Earlier this week, comics writer Fabian Nicieza tweeted some bullshit. If you don’t know, Fabian Nicieza is one of the original creators of Deadpool, along with artist Rob Liefeld. Now, Deadpool is a big deal in the Marvel fandom – a lot of fans love him, and with the Ryan Reynolds Deadpool movie looming ever nearer, there’s been a lot of additional buzz around the character. So when Nicieza started tweeting some very controversial things about Deadpool, naturally, there was some uproar (that, admittedly, I mostly only saw on twitter).
I’ll admit, the only actual Deadpool comics that I’ve read are from Brian Posehn’s run on the series; I haven’t actually read Fabian Nicieza’s work. Maybe the character has been portrayed completely differently by the two writers. But here’s what’s going to be important here: the generally accepted portrayal of him by the fanbase. There’s plenty of people who look at Deadpool and see, on the surface, a zany silly man who does funny things and makes inappropriate jokes and hits on Spider-man and breaks the fourth wall. But it’s deeply important to a decent chunk of the fans that Deadpool is 1) mentally ill, and 2) pansexual. And this isn’t some corner of the fandom headcanoning DP as those things – it’s (as far as I’ve seen) the generally accepted idea of the character.
Why is this so important, you may ask? Well, it all comes back down to representation, as it often does. In the world of superhero books, there’s an increasing, but still very small, number of non-straight heroes. The fact that Deadpool is one of them is important. He’s a well-known figure, he is loved by the fans, and making him pansexual means a great deal to a lot of people. There’s also alarmingly few mentally ill heroes (or at least, heroes whose mental illness is not cured through the power of love or some bullshit). Deadpool’s origin is varied from writer to writer, but he is always in some way mentally ill, and guess what? Still a hero. The idea is that his accelerated healing factor also makes his neurons fire unpredictably (I instinctively feel that this phrase means nothing, but superhero science doesn’t have to be real), which causes psychosis and memory problems and a slew of other issues.
The combination of mental illness and pansexuality only becomes problematic when it’s filtered through the lens that Nicieza applied in his tweets. It’s perfectly fine for a character to be both mentally ill and non-straight, because hey – did you know that mentally ill, non-straight people exist? They do! But Nicieza insists that any changes in Deadpool’s sexuality are not because he’s pansexual, no. It’s because of those unpredictable neurons. In other words, he’s not straight because he’s mentally ill. And that’s where things get deeply problematic. This idea invalidates both queerness (basically relating it to a mental illness itself, which is such an archaic view I’m surprised to hear anyone spouting it in 2015 except a total fundamentalist), and mental illness (saying that it changes unrelated core aspects of your identity, which I would argue isn’t true – depression didn’t make me straight, anxiety didn’t make my friend gay, so I doubt that psychosis made Deadpool pansexual).
So that’s all a lot of problematic garbage, and I don’t think it’ll surprise anyone who knows me that I’m not into it. But to me, the most interesting thing about watching this unfold was not the grossness that Nicieza kept pushing, but the fact that he felt entitled to do so at all. I’ve talked time and time again about the death of the author – the idea that the author’s intent does not have any bearing on a reader’s interpretation, and that the former is not by any means more “correct” than the latter. Most authors I’ve seen seem to have come to terms with this. When you publish a piece of fiction, there are always going to be people who interpret it differently than you. Nicieza does not seem to accept this at all, insisting that Deadpool cannot possibly be pansexual because he did not write him as such.
This would be annoying and egregious in most formats, say if he’d written Deadpool novels, or Deadpool movies. But no, he wrote comic books. And several authors have written Deadpool comics since him, who all bring their own interpretations to the character. It’s often said that one of the best things about being a comics fan is that you can pick and choose the creators you like, and choose to ignore the “canon” that came before or after. After all, Marvel itself is very good at ignoring its own continuity, because that’s the nature of the medium now. Why should the fans do any different? The other hilarious element to me, is that Nicieza hasn’t written a Deadpool book since 2008 and he was only the primary Deadpool writer in the 90s. Sure, he helped create the character, but it was other writers who defined him a lot more in the public eye. 2008 was only seven years ago, but seven years is a long time in comics. Marvel has gone through like, two entire reboots in that time alone (“Marvel Now!” in 2012, “All-New Marvel Now!” in 2013, and technically, “All-New All-Different Marvel” which is relaunching everything after Secret Wars this year). There’s almost no reason to believe that the Deadpool Nicieza created in 1991 is the same Deadpool as is being written today.
At any rate, I think it was fairly stupid of Nicieza to think he can control the public perception of “his” character (fun fact: this is work-for-hire, not creator-owned, and he has no ownership over Deadpool whatsoever), and I think it was even stupider to try to do so in a way that angered and upset so many fans. I don’t know when some of these comics creators are going to learn that it’s better to move with the tide of progress than against it. More and more comics fans are not only younger and female, but more of them are queer or mentally ill themselves. And yes, these demographics are more likely to be progressive than the old guard of straight white men. Rather than fighting that, don’t you think you’d want to like… embrace it, and try to earn their money? My mentally ill girl dollars taste just as sweet to Marvel as dudebro money does. Since Nicieza works for DC now, and they’ve been trying to project a more progressive image, maybe he’ll soon see the error of his ways.