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access_time August 4, 2020 at 12:10 PM in Features by David Poole

How Video Games Helped Make Deadpool a Household Name

When you think of Marvel characters, many names come to mind. Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine, and many others have become incredibly well known in pop culture. With all these iconic characters, one character in particular does seem to show up more and more as time goes on: Deadpool. Deadpool has become a household name over the last few years, partially thanks to Ryan Reynolds and the Deadpool film franchise. The character seems to appear all over the various mediums, from Fortnite to Chia Pets. While Deadpool fever going strong, the character had humble beginnings of being relatively obscure. This obscurity went on for a long time, at least until he started making appearances in video games.

For a quick history lesson, Deadpool was created in 1991 by comic book artist Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza. Originally created as a parody of DC Comics’ Deathstroke, the character started off as a mercenary with signature quips. He was often put in an antagonist role, being set up as a foe for many X-Men heroes in the beginning. It wasn’t anything personal to Deadpool, it was just business, and he was all about the money. The character had a few toys and a couple non-speaking cameos on the X-Men animated series, but other than that, he wasn’t exactly popular. He had the healing factor and the martial arts prowess, but those didn’t really sell the character enough.

While the character was known for his wisecracks, his now signature fourth wall breaking abilities came much later. In 1997, during his own comic series, Deadpool’s fourth wall breaking abilities would start to emerge. During this comic run, he became less of a villain and more of an anti-hero. The comedy was starting to be more common and the pop culture references were rising. When he would finally start to break the fourth wall regularly, the character found his niche. Of course, this kept him known in the comic community, but he had a long way to go to get to where he is today. While the character was gaining popularity on the page, his particular brand of humor was missing something.

It wasn’t until X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse in 2005 that Deadpool made his first video game appearance. It’s due to that appearance that Deadpool finally found a voice. John Kassir played the role of the Merc with the Mouth, bringing his wisecracking jokes and fourth wall moments to a new presentation. Appearing originally as a boss fight, Deadpool would also be a playable character to unlock. While Raven Software’s game was well received, it came during a time where internet culture was still developing. Newspapers, magazines and television were still the common source for information. Cell phones were still flipping open or shaped like large pills, and using the internet wasn’t a way of life yet. Deadpool didn’t have the means to spread yet.

In comes Activision’s Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, releasing at the end of 2006 and launching on the new gaming platforms. With this generation of consoles came a boom in sales. Wii consoles were flying off the shelves and graphics made a big leap with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. With Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Deadpool returns with John Kassir reprising the role. With the surge in sales, Deadpool was slowly starting to have more visibility. It definitely helped that Apple’s iPhone launched the next year, making smartphones more mainstream and easily bringing internet access to our fingertips. The internet culture was rising and evolving, and information was becoming much easier to spread.

People were starting to notice the character. Studios were starting to take notice too, and 2009 became Deadpool’s year to shine… sort of. Deadpool was put into a direct-to-video animated film with Hulk Vs. Wolverine, this time voiced by Nolan North. While Kassir has his fans, North’s interpretation became the fan favorite seemingly in an instant. Of course, a direct-to-video release isn’t exactly where everyone will notice. What people notice are theatrical films, and while the X-Men films were in a small rut during this time, they took a chance. That chance was making the terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine, bringing the first live action rendition of Deadpool, or at least Wade Wilson, to the silver screen. While the movie wasn’t winning any awards, it did give us Ryan Reynolds in the role for the first time.

Reynolds was a fan of the character, and he had been trying to make a film for the character since 2003. Unfortunately, this project got sidetracked and turned into Blade Trinity. Regardless, he didn’t give up and finally had a chance to play the role he was meant to. Unfortunately, they did exactly what you don’t want to do for Deadpool’s character: they shut him up. They also didn’t have him break the fourth wall, another no-no. Reynolds wasn’t exactly happy with it, but he took every step he could to make his dream a reality. While the character didn’t get many favors from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the video games never gave up. In 2010, we got the Ultimate version of Deadpool in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, with North reprising his role. By now, the character had a name for himself, and developers were starting to have fun.

Perhaps arguably the biggest game break for Deadpool was his inclusion in 2011’s Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds. Since Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was a long-standing favorite in the fighting game community, fans everywhere were excited for the sequel. When they got a trailer showing Deadpool fighting against Devil May Cry’s Dante, fans went ballistic. Nolan North again returns to voice the character, but it was his particular presentation that made him stand out. Not only did he make jokes in the game, but his pop culture references were on point. References like the X-Men arcade game and even his love of Street Fighter made him a fan favorite for spectators. This made him show up in tournament presentations and again, helped to spread his popularity. Cosplay was starting to show up as well.

By 2013, Deadpool got another big break by getting a video game of his own. Developed by High Moon Studios, the game took full advantage of Deadpool’s abilities, including his knowledge of being a fictional character. The game would make tons of fourth wall breaking jokes, from having a conversation with Nolan North (again reprising his role), to blowing the budget of the game in the second level. With a decent reception, his own video game was a sign that Deadpool had finally made it. After an infamous video leaked online in 2014, it became clear to 20th Century Fox that they were sitting on a cash cow. In 2016, Deadpool had his own film, again starring Ryan Reynolds, and the rest is history.

It’s clear that Reynolds’ passion for the character was a driving force for Deadpool’s popularity. Even so, if not for the character’s appearances in various video games, Wade Wilson might not be where he is today. Something about hearing a voice behind the character really brings it home, especially in Deadpool’s case. What do you think? Were you one of the fans that discovered the character through the comics? Or did you discover him through playing a game? Let us know your first taste of Deadpool in the comments below.

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