It’s hard to believe there was a time before Deadpool. He’s a character who has become so ubiquitous that even people who don’t read comics own clothing with his face on it. There was a time in the early 2010s that it seemed like one-quarter of the books Marvel was producing incorporated him somehow. He killed the Marvel Universe, the very idea of himself, and the Marvel Universe again, had his own Spider-Verse moment (before Spider-Verse), and rivaled only Spidey and Wolverine for most cameos in other books.
It’s hard to believe that such a meteoric rise could happen for a character who, in his sixth appearance, spends several pages beating up his ex-girlfriend.
Famously created by Rob Liefeld back in an era when that man was given altogether too much power to create things, Deadpool is a character who initially had little to no depth and was relegated to cameos and barely-on-panel appearances in the nascent first X-Force book, but his very appearance captivated readers. . . and writer Fabian Nicieza, who essentially inherited the Liefeld stable of characters when Liefeld went off to form Image comics with his pals.
Deadpool Epic Collection: The Circle Chase collects Deadpool’s appearances from this era, and while he might not be particularly present in some of the issues—several issues of X-Force have been edited down to the few pages he appears on—he starts strong: from the first panel he’s a motormouth who thinks he’s funny. Like most of the Liefeld characters in these books—Cable, Domino, and Stryfe among them—there is more implied than provided. A history is present between all of them, but the connections are never supplied.
In the years after Chris Claremont was removed from the X-Men, no single writer of the X-Book stable (aside, perhaps, from Peter David on the all-new, all-different X-Factor) had quite managed to construct any new avenues of character growth or mythological depth; Jim Lee, who had taken the reins from Claremont, essentially set up the toys before he also moved to form Image. In his stead were a handful of other young but inexperienced creators, Nicieza among them, left puzzling out how best to play with them. Things were wooden, rote, and spinning their wheels.
That is, of course, until the team settled in and knocked out the crossover event X-Cutioner’s Song, which picked up a lot of threads Nicieza had been pulling on since coming on board as the X-Force writer. Suddenly, the clunky characters were brought to the forefront and officially tied into the history of the franchise.
While absent from that crossover, Deadpool factored hugely into this new mythology. His early X-Force appearances led, finally, to his first miniseries (the titular Circle Chase, by Nicieza and Joe Madureira) where he, along with Domino impersonator (and ex-punching bag) Copycat, begin doing the heavy work of establishing that missing history and context for the bigger story Nicieza and company were composing. When read alongside X-Cutioner’s Song and early Cable, this Epic Collection forms the foundation upon which the post-Claremont era of the X-Men universe would be built. After a few hiccups and personnel changes, a new direction was being plotted.
There are issues included here that don’t quite work into this mythology—an appearance in Nomad, a brief stint in The Secret Defenders—but they’re included here as part of Deadpool’s character growth away from the domestic abusing nutjob he started out as. They also provide him experience toward becoming the Cameo King he is now.
Finally, the volume also includes Deadpool’s second miniseries, this time written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Ian Churchill. Working together, the two minis fully establish the self-pitying, rambling jokester characterization that Deadpool continues to have all these decades later.
Is it a book full of golden hits? Not exactly. But it is a document of how quickly the character evolved, and of the paradigm shift in the X-Books at the time.
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