How in the world could Deadpool be called a classic Marvel character? It’s an unorthodox claim, but I’d even take a step further and say the merc with a mouth fits into a tradition that predates Spider-Man. While Marvel has a long procession of true blue heroes, if you take a step back, you’ll realize this universe has been largely defined by its anti-heroes since the very first issue of MARVEL COMICS was published in 1939. Who debuted there? The scientific monstrosity, the Human Torch, and Babs’ favorite fish man, the underwater punk and anti-human malcontent Sub-Mariner. Rebellious rogues were Marvel's first characters and they set the tone for all the ones who've followed.
Oddly enough, it was the discussion I went to recently about DC Comics’ 75 anniversary that got me re-assessing Marvel’s history. Paul Levitz pointed out that most of the major, iconic superheroes were created by young men (some even teenagers at the time) who infused their characters with a youthful enthusiasm that's always been an intrinsic part of their appeal. Levitz was promoting 75 YEARS OF DC COMICS: THE ART OF MODERN MYTHMAKING , of course, and his comment reminded me of an earlier anniversary-marking coffee table book; namely Les Daniels’ MARVEL: FIVE FABULOUS DECADES OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST COMICS. There was a profile of Namor’s creator Bill Everet there that noted how the cartoonist was a self-described angry young man and it'd certainly be apt as Namor in his early days was very much a creation of spit and fire. == TEASER ==
Time has tendency to soften all edges. Elvis and the Beatles are the least dangerous kind of music for kids, now, but their rock ‘n roll was volatile in its day. The same could be said of the jazz of a generation prior, and the principle applies here. Believe it or not, Marvel Comics were actually very popular with hippies for a brief time in the 60s, with Spidey and the Hulk being named as rebellious icons on par with Che Guevara and Bob Dylan. Indeed, today’s pop culture was yesterday’s counter-culture and it’s easy to neglect what Namor was like at the beginning if you’ve only been exposed to the more mature and stately (if still hot-blooded) characterization he’s had since his re-introduction in the 60s.
Grant Morrison described his first MARVEL BOY mini-series as being an effort to get back in touch with this kind of thunder. Noh-Varr burning "F*** YOU" into New York City might've been a little scandalous in the 2000's, but it's perhaps tame in comparison to what the original SUB-MARINER COMICS got away with in the 30s. While DC's first hero, Superman, was a virtuous champion of the people, Marvel's first, Namor, was a misbegotten bastard teen who phrased his war on humanity with cocky slang.
Whenever fans gripe about there being too many DEADPOOL titles right now, I can't help but smirk: it sounds exactly like the griping I heard about the Punisher and Ghost Rider's saturated popularity when I was a kid. People talk a lot about DC’s trinity, which is largely set in stone, and I’d argue that Marvel’s “big three” has always included at least one anti-hero... and it’s always been in flux because of that. Just as yesterday's counter-culture is today's mainstream, so too do yesterday's anti-heroes become today's heroes to be rebelled against. Part of the appeal of these characters is that they aren't your daddy's heroes, and thus, either in the plot or in the nature of their publication, they're defined by their resistance to those who've come before. If we have a contrarian line here that started with Namor and the Torch, continued up through the Hulk and then went on to the likes of Punisher, Ghost Rider and, now, Deadpool, it’s no coincidence that most of them (some of Marvel’s biggest characters, remember) started off as villains in others’ titles. Wolverine, Punisher and Deadpool respectively made their debuts as heels for Hulk, Spider-Man and the New Mutants (close affiliates, of course, of Wolverine.) So, when it comes firebrand super-men who defy society, what better heir is there to a smart-mouthed mutant who sinks ships than another smart-mouthed mutant whose job is assassination?