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DEADPOOL: The Trickster archetype takes center stage

I caught the matinee screening of Deadpool yesterday, and it was somewhere near the start of the third act that something occurred to me:

We finally have a movie about the Trickster.

Sure we’ve had anti-heroes in films before—and some will try to shoehorn the titular character into that restrictive definition—but Deadpool is something altogether different.

Debuting in 1991, “the Merc with a Mouth” first appeared as a deranged, wise-cracking mercenary with a healing factor equal to that of Marvel’s other popular superhero, Wolverine. Over time, his popularity grew, and Deadpool began appearing on both sides of conflicts, both standing alongside and opposing the X-Men.

The film, which is shattering box office expectations (its opening weekend made more than Man of Steel did in its opening weekend, and more than The Wolverine did during its entire domestic run) is scatological, immature, highly irreverent, and overly self-aware.

Ergo, I highly recommend it.

It is also unwaveringly faithful to Deadpool’s depiction in comic books (Rob Liefeld said the film was “the best version of Deadpool I have ever experienced in my life,” high praise from the character’s creator). Much of that fidelity comes from adhering to Deadpool’s distinctive traits, which are directly derived from the Trickster archetype. Conventional Hollywood wisdom would tell us that this is a poor prospect for a leading character—and yet, perhaps, buoyed by the popularity of Loki from the Thor franchise (the Trickster to end all Tricksters), here we are with a Deadpool movie.

In what ways does Deadpool embody the Trickster?

(mild spoiler alerts for those of you weenies afraid of such things)

  • Bending and breaking of rules. No where is this more evident than in Deadpool's most unique characteristic: his awareness that he is appearing in media. In the comics, Deadpool commonly breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to the reader and chiding other characters that an omnipresent "they... won't let you break character like that." In the film, Deadpool—played by a firing-on-all-cylinders Ryan Reynolds—talks to the audience with regularity. It is interesting that the Trickster in this context realizes he is performing, and is openly engaged in acts of theatricality with those lesser-aware characters around him... parallels to Forteana are legion.

  • Mischief. Of course, Deadpool breaks plenty of other rules as well. He is unceasingly irreverent, full of bathroom humor and socially unacceptable behavior. It isn't uncommon for him to prank other superheroes "for the LOLZ," in the parlance of our times, without any greater purpose. He deliberately toys with enemies, fools allies, and generates props out of thin air for the sheer purpose of creating humor. The marketing for the film even reflects this prankster mentality. Consider this 100% official (seriously, guys) banner misrepresenting the film:

  • Liminality. In popular culture, people call Deadpool an "anti-hero" because they have no means to articulate a character with constantly-shifting alliances. Deadpool is always on the periphery, never entirely evil—in the film, his introduction features him chasing off a young lady's stalker. At the same time, he isn't entirely good, strongly encouraging his cab-driving buddy to murder a romantic rival. He is an outsider. It is worth noting that, in other media, Deadpool is sometimes given the power of teleportation, another act that could be perceived as liminal.

  • Shapeshifting. This is probably the least applicable Trickster archetype of Deadpool, but it is still visible in vestigial amounts. In the comics, it isn't uncommon for him to appear in one panel with a quip about chimichangas, wearing a poncho and a sombrero, which are completely absent in the next frame. The ad campaign for Deadpool teased this concept a bit, such as when celebrating Australia day.

  • Sexual disruption. Deadpool is filthy. This is probably the filthiest superhero film ever made. And it's perfectly in line with the hypersexuality of the Trickster archetype. Deadpool is, simply put, constantly horny, making lewd jokes, hitting on characters perceived as conventionally unattractive, and is even seen masturbating in the film. What's even more interesting is that Liefel described the Merc with a Mouth as "omnisexual... NO sex and ALL sexes." This shifting pansexuality a trait exhibited by Tricksters worldwide.

I'm sure there are other ways in which "Mr. Pool" embodies the Trickster archetype. Can anyone think of any other examples? Are there any other films that feature a Trickster as the central protagonist? Lemme know in the comments below.



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