Two fights. Two deaths. That’s generally the formula that has driven Paul Jenkins’ gladiatorial superhero book Deathmatch, and in each issue, it’s worked out pretty damn well. Not this time, though. No, in its eighth issue ... Deathmatch fucking nails it. If you’ve read my reviews for this book before, then you’ll know how smitten I’ve become with this book as a whole, but for its painstaking character development, insatiable yet somehow earned bloodlust and evermore deeply carved plot - all mostly told within that “two fights, two deaths” framework - this issue has definitely solidified the series as my favorite Boom! title. That’s what’s up. The uncontested standout feature of this issue is not the din of its page-soaking action (though it is spectacular), but rather its quiet between the shatter. Putting it simply, Deathmatch #8 has the best exploration into character pathos within the series thus far, and that’s really saying something. This book has worked damn hard to fully flesh-out a universe and its population with impressively efficient precision in a short time. It’s frankly shocking that this series is still under 10 issues, given how weathered and beaten this world feels, which I think (without meaning to speculate too much) has something very much to do with the inherent theme of the story.
The bulk of the build this time is arguably shared in the conversation between the heroes Dragonfly and Meridian, as they discuss the nature of heroism in the face of inevitability, but also within the “Iron Man-ish” Omni-Engine. One of the most interesting facets of this story recently has been his inner struggle with a particularly creepy disembodied voice, and while it could be just a clever ruse, the reveal of what (and not necessarily who) that voice belongs to was sublime. The concept, not the band.
Like I said, it could end up being something (or indeed someone) else, but if what Omni-Engine later admits in his discussion with Sable is true, then Mr. Jenkins, you, sir, are a clever fellow. [SPOILER:] The sensation of intense pain as its own insidious character? Damn that’s good.
Then there are the deaths themselves, and while before they’ve been treated, if not delicately, then with meticulous hands, here they were both more graphic and more profound than in any issue heretofore. Unlike in other superhero books today, where “death” is just a plot device, those that take place in Deathmatch actually mean something and are integral to the story itself. I waver in choosing which one, in this case, was more powerful because each one had its own distinct impact, whether it was a quick and quiet mercy killing or a slow, sick transformation into a KFC value bucket. Both had gravity that apply not just to the story, but also to the characters.
The last moments of the top-tier victims this issue are pathetic in the most endearing ways, a surgical stripping away that Jenkins and co. have excelled at throughout the series. In their last throes, these super men become their most sympathetic and likable, shinning brightest before they blow out. It’s so well done, and I think this is the way death should be treated in comics as a whole. Unless Jenkins jumps the shark at the end, other books would do well to look to Deathmatch to see how that old trope should be handled.
I’ve said it before, but Carlos Magno and Michael Garland have created something just as visually special as Jenkins has with the dialogue, plot and well-planned pacing. The visual direction of this book remains this deeply textured beast that happily doesn’t veer into the stereotypical, overly-sinuous superhero fare. It feels dynamic yet grounded, and it all comes together with such gritty hyper-realism, I almost forgive the team for leaving out the man they call Rat. Almost.
But they get five stars from me, nonetheless.
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artist: Carlos Magno
Colorist: Michael Garland
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Release Date: 8/14/13