Rob Liefeld is a controversial figure in the world of comic books. A self-taught artist who would propel Marvel titles like New Mutants and X-Force into newfound levels of popularity in the late ’80s and early ’90s, he would also go on to co-found Image Comics, a company that has since grown to become one of the premiere independent comic book companies. However, the man himself has become one of the most divisive figures in his field. On one hand, his work presents an evocative storytelling style, one that grabs the attention and was certainly like lightning in a bottle when he struck in the late ’80s. On the other hand, his art is generally seen as terrible, his character designs suffering from such flaws as over-muscled and with miniscule feet. There are also complaints about his use of multiple splash pages instead of multi-panel sections, leaving a feeling like he is drawing pin-ups instead of truly presenting the story. Of course, it is not as if he stopped working after the ’90s. He has still been working on plenty of titles. In fact, he has recently teamed up with writers Chris Sims and Chad Bowers (who had worked on the short but fun X-Men ’92 comic series) to work on a graphic novel, centered around a character that Liefeld co-created. That character is Deadpool and the graphic novel is Deadpool: Bad Blood, a solid story that reads like a better-written title from the ’90s, warts and all.
Ever since going through the experimental procedure that gave him an incredible healing factor yet riddled with tumors, Wade Wilson has been spending his days as the infamous mercenary known as Deadpool. For the right price, he will take on any job and he is ready to face whatever pain might come his way. However, there is a certain thorn in his side that is really beginning to irritate him. It is a huge bruiser by the name of Thumper, and he seems singularly focused on one goal: beat Deadpool into a bloody pulp. After having healed from certain death several times now, Deadpool is ready to finally put this to an end. Of course, he wants to know just how to stop this brute, and he decides to find out just where he came from. However, this pulls on a thread from his own past, one that could make the fight with Thumper tougher and more personal than expected.
This graphic novel reads like a better written comic book from the ’90s. I mean this in both good and bad ways. For instance, Rob Liefeld’s art style does have some quirks and weaknesses that have remained from his early days. His work with feet is still iffy, though better than it had been, and there are portions when he relies a bit much on splash pages. There are even portions where there is a full character on display in front of a blank white background, as if it were an art display and not part of the story. That said, there are definitely improvements to his art. His character design is less exaggerated and unnatural and his costume design is less cluttered, pulling back from his excesses while maintaining the strong appearances he offers. The results are characters that feel more streamlined and naturalistic, while still recognizably drawn by him. That, in turn, helps his own sequential storytelling to be clearer and more concise. Complementing that is Sims and Bowers’s writing, which captures the rhythm and pace of an early ’90s comic book while avoiding a lot of the pitfalls and problems that plagued those stories. Really, the main thing that might turn people off of this story is its version of Deadpool, which hews closer to what Liefeld has co-created.
When most people think of Deadpool, they think of the jokes and the fourth-wall breaking. However, those aspects of Deadpool were not always there. When Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza co-created Deadpool back in 1991, he was envisioned as a character that was somewhat like Spider-Man with swords and guns. True, there were wisecracks and one-liners that he would deliver, but that hardly meant that he was a comedic character. Plenty of action movie heroes from the ’80s were known for one-liners, but their core was still in a serious place. Such was the case for Deadpool. It was not until later writers like Joe Kelly and Christopher Priest got their hands on Deadpool that he was injected with the humorous components that have since become core to his character. Those expecting that more humorous anti-hero, however, might be disappointed. This graphic novel is based moreso on that early version of Deadpool, a more serious assassin who could spit out one-liners while he mowed his foes down. It goes along with the early ’90s feel that permeates this graphic novel, but it is also a factor that might not fit for some people.
Depending on who you talk to, Rob Liefeld is either an eyesore in the comics scene or an artist that was the man for his moment. His artwork definitely shows improvements in the solidly-made graphic novel Deadpool: Bad Blood, but some of the quirks in his artwork and the book’s version of Deadpool might turn some off from it.