30 Dec 2012

Cover To Cover: DEATHMATCH #1

Writer: Paul Jenkins
Art: Carlos Magno & Michael Garland
BOOM! Studios $1.00

Stewart R: It’s always nice to get a surprise present at this time of year and while a $1.00 comic is a great way to start, it really does make it special when that comic proves to be a terrific example of universe and character creation. This debut of Deathmatch displays all of the hard work that Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno have put into crafting such a mysterious premise and setting, filling it with a cast that not only represents knowing (and blatant) nods to easily recognisable tropes within the superhero genre, but also fresher ideas that should ensure that this series has a perfect opportunity to stand out in the crowd as the story continues.

The high level idea is a simple one: 32 individuals - most possessing extraordinary powers, some others not - made up of heroic ‘Supes’ and the villainous ‘Fears’ have awoken in a strange prison facility and no idea how they have come to be there. What is evident is that their captors have the means to constrain even the most powerful of the group and force them to participate in the most brutal of one-on-one fights to the death until there is only one left standing. While I reviewed a comic only a few weeks ago with a very similar premise - see my Cover To Cover for Avengers Arena #1 - Deathmatch feels like a very different monster to the Marvel title, primarily thanks to the fact that we know that the captives here are potentially the most powerful or talented beings in the world.

Jenkins seems to make a point of giving us some initial insight into the less powered characters and those with either a high moral code or those who walk a far blurrier ethical line, possibly to keep a more relatable ‘human’ feel to his script. Certainly placing Benny Boatman aka Dragonfly in the spotlight, as he’s been forced to cross a line that he never had before, provides an emotional draw for the reader as we see a hero become a potential victim of the worst form of manipulation. Carlos Magno’s terrific skill with facial expression really helps out here as the sense of sickening remorse and anger within Benny just floods out from panel to panel as he carries his terrible burden.

That’s where Deathmatch becomes truly interesting though, as Jenkins offers up the idea that these characters are being stripped of any choice or control in their clashes in one hand, while in the other, just hidden slightly behind his back, is the smallest, nagging idea that perhaps the control and manipulation may not actually be as strong as is suggested, and that free-will could still be present as friend faces off against friend.

What I particularly enjoyed about this debut is the idea that the small handful of characters who actually have a prominent voice in this issue may not even make it past the fifth or sixth chapter and the series could at any point take a different direction, with alternate protagonists coming to the fore.  Thanks to the tournament format - represented brilliantly with a bonus chart and line up towards the back of the issue - and the roster that appears to contain some enigmatic, mysterious and downright bizarre participants, Deathmatch seems destined to be far
more than a by-the-numbers gladiatorial comic book.

I can really see this appealing to quite a broad readership; it gives those who may be slightly bored with the big two’s constant regurgitation an opportunity to see those deadly ‘what if’ battles unfold utilising characters with partial or striking resemblances to those that have stood the test of time through 40-50 years, while it also promises a brand new universe, full of gritty intrigue, excitement and mystery for those who perhaps don’t focus on superhero titles on a weekly basis in their reading. Jenkins’ dialogue is tight, his characterization top notch and with Magno’s accomplished visuals Deathmatch #1 is simply a $1.00 opening chapter that should definitely be tried!  8/10

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