A “Battle Royale” concept of heroes pitted against each other to the death in an arena has the potential to be pretty tired at this point, what with the proliferation of these types of stories including some comics already out there (“Avengers Arena” and “America’s Got Powers” instantly spring to mind). However, in the deft hands of Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno, “Deathmatch” is not only good, but far better than I ever expected given the concept and title.
Jenkins plays this story rather expertly, setting readers immediately inside the action and focusing on one primary hero (though plenty of others layer the canvas nicely). The concept is perhaps too redundantly explained as most readers will be familiar with the idea instantly and Jenkins is a little repetitive in his writing. But on the whole it’s smart and cool and surprisingly emotional, considering we barely get to know any of these characters in this first issue. Jenkins wisely uses a lot of superhero trope short-hand — the Superman and Wonder Woman types and teams are present, as well as a Rorschach-like character — along with a lot of more interesting heroes and villains. But the shorthand, both for characters and for “universe ideas and battles,” makes it all easy to absorb and instantly understandable for readers regardless of being thrown into the deep end of the pool in issue #1.
Magno is a great artistic choice for this book if only because it’s unexpected. So many of these books look so overly slick and almost antiseptic in their execution. Magno’s art is anything but. It’s dark and gritty with a lot of texture and moodiness. It’s also well complimented by Michael Garland’s colors, which are a nice blend of superhero bright but muted to better fit the darker tone of the book and the slightly sordid style Magno is using. It all comes together quite nicely as a visual, and like the writing was a really nice surprise.
At 99 cents for this first issue, “Deathmatch” #1 is a particular steal, but even regularly priced this is a comic worth checking out. Jenkins and Magno have set up a very cool and smart story that, although it could easily fall into seen it all before cliche, is so far expertly avoiding all those traps and delivering a great reading experience.