Barring its first issue, I’ve been covering Paul Jenkins’ Boom book Deathmatch throughout its entire, woefully unsung run. In that time, it has succeeded in doing exactly what you want every comic book (superhero-related or not) to do: it fools and flummoxes, twists and feints, mixes and taints its thematic constraints, all while delivering some of the most bombastic, electrified, viscera-stained action you could ever possibly handle in a book starring an analogous cape community. Jenkins and his art team, Carlos Magno and Michael Garland, have built a rich and robust world at the same time that they are ripping it apart, and in its eleventh issue, Deathmatch’s constructive destruction (or destructive construction) finally reaches its narrative climax. In short, this is the point where shit gets not just real, but revealed.
Infected with time travel paradoxes, in-depth spacial recalibration, hidden ulterior motives, familial tragedy-peppered origin stories and invented, pseudo-scientific mayhem, the exposition in this issue is, bar-none, some of the most complex you will find on the stands today. My god is it fucking verbose, and it also flirts several times with repetition, but in my opinion, what Jenkins is doing here is continuing to purposefully lead his readers down a web-like network that confuses as much as it entertains.
Without intending to spoil anything, this issue sees Benny Boatright (aka, The Dragonfly; aka, this world’s Spider-Man) taking on the personified evil of the Anti-Meridian (aka, Bizarro meets the Anti-Monitor), who this entire time has been on a mission to consume and destroy the universe. Fortunately, however, Benny’s associates (most notably the questionably evil genius they call the Manchurian) have, unbeknownst to him or anyone else, taken great and complicated (sometimes too complicated) measures to prevent this from happening; plans manifested in the creation of the Deathmatch arena, itself.
Shunting the two penultimate tournament contestants back to a very particular moment in one of their pasts, the Manchurian has succeeded in giving Benny an advantage in their battle, but only by the end of their fight do you realize exactly why or how. Now, you’ll notice I’ve been dancing around telling you exactly what happens, and that’s because to do so would ruin most of the fun of your own “figuring out.” Like I’ve said above and in my reviews of recent issues, this is one exposition-heavy sonuva bitch, and I almost guarantee you that you’re going to go cross-eyed as you get nearer its end, but that’s just part of the Deathmatch experience. Don’t come here looking for easy, and it’s best to expect a few pothols along the way.
Some readers, after such a gelatinous slog, may also be disappointed with its ending, which comes so unexpectedly and with such ... “accidental fury,” I guess ... that it will seem like it wasn’t earned or warranted. But I’m going to disagree. I loved how Benny achieved his (no pun intended) “birthright;” it was so innocent, so shockingly banal and out-of-nowhere, that there’s no way anyone could expect it. I myself thought this thing would end in, oh, about 10 different ways than it did, and while it wasn’t what I was expecting, I guess I’m glad of that; especially since its complex path was so unceremoniously ended by such a wayward step.
The art this issue is exactly what regular fans of the series have come to expect from it: a dynamic, diverse story, this time jumping between the catastrophic battles of diminutive gods and the larger-than-life goings-on of down-home Americana, all set and framed within the beautifully manicured texture that, for me, makes Magno’s stuff so damn definitive.
We are hit with yet another “To be Continued...” at the end of this issue, and just like every issue previous, it’s a bit difficult to see where this series is going, or even where or how it will end. I will say that I’m marginally less interested now, with the blowing of issue 11’s wad, in where the story is going in general, and that some of the finer intricacies of Jenkins’ plans do feel a bit hollow (not sure I completely support why every hero “had” to die, or the logic of building just one escape capsule), but I’ve made similar judgements before about this series, only to be proven wrong shortly thereafter.
I remain 100% on-board with Deathmatch up to and after issue 11, and if you don’t mind swimming through a bit of textual and thematic molasses, I’m pretty sure you’re gonna like it, too.
Writer: Paul Jenkins Artist: Carlos Magno Colors: Michael Garland Publisher: Boom Studios Price: $3.99 Date: 11/13/13