unfamiliar with movies like Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy and TV shows like Arrow and The Flash, there is still a certain canon of Superheroes who are instantly recognizable.
You all know the names, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, etc. All of them have accumulated so much popularity over the years that even non-comic readers can name them on sight and even tell you a thing or two about their histories. However, in recent years, a new name has found his way into that mix, and his inclusion alongside titans of pop-culture such as Batman and Superman, while not at all unwelcome, is incredibly perplexing. The character I’m referring to is, of course, Deadpool.
So, the question we must now ask is: How did this happen? How did a character who started in the early ’90s as a generic gun-toting mercenary and half-hearted parody of a DC’s Deathstroke evolve into one of the most beloved comic book characters of today?
Well, there are several reasons that I can see, and I’d like to take some time to elaborate upon them. Mind you, these are just the opinions of one casual observer whose knowledge of the comic book world is slightly above average. Whatever your own reasons for loving Deadpool are, they could be far different from the conclusions I have reached. What you are about to read are merely what this observer believes to be the roots of Deadpool’s popularity.
Deadpool’s Personality: One of a Kind
One of Deadpool’s most defining characteristics is his personality, namely, the fact that he’s an amoral wise-cracking lunatic whose healing factor (courtesy of the Weapon X Program imbuing him with Wolverine’s DNA) makes him effectively immortal and leaves him with no regard for his personal safety and little regard for anyone else’s.
Now, while the two characters could not be more different, Deadpool does share one thing in common with Superman, that being their near invincibility, Superman’s due to his Kryptonian DNA, Deadpool’s due to his healing factor. However, it has always been my opinion that if we lived in a world in which Superpowers were real, we’d see a lot less Supermen, and a lot more Deadpools. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I firmly believe that many, myself included, would aspire to be as pure and as just as Superman, but the truth of the matter is, we’re mere humans, and we just got superpowers, and a lot of us might be tempted to use them irresponsibly.
While I’m not proud to admit it, we live in a generation of idiots on YouTube injuring themselves simply for a quick laugh, imagine how much that would increase if there has no risk of death or injury.
My point is, Deadpool uses his powers, not just to help others, but also for personal gain, and there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact, in my humble opinion, it humanizes the character. When was the last time you saw Superman just flying around for fun, using heat vision to cook his steak, or using his X-ray vision to look at women naked. I’m not saying I condone that sort of behavior, but I acknowledge that we as humans are not immune to such temptation. It is purely because of Deadpool’s looser morals that he is a more relatable character. Superman and Batman are great characters to aspire to, but Deadpool shows us that there’s nothing wrong with a little indulgence here and there.
Deadpool Breaks the Fourth Wall
The other aspect of Deadpool’s character that he is perhaps best known for is his ability to break the fourth wall. Whether he was granted cosmic by the twisted experiments performed on him or he’s just crazy, Deadpool’s unique brand of self-referential humor has entertained fans for years. But think about the implications of that, I mean really think about it. How would you feel if you one day became aware that your entire existence was a fiction designed to entertain people?
All the hardships, all the struggles, all the pain and loss you may have suffered over the course of your life, all the times you’ve had your heart broken or had to say goodbye to a loved one, all of it, because some writer thought that it made for “good entertainment?” How would Batman feel if his parents died for something as empty as “furthering the plot?” How would Superman feel if he learned that his planet was destroyed for the sake of a “tragic backstory?” How would the X-Men react if a life time of hatred and prejudice against their kind only existed to make them “more relatable?”
That brings us back to Deadpool. Deadpool, like the other heroes mentioned, has no shortage of horrific tragedies in his backstory, from the torture he endured at the weapon X program, his having been tricked into murdering his own family or the fact that he will never be able to be a part of the life of his only daughter. And worse yet, he knows all of it was cooked up by some writer to be entertaining, but miraculously, it doesn’t seem to bother him. He’s aware that his nightmare of a life exists to entertain us, and he embraces it, in fact, he loves it. He sees that his delightfully screwed up life is merely a spectacle for the enjoyment of others, and instead of going through an existential crisis or letting the knowledge torture him, he instead says to himself, “I exist for these fans, so I’ll give them a hell of a show.”
Deadpool Exists For Us
So, here’s what I conclude for the question of why Deadpool is so popular. Simply put, it’s because, more than any other superhero, he exists for us. He shows us that Superpowers do not need to be used responsibly in order for one to be a hero. He shows us that it’s ok to be reckless and vulgar. And he does it all, because he enjoys entertaining us, the fans. Altruism is a trait commonly associated with your typical Superheroes, self-sacrifice for the sake of helping others. In many ways, Deadpool has committed the ultimate altruistic act, he has put aside his own happiness so that real life people can enjoy his adventures. He may still be a character of fiction, but his actions have made a real difference in our world.
Now tell me, when was the last time Superman did that?