Loyal Dead-Heads, you’ve seen the movie. You’ve seen it twice, even. And now you’re ready to hit the Wikis and tear up your Official Handbooks so that the third time you see it, you can make “did you know that in the comics…” your new catchphrase for everything happening on screen and thus impress the business out of your friends.
It’s certainly my catchphrase. And probably the reason I’ve seen Deadpool alone three times.
Wade Wilson has had a fair Rogues Gallery if you look at his long and sordid career as a villain, anti-hero, and even A-List Avenger. Plenty of classic mercs like Bullseye, Taskmaster, trying to out-kill more ex-Weapon X guys than you can shake an adamantium claw at, taking potshots at X-Force a few times, even making a romantic rival out of Thanos. And let’s be honest, he’s game to throw down with anybody he considers a friend. Just ask Wolverine and Cable.
But out of anybody the screenwriters could have chosen to throw into the film as an antagonist, we get a guy named… Francis. But they didn’t just pull him out of thin air. Or Game of Thrones.
They just pulled him out of 1998.
Even though it’s the late 90s, those days were still a little, uh, extreme.
So I could go on and on about how the JOE KELLY written run on DEADPOOL v3 is both great and character-defining, equal parts disturbing and hilarious. It gave Deadpool a purpose, retold history, a base of operations, a supporting cast beyond just Weasel. It showed the character unquestionably at his darkest, and it even gave us two villains exclusive to Wade. The first is T-RAY– a freakishly huge zombie-sorcerer-mercenary that believes Deadpool stole his name and murdered his wife. T-Ray feels very much Deadpool’s true nemesis, and has returned to fight him a scarce few times since.
The second (and you know him from the movie, sorta) is AJAX, or FRANCIS as he would most certainly NOT like to be called. And he is made of equal parts revenge and megalomaniacal rage. Just look at him. A killer cybernetic man in sleek cerulean armor and blood-red eyes– not quite the worst design to come out of this time, but very much a product of the era. Certainly striking against Deadpool’s red-and-black spandex. He doesn’t make jokes, he doesn’t show mercy, and he has zero brevity under pressure. Ajax first appears as a silhouette during the events of DEADPOOL v3 #14, where he’s killing off Weapon X escapees/washouts in an effort to find Deadpool and, in his own words, “cleanse the world of his filth”.
If you’re jumping in cold to this run with that issue, which is entirely likely but not recommended, Deadpool has emotionally snapped. He tortured Blind Al and Weasel, and was left for dead in the snow after being beaten practically comatose by T-Ray. There’s also a lot of weird and complicated stuff going on with Deadpool working for a transhumanist-literally-xenophobic-pseudofuturistic-precognitive law firm that believes Wade may be the savior of humanity (which actually pays off dramatically later, but I digress). Point is, there are lots of things going on peripherally while Deadpool is down and out. He’s esssentially lost everything, and now a mysterious cyborg is mowing down people who knew him before he became The Merc With A Mouth.
Storytelling can be a slow build, kids. Ajax strikes again in issue 15. Issue 16. He catches up to Workshop torturemaster and his former employer Doctor Killebrew in #17 to finally locate Deadpool and put his plan into action: manipulate his teleportal belt for a fatal sneak-attack. Which is a supersonic punch. Off a cliff. Oh, and did I mention that cliff was the Swiss Alps?!
That brings us to the DEADPOOL/DEATH 1998 ANNUAL. The story within called “A Kiss, A Curse, A Cure” by Kelly with Steve Harris on art duty.
I hold this issue in extremely high regard. You have to understand, and I say this was complete sincerity, the DEADPOOL/DEATH 1998 ANNUAL may be the single most important issue in the Deadpool’s entire history. If comic book editors gave half-a-damn about serious footnotes (and not the funny cutesy times they try to act old-school), this issue being referenced would come across every fan’s eyes. It’s fundamental in Deadpool’s overall story, and any fan worth his/her salt will not only read this, but own it. And maybe even slap another fan who regurgitates “hurr durr Deadpool <3 Death Thanos be hatin'” from Wiki-freaking-pedia.
In a very tense 48 pages, and following Deadpool’s fatal fall, Death herself takes Deadpool on a walk down memory lane. And for the first time, the audience sees his Weapon X experience firsthand. How he got his powers, his physical disfigurement… how he gained the favor and romantic interest with the physical manifestation of Death… and even how he got his name. Of course, pertinently relevant to what you just watched in theaters, the issue might seem eerily familiar to the more distressing flashback scenes. *ahem* In an effort to survive malignant cancer, Wade volunteers into an experimental program that he believes will make him into superhero. This is actually the second generation of the Weapon X program, which itself was the tenth generation of the Weapon Plus program… making characters like Wolverine, Sabretooth, and Deadpool all attempts at the creation of a superior-, dare we say, super-soldier. In a little unauthorized hospice called “The Workshop”, Wade is subjected to horrid torture at the hands of Doctor Killebrew and constant abuse by the attending orderly Ajax. As part of the sick game the other experiments play, placing wagers and playing the odds on who is most likely to die next, the unkillable and favored Wade Wilson is ranked high enough to become king of the deadpool. Hence the name.
Wade’s healing factor is pushed to the limits, and after a few flirtations with Death descends into suicidal insanity. In that effort to die fo-really-reals to embrace Death as a lover, he turns Ajax into a laughing stock among the washouts with endless ridicule, and in short order the lunatics are running the asylum. It takes Killebrew and Ajax killing one patient, Worm Cunningham, to make Wade suffer in a way torturous experimentation could not. More than that, it takes literally ripping out Wade’s heart for him to break his chains. A hellbent-on-revenge-newly-christened-Deadpool frees the washouts, kills Ajax, and starts a new life as a superpowered mercenary. But at the cost of spoiling Death’s plans for him… maybe forever.
Following into DEADPOOL v3 #18 and 19, a revived Deadpool takes the fight to Ajax in a battle to the death. But it’s more than just a fight; the ghosts of the murdered Workshop washouts haunt Wade until they believe justice can be served. Here, the story puts Ajax’s revenge aside to pave the way for Deadpool’s redemption as a human being– the idea of killing to do the right thing– it’s a literal and figurative spirit quest for Wade. And, in following with the Kelly standard for Deadpool, dramatic and hilarious all at once.
I won’t spoil the conclusion of “Payback” for you, but it is truly satisfying and meaningful for all the characters involved. Let’s just say Ajax gets off REAL light in the movie compared to what ‘Pool does to him here.
The DEADPOOL/DEATH 1998 ANNUAL, as well as DEADPOOL v3 #18-19 can be read in DEADPOOL CLASSIC VOLUME 4 if you don’t want to hunt down the single issues. But if you want to really get the full effect of the story arc for Deadpool’s evolving character, I implore that you read DEADPOOL v3 #1-33, or DEADPOOL CLASSIC VOLUMES 1-5.
Huh? You want to know more about the other characters in the Deadpool movie? Like who? Negasonic Teenage Warhead? Forget it! She’s got more depth and cooler, different, powers on-screen. If I’m gonna talk about anybody, it’s gonna be Copyca– I mean, Vanessa.
Ah, just go watch the movie again, nerd.