The superhero story of the week was indisputably Ben Affleck’s surprise reveal of Deathstroke. The anti-hero assassin will join the DC Extended Universe, with a minor role in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, followed by unconfirmed archenemy duties in the solo Batman film. Of course, Slade Wilson’s inclusion in the Warner Bros. lineup also reignited the decades-long debate between Marvel and DC fans over his supposed counterpart, Wade Wilson (a.k.a. Deadpool).
As with many things comic-related, the tug of war is rooted in the accusations of Deadpool’s status as a cribbed version of Deathstroke. Artist and writer Rob Liefeld, the co-creator of Deadpool, has his own take on the distinctions between the two iconic characters.
In a recent chat with geek YouTuber’s Nerdy Pop (via Comic Book), the Image co-founder discussed the differences between his Marvel mercenary and DC’s cutthroat killer Deathstroke. Before getting to his five-point comparison, Liefeld, who has also written for both assassins in past, prefaced his remarks by reaffirming his affection for the Detective Comics’ nemesis, stating:
“I love Deathstroke. I’ve loved Deathstroke my entire comic book collecting career. He’s a great character. He deserves to be loved on his own merits.”
Liefeld is probably referring to audiences’ confusion about Deathstroke and Deadpool, especially after the Merc with a Mouth’s recent success. Despite the somewhat apocryphal backstory, asserting that Wade Wilson is a knock-off of the similarly named Slade Wilson, it was Deadpool who reached the pinnacle of superstardom first. Liefeld also implores fans not to bash heads over the chicken and the egg development story, saying he doesn’t see the similarity and never has. He outlines his points of contention, thusly:
The comic luminary states that Deadpool is clearly smaller and sleeker (more ninja-like) than his counterpart. In addition, Deathstroke sports chainmail armor, jagged gloves, and an eye patch, as opposed to Wade Wilson’s skin-tight, strap-heavy ensemble. Liefeld also notes the characters’ distinctive age difference, saying “Deathstroke is an old man,” as he is often shown with gray hair, versus the scarified but clearly younger Deadpool. And then, there’s the coloration issue. Liefeld points out:
“It might not be as obvious as it seems to me, but Deathstroke is blue and orange…and the last time I looked, Deadpool is black and red.”
While there are many distinctive differences between the two characters, Liefeld’s argument sidesteps some of the subtle (if possibly unintentional) design and archetypal similarities. The true irony is that, whether or not Wade Wilson’s creators intended him as satire, many diehard fans of Deadpool found the snarky assassin to be a fantastic counterpoint to his tough-guy DC counterpart. Deadpool co-creator Fabian Nicieza has mentioned noticing the resemblances between the two characters after Liefeld pitched the Merc with a Mouth to him. Rather than dismissing the character outright, the duo riffed on some of the themes, such as the Slade/Wade Wilson moniker and hired-gun lifestyle, while downplaying other design elements, creating the earliest version of the now-iconic anti-hero.
Of course, since those days, the style and tone of both comic personas have changed and refined as each new author and writer took a crack at them – in addition to several soft and hard reboots for both companies. Whether Wade Wilson was flattery by imitation or not, the Merc with a Mouth has taken on a life of his own, finding comic book and box office success beyond his creators’ wildest dreams. Liefeld’s defense makes little difference in the long run, as Marvel and DC have been ‘borrowing’ each other’s characters indefinitely (witness Namor and Aquaman or Black Cat and Catwoman). Fans have been waging the DC versus Marvel war since both publishers rose to prominence, and this debate isn’t likely end anytime soon.
Suicide Squad is now playing in theaters. Wonder Woman opens in theaters on June 2, 2017, followed by Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash, The Batman solo movie, Dark Universe and Man of Steel 2 are currently without a release dates.
Wolverine 3 opens in U.S. theaters on March 3rd, 2017, followed by unannounced X-Men films on October 6th, 2017, March 2nd, 2018, and June 29th, 2018. Deadpool 2, Gambit, New Mutants and X-Force are currently in development.
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