Editor’s note: Jonathan wrote this before Deadpool 2 was released.
When a D-List character is featured in live-action media, it typically goes one of two ways: Completely awesome, like Thunderbird in The Gifted, or a complete waste, like Arclight in X-Men: The Last Stand. This month’s D-Lister will appear in Deadpool 2, but that raises some concerns because the character’s source material is extremely limited. However, he certainly made an impact, and probably has the perfect personality for the type of dark humor a Deadpool film will utilize.
Axel Cluney was a mutant who could projectile vomit corrosive acid. Regardless of his unattractive power, Cluney was still popular with the ladies, and acted as field leader for an iteration of X-Force. Unfortunately, his time with the team was extremely short and the character was forgotten for many years. Have a barf bag handy, folks, because it’s time to welcome Zeitgeist to the D-List.
Axel Cluney first appeared in X-Force #116 in 2001. Created by Peter Milligan and Mike Allred, this issue was the first in a new direction for the title. Instead of variations of Cable’s classic, militant team, this version of X-Force was a reality show, and its “heroes” only desired fame. X-Force’s battles were televised, and members who died were quickly replaced to keep fans satisfied (the turn-over rate was enough to cause motion sickness). The primary focus of this issue, however, was Axel, and it began by showing the first time his power manifested.
A 14-year-old Cluney was about to make out with a girl, but he vomited on her face and it disfigured her. In the present, Axel was shown with some sort of protective mask, likely to avoid such an unfortunate situation again. Cluney tried to review footage from the team’s latest fight, but was distracted by two women. The footage showed Zeitgeist’s teammate, Sluk, getting killed in battle. Axel didn’t care about the mutant’s death, however, because of how gross Sluk appeared.
However funny Zeitgeist’s power and origin were intended to be, he was clearly not a good person, yet was loved by the public. Also, despite his unkind nature, Zeitgeist seemed to be the most stable member of X-Force. U-Go-Girl and Gin Genie abused alcohol and drugs, and Battering Ram was extremely insecure. Axel’s confidence made him a natural leader, even though he was an egotistical jerk. Regardless, the creative team did a great job of establishing his character in such a short period of time, and even showed a blossoming rivalry between Axel and new teammate, The Anarchist, in the span of only a few pages (they spewed such hatred at each other). Zeitgeist certainly commanded a strong presence throughout this issue.
X-Force was called into action just as Axel and teammate, Edie Sawyer, were about to have a romantic dinner (it’s sad because Cluney had lost his lunch, too). A boy band was held hostage by armed criminals, and X-Force was tasked with saving them. Although it seemed like the team was succeeding, Axel’s thoughts were filled with anger and hatred for the lifestyle he lived and the people who adored him. Unfortunately, Zeitgeist was trapped by an armed helicopter and it obliterated him and nearly the entire team. Edie tried to comfort Axel as he died in her arms.
Zeitgeist didn’t even survive one entire comic book before he was killed, but he was still shown to be an interesting and conflicted character. It certainly made sense that he perished quickly, because the team didn’t know how to work together, and Axel clearly wasn’t concerned for battle strategy or a sense of unity. It would have been awesome to see how Axel went from pubescent teenager to grown mutant as a member of X-Force, but the likelihood of that ever happening is extremely slim (they just hurled him into adulthood). Although this was Zeitgeist’s only chronological appearance alive, he was later shown in a flashback that revealed something shocking about the character.
Doop, the team’s videographer, stealthily captured footage of an incriminating conversation between Axel and X-Force’s manager. The two planned to kill the entire team in order to recruit new members, so the hostage situation was a setup that went very wrong for Axel. Cluney admitted on tape that he didn’t care for Edie and wouldn’t be hurt if she died (that’s really retch-ed of him). The new team leader, The Orphan, found Doop’s video, but destroyed it to spare Edie’s feelings, because he knew Edie loved Cluney.
So… Zeitgeist really was an awful person. As replaceable as nearly all the members of X-Force were, Zeitgeist was nonetheless a compelling character despite a ridiculous mutant power. It’s a shame that he died so quickly, because there is plenty of potential for more stories featuring Zeitgeist (they gave him the old heave-ho too quickly). Perhaps he would even make a great villain, but perhaps we’ll never know.
Outside of the Marvel Comics, Zeitgeist will appear in the film, Deadpool 2, and will be portrayed by Bill Skarsgard. This version of the character has been shown with a plastic mouthpiece that rests inches from his mouth, likely to protect innocents. However, there is a still-photo that oddly shows him without the mouthpiece, but it reveals possible Easter eggs. There is a “116” tattooed on Skarsgard’s arm, likely in reference to the character’s first appearance in X-Force #116, and there is a tattoo of the anarchy symbol, possibly referencing brief teammate, The Anarchist. Although it is certainly awesome to see this character included in a movie, I would like see Axel Cluney return to comic books. He deserves another chance, whether as hero or villain, to nauseate Marvel Comics once again.