In “Deathmatch” #6, Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno deliver devastating battles as our characters edge ever closer to eliminating themselves — to the point that escape won’t mean anything even if they can manage it.
It’s tough in superhero comics to keep fights original and fresh, since readers have often seen so much before, so it’s especially cool that Jenkins has some creativity up his sleeve in this issue. In the battle between Melody and Mink, which could easily have been yet another boring superhero slugfest, Melody gets creative in the use of her powers and kills Mink in a devastatingly personal move. The scene is made all the more intense because as readers, we’re rooting for Mink. She is not only killed, but killed in this way that readers can predict just before it happens. While you hate knowing, you’re also stunned by the concept’s brilliant simplicity.
Jenkins also keeps readers on their toes by killing a character that felt a certain amount of safety. As readers, we’re closer to Mink than Melody, and in this issue she even gets the emotional page time with Benny that would normally signal a “safe central character.” Similarly, the second battle in this issue pits Sol against Rat. If you believe these characters have any hope of escaping, you simply have to root for Rat, but it’s still hard to root against either of them — especially when the death scene is so simple and brutal with nothing heroic about it. In six issues, I care about such a vast tapestry of formerly unknown characters battling it out gladiator style — and it’s quite frankly amazing. There just isn’t enough praise to heap on Jenkins and Magno for managing that feat. All that said, with the exception of a reveal in the last panels, this issue doesn’t drive the overarching plot forward much. The focus on the battles is enjoyable and emotionally resonant, but the larger issue is still being meted out slowly.
Magno’s art continues to impress, both in execution and in how well chosen it is for this title. With so many “new” characters, a lesser artist would not have been able to maintain such storytelling clarity. At the same time, Magno’s detailed dark work is a perfect match for the gritty realism of this book. Michael Garland’s colors are similarly on point for the tone and goals of this series — utterly dark, but with absolute purpose. Magno and Garland execute Jenkin’s creativity in this issue’s battle sequences with a style and emotional punch that is both necessary and appreciated.
In a book that is literally about characters battling to the death in a “match,” it’s nice that Jenkins is taking the time to really think about what might make these pair ups interesting and give the battles an incisive physicality. It’s the polar opposite of lazy superhero writing and is the kind of smart writing that makes this surprise title stands out from the superhero comics crowd.