Of all the superhero franchises still occupying space in our collective nerd consciousness, 20th Century Fox’s X-Men has got to be the most emotionally confusing for hardcore fans. Comic-book adaptations never completely line up with the source material, of course, but sometimes it still feels like the X-Men franchise takes particular pleasure in totally messing with us. Like, how is Cyclops’ younger brother Havok now 20 years older than him? Why are there two Moira McTaggerts and one of them isn’t Scottish? Is it going to get any better with X-Men: Apocalypse resetting the timeline, or will it be even more confusing?
Deadpool, however, promised us the exact opposite: a hero seemingly lifted straight from the pages of his own comic, as authentic and accurate as he could possibly be, and with none of that “internal logic” stuff to worry about in the first place. So it’s surprising that the writers chose to model one of Deadpool’s supporting characters in the film after Negasonic Teenage Warhead, a character from the X-Men comics who has absolutely nothing in common with her cinematic counterpart except their shared goth punk aesthetic.
This time, though, that’s not actually a bad thing. In making her a completely different character, Deadpool actually did right by Negasonic Teenage Warhead (played to perfection by Brianna Hildebrand) and proved that you don’t have to stay true to the source material to create something great. Here’s how they did it:
1.By Not Killing Her
Unless you’re a huge X-Men fan you’ve probably never heard of Negasonic Teenage Warhead, and there’s a good reason for that: Her defining attribute as a character is that she’s super dead.
The character first appeared in Grant Morrison’s 2001 run of New X-Men as a teenage student on Genosha, an island Utopia for mutants founded by Magneto. Not soon after she warns her class of her recurring nightmares about their looming destruction, the entire country is attacked by Sentinels and 16 million mutants are killed -- not including Emma Frost, who’s found holding her lifeless body in her arms and reacts violently when she’s told the girl cannot be saved.
The destruction of Genosha affects Emma Frost deeply, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead becomes the avatar of her grief, appearing again in Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men as part of the a new Hellfire Club that Emma hallucinates into existence during a mental breakdown.
She was later resurrected for real during a 2010 crossover event where all the deceased mutants of Genosha were brought back to life -- but then quickly died again, because that is what she’s best at.
It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine a movie that introduce Negasonic Teenage Warhead just to kill her off, as is her ultimate purpose in the comics. After all, the cinematic X-Men franchise has no problems ending the lives of other, far more beloved characters (Emma Frost, for example, which I’m still not over), and sometimes straight up uses supporting mutants as cannon fodder to escalate stakes for the A-listers (see also Darwin, Banshee, Angel Salvadore, and anyone else who disappeared between X-Men: First Class and Days Of Future Past. Boo.).
But Deadpool didn’t go that route, and as a result they’ve created more opportunities for her to shine in future movies. Take note of your own successes here, Fox: If you’re going to make changes to a character, finding one we don’t care about and convincing us to care is a pretty satisfying way to go about it.
,2. By Giving Her Some Semblance Of A Personality
The world of X-Men is so packed full of colorful characters that, when they do manage to get their fifteen minutes of fame in a movie, all the focus is usually on their powers rather than their personalities. For example, you’d never know from the films that Iceman is kind of a happy-go-lucky dork, or that Storm suffers from debilitating claustrophobia. Heck, before Deadpool, you wouldn’t have even known what an earnest big brother type Colossus is.
So, while “sullen goth teenager preoccupied with her cellphone” isn’t exactly a nuanced or original character type, the fact that you could even describe Negasonic Teenage Warhead in a sentence without describing her powers at all is kinda groundbreaking for a minor character in the cinematic X-Men universe. You definitely couldn’t do that with her original comic book appearance, that’s for sure.
3. By Giving Her Better Powers
We barely get to know Negasonic Teenage Warhead in the comics before she dies, so it’s hard to pin down her exact canonical power set. She brings up her prophetic nightmares during a class meant for telepaths, and later the evil illusion version of her somehow causes Kitty Pryde to lose control of her phasing powers by saying she’d “dreamed” it would happen. So, does she have predictive powers, or mental manipulation powers, or some combination of both?
In any event, it doesn’t matter, because the Deadpool version of Negasonic Teenage Warhead has a completely different and more visually interesting mutant ability -- she can create explosions and use them to propel herself forward in a fight (which is extra ironic, given the violent and explosive nature of her comic book death.) Director Tim Miller told Empire that they’d considered a mutant called Cannonball for the teenage sidekick role, but decided he’d be “a stupid hick character” and gave Negasonic his powers, instead.
Cannonball is by no means stupid if you ask me, but they weren’t wrong to choose someone else in his place -- as a character, he’s unabashedly earnest and good-natured in a way that’s too similar to Deadpool’s characterization of Colossus. Besides, given that she’s got the word “warhead” right there in her name, explosions actually make way more sense for Negasonic Teenage Warhead than vaguely defined psychic powers ever did, anyway.
4. By Making Her More Than A Joke
Obviously, you can’t talk about Negasonic Teenage Warhead without talking about her name, which was inspired by the title of a Monster Magnet song. Miller fully admits that it was part of the reason they were drawn to her as a character, and they’re not shy about making that known within the context of the movie, either. “What the s--t?” Deadpool yells with glee the second he hears it. “That's the coolest name ever!”
But once we get over the initial shock of the best superhero name in existence, it doesn’t become an annoyingly recurring gag -- and neither is her goth teen aesthetic, either. In fact, more often than not the joke is on Deadpool for trying to engage with her in the first place, specifically on a stereotypical “teens are so mean and sarcastic, right?” kind of level. Negasonic Teenage Warhead contains multitudes, bro. Don’t try to put her in a box.
5. By Presenting Her As Part Of The Team
More than the cool powers, the wacky costumes, or the heavy-handed civil rights movement metaphors, a good X-Men movie should show how a bunch of outcasts and loners are able to form bonds with one another and save the world together as a team. Deadpool has a reputation for being a solo oddball, and his film isn’t so much about saving the world as it is about getting revenge on some dude for messing with his face (and then later, saving his girlfriend from that same dude), but the same holds for him: our Merc With A Mouth needs someone less mouthy to bounce off of, or else he’s just a weirdo in a vacuum.
Enter Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who manages to be the straight man for both Deadpool’s wacky hijinks and Colossus’s good-natured morality at the same time. Her presence brings an extra level of nuance to all three characters that you wouldn’t get if you just designated one character as the humorless, discouraging do-gooder (a role usually delegated to women in superhero movies, unfortunately). Here, Negasonic gets to be humorless and Colossus gets to be the do-gooder, and everyone wins! Except Deadpool. He breaks a bunch of bones and gets insulted by a teenager. But at least that’s fun for us in the audience, right?
6. By Using Her As Shorthand For A Larger X-Men Universe
Wasn’t it cool to see Deadpool show up at the X-Mansion? And wasn’t the yellow and black outfit Negasonic Teenage Warhead wore towards the end of the movie completely perfect? You know, the one that bore a striking resemblance to the costumes worn by the New Mutants?
Sure, they’re probably not seriously considering a New Mutants spin-off (which they should, because c’mon), but the fact that they gave us a glimpse of what it could look like does more than enough on its own. X-Men movies have always suffered under their own weight when it comes to trying to establish a coherent universe, and it’s nice to see Deadpool be able to focus on a smaller individual story while still giving us tantalizing glimpses at what else is possible.
7. By Adding Her Backstory To The Delicious Metatextual Narrative That Is Deadpool
Everything about Deadpool is a study in metacommentary. He’s a comic book character who knows he’s in a comic book, and doesn’t break the fourth wall so much as snap it in two like a graham cracker. And really, what’s more meta than taking a hero who’s known for his inability to die and pairing him up with a character who’s only significant contribution to comics thus far is dying?
Let’s face it, Negasonic Teenage Warhead was a total underdog and would probably never have gotten so much as a cameo in any other kind of X-movie before now. So, it’s fitting that it’s Deadpool -- the most popular underdog of all, who almost didn’t get a movie in the first place and who’s now breaking box office records -- who finally gets to elevate her into the public eye. Where she clearly outshines him. Sorry, Wade, it’s the truth. Now, when are they going to greenlight a New Mutants movie starring Brianna Hildebrand already?