It’s the equivalent of the national championship in Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno’s “Deathmatch” #12, the series’ final issue. Only two superhero combatants remain from the original thirty-two, although a third is kind of still lingering around to help move the story along and to try and screw up everyone’s bracket tournament.
Jenkins’ story had moved along pretty well on its own, at least up until last issue, when the true nature behind all of these death matches was disclosed and he had to add a lot of convoluted backstory to explain it. All of that backstory spills into this issue, and complicates what had been a relatively simple idea that worked out better before all of the mysteries had been revealed. Readers knew and hoped that all the secrets would be uncovered at some point, but it’s a case of the cure being worse than the disease. In this issue, it all plays out in its full time-hopping, space-jumping, dimension-spanning, uber-scientific grandeur, but forgets that readers came to see a fight, not a cosmic event.
Admittedly, Jenkins had to make this into something bigger than a series of otherwise meaningless superhero battles, but he gets bogged down with details in the attempt. The true endgame that Jenkins sets up requires a jumble of implausible sequences and uncharacteristic moments to get there, and almost reads like he’s trying to cap off this story with an ending to another one. Injuries suffered in past battles mean nothing when any given character can just get them fixed in a “recombination cylinder” in preparation for the next one, for instance. And the implication from the title of the comic, that only one character can emerge victorious at the end, makes no sense in the context of the story’s ultimate resolution; if there’s a final battle to be fought for the fate of all existence, thirty-two superheroes would surely seem a better tactic to throw at it rather than a sole survivor. Even if the final two combatants accept the premise that only one can move on, the idea that either so-called hero would willingly kill the other is a pretty difficult one that Jenkins asks readers to buy into.
There’s a whole lot of talking and convincing going on before and after this issue’s final battle, but it doesn’t take. There’s an ironic kind of interest, though, in reading all of the mumbo-jumbo that tries to explain the hard-to-explain; it’s like listening to someone who sincerely holds an indefensible or unpopular opinion trying to sway others with an impassioned argument. It’s unfortunate, really; Magno as always makes conversations and confrontations alike look great, whether in the battle arena or elsewhere, but he can’t make the story and more logical or coherent.
“Deathmatch” #12 is a disappointing ending to what had been a relatively strong and enjoyable storyline. It kind of has the same vibe as finding out the truth about Santa Claus, only to discover that we wished we hadn’t asked.