Comicscape: Deathmatch (Mania.com)

By:Joel Rickenbach
Date: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Source: Mania.com

I would love to do some real research on why battle royale type comics have all of a sudden taken hold of the Wednesday populace. AvX, Avengers Arena, America’s got Powers… comics aren’t just for paper cuts anymore, they’re a full on bloodsport. So far it’s worked pretty well- Marvel’s slugfest companion book (AvX) to their giant summer crossover was a fun diversion from the world ending scenario of the main book. Sure we want to see how the story shakes out, but what if the Hulk fought Psylocke in the process, how would that turn out?  (Answer: Purple goo on the pavement.) Deep down readers have always harbored a blood lust- from power levels on comic trading cards to Wolverine’s first appearance being a throw down with the Hulk. Hell, even the Death of Superman was a giant bit of fisticuffs. When dealing with super-powered characters it just comes with the territory. How long these comics stick around remains to be seen, but I predict we’ll see many more before the theme reaches its saturation point. Hopefully writers and creators will find ways to keep it fresh other than “Who would win…” Enter Deathmatch, a new comic from writer Paul Jenkins, artist Carlos Mango and Boom! Studios. There are plenty of tussles in this comic’s future, but it also takes the battle royale in a slightly different, and welcome direction.

The heroes and villains of Deathmatch are not at each other’s throats over a disagreement, or competing in a Circus Maximus type entertainment, they have no choice but to fight each other to the death. Friends, teammates, lovers… two supers enter, one super leaves. The book jumps right into the fray, there’s no set up or drawn out origin stories, our heroes have already been captured, and the first casualty lies gored on the rocks. Deathmatch is not 100% original, we’ve seen a lot of this before, but it presents enough interesting ideas and twits to sink the hook in deep. The hero responsible for first blood is Dragonfly, who we quickly learn has adhered to a “no killing” policy his entire career, yet there he is, standing over one of his lifeless peers. He’s feeling extreme guilt, and in a confessional moment reveals his secret identity to his fallen comrade. All of this is being broadcast to his captive peers who can’t believe what they are seeing, as all are waiting for their moment to be thrust into the arena. On Dragonfly’s trip back to the holding area, we get a taste of another interesting wrinkle- It seems the combatants are being brainwashed before they enter the arena, and when they survive, and gain their memories back, they have to cope with the guilt of what they were forced to do, and who they were made to kill. It’s these few ideas that sets Deathmatch apart from your typical brawl, there are real consequences, and hopefully future issues will mine that for all it’s worth. The rest of the issue shows the captive supers trying to figure out just what’s going on. There are guards clad in white light that break up any scuffle that erupts outside of the arena, and who or what is responsible is a complete mystery. The characters begin to take stock of their options just as another deathmatch claims one of their most respected heroes. The Rat (a Rorschach analogue) is not one to sit idle, and goes about getting some answers the old fashioned way. There’s a nice feeling of immediacy and tension to the book, and Its a good hook to bring us back for issue #2.

 

Introducing readers to an entire new cast of super heroes during a 23-page issue is a tough sell. It doesn’t work often since most books end up feeling alien or unfamiliar. Characters usually have a panel or two of fleshing out before the action kicks in, and suddenly you’re 5 issues in and you still don’t know who anyone is. Deathmatch avoids a lot of this by setting up it’s pace right off the bat. It’s clear this story will build from the inside out, and fill you in as it hums along. At certain points we get panels that flashback to significant moments, almost as if they are cut from classic issues of comics we’ve never read. Paul Jenkins employed the same tactic during his run on Marvel’s Sentry, it worked then, and it works here too. The secret weapon of Deathmatch is artist Carlos Mango—the book has a flashy Whilce Portacio cover, but Mango’s interior art is much darker and nuanced, giving the book the weight it needs to tell this kind of sobering story. Deathmatch #1 sold out its initial 37,000 first printing, with a second printing hitting shelves as we speak. Boom! Studios gave the book momentum by making the cover price $1.00, and it obviously paid off. I rarely write about the collector’s market side of comics, but the rumor is the full priced issue #2 is getting a “wait and see” approach from retailers, which could make it a hard to find book if you are looking to dive in. If you like your gladiatorial combat with consequences, then I highly recommend you pick up Deathmatch, and if you need any more convincing—the first issue ends with a two page tournament style bracket, which is definitely an indication of the drama and blood to come.

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Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 1 Tomorrow's Avengers TP, $39.99 

Hawkeye #3 (David Aja 2nd Printing Variant Cover), $2.99 

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Case Closed Volume 45 GN, $9.99 

Loveless 2-In-1 Edition Volume 2 TP, $14.99 

Loveless Volume 10 GN, $9.99 

Virus The Day Of Resurrection HC (Novel), $25.99


VOYAGEUR PRESS

Star Trek The Complete Unauthorized History HC, $40.00


ZENESCOPE ENTERTAINMENT

Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Alice In Wonderland TP, $15.99 

Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Wonderland Volume 1 TP, $15.99


Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him on Twitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.

 



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