In December, BOOM! Studios debuts a new series that takes the hero-versus-hero formula to a whole new level. “Deathmatch,” written by Paul Jenkins with art by Carlos Magno, pits a whole universe of new superpowered characters against one another in a last-man-standing series of one-on-one arena battles to the death. The bouts are the machinations of an all-powerful mysterious supervillain, who has taken the world hostage, televising the fights in an ever-shifting battlefield.
Jenkins spoke with CBR News about the upcoming series, the challenges of creating a whole world of heroes (many of whom will eventually die), world-building in a book primarily about fighting and his love of the Kickstarter funding platform.
CBR News: Give us the overview on “Deathmatch” — the core concept is superheroes fighting to the death in a cage-match situation, but how does the conflict develop?
Paul Jenkins: The one concept seeming to generate a ton of interaction between fans is the idea of “Who would beat whom?” There are message boards dedicated to superhero rumbles and so on — it’s really pretty extraordinary the passion these arguments bring forth. When I chatted with the guys at BOOM! about the concepts, I literally put forward a type of NCAA chart containing our heroes and villains. It was really cool to be a part of the passionate conversations that followed. So with “Deathmatch,” we have committed fully to the idea of fights between characters to the death.
A group of heroes (“Supes”), villains (“Fears”) and those in-between (“Neuts”) wake up to find they are being held in a prison somewhere. They are being subdued by some kind of all-powerful, light-based captor, but they are given very little information about why they are there, save for the fact they each must go into a televised arena and face off against each other. Once they enter the Deathmatch arena, no matter their feelings before they enter, they are somehow persuaded to fight to the death. The whole thing is a big mystery but on the face of it, it seems they’re here for someone’s amusement.
What was it like creating a whole world of superheroes from the ground up?
I haven’t enjoyed such a great challenge in years — this is the kind of world building I adore. I remember Kurt Busiek’s “Astro City” fondly and pitched to the BOOM! guys that despite our opening gambit — namely that of having our characters kill each other — it would be thrilling to create our own universe. I realize fans are very familiar with, say the Marvel and DC Universes, and there’s a great deal of loyalty towards characters that have been in print for many years. But fans would do well to recognize new environments such as “Astro City” (or even the world of the “Watchmen”) allowed for some amazing creative freedom. I can do superhero and villain stories that don’t have to answer to a core group of editors within a large system. I can push envelopes and create some really interesting themes. I can ask challenging questions and put these characters in some really difficult situations, unencumbered by past continuity. It’s really liberating and I hope readers will love the fact we can do some things the more established companies cannot.
Only one of these heroes will end up surviving; was it difficult to create some of these characters with the knowledge most would have to die?
I am going to have to go with “killing these characters sucks.” I love all of them. But hey, I have plenty of new characters in mind for our future series. Assuming anyone survives at all.
You’ve had some experience working on a myriad of powers in books like “Inhumans” — did you find it challenging to come up with powersets and heroes that may not have been seen before?
Not challenging at all – I am having the greatest time coming up with unique powers. I don’t know why — I find it rather easy, actually. You see, I have always thought a superhero’s powers suggested tons of wonderful stories and situations. Let’s take Daredevil — the fact he’s blind and hypersensitive suggests a ton of potential stories. I like to think outside the box a little bit and I sometimes found when working on the mainstream DC and Marvel characters I would make a request or suggestion that would be politely turned down (so much for my idea to make Wolverine a cross dresser).
One of our main characters is a guy called Dragonfly. He has these cool abilities like power barbs and Dragon flight. The Dragon flight allows him to flit between buildings, and he can fly for exactly one minute but if he does not touch a grounded object such as a building, he loses the power to fly. So if he screws up, he plunges to his death. Now to me, this suggests any number of possibilities: what if he had to fly upwards to save someone, knowing if he got too high he would never make it back down, for example? The power itself suggests interesting scenarios.
We have another character named Nephilim who grows in strength in direct proportion to his opponents’ fear. So what if the opponent does not fear him?
God, I have a million of these. It’s fun.
In terms of the actual fights, where will they take place? Will it be a consistent setting or will the arena shift with each bout?
None of the captives knows where they are, or who controls the Deathmatch arena. What they can see is the arena seems to literally change or adapt with each bout. They begin to understand the arena itself morphs to create a type of level playing field. Using a mainstream example, Superman would probably blow away any of the others based on sheer strength. Clearly, he’d beat Rorschach to death with his own spleen. But what if the arena were full of pockets of Kryptonite and there was a maze of tunnels where Rorschach could hide?
This is the Deathmatch arena — it provides a place where any character could beat any other character. What kind of person triumphs in that event?
Let’s talk world-building for a moment. Obviously, the fights are the central conflict of the story, but how will you introduce lore and mythology for the heroes of this series?
Another thing I have always enjoyed is creating back-story for characters we have never seen. If you look to the Sentry, for example, we gave him this rich world where he had a massive base called the Watchtower. From that, we extrapolated a dog called Watchdog. But the Time theme ran through it all, so his computer was called CLOC, etc. He had been the Golden Guardian of Good in the 1950s; his powers were possibly based on the sun. In the first issue of “Sentry” alone we went through about six periods of comics, from Golden Age to Image-style.
We’ll be showing some of the older adventures of these characters. In addition, we’re going to provide a kind of Guide to the Deathmatch Universe, in which we show the characters’ first appearances and their powers. We’ll list trivia, their known adversaries and even their alter egos. It’s going to be a ton of fun.
I recognize the challenge of having a readership accept a new set of characters but I welcome that challenge. I think Carlos Magno is an amazing artist who really knows how to sell both power and emotion. Our job together is to sell these characters, to make readers care very quickly. I’m going to go out on a limb and say they’ll care about Dragonfly on page 2 of “Deathmatch” #1.
Superheroes have always had the potential to clash in different ways, but it’s been especially apparent this year with Marvel’s “Avengers Vs. X-Men.” How does “Deathmatch” differentiate itself from the other series in this hero vs. hero category?
Well, I think that is primarily because of our creative freedom. Marvel and DC have a lot invested in, say, Batman or Spider-Man. No one can die. Spidey has to follow certain paths. Now, this is not to say he cannot be an amazing and well-rounded character. I had the chance to write him for over five years and I loved it. I think what Dan Slott and others are doing now is great, but there are a lot of rules — there’s a lot those great creators cannot do, and for good reason. Well, I make the rules in this universe, so our characters can do whatever the story dictates. Creative freedom is something fans really gravitate towards. Scott Snyder has a great deal of freedom within the Batman universe and he uses it to great effect. Here we have even greater freedom.
What about Magno’s art style do you think makes him a good fit for the story you’re telling?
Carlos is just an incredible artist and everything I have seen so far suggests this is going to be a crazy-looking book. He is brilliant at drawing powers and yet he can also do the character moments I always call for in my stories. It’s going to be a real pleasure working with him for some time to come. Amazing talent.
You’ve found great success with Kickstarter on other projects: first with “Fairy Quest” — a project you did with Humberto Ramos — and then again with “Sidekick.” Both were successful but ended at disparate funding levels. Based on these two experiences, what’s your estimation of Kickstarter as a funding platform? Do you plan on launching another project through the service?
I am most definitely in love with the Kickstarter model. I have had the greatest experience working with that site and the fans there have been great (and forgiving — I did not realize in my first campaign how wrong I would be about shipping dates, but the books are now shipping and I hope the fans will forgive my faux pas in that regard). Kickstarter, if done right, works really well. All of the high-end “Fairy Quest” books will be done via Kickstarter from now on, though we may have some additional news soon on the “FQ” front!
In addition, I have not been as happy working with a company in ages as I am with BOOM!. This has so far been a wonderful experience and for the time being I am going to concentrate on really building something there, for as long as they will have me. It’s refreshing to deal with an amazing editorial staff who really appreciates creative talent, yet has a firm grasp on story and art requirements. My editors, Matt, Bryce and Eric have made some great suggestions about the work – ideas that have really improved the stories. Ross Richie and my old pal Filip Sablik have been very kind. I see myself working with BOOM! for a long time to come and very closely for the near future.
What should fans of hero vs. hero battles get most excited about for “Deathmatch?”
Want to know who would win between Batman and Superman or between Batman and Spider-Man? Well, frankly, you probably won’t get to see it happen in your lifetime. We’re doing it in “Deathmatch.” Every page is a surprise. Everything counts and the deaths have meaning forever. You want these characters to be real people and for their deaths to feel difficult, sad or even uplifting and heroic.
You want it because you talk about it for hours in message boards or in your local comic store. You can thank me later.
“Deathmatch” #1 by Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno hits stores in December from BOOM! Studios.