Despite his relatively recent creation – he celebrates the 25th anniversary of his first appearance in New Mutants #98 this year – Marvel’s anti-hero Deadpool has become just as valued and beloved as many other, much older comic book creations in far less than half the time. To an entire generation, he’s as beloved as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Wolverine and the Hulk.

But who is this affably amoral mercenary, and which of his comics should you seek out and read if you enjoyed the film?

To some, Wade Wilson is merely a lunatic Pagliacci, the epitome of the sad clown who can’t make himself laugh due to his own severe depression. To others, his neurologically atypical status has made him easy to identify with. Still others are grateful for the character’s very clear pansexuality; the character may have a tense marriage with the succubus Shiklah and past romantic relationships with women like the X-Man called Siryn, but he’s expressed clear attraction to many other characters with varying gender identities and orientations as well, including Cable, Spider-Man, Wiccan, Hulkling, the Punisher, late Golden Girls stalwart Bea Arthur and The Grinder star Rob Lowe. His deep experience with trauma, abuse and loss is yet another element of the character that connects with his fanbase, and his struggle to be a good man – what he calls a “hero” – is universal in these morally gray times.

Originally just a (barely) trademark-safe version of DC’s Slade Wilson, the Teen Titans and Green Arrow villain Deathstroke, Deadpool, created in 1991 by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza, quickly developed into his own beast, a fourth-wall-breaking, wise-cracking gun for hire, a cancer survivor whose treatment left him scarred but imbued with a healing factor. His first ongoing series, initially captained by writer Joe Kelly and artist Ed McGuinness – now the creative team of the instantly-successful of the new Spider-Man/Deadpool ongoing series – catapulted the character to instant stardom after a few hit mini-series with contributions by industry legends like Mark Waid. Kelly’s run on the series is still considered by many to be the character’s finest hour almost twenty years later and can be read in individual volumes of the Deadpool Classics trade paperbacks, as well as in the Deadpool by Joe Kelly Omnibus.

His next series, Cable & Deadpool, teamed Wade with his best frenemy Cable, the time-traveling former X-Man and leader of X-Force, and was written by Fabian Nicieza, his co-creator. The series lasted for fifty issues between 2004 and 2008. Though their partnership struggled at its start (they even took separate sides in the Marvel crossover Civil War), the two leads eventually developed a mutual respect for one another, and, some could argue, even a deep bond. Cable, often played straight as a mutant messiah-type, began an earnest quest to save the world that terrified many of the world’s heroes, including Nick Fury, the X-Men and the Silver Surfer. Cable is bound for big-screen glory in the already-greenlit sequel to the Deadpool film, and this, what I firmly believe to be the best run in either character’s history, could serve as a terrific template for the follow-up movie. Characters from the film, including Weasel, show up throughout the series’ run, and recurring comedic relief and Deadpool mole Bob (who makes a cameo of questionable legality in the film’s climax) makes his debut in this series. This run can be read and enjoyed in two forms, both retitled from the original printings: the three-volume “Deadpool and Cable Ultimate Collections,” and the “Deadpool & Cable Omnibus,” which contains the entire run in one hardcover volume.

Deadpool makes good on his promise to become a hero in the Rick Remender-written Uncanny X-Force, which featured glorious art by such modern luminaries as Jerome Opena, Esad Ribic and Phil Noto. The series followed a black-ops team of X-Men lead by Wolverine that sought out threats to mutantkind and attempted to eliminate them before they could enact whatever plans they had in the waiting. But with a team consisting of the manipulative Fantomex, the lunatic Psylocke and the mind-controlled Archangel, it’s easy to see how Deadpool could – and did – become the team’s moral center, especially as the team’s own issues – both from within and without – threatened to destroy their own missions. Currently available in the two-volume “Uncanny X-Force by Rick Remender: The Complete Collection,” it’s not just one of the best X-Men stories of all time, but, at its heart, one of the best Deadpool stories ever written.

There’s so much more to Deadpool than these runs and the film; there’s the great, though sadly out-of-print, “DeadpoolMAX” by Stray Bullets creator David Lapham and Illuminati artists Shawn Crystal, a more real-world, adult-oriented take on the character; the still-ongoing Deadpool run co-written by Gerry Duggan and comedian Brian Posehn; his current adventures in the pages of Uncanny Avengers and the aforementioned Spider-Man/Deadpool; and no doubt, much more to come as the world at large has cannonballed (it’s an X-Force joke, leave me alone) into the ‘pool.

So why not Wade in (I’m sorry, I’m awful)? There’s a Deadpool for everybody; I promise you this as much as I promise that Deadpool isn’t going to shoot me for all of these awful puns and I am certainly not typing this at gunpoint.

He is, though.

– Kevin M. Brettauer