In February 1991, readers of The New Mutants were introduced to Wade W. Wilson, AKA the wise-cracking, fourth-wall-breaking Merc With a Mouth himself, Deadpool. Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza’s sword-swinging immortal went on to become one of Marvel’s most popular anti-heroes thanks to his metatextual humour, violent nature, and massively successful live-action films. It’s perhaps no surprise that Sideshow rechristened April 1st as “Deadpool Day” to give fans of the chimichanga-chomping mercenary an excuse to celebrate all things Deadpool.
Story Title: “Ducks in a Row!”
Published: 15 June 1993 (cover-dated August 1993)
Story Title: “Rabbit Season, Duck Season”
Published: 20 July 1993 (cover-dated September 1993)
Story Title: “…And Quacks Like a Duck…”
Published: 17 August 1993 (cover-dated October 1993)
Story Title: “Duck Soup”
Published: 21 September 1993 (cover-dated November 1993)
By the 1980s, the X-Men had established themselves as one of Marvel Comics’ most successful features, prompting then-chief editor Jim Shooter to commission a series of X-Men spin-off titles, resulting in Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod’s New Mutants. The Mutant youngsters eventually fell under the command of the time travelling Mutant Nathan Summers/Cable, who reformed them into X-Force, and famously came up against Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld’s Deadpool in The New Mutants #98 (ibid, 1991). The self-styled “Merc With a Mouth” was heavily inspired by the likes of James Howlett/Logan/Wolverine and Peter Parker/Spider-Man with more than a few similarities to DC Comics’ Slade Wilson/Deathstroke the Terminator and was initially introduced in an antagonistic role with ties to time-travelling villain Mister Tolliver. Deadpool proved popular enough to make guest appearances in other Marvel Comics before receiving this four-issue miniseries that was a precursor to his ongoing solo title and the greater popularity he achieved once he became self-aware and began breaking the fourth wall. Naturally, this eventually evolved into appearances in Marvel/X-Men-related videogames, a cameo appearance in the beloved X-Men animated series (1992 to 1997), and his live-action debut in the much-maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009), though it was his self-titled spin-off films that truly catapulted him to mainstream success.
Deadpool’s first solo series begins in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia two years into an ongoing conflict that has made it a breeding ground for international black marketeers and mercenaries, including a heavily-armed group who have been given the unenviable task of searching out and eliminating Deadpool. Unfortunately for them, the Merc With a Mouth catches them completely off-guard, easily dispatching them while mocking them for being less effectual than G. I. Joe’s or Ken dolls. Despairing of the quality of mercs he’s encountered ever since Tolliver died, Deadpool is offended when his friend and contact, Jack Hammer/Weasel, pulls a gun on him. still, Deadpool is so scatter-brained that he quickly moves on from the misunderstanding to first complain that his suit’s teleportation function is “on the fritz” and the fact that he (and anyone who ever worked for Tolliver) now has a target on their back. Weasel tries to suggest that they (or, at least, Deadpool) should try and get their hands on Tolliver’s estate and weapons, but Deadpool’s more focused on getting intel on Vanessa Carlysle/Copycat, a shape-shifting Mutant and former flame of his who he’s looking to kill off, when they’re suddenly interrupted by one of the most nineties-looking characters I’ve ever seen (which is saying something considering Deadpool’s attire), Garrison Kane/Weapon X, a cybernetic mercenary who was both part of the same Weapon X program as Deadpool and a member of Cable’s Six Pack when he was working for Tolliver.
Kane also wants to know where Vanessa is and attacks, easily shielding himself from Deadpool’s blade and bullets with his versatile cybernetic enhancements. Shrugging off Wade’s jokes and insults, Kane mocks him for betraying his mercenary code and allowing so any of his former enemies and allies to live, but it’s only when Weasel points out that neither of the two beefed-up idiots knows where Vanessa is and they’ve simply being fighting over nothing and as a result of their stupidity and machismo. Admitting to acting without thinking, Kane tries to leave, determined to make an offer to Vanessa before she’s killed (since she’s one of the prime targets in the whole will fiasco), and drops the bombshell that another of Wade’s former adversaries, Gregory Terraerton/Slayback, is not only still alive but is actively gunning for Deadpool, the man who left him for dead way back when. As if on cue, the cybernetic killer breaks into the headquarters of Department X (the government agency behind the Weapon X program) to steal Wade and Kane’s files in order to settle the score and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the story also jumps over to New Delhi, India, where Wolverine knock-off Nyko Halfghanaghan guns down mercenaries looking for Tolliver’s will (his dead brother, Pico, was Tolliver’s right-hand man so they assume he must know something about it) before delivering a work order to Jacob Gavin Jr./Courier calling for Deadpool’s execution for his part in Pico’s death. Finally, there’s a third plot thread at work here as Cain Marko/The Juggernaut bursts into a genetic research facility outside of Angoulême, France in search of his friend, Thomas Cassidy/Black Tom Cassidy (a common occurrence during this time as the two had formed a strong friendship). Louis Banque, the director of the facility, manages to calm Juggernaut down enough to take him to Black Tom, who’s been enhanced through further mutations that allow him to form weapons, reshape his body into an organic wood substance, and focus and intensify his bioblasts through that same “wood gunk”. This storyline converges with Deadpool’s when issue two drops Wade into Cairo, Egypt where he executes another group of mercs to acquire a briefcase containing a disc that holds information on Tolliver’s will (if that sounds like some kind of mental scavenger hunt, it actually is as per Tolliver’s design, with the ultimate prize being “the most powerful weapon on the face of the planet!”) Anyway, just as Deadpool gets the case, Juggernaut and Black Tom show up, wreck the building he’s standing on, and then blast Deadpool in the back of the head to steal the case from him.
Meanwhile, another former member of Weapon X, Bernard Hoyster/Sluggo, drops in on Vanessa’s mother in search for her and ends up garrotted around the neck by the blue-toned shape-shifter, who’s looking to avenge the death of her friend, Tina Valentino, at Sluggo’s hands. Vanessa settles for stealing Sluggo’s car and leaving him to be arrested after learning that she’s become a target in the search for the will and vows to head to Sarajevo to acquire it, and Tolliver’s fortune, for herself. However, when Courier procures the services of Garabed Bashur/Commcast and the Executive Elite, he offers not money, but Tolliver’s disc and thus a head start in the scavenger hunt. Unaware of this, Deadpool heads to Cairo International Airport using Weasel’s intel and a fight ensures between him and Juggernaut and Black Tom (in civilian guises) that sees Marko hand over the briefcase to save Tom from being sucked out of the plane, only for Wade to trick him and send both plummeting to the ground below while he returns to Sarajevo for issue three. There, he gets into it with Amie Zamborano/Makeshift and Anastasia Summit/Rive of the Executive Elite; disgusted by Deadpool’s sexist jeers, the two pin him to a wall and fry him into unconsciousness with a massive burst of electricity. This makes him easy pickings for Commcast to haul back to the Edsel and subject him to the torture of his “synaptic neural scanner”, a fancy high-tech headband that allows Commcast to scan the thoughts and memories of his victims. Though Deadpool attempts to resist, this sheds some light on his past with Vanessa, depicting them as lovers back before he was mutilated by the Weapon X program, and shows how Kane tried to emphasise the benefits of cybernetic prosthetics when Wade was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After revealing that there are actually two discs that act as a guide towards Tolliver’s will, Commcast rips off Deadpool’s mask, revealing his gruesome visage to everyone but the reader, distracting them enough for Weasel to make a dramatic entrance and break Deadpool free. Incensed at Commcast poking around in his head (which he unironically sees as a “violation” despite his mercenary ways), Deadpool goes on a rampage, destroying his facility and killing Makeshift and Rive (but it’s Weasel who delivers the fatal headshot to Commcast). Weasel then examines the two discs and learns of a monastery in Nepal, which he theorises is the location of Tolliver’s will, and of an “ambient-energy dampening” genetic monstrosity known as “Unit: Zero” that he assumes is guarding it.
Thanks to her shape-changing and mild mind control abilities, Vanessa is also able to learn of this monastery through alternative means but, when she makes the climb to the building, she’s surprised by Slayback and effectively taken hostage. Although Deadpool insists on heading in alone, Weasel makes the four-storey rope climb to offer his assistance in the arc’s final issue, and Kane also manages to make his way there so that all the loose ends can be nicely tied up. Thanks to Weasel, Deadpool discovers a locked vault packed full of weapons, gadgets, and other gizmos set aside by Tolliver, which leads to another scuffle with Kane when he comes looking to claim Tolliver’s secret, all-powerful weapon for himself. Although Deadpool is all mouth when it comes to Kane, he’s thrown into a panic when Slyback makes it a three-way dance since he didn’t just see Slayback die, he saw him reduced to little more than a bloody goop! Thanks to his cybernetic enhancements and burning desire to avenge himself, Slayback easily overwhelms Deadpool but, as he moves to deliver a fatal blow (despite this being impossible against Wade thanks to his superhuman healing factor…), Vanessa sacrifices herself to save her former love. During all of this kerfuffle, weasel realises that a seemingly innocuous mannequin is actually the Zero unit (or “Adam Unit-Zero”, to be precise) and Tolliver’s ultimate weapon, an energy-absorbing synthezoid built to eliminate all weapons of war. Consequently, it identifies Slayback as such and reduces him to cinders, atomising him in a blinding flash of light. While it settles for similarly destroying Weasel’s armaments and evaluates that Kane has a “strong inclination towards socially beneficial behaviour” [sic] despite his capability for lethal force, it classifies Deadpool as a weapon of war and moves to nullify him accordingly. However, in keeping with his reputation as the “Merc With a Mouth”, Deadpool is able to stall the machine by rationalising that he’s not just capable of killing but healing too. He then demonstrates this by having Vanessa touch his horrifically scarred body to absorb his healing factor and thus heal her mortal wounds, confusing Adam and causing it to teleport away to conduce further analysis. Although she’s grateful, and touched that he still loves her, Vanessa turns him down since she loves another and tearfully begs him to move past his cancer, his past, Tolliver, and even himself so he can find something worth fighting for again. Though heartbroken, Wade consoles himself with the knowledge (as amusingly expositing by Weasel) that he showed he can be more than just a brutal killing machine, and by swiping some of Tolliver’s gold for himself so the mission wasn’t a complete loss.
In many ways, The Circle Chase suffers from a lot of the problems I often have with X-Men stories, particularly those from the team’s heyday in the nineties; stories were often crammed full of characters, lore, and interweaving plot threads that made single issues and even ongoing story arcs difficult for me to pick up and read since it was hard to keep track of everything going on. We’ve got Deadpool, Vanessa, the Juggernaut and Black Tom, Weasel, Garrison Kane, Slayback, Commcast, the Executive Elite, the complex search for Tolliver’s will and numerous references to him and his minions…it’s quite a bit to take in all at once. Thankfully, the art is pretty good; while much of the action takes place at night or in darkened interiors, all of the characters are very colourful and stand out thanks to that nineties excess of bulging muscles, ridiculously excessive guns and technology, and hyper sexualisation of female characters and bodies that was so rampant during this time.
The writing is also really good, particularly in terms of dialogue and in characterisation Deadpool. Wade more than lives up to his loquacious reputation here and is constantly spouting nonsense, pop culture references, and getting distracted with tangents in the heat of battle. He taunts his opponents to the point of frustration, which is always amusing, and offers relentless amusing commentary throughout the miniseries. Deadpool’s skills are at their peak here and he’s easily able to take out the many run of the mill mercenaries he comes up against; the more prominent mercs from the Executive Elite manage to subdue him (mainly to advance the story, put some spotlight on Commcast, and subject Deadpool to his mind reading device so we can learn a little more about him) but even this is just a temporary setback and he immediately enacts a bloody revenge upon being freed by Weasel. Interestingly, the final issue delves a little into Wade’s complex mindset; while he hides behind his near-psychotic persona and smart mouth, he’s actually a very tortured individual, one suffering from hideous scars as a result of his healing factor constantly staving off the cancer that threatened his life. Wade is also rattled into an uncharacteristic panic by Slayback’s survival and appearance and a prominent plot point being Wade’s rejection of the notion that he actually enjoys killing and is a mindless sadist like Slayback. This is ultimately proven to be true in the finale, where he uses his healing factor to restore Vanessa and reject the notion that he’s nothing more than a weapon of wear, which allows him to neuter Adam-Zero’s threat which along with his heartbreak over having lost Vanessa’s love, goes a long way to injecting some humanity into this otherwise volatile and unstable mercenary. While The Circle Chase may be bulging with colourful characters, Mutants, and cybernetic antagonists, the core villains are actually surprisingly interesting. It seems as though everyone in the story has a connection to Deadpool, mostly through either Weapon X or the Six Pack (or both), and almost everyone has an axe to grind against him (even Weasel, the closest thing he has to an ally, is constantly exasperated by Wade’s instability and childish nature).
Having said that, the Executive Elite are basically a throwaway distraction that exist mostly to pad the story out with a bit more action, intrigue, and exposition, but Commcast almost makes an impression as a kind of dark mirror of Professor Charles Xavier by using his technology to violate Deadpool’s memories and he even has an “X-Men” team of his own in Makeshift and Rive. Garrison Kane is even more of a wild card than Deadpool himself; he’s something of a reluctant ally but doesn’t hesitate to throw down against his former teammate simply because he acts “like an idiot” when it comes to Wade due to their history together. With his glowing eye and bionic arms and armaments, he’s kind of like a poor man’s Cable, which is fitting given their history together, and ends the story on slightly better terms with Wade than they began due to their shared concern for Vanessa. Vanessa is also a significant factor in the miniseries, primarily as one of the main targets for Tolliver’s will and as Deadpool’s lost love, though she doesn’t get a huge amount of agency; she is able to string up Sluggo and find her way to the monastery without the discs but, once there, she’s held hostage by Slayback and then nonsensically throws herself in front of Deadpool despite him being able to heal from any wound. As for Slayback…I’ve never heard of this guy, but I actually really enjoyed him! His zombie-like appearance and malleable cybernetics (which give him an extensive reach and even a drill appendage) make him a fearsome foe and he’s written with this biting, British wit that adds a lot of character to him. the parallels between him and Deadpool kind of come out of nowhere in the last chapter but I liked that his appearance rattled wade so much that it put him on the back foot, and it was interesting seeing wade think (well, “talk”, really) his way out of being atomised by Adam-Zero like Slayback was. Overall, I really enjoyed this miniseries; it was a little bloated at times but bat-shit-crazy in all the ways I enjoy about a character like Deadpool. While Wade isn’t being as self-referential or meta as he is now known for, all the foundation for the characterisation is here and the miniseries went a long way to justifying his later mainstream success.
Have you ever read The Circle Chase? If so, what did you think of the story and the Deadpool’s first solo foray? Did you enjoy the bloated cast of colourful characters and their ties to Deadpool’s past or was it all a bit too crowded for you? What did you think to Deadpool’s characterisation here, the glimpses into his past and motivations, and his snarky with? Were you a fan of Slayback, Vanessa, and the likes of Garrison Kane or is there another of Deadpool’s villains you prefer? What are some of your favourite Deadpool stories and moments and how are you celebrating Deadpool Day today? Whatever your thoughts on Deadpool, feel free to sign up and share them below or drop a comment on my social media.