If you saw Deadpool 2, odds are you enjoyed a brief subplot in which the title character, played by Ryan Reynolds, assembles the X-Force, his own low-rent version of the X-Men. It's a comic highlight of the film. Each of the mutants he assembles has their own quirky, unique power -- except, of course, for Peter, who's just an ordinary guy. The movie earns laughs from their misguided attempt to be heroic.
Although he doesn't get a lot of screen time, the X-Force member known as Zeitgeist is a real attention-grabber. Fans who've seen the move know the dark hilarity of his biggest scene.
The character, whose real name is Axel Cluney, was created by writer Peter Milligan and artist Mike Allred for the July 2001 issue of X-Force. In the intervening years, he has not entered general pop culture awareness, for reasons we'll get to shortly. That said, comics fans have long held a soft spot for the character, thanks to his unusual power, bizarre story arc, and overall value as a true comic book curiosity.
If you weren't familiar with Zeitgeist before the movie and would like to know more about him, you're in luck! What follows is a complete rundown on who he is, what he did on the page, and why people who enjoy a little wackiness in their superheroes cherish him. We think you'll agree that there's no one else in comics quite like this guy.
Here are 15 Crazy Facts About Zeitgeist.
15 His mutant power is spewing acid
Every superhero and supervillain has his or her own distinct power. This is especially true of mutants. Their unique abilities define them, as do their choices to use these capabilities for good or evil. Some have very straightforward, desirable powers. Mystique, for example, can alter her appearance to look like other people. Wolverine has a cool one, too. Those claws can come in pretty handy in a wide variety of situations.
Other times, the powers are just downright bizarre. Zeitgeist definitely falls into that category. His power is spewing acid from his mouth - as in, the worst case of acid reflux ever. That certainly sounds disgusting, and it leads to some natural questions, such as how his tongue and teeth don't disintegrate in the process. Nevertheless, there's real force in this admittedly off-putting ability.
Zeitgeist's acid can burn through steel that's ten centimeters thick in less than half a minute.
This particular mutant skill understandably requires some precautions. When not in battle, Zeitgeist is seen wearing a special protective mouthpiece, so that he doesn't inadvertently spray all over those around him. The continual presence of that item indicates how Axel's everyday life is impacted by the bizarre capability he never asked to have.
14 He only appeared in a single issue
Considering that he has an eccentric history and a very unusual mutant power, you might wonder why you haven't seen or heard more of Zeitgeist before his appearance in Deadpool 2. There's a very good reason for that. He really only appeared in a single comic book issue.
X-Force #116 ends with Zeitgeist's plan to eliminate most of his own teammates, for totally self-serving reasons. A problem arises when the military helicopter assigned to do the job shows up. Unable to get out of the way in time, Zeitgeist finds himself included on the receiving end of a barrage of artillery. The issue ends with his expiration, having had his body torn apart by the bullets.
Apart from extremely brief appearances in flashback in a couple of future X-Force issues, #116 was the sum total of Zeitgeist's career as a Marvel hero. He has proven memorable to comic book fans for the hubris that led to his darkly comic demise.
Despite minimal presence in the X-Force comics, forgetting Zeitgeist is difficult once you've heard his story arc. That makes his presence in Deadpool 2 a fun addition. The way the movie handles this character is suitably in-line with his history on the page.
13 He accidentally disfigured his girlfriend
In Marvel lore, every mutant character has a point, typically in adolescence, when they discover that they possess some kind of special power. For some, these can be moments of exciting discovery. For others, they're embarrassing, awkward, or even horrifying. Zeitgeist provides a perfect example of the latter.
The very first page of X-Force #116 tells the tale. Axel Cluney reveals to the reader a recurring nightmare about what happened to him. When he was fourteen, he met a girl one year younger at a beach party. They connected, sharing a bottle of wine in the process. As is often the case with adolescents, especially when they've imbibed, a feeling of amorousness set in.
Alex and the girl began making out beneath the docks when suddenly his stomach started to feel like "a furnace." Before he knew it, he spewed acid out of his mouth, right into her face, disfiguring her. "I sure hope the doctors managed to give her her pretty face back," he says.
Axel was haunted by that nightmare for years, and strangely unable to remember the girl's name. Only later, after being catastrophically injured in a helicopter attack, is he able to recall that her name was "Felicity."
12 He looks down on his X-Force teammates
Axel Cluney is a very tough person to please. His standards are high, perhaps even impossibly so. His toughest criticisms are reserved for his fellow X-Force members, whose performance he scrutinizes.
X-Force #116 shows him watching "game tape" of a mission the group carried out in North Africa, where local natives were attempting to stage a coup. Axel sits on a chair in his bedroom, analyzing the footage and commenting to the reader, via internal monologue, about what he sees.
There is not a single colleague with whom he doesn't find fault.
Axel reminds himself to "keep Plazm on defensive duties," noting that his destruction rate of four percent is "totally inadequate." In regard to U-Go Girl, he comments that she's "flaking out even sooner than usual" thanks to what he presumes is too much magical transporting between locations. He even criticizes her "fitness levels" and lifestyle.
One of his teammates, a mop-faced being named Sluk, expired during the mission. Axel has no compassion for his fallen comrade, calling the passing "probably no great loss" because Sluk was "only really useful at close range, with his creepy face things." He concludes his criticisms by accusing Gin Genie of having too many tremors from intoxication.
11 A Twitter stunt announced Bill Skarsgard's casting
After Deadpool became a smash hit in 2016, earning $363 million in North America alone, there was excitement about the inevitable sequel. The post-credits sequence already tipped everyone off that Cable would be in the next installment, but fans wondered which other characters from Deadpool's world might also show up.
A number of actors were eventually revealed to be on board for the sequel, including Bill Skarsgard, who delivered a star-making performance as Pennywise the clown in It. They could be briefly glimpsed in the trailer, as well. Online speculation about who Skarsgard and the other performers would play ran rampant.
Fans finally got their confirmation - it just came at the last minute. In April, a mere month before Deadpool 2 hit theaters, Skarsgard's role as Zeitgeist was officially announced -- and it happened in a suitably unusual manner. The studio marketing department created a Twitter account for Peter, the one X-Force member without superpowers.
On April 28, Peter tweeted out a promotional image of Skarsgard, along with the caption, “Watch out for Zeitgeist’s acid breath! It’ll getchya if his kindness doesn’t [end] you first! (Seriously. SUCH a nice guy)”
Unveiling the match between actor and role in an unlikely, self-referential manner was perfectly in line with Deadpool 2's tone, as well as a nice deviation from the way such things are normally done.
10 He's a real ladies' man
Axel Cluney definitely has a thing for the ladies. In X-Force #116, we see several notable instances of this. The very first page of the issue is a flashback in which he remembers that ufortunate beach-side dalliance he had at the tender age of fourteen - though it ended poorly for Axel and even worse for poor Felicity, Axel's adventurous attitude toward romance was already established.
A couple of pages later, we see the adult Axel watching videotapes of a past mission in his bedroom. On the bed behind him are two gorgeous models in their skivvies. They try to convince him to forget about the television, with one of them pleading, “don't keep us waiting.”
Elsewhere in the issue, Axel has dinner with fellow X-Force member Edie Sawyer, also known as U-Go Girl. A single rose in a vase sits between them, as glasses of wine are consumed during the meal. Their conversation remains focused on business, but at one point, she puts her hand on top of his in a way that hints at attraction between them.
Truth be told, he does surprisingly well for a guy whose acid mouth probably makes him unpleasant, and even dangerous, to kiss.
9 Anarchist is his rival
There's nothing quite like a professional rivalry to spice up a superhero comic. Any kind of hero with a mutant power would understandably have at least a bit of an ego. How could you not? Zeitgeist isn't shy about letting his own jealousies come to the surface. The subject of them is Anarchist.
A press conference is held to introduce the newest member of the X-Force -- Tike Alikar, also known as Anarchist. Coach, the group's mentor, trots Anarchist in front of the media, while Zeitgeist seethes behind them. Aside from the new guy getting to be the focus of all the attention, there's also the matter of something said during the event. When asked what his superpower is, Anarchist replies, "Let's just say I've got this thing going on with my sweat. It's like acid."
Since Zeitgeist's power also involves acid, there's no question why he'd view this newcomer as a threat to his status.
Even though he puts on a brave face for the media, expressing happiness to have Anarchist on the team, his true feelings come out to the reader. Zeitgeist tells us what he really thinks of his colleague, dubbing him "a risk, not a team player, high maintenance, mentally unstable, and a pain in the butt." Harsh words, indeed.
The two later square off when Zeitgeist accuses Anarchist of trying to tell the other X-Force mutants how to behave.
8 He appeared in the first Marvel issue to disregard the Comics Code
X-Force #116 is a very edgy comic book. The violence is shown in graphic detail, and there are some strong elements of sensuality sprinkled throughout, not the least of which is a scene where Zeitgeist has two women in his bed.
For many years, putting such details into the pages of a comic was difficult, thanks to the Comics Code. In 1954, the Comics Magazine Association of America came up with a way to regulate its own output as an alternative to having the government do it. The Motion Picture Association of America did basically the same thing in the 1960s when it formed the movie ratings system.
In order to earn the seal of approval, comics had to make sure certain authority figures, such as police and government officials, were not portrayed negatively. Graphic violence was prohibited, as was the use of profanity and the depiction of adult romantic activities.
By 2001, the code seemed outdated. Marvel decided to stop abiding by it and instituted its own code, the Marvel Rating System, which suggested the appropriate age for readers. X-Force #116, which featured all kinds of things that previously would have been prohibited from mainstream comics, was the first Marvel issue to scrap the old code and go with the company's new one.
7 There is another character named Zeitgeist
Considering that Zeitgeist's superpower is the ability to shoot acid from his mouth, you'd think it would be impossible to get him confused with any other character. All in all, he seems pretty unique. It may surprise you, then, that it would totally be possible to achieve confusion, because he's not the only comic book character to go by that name.
In 1982 – almost twenty years before the X-Force member came into existence – J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck created a different superhero named Zeitgeist.
The other version was a swashbuckler initially known as Everyman, and he made his debut appearance in Captain America Vol. 1 #267.
His real name was Larry Ekler, and his father, Milton, was a lifelong factory worker who perished in poverty. Larry became disillusioned by the American dream, vowing to defeat the wealthy and elite as Everyman. Eventually, he fell in with a corrupt psychiatrist named Dr. Faustus and was more or less brainwashed. The evil doctor turned him into an assassin, giving him the new name of Zeitgeist.
This Zeitgeist may not have been able to vomit acid, but he did have a belt that could project holograms and a fencing foil capable of shooting out blasts of electricity. Those made him a force to be reckoned with.
6 The Thor - Deadpool 2 connection
Bill Skarsgard, who made such a strong impression playing Pennywise in the 2017 remake of Stephen King's It, takes on the task of bringing Zeitgeist to life in Deadpool 2. Although the role is small, it's high-profile, given the anticipation for -- and subsequent box office success of -- the movie. This marks his debut in a Marvel-related film. What you may not know is that association with Marvel runs in the family.
Bill's father is celebrated actor Stellan Skarsgard, the Swedish actor known for appearing in a wide array of movies from nearly every genre, including Good Will Hunting, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Mamma Mia, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Of course, the elder Skarsgard, like his son, has a tie to Marvel's cinematic output. He plays Erik Selvig in the MCU.
Starting with 2011's Thor and moving forward through The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, he has been a vital supporting player in Marvel's big-screen stories. Selvig is the scientist who serves as teacher and mentor to Natalie Portman's Jane, becomes a S.H.I.E.L.D. consultant, and gets brainwashed by Loki.
Given Zeitgeist's demise in Deadpool 2, Bill's continued presence in Marvel films would likely be contingent on playing a different role in a different series. Even if that doesn't happen, it's cool that both he and his dad get to be part of the company's onscreen legacy.
5 A romance with U-Go Girl
X-Statix #10 provides an intriguing glimpse into Zeitgeist's personal life. The story, titled "The Diaries of Edie Sawyer, Portrait of the Mutant as a Young Woman", centers on the alter ego of U-Go Girl. A series of flashbacks show how she came to be a member of the media-savvy group.
A crowd of fans gathered outside of X-Force headquarters as the mutant heroes returned from a mission in their limousines. Edie was one of those waiting. As Zeitgeist himself, Axel Cluney, passed by, they had a moment of mutual admiration. A short time later, Zeitgeist sent a member of the security team to find her and bring her inside, not unlike a rock star dispatching a roadie to locate a groupie.
After getting a glimpse of the lifestyle, she wanted in -- and he was the way to make it happen. During a public event a short time later, Edie transported herself right in front of Zeitgeist, and she was dressed to impress. She flirted with him, he flirted back, and before you know it they were casually dating. Alex wanted the relationship to be much more serious. Edie wasn't having it, though.
She was merely using him to get the media coverage that was constantly focused on the team.
It worked, as she gained admission into the group, as well as the superhero name U-Go Girl. Axel, meanwhile, was crushed.
4 He disliked his teammates working under the influence
Alcohol is fine when consumed responsibly. Abuse it, and there can be considerable consequences. If you happen to be a member of a superhero team, drinking can potentially put your colleagues and any people you're trying to save in great danger. Zeitgeist is no teetotaler, as we see on the page. He is not, however, a fan of drinking on the job, or allowing a drinking habit to affect one's job performance. He makes this patently clear on a couple of occasions.
While assessing a videotape of a mission he and the X-Force embarked upon, he mentions alcohol use by Rebecca Parker, whose superhero name, appropriately, is Gin Genie. He makes a note to himself to “remind Beckah to review her alcohol mix,” adding that her tremors nearly caused disaster for the whole team. Her actions obviously displease him.
A later scene finds the X-Force members holding a press conference to introduce a new member of the team, Tike Alicar, who professionally goes by the name Anarchist. Maybe it's just a hint of jealousy, or maybe Zeitgeist picks up on something. Either way, he dismissively points out to the reader that he thinks Anarchist has been drinking because he's “slurring his words.”
In both of these instances, it's clear that he has disdain for allowing alcohol use to impact superhero duties.
3 He plotted to eliminate a boy band - and his own team
Despite technically being a superhero, Zeitgeist is not always heroic. The single craziest thing he ever did was plotting to wipe out not only a best-selling boy band, but also his own teammates.
The X-Force is called in to rescue Boyz R Us -- who are drawn to look suspiciously similar to N*Sync -- after they're taken hostage by terrorists. When the record company refuses to pay the ransom, the terrorists throw one of the members out a window. They still refuse to pony up the cash, feeling that the passing of the band would spike sales of their records astronomically.
The mutant heroes teleport into the TV studio where the crisis is taking place, determined to rescue the singers. A fight with the bad guys ensues, and a military helicopter arrives soon after. It opens fire into the building, eliminating the remaining members of Boyz R Us, as well as all the X-Force members except for Anarchist and U-Go Girl.
It is later revealed that Zeitgeist plotted the entire incident.
Everything was devised to get rid of the teammates he thought weren't at his level and to provide him with an avalanche of media attention.
This was an unfathomable act of evil, committed by someone supposedly on the side of righteousness.
2 His creator's crazy past work
It takes an unusual mind to come up with a mutant who vomits acid. You definitely have to be the sort of person who thinks outside the box to create something like that. Zeitgeist was conceived by artist Mike Allred and writer Peter Milligan. The latter of those two men is well-known in the comics world for his left-of-center characters and stories.
One of Milligan's other notable works is Skin, the story of a London skinhead who was left with birth defects thanks to thalidomide, a real-life medication that famously caused deformities in 10,000 children whose mothers took it while pregnant during the late '50s and early '60s. The subject matter was so controversial, and the execution so explicit, that the initial publisher refused to print it.
Milligan also wrote Hewligan's Haircut, an extremely quirky comics series about a man in a mental institution who gives himself a haircut and ends up warping the very nature of reality in the process. That tale was illustrated by artist Jamie Hewlett, who went on to do Tank Girl, as well as to design the look for the rock band Gorillaz.
In both of these examples, the writer demonstrates a desire to shake things up and give audiences something they haven't seen in the pages of comics before. Zeitgeist fits right in line with his sensibilities.
1 He stole the name X-Force from Cable
As the leader of X-Force, Zeitgeist was involved in a bit of controversy over intellectual property that eventually led to a change in his team's name.
There were really two X-Forces. The original was started by Cable, with members that included Warpath and Shatterstar. After many adventures together, the group was tasked with stopping a mad doctor and his sister who were trying to launch a "gene war" that would simultaneously change mankind and mutant-kind forever. In the process, the team seemingly perished in an explosion.
Right around this point, Zeitgeist and crew formed, co-opting the name X-Force. Their focus was slightly different, as they were as concerned with attracting media attention as with ridding the world of evil. It wasn't a bad idea, until Zeitgeist messed it up by scheming to wipe out his own team by staging a botched rescue mission. He was supposed to survive the incident, yet didn't.
The original X-Force team wasn't really gone, though. Upon finding out that their name had been usurped, and a short time after Zeitgeist lost his life, they came out of hiding to reclaim it. A new name was needed for Zeitgeist's crew. U-Go Girl came up with the winner, "X-Statix," right before drawing her final breath following a mission gone wrong. It stuck after her untimely demise.
Do we miss any details about Zeitgeist from Deadpool 2? Let us know in the comments.