Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Deathmatch, Volume 1 Review (Paul Jenkins, Carlos Magno)

For me, this was Paul Jenkins’ last chance – I didn’t like his New 52 The Dark Knight series with David Finch, I abhorred Wolverine: Origin, and last summer’s Tomorrowland was pitiful. I’ve heard Deathmatch is a good comic though so decided to give it a shot but, having read it, I can say it definitely isn’t. I now know for sure that I hate Paul Jenkins’ work and I will be avoiding anything with his name on in the future. 

A group of superheroes are captured by some supervillains and forced to fight one another in a uniquely constructed deathmatch arena whose environments shift depending on the combatants’ powers. The story unfolds in two locations – the arena and the holding area - and there’s a twist: while in the holding area, they forget their actions in the arena and vice versa. Lifelong friends are forced to kill one another for survival in a bloodthirsty chain of fights. 

I recently read another superhero deathmatch comic, Marvel’s Avengers Arena, and quite liked it. So, despite the similarity in concept, why didn’t I like Deathmatch as much? It’s not because the characters are new unlike in Avengers Arena, because I didn’t recognise any of the AA cast besides one character, with none being especially famous on purpose. The characters in Deathmatch are very obviously facsimiles of more famous characters like Superman, Batman, Rorshach, Iron Man, Punisher, Beast, and so on, which should be interesting but aren’t because they’re written so flatly and unimaginatively. 

Deathmatch is supposedly Paul Jenkins’ subversive take on those famous superheroes but there’s nothing here Garth Ennis didn’t parody better in his series, The Boys. Moreover, I’m not sure what Jenkins’ point is in having all of these famous superheroes killing one another – some lame observation on the thin line that separates good from evil, or how easily their code of ethics can be broken? I really don’t know because all we get are superheroes talking about their puzzling situation – which doesn’t go anywhere - interspersed with fights that are supposed to be moving and meaningful because these are friends killing friends but because we don’t know the relationships between the characters until they’re in the arena, we’ve got a handful of pages to give a damn, and it’s not enough time. Keeping things like how they got here and who’s doing this to them does make for a mysterious premise but concealing character details makes it that much harder to connect with any of them. 

Another key difference between Avengers Arena and Deathmatch is that Deathmatch reads in a very staccato fashion. Fight. Stop. Fight. Stop. There is some danger outside of the arena but not much, so the characters outside of the arena spend their time talking about what’s going on and eating – it’s not very tense. In Avengers Arena, they’re always in the arena, they’re always in peril – the tension is constant and unpredictable with a possible death to come at any time, and therefore more exciting as a result. I suppose the amnesia angle was supposed to make the book mysterious and interesting but the book is so plodding and one note that I couldn’t have cared less. 

Deathmatch is a tremendously dull book. Characters I don’t care about trying to break out of a drab prison while sporadically being forced to kill one another in dreary fights is not interesting to read. Jenkins doesn’t have anything to say about the heroes the characters are modelled upon, or on superheroes in general. The setup, while contrived, has potential but instead isn’t even remotely entertaining, astonishing for a comic called Deathmatch. 

It’s definitely not an amazing comic but compared to Deathmatch, Avengers Arena is a masterpiece – try that if you’re after a superhero deathmatch comic rather than Jenkins’ awful book.

Deathmatch Vol. 1

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