You can’t throw a chimichanga without hitting a dozen Deadpool comics. First created in 1991 by artist Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza, Deadpool maintained a steady if secondary presence in Marvel’s publishing plan for the first 17-odd years of his existence—until the House of Ideas figured out that the fourth-wall-breaking, taboo-busting, pun-spouting Merc with a Mouth could become a veritable money fountain if positioned correctly. Beginning in 2008, Deadpool spinoffs and mini-series began to proliferate at an alarming rate, and the success of 2016’s Deadpool cinematic outing starring Ryan Reynolds only threw fuel on the affectionately obnoxious fire.
With Deadpool 2 hitting theaters this week—and bringing Cable and X-Force with it—we here at Paste would be remiss if we didn’t direct curious moviegoers toward comics that might further satisfy their need to see Wade Wilson in action. Since we admittedly have read only a fraction of the bazillion Deadpool comics release in the last decade, we’ve expanded the scope of this guide to include the best stories featuring Deadpool 2’s co-stars as well. Characters like Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Black Tom Cassidy and Russell Collins don’t necessarily have “defining” runs quite yet, but we’ve rounded up a batch of accessible, explosive comics to cover the rest of the film’s motley crew, with an emphasis on more recent runs (sorry, ‘90s fans). Happy reading, nerds.
Writers: Warren Ellis & Ian Edginton
Artists: Whilce Portacio, Enrique Breccia, Lan Medina & Ariel Olivetti
The Bedlam portrayed by Terry Crews in Deadpool 2 bears little resemblance to his comic counterpart—fans initially suspected the fan-favorite actor was playing G. W. Bridge—but the energy-field-manipulating mutant deserves reappraisal. Most active during the brief “Counter-X” era, during which Warren Ellis attempted to reinvigorate second-string X-books with a grimmer, grittier take, Jesse Aaronson had nebulously defined powers and an evil brother who stole his codename and slapped “King” in front of it (total fraternal power move). Bedlam seemed to meet a cannon-fodder end when the Church of Humanity crucified a host of C-listers on the lawn of the mansion, but was later seen protesting mutant registration, in what was almost definitely a case of an editor not recognizing him enough to remember that he was dead. If Negasonic Teenage Warhead is any indication, a good turn in a Deadpool flick might be enough to get Bedlam back into action. If not, his best stories pretty much begin and end in the Counter-X trade collections.
Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artists: Ariel Olivetti, Larry Stroman, Others
Duane Swierczynski and company’s 2008 Cable magnum opus is probably the defining modern run on the time-traveling hardass, and is a major influence on Josh Brolin’s arc in Deadpool 2—although Brolin’s Cable is fulfilling something closer to the role that Bishop played in the comics. Newly repackaged for movie fans, Cable: The Last Hope Vol. 1 kicks off Cable’s mission to protect the newly born mutant Hope at any cost, even if that means running until the end of time (literally). If you’re looking for a shorter commitment, we’re actually pretty fond of the overlooked Cable: Conquest from James Robinson and Carlos Pacheco. It’s not a particularly deep story, but what’s to hate about Cable blasting his way through different time periods? The current run from writers Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson and artist German Peralta is also worth picking up, as it serves as a primer for Cable’s various eras (and an ode to Nadler and Thompson’s fascination with body horror).
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Rick Remender’s widely acclaimed run on Uncanny X-Force, drawn by a murderer’s row of artists including Esad Ribic and Jerome Opeña, features one of Deadpool’s finest and most nuanced long-form stories, but if you’re looking for Colossus and Domino in full-blown tactical action together, you’ll want to pick up the run that came after. Written by Dennis Hopeless with art by Salvador Larroca, Cable and X-Force put the Russian steel-man and lady luck herself in unsightly orange outfits alongside Cable, Forge, Boom Boom and Doctor Nemesis for a series of covert missions aimed at preventing extinction-level threats before they can began. Larroca’s oddly colored faces are an acquired taste, but Hopeless is one of the best ensemble writers in recent Marvel memory, and this is your only chance to find Colossus active in an X-Force squad. He and Domino actually have a bit of romance here (which works out as well as you’d expect), so if you’d rather read about Zazie Beetz’ mercenary on her own, check out the currently running Domino mini-series from Gail Simone and David Baldeon, which has so far proven to be a more character-driven look at the mutant gun-for-hire.
Writers: Gerry Duggan & Brian Posehn
Artists: Declan Shalvey & Scott Koblish
This early volume from Gerry Duggan’s long run on Deadpool has turned up on almost every Deadpool 2 suggested reading list, and with good reason: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly serves as a perfect example of the balance between absurdity and heroism that defines Deadpool at his best. The main story in this volume finds Deadpool recruiting Captain America and Wolverine to infiltrate North Korea after discovering that his DNA may have been used for cruel and unusual purposes. Like Uncanny X-Force, this standalone story proves that there’s a moral compass (more or less) functioning under Wade’s horribly scarred exterior. If you’re ready to do a deep dive on all things Deadpool, following Duggan’s run from undead-president start to Despicable finish is your best possible option—but starting with this volume as a sample isn’t a bad idea before making the full commitment. Artist Declan Shalvey went on to write a Deadpool story of his own: Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan with art by Mike Henderson. If you’d like a little more adamantium in your Deadpool reading, the trade collection hit shelves just a few weeks ago.
Writer: Joe Kelly
Artist: Ed McGuinness
Yes, Wade gets more than one entry—it’s his name up in lights, after all. Joe Kelly was one of Deadpool’s defining writers throughout the nineties, helping to establish the meta-commentary that elevated the character beyond his simpler mercenary roots. Spider-Man/Deadpool sees Kelly teaming with Avengers artist Ed McGuinness in a bromance for the ages. Deadpool is, of course, obsessed with being Spider-Man’s bestie, and Spider-Man does his absolute best to tolerate Wade’s…quirks. The series really starts to sing as the bond between these two quip-heavy heroes evolves from begrudging to genuine. Kelly gets these characters, and McGuinness was born to draw the hyper-kinetic action in these pages. Itsy Bitsy, the psychotic super-fan who drives this book’s main conflict, is problematic (to put it charitably), but it’s hard to beat this creative team at the peak of their powers. Do note, however, that Kelly and McGuinness’ story spans Vol. 1 and Vol. 3; Vol. 2 is an odds-and-ends collection featuring other creators.
Writer: Al Ewing
Artist: Salvador Espin
We’ve tried to stick to trade paperbacks for this list, as collected volumes are typically more accessible to new and casual fans, but You Are Deadpool is too fun and impressively constructed to ignore. Releasing weekly throughout May, You Are Deadpool is structured as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story that ups the stakes with each passing installment. Al Ewing has a knack of out-there concepts, so it’s gratifying to imagine him scripting You Are Deadpool with the help of post-it notes, twine and a giant corkboard. Salvador Espin is a frequent contributor to Marvel’s massive Deadpool library, including several popular outings with writer Cullen Bunn, and his vibrant cartooning is a good match for Wade Wilson’s madcap violence. If you have access to a friendly comic store or Comixology account, You Are Deadpool might just be the most fun you can have with a Marvel comic this year.
Writers: Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost
Artists: Mike Choi & Clayton Crain
Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost’s run on X-Force reinvigorated the franchise for the new millennium, trading excessive pouches and neon day-glo for tactical black leather and buckets of blood. Domino features heavily throughout the saga, bouncing off of Wolverine and the rest of the cast with abandon, and this second volume also introduces a character who makes a brief, scene-stealing cameo in Deadpool 2. We won’t say much more, and reading this story arc isn’t really a spoiler anyway—the character is adapted in name only—but for viewers curious about that small nod to the comics, this is where you can find out more about that character’s relationship to X-Force’s merry murderers.
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: Leonard Kirk
Okay, so Rob Delaney’s goofy dad Pete didn’t turn out to be suave British mutant Peter Wisdom, as some fans hoped and suspected, but we’ll take any opportunity to plug this backlist gem. Captain Britain & MI-13 doesn’t feature a single character who appears in Deadpool 2, and its mix of mysticism and British-isms couldn’t be further from the tone struck by most Wade Wilson joints, but Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk made magic throughout this brief run about the United Kingdom’s greatest defenders, and no self-respecting comic fan should deny themselves the pleasure of seeing vampires attacking Earth from the surface of the moon. Take a risk. Take a chance. Make a change. Deadpool would want you to expand your horizons.
Writer: Peter David
Artists: Valentine DeLandro & Marco Santucci
The genetically engineered super-fighter Shatterstar is a mainstay of the original ‘90s X-Force series, but those are big, brash and gloriously stupid comics that may not be palatable to modern audiences unfamiliar with the era’s excess. While our main Shatterstar recommendation is to just Google photos of incredibly handsome actor Lewis Tan, our second-best suggestion is checking out the character’s turning point from ‘90s artifact to fully formed modern character. Peter David’s long run on X-Factor is best experienced as the ongoing soap opera that it was, but this volume contains the kiss that changed Shatterstar’s whole character trajectory. Shatterstar’s story would continue throughout the rest of David’s run, culminating in an extremely confusing explanation of his parentage—but just ignore that and stick to the cool nonsensical swords and sexy same-sex smooching.
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Mike Allred
Bill Skarsgård’s appearance in a Deadpool 2 trailer came as a major surprise to fans who had no clue the Pennywise actor would be sharing screen time with Ryan Reynolds, and who he plays was an even bigger shock. Zeitgeist first appeared in Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Force #116, which marked a severe tonal shift from the “Counter-X” direction that ended in issue #115. Milligan and Allred’s take on the property dove deep into the mutant metaphor’s relationship to race, sexuality and gender dynamics, while skewering the American obsession with reality TV and theatrical violence. We strongly recommend the full run—it gets away with a lot of moments that would never fly in the age of Twitter’s instant fan feedback—but if you want the lowdown on the acid-vomiting Zeitgeist, you need only pick up Milligan and Allred’s very first issue. Wink.