This morning, I awoke in my bathtub. I have no recollection of how I got there. Water dripped rhythmically from the faucet as I came to, freezing cold and wondering why I wasn’t in bed. A thick, dark liquid pooled by the drain, making a horrifying sound as it gurgled into the plumbing. My fingers were dripping with a jet-black ichor, and as I stood up, I noticed the same fluid on my bathroom mirror. The color drained from my face as I read the words that I had scrawled on the reflective surface in some sort of daze.
THE GRINCH IS CHRISTMAS DEADPOOL
I don’t know what came over me last night, whether it was a trance, demonic possession, or something much more sinister, but the truth of those words was undeniable, and something inside me was compelling me to tell the world. So after a quick pitch email to my editor, here we are.
Now obviously, I’m not making this outrageous claim solely on the basis of a mysterious fugue state. There is a wealth of evidence to support my thesis across all iterations of each of these characters, but for the sake of concision, this analysis will be focused primarily on Deadpool as he appears in the Ryan Reynolds movies, and on the Jim Carrey Grinch from 2000’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas given that these iterations of the stories provide the starkest and most obvious parallels between the characters.
And there are many. Once you start looking for the similarities between the two characters, more and more will reveal themselves. You’ll realize that both characters enjoy gross food (The Grinch eats broken glass, while Deadpool eats the equally objectionable “sweet and salty” pineapple-and-black-olive pizza,) both have strong paternal instincts, and both have an inexplicable sexual magnetism despite not being conventionally attractive (Deadpool has dozens of romantic exploits across his comics and films, while Martha May Who (played by Christine Baranski) swoons almost every time the Grinch is within eyeshot.) I could go on listing similarities, but many of them are skin-deep. We want to cut to the core of these characters, to find the narrative threads that bind them together.
One of the biggest reasons that Deadpool is (and has always been) such a popular character is the way in which everything about his character turns the old, tired trope of an edgy anti-hero on its ear. Yes, Deadpool has a tragic backstory (in the movies, before Wade Wilson becomes Deadpool, he finds love and happiness right before being given a crushing terminal cancer diagnosis). Yes, he has no qualms about killing evildoers outright much like other edgy superheroes and villains. And yes, like other anti-heroes, Deadpool flirts with a moral grey area just enough to give his movies and comics a tone distinct from a standard superhero story.
Crucially, however, all of these tropes are treated with an irreverence that lampoons the entire concept of the anti-hero. Deadpool’s violence is a punchline, with fight scenes consistently implementing elements of slapstick comedy while Deadpool’s unfortunate victims die horrific deaths. Even Wade Wilson’s disfigurement is treated as a self-deprecating joke.
It may seem odd to call The Grinch’s character a parody of the anti-hero in the same framework as Deadpool, but once the template is applied, it fits surprisingly well. The Grinch has a tragic backstory; he has been ostracized from the community he loves, forced to watch from afar as the Whos celebrate a holiday that he has grown to despise. And like most other anti-heroes, this tragedy has warped him with hate. Whereas Deadpool’s is directed at Ajax and his horrific operation, the Grinch’s ire burns towards the hyper-capitalist, exclusionary way in which the Whos celebrate Christmas.
Everything else about the Grinch, however, is a lilting parody, steeped in gross-out humor that undercuts any serious story beats for him. And though in many ways the Grinch is a bumbling villain more than he is an anti-hero, his iteration in How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) paints him as a much more sympathetic character with justified motivations, which causes him to actually fit quite comfortably in this Deadpool-esque anti-hero parody framework.
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How the First Thing Stole a Second Thing
Deadpool’s most recognizable feature as a superhero is the fact that he is aware that he exists in a piece of media and not in the “real world.” In almost every iteration of the character, the same force that gave Wade Wilson superhuman strength and a healing factor also warped his mind, allowing him to pass through the fourth wall at will. He is always aware that there is an audience watching his story, and he interacts with that audience on a regular basis. In most Deadpool stories, this is written off by other characters as insanity, given the fact that nobody else in the universe has this ability to peer past the curtain.
Although the reasons why are never made clear, the Grinch also has the ability to break the fourth wall. He addresses the audience constantly, often quipping directly into the camera. The Grinch is acutely aware that he exists in a movie, just like Deadpool. He talks to the narrator of the story, and actively attempts to derail the movie’s tone by making a concerted effort not to speak in rhyme the way that other characters do.
This fourth-wall-breaking isn’t just played for laughs, however. In each of their movies, both Deadpool and the Grinch use their top-down perspective in order to do things that would otherwise be impossible. Deadpool mostly employs fourth-wall-breaking as a way to distract and confuse enemies on his way to his ultimate goal, whatever it may be. The Grinch, however, is only able to solve the ultimate problems of Whoville’s hyper-capitalist, stressful Christmas traditions because he’s the only person who is able to recognize them as problems in the first place.
The key here is that both the Grinch and Deadpool are able to succeed in making their worlds a better place specifically because they are outcasts in a very literal sense of the word. Sure, they’re both misfits, shunned by the societies in which they live, but they also don’t really live in those societies in the first place. They each exist simultaneously in our reality and in the reality of their own stories, not wholly belonging to either. In a dramatic sense, they’re almost akin to the Greek gods of myth who routinely descended from Mt. Olympus to aid in (or meddle with) the lives of mere mortals.
And so, Deadpool and the Grinch are cut from the same cloth. Though admittedly, in the Grinch’s case, that cloth was knitted into an ugly Christmas sweater.