On Friday, Ryan Reynolds tweeted out the first picture of the official Deadpool costume with him posing on a bear skin rug, à la Burt Reynolds, and the image is utterly brilliant and perfect in every way. Let me explain.
In 1972, Burt Reynolds became the first male centerfold (some say ever) in Cosmopolitan. The shock wave that rippled through American culture, as women proudly taped the poster to their walls and admitted to the world that they had sexual desires, would spawn Playgirl magazine and change the conversation around sex in America.
Believe it or not, it was a total surprise to a great number of people to learn that women like to look at naked men, just like men like to look at naked women. Of course, it came with a certain amount of notoriety for Reynolds, and gave Cosmo its modern-day reputation as a bit of a smut magazine. It was so shocking that the next centerfold didn't appear until 1977, when Arnold Schwarzenegger graced the pages.
Beyond the shock, everyone at the time knew the image was somewhat of a joke. The bear rug? Clearly a joke—it was poking fun at masculine stereotypes and was chosen by Reynolds. The chest rug? Not a joke—people liked things hairy in the '70s. But the point is, the press at the time talked a lot about it being a tounge-in-cheek, tit-for-tat situation. Men had centerfolds to look at, and women deserved them, too. It was only fair. The significance of the image made the sexuality of it moot for many people. This was about equality. (The image has lived on in everything from DirecTV ads to agency copywriter profile pics.)
Referencing the image says a number of things, but first it's important to know Deadpool is a character who is self-aware. He actually seems to have knowledge of himself as a character in a comic book and knowledge of other characters in other universes. This is pretty unique in the comic-book world. In other words, Deadpool can act like he's talking directly to other characters, and those characters, who are not self-aware, can't really talk back.
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) March 27, 2015
That's why Ryan Reynolds, who plays the character, could tweet the official costume with the caption, "With great power comes great irresponsibility." That's a direct jab at "With great power comes great responsibility"—a Spider-Man quote often attributed to Uncle Ben (though it first appeared in the narration in an old Spider-Man comic).
So, Deadpool is clearly taking a direct jab at Spider-Man. Who else might he be jabbing at? Well, in the image, we see him laid out in place of a sexual revolutionary, though Deadpool is not showing any skin. That says he's jabbing at the male sex-symbol image of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man—whose lead male actors have all been celebrated for their sexual appeal. It's like Deadpool is saying, I'm going to blow your minds with a whole new kind of comic-book man—and the ladies will like me better. It also says, I'm not afraid to break some taboos, reference the real world, and hey, don't forget, I'm always a little cheeky. That's just me. And the ladies like a man with a sense of humor, a man who reads Cosmo.
Fox is smart not to underestimate its fans and recognize the power of taking the piss with the superhero genre. Adult comic fans like to be talked to like adults. See, we all know how ridiculous our love of superheroes is, but we love them anyway. We love them smart. We love them topical. We love them allegorical.
And for those few who don't, those who need things at a simpler level, this first image is still brilliant because, "LOL, just l@@k at him on that stupid rug! Hilars!"