…But it’s a good one!
With great power comes great irresponsibility…
Nice. I see what you did there.
But, is Deadpool’s defining feature really irresponsibility? Is it this which makes him such a great foil for both Spiderman (who takes responsibility for everything in a whiny, emo, kind of way) and Wolverine (who takes responsibility for everything in a put-upon, patriarchal, too-honourable-to-walk-away style)? What is, or perhaps, should Deadpool be taking responsibility for, exactly? Deadpool has a lot of potential to be a hero; he’s a skilled fighter, practically immortal, and a combatant of outstanding resilience. Yet, just as Wade’s teacher’s probably told him in youth, he ‘has a tendency to let himself get distracted’, he ‘doesn’t look at the bigger picture’, and he ‘doesn’t really apply himself to the best of his ability at all times.’ Deadpool is not a hero. So, is Deadpool irresponsible, or simply lacking in responsibility – footloose, and fancy free, and free for anything
The use and abuse of masculine power is at the heart of most hero’s comic book narratives. Origin stories generally depict a young man grappling with power which is his birthright (mutant, demi-god) or is bestowed upon him by powerful institutions of the military industrial complex (Weapon X, Department K, Stark Industries). The inscription on Mjolnir sets a limit to Thor’s power – he can only wield it when ‘worthy’, and the recent film adaptations make this a direct command from Odin, the tellingly named All-Father. Wolverine is so appalled by his son’s abuse of power, that he surgically removes Daken’s own metal claws from his arms (Wolverine Origins #48). It is Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben who utters the famous aphorism ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ that the opening quotation plays upon.
Daken, and the supervillains with whom he aligns, can easily be read as irresponsible – their motivations are selfish quests for power or revenge at all costs. The trails of destruction, the disregard for bystander damage, the exploitation of complex and terrible humanitarian and political crises for personal gain…. Even heroes fall into this pattern. DC’s Batman has power and influence that could effect systemic change, but he prefers to take on villains one by one, as part of a cycle of vengeance – as illustrated beautifully in the comic Wondermark. The patriarchy is power – for better or for worse, and mostly, it’s worse.
The personal power that the men so far mentioned have is enormous. Wolverine and Daken are fully weaponized super-soldiers. Parker’s powers could see him living the life of riley after a series of unexplained high-rise burglaries, or as the world’s most loathed paparazzi/blackmailer. Thor is a demi-god, enough said. Without morality, these mutants are monsters. Why is Bruce Banner not happy to wield the God-like power of the Hulk? Because his moral agency is compromised. Why are murderers like Wolverine redeemable? Because he reclaimed his moral agency – he went in search of his memory, and he took responsibility for his past, including his son, and his future. Whether he had the right to take responsibility for Daken’s future is another matter entirely.
Wade Wilson has always taken responsibility. He is a killer, and he knows it. He was before Weapon X, as he is after the Hospice. What happened to Wade was horrible, transformative both physically and psychically, and maybe he’s no longer in his right mind [ya think?]. But he was a soldier who became a mercenary for hire, and he was pretty good at it. Perhaps using plastic surgery to hide after a job gone bad is ‘irresponsible’, or perhaps it’s prudent given the world which he inhabits. Wade is a product of the patriarchal military industrial complex, just as he is a product of twentieth century discourses of masculinity and power. His only superpower is his ability to keep living – and the side effects of this inability to die are gruelling.
Wade Wilson doesn’t owe anybody shit, according to the logic of the very systems that made him. Wade Wilson is a by-product of patriarchy, a cancer in its arse. He did everything they told him, he ‘manned up’, he took it all to its logical conclusion – he’ll eat any spice, fight any opponent, screw anyone, and he’ll make dick jokes while doing it all. And this over-determined hyper-masculinity means he barrels through acceptable heterosexual male identification, and ends up way out in the no-man’s land of pansexual, camp, extravagance. Deadpool is polymorphously perverse. He is endlessly malleable and adaptable. The one constant in his personality is his refusal to take anything seriously.
He’s an eternal child, the child of patriarchy. Following in his father’s footsteps calling ‘look what I did, pa, lookit! lookit!’. If he can’t get attention and approval for his displays of macho aggression, then he’ll get your attention by smearing shit on the walls. This is why he’s an ‘anti-hero’. We love him because, like us, he is a product of a broken, corrupt system, still seeking validity and relevance within a system that rejects him as a failed experiment. Unlike us though, he has the power to take his stand. The only power Deadpool really has is over his own actions, and he knows that all too well, and that might well be what’s driving him mad.
Is Deadpool irresponsible? No. Is he immature? Hell yes.
And he’s my hero.