DEADPOOL Creator Rob Liefeld Talks About His Upcoming Final Wade Wilson Story

Creator Rob Liefeld made a name for himself in the early ’90s, first at Marvel Comics, and then later, as a founder of Image Comics and Extreme Studios. But of all his creations, none have become more iconic than “the Merc with the Mouth,” Deadpool. Now, after three decades, Liefeld is retiring from the character, with the new 5-issue series Deadpool Team-Up. For his swan song to Wade Wilson, Liefeld is teaming him up with some iconic Marvel heroes, and some very obscure ones. We got to chat with Liefeld about his grand Deadpool finale, the character’s early days, and his hopes for the upcoming film starring Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman.

Rob Liefeld's cover for Deadpool Team-Up #1.
Marvel Comics

Nerdist. You created Deadpool back in 1991, for New Mutants. And now you’re telling your last Deadpool story with Deadpool Team-Up. Is this a story where you’re just letting yourself do everything you wanted to do with the character one last time?

Rob Liefeld: Yes. I did several hundreds of pages worth of Deadpool in the last several years, since about 2017. And it was a specific story I was telling about a character that had a grudge against Deadpool. But it was not as weird and crazy as this is. And I decided… “Deadpool doesn’t have enough of a rogue’s gallery because he had zero rogue’s gallery.’ I told Marvel, “How did you go 20 years and not give him a Joker, a Sabretooth, somebody like an echo?” And so that was my intent when I did Deadpool: Bad Blood, Deadpool: Badder Blood. Look, Deadpool: Bad Blood blew up, sold out, $25 hardcover, number one on the charts. It was very well received.

Rob Liefeld's art from Deadpool: Bad Blood and Deadpool: Badder Blood (2022, 2023)
Marvel Comics

Then, I did the sequel. But I thought, “You know what?” We’ve all had talents and artists, maybe it’s a musician, sometimes it’s an athlete. They stay a little too long at the dance. And right before the year ended, Marvel said, “Can you do a story in this special that we’re putting out? We would like to include you.” So I did a 10-page story in Deadpool: Seven Deadly Sins. And I literally went back and touched on kind of a weird character that I had introduced in 2004 in the pages of X-Force. And that was when I thought, “If I want to go out, I’m going to go out weird.”

The reason that I approached it this way is that I think I’m doing work that I think is really accomplished in regard to how it’s all coming out. Everything comes together the way I see it in my head, which was not always that way. And we’ve all had artists that stayed too long, they slip. I’ve know artists that I was huge fans of that don’t draw or create images anything like the way that they used to. So I said, “You know what? I can’t do this forever, so I should go out on my terms.” I talked to Marvel about it. And the long answer is yes, this is super weird and strange, with obscure Marvel characters, which is the kind of stories that I grew up on.

Back in the early 90s, you were creating characters at Marvel and Image at lightning speed. Did you ever have any inclination back then that maybe Deadpool would be the one that stuck in the pop culture consciousness the way he did, or did it take you by surprise?

Liefeld: He’s on the cover [of his first appearance in New Mutants #98]. He’s in the front. If the artist puts the character in the front, that character is the one you’re supposed to connect to. I can tell you the process, and it’s very consistent over all these years. Cable came out of nowhere, completely a reflection of me, who I was. There’s another editor at Marvel who can attest to this, I was about to take over Alpha Flight. Guess who was going to be an Alpha Flight? Cable. He was part of my Alpha Flight proposal. Then they said, “Rob, we really want you to do New Mutants.” I said, “I have to bring Cable with me.” And so then I formulated Cable into the New Mutants. Sales went through the roof.

The covers for 1991 New Mutants #98 and #100, by Rob Liefeld, the first appearances of Deadpool and Domino.
Marvel Comics

They offered me X-Factor. There was no way I was doing X-Factor. I would’ve fallen flat on my face. I was not ready at that point in my career to do the original X-Men, to follow Walt Simonson, a god of comic books. And I said, “New Mutants, I can fix that house up. I can flip that. I can make that a fixer-upper, but I need all these things.” And Cable, boom, sales took off. And look, the last issue of New Mutants was the top-selling X-Men book of the month. That month, February 1991, New Mutants out-sells X-Men. No special bells, whistles, acetate, glow in the dark, scratch and sniff, nothing. It’s just a comic book with a story. And people showed up and they dug it.

And New Mutants #100 was after issues 99 and 98. With issue 98, they let me write the book and I said, “I’m bringing a whole bunch of stuff with me.” Look at all those… In ’98 and ’99, you got Deadpool, Shatterstar, Domino, Feral. I just crowded. I had very little time to work, but it is of legend at Marvel. They got the most mail on a new character in a decade with Deadpool. X-Force #1, suddenly he had to be on a trading card in X-Force going out at 5 million copies.

The cover for 1991's X-Force #1, by Rob Liefeld, and the corresponding Deadpool trading card.
Marvel Comics

They said, “Rob, you need to move up. You have him appearing in issue seven. We can’t wait that long.” I love that they were able to have the data in their hands and say, “Rob, this character’s working with the fans.” So that’s why the cover of X-Force issue 2 is not Cable. It’s Deadpool. Like you said, I was super prolific. I was built for this shit, dude. I was built in a lab to make comic books and I was up for it. And yes, I knew Deadpool would be popular because he’s red and black like Spider-Man. I literally was thinking “Todd [McFarlane] is having a lot of success with Spider-Man. And not only that, Eric Larsen, my two peers, they’re both kicking ass on Spider-Man. And do you know how much easier it is to draw Deadpool than to draw Spider-Man?

Look, a face, eyes, nose, it’s harder to draw Josh Brolin than it is to draw a red shape with big black eyes. And I’m like, “Now I got my own Spider-Man, except he has guns and he has swords.” Because the G.I. Joe generation, Snake Eyes, we love that stuff. And boom, he clicked. And like I said, there’s a reason. People forget. I get called out all the time. People say “you didn’t have Deadpool tied into Weapon X.” I’m like, “Oh, so you never read X-Force number two that came out in 1991?” And then they go, “I thought Grant Morrison made this connection.” No, it was me. It was me. I was making those connections.

In the previews for this series, it shows Wade teaming up with characters like Spider-Gwen, the Hulk, and Wolverine. Why make your last Deadpool story a team-up title?

Covers for Marvel Team Up and Marvel: Two in One from the '70s.
Marvel Comics

The thing is, when I was a kid, Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One were both showcases for Spider-Man and the Thing, because Fantastic Four and Spider-Man were the top two franchises in the mid-70s. And Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One always had them standing next to relatively obscure characters because they wanted to use the showcase to feature the other characters in the deep bench of the Marvel universe. So while Wolverine and some of the popular characters would pop up every now and then, they’d do some really weird characters I would never have heard of if I didn’t buy Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One. And both of those had really long runs and I wish that those books were still out.

Fantastic Four Annual #16 from 1981, the first appearance of Dragon Lord, created by Steve Ditko.
Marvel Comics

But when I told Marvel, “Hey, I want Deadpool in a story with Ral Dorn.” And they’re like, “Rob, who is that?” I think, “I have these people at Marvel who don’t know who Dragon Lord is.” I say, “This is by Steve Ditko. He freaking created Spider-Man for you. You should know these things.” So then I built the story around Dragon Lord who appeared once in this one annual, but has magic multidimensional realms, dragons. And I figured this is a total change of pace. This is not the Deadpool that I’ve done before.

Obviously, a character like Wolverine seems like a no-brainer for this book, but any particular reason why you had Hulk and Ghost Spider?

She’s super cool, and I want to draw her before I retire. That’s it. The reason Hulk is in there because I can work Hulk into anything. And I’ve drawn Spider-Man. Instead, I want to do Spider-Gwen. So Crystar and Dragon Lord are my weird obscure characters. Then there are your Liefeld creations like Major X and Lady Anime who are introduced in previous works I’ve done that I’ve pulled in. And then you’ve got your big bold Marvel names with Hulk, Wolverine, and then obviously, now Spider-Gwen.

Rob Liefeld's variant cover for Deadpool Team-Up #1.
Marvel Comics

I did a five-issue G.I. Joe Snake Eyes book because I had to do it before my career was over. I crossed it off the bucket list. I have kind of done everything and I’m going to go back to just doing my own stuff and finish my career doing stuff like that. Really, I do believe it’s been an amazing career. Marvel and I have gotten along so great, especially the last decade has been so much fun. My readers, the publisher, everybody has been fantastic. It is a really fun place to work, and I think they always just let me do my own thing. Every time I’m worried about fitting into continuity, they say, “Rob, just do whatever you want.” That’s what every artist lives for. “Do whatever you want.” It’s a very nice existence.

I’m an ‘80s kid, so I am very familiar with Crystar, the Crystal Warrior comics and toys. It was a fairly short-lived action figure line from that time, and it had an accompanying Marvel series, The Saga of Crystar. And he’s part of this new mini-series too. I was one of five kids who loved those toys and comics. Was it difficult to get Crystar involved in this series, since he’s technically not a Marvel character?

The 1983-1984 Marvel Comics series The Saga of Crystar: Crystal Warrior.
Marvel Comics

Liefeld: They do own him! No, Marvel owns Crystar, and they let me know, “Rob, if you want him in this bizarro story…” And I said, “He’s in.” Like I said, it’s just a really fun romp. I’m not trying to do anything k-e-w-l. There is no cool in my game. I’m just having fun with bizarre old Steve Ditko characters and designs and worlds and names. And then, of course, Crystar, I hit the mother load. I’m like, “I just drew pages this week of Wolverine and Deadpool popping Crystar in the face and him popping them back.” And I’m like, “I am in the sandbox. I’m a kid.”

So yeah, I was in high school when Crystar was part of that giant toy explosion. And what are we in right now? Because I’ve done this on my podcast. I mean, Transformers, ThunderCats, Gatchaman. It’s like all the toys are back. And so here’s one from the drawer. I found out yesterday, that half the people like you know who Crystar is, half the people are like, “What the heck is a Crystar??”

What do you feel has changed the most about yourself as a creator in the three decades since you started out, and what of those changes are you bringing to your last Deadpool story?

Liefeld: I don’t think I’ve changed all that much. I think part of the appeal is I never took a big swing in a different direction. The guys that I like kind of stayed the same as they were when they came in. John Byrne actually radically changed. And I have been on the record, I have a podcast, I talk on social media. I believe John Byrne had some glorious deal with the devil. I don’t care that I’m saying it out loud. For 10 years, he did this incredibly perfect commercial work. Then he changed his work. It wasn’t the way he drew, it was the way he laid out pages. The way he told stories, it’s totally different.

Modern iterations of Deadpool from his creator, Rob Liefeld.
Marvel Comics

George Pérez was pretty much the same all the way through. George Pérez when he passed, he was at his peak. He stayed in a certain lane. And look, we all have bands that we love, and you look forward to their new album and you’re like, “Oh shit, they went in a totally different direction. This doesn’t sound anything like my favorite hits.” I respect them for doing that, but I would rather “Can you come back and give me something that sounds a little like the familiar sounds that I loved you for in the first place?”

Ok, last question, I know you really can’t say anything. But on a scale of 1-10, just how stoked should fans be over Deadpool and Wolverine?

Okay, I’m going to answer this very, very carefully. So I’m on the set of Deadpool one, very fortunate. Visited all three sets, hung out on each of them, never gave up any secrets, never spoiled anything. When I was there on the set of Deadpool one, I was looking at the playback on the monitors, and I’m said, “Oh wow, this movie’s going to open at $65 million.” This is February and March of 2015. I think “Shut up Liefeld. Don’t you know you don’t talk about box office while you’re making a movie? Shut up. You’re jinxing it.” Then I think, “Come on. I know what’s commercial. I know this is going to open to $65.” Well, they’re right. I did. I jinxed the hell out of that movie. It opened $135 million instead of $65 million.

A Deadpool & Wolverine with the two of them engaged in a fight
Marvel Studios

Deadpool & Wolverine, the stuff that I was there in London watching them film has not been revealed in any trailer, in any teaser. And towards the end of the day when they were setting up a new shot, I think “Are they really doing this? Oh my gosh. I didn’t even know they were going there.” If they’re going to tell me that I’m jinxing the movie, I can’t possibly say more than [director] Shawn Levy has. Shawn is out there talking the movie up all the time. Here’s the deal. I think that this movie is going to be an absolute crowd-pleaser. I know comic books. I’ve lived comic books. I’ve lived comic book films. My kids grew up and love them. I don’t know how this does not completely satisfy. But I know theater owners need people.

Deadpool and Wolverine looking at tempad
Marvel Studios

We love the theater experience. Deadpool & Wolverine I think is going to contribute positively in a time of great need. And I’m going to tell you when I was at CinemaCon in Vegas, the guy who’s making all of the custom popcorn buckets and Slurpee cups and stuff you have not seen, they wouldn’t let it on the show floor. And they kept opening up suitcase after suitcase saying, “We can show you this because you created Deadpool. We can show you this.” And it’s going to overwhelm, but I think collectors are going to go crazy for it.

The best part is that the theaters are going to have all that money pumping in, because I want theaters to stay open. Deadpool & Wolverine is going to be great for everybody’s bottom line. And we’ve had a drought. I’m so glad that Kevin Feige was honest in Empire Magazine saying “You have to be living under a rock to not know that we haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire.” I’m now paraphrasing, but it was something along those lines. And this is a crowd-pleaser. I think you are going to dig it the most.

Deadpool Team-Up #1 goes on sale on August 28.

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