Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno's "Deathmatch" has been a shockingly pleasant surprise. Combining old-fashioned gladiator matches with more modern "Battle Royale"/"Hunger Games" styling and throwing superheroes into the mix could have felt like just a desperate plea for sales but instead Jenkins and Magno have found a compelling narrative that's instantly engrossing.
Unfortunately, this is the weakest issue thus far, as Jenkins advantages have run out. While using a whole new world of characters has given Jenkins free reign to kill mercilessly (and permanently) and to be wildly creative, he's now come up against having to fill in a huge back story and it slows the narrative to a crawl. It's likely a necessary evil, but in the end it just doesn't work nearly as well as the opening issues.
There's still plenty of battling going on and Jenkins works in an impressive amount of character development given his huge cast and plotting requirements. However, the exposition in this issue feels like an ungraceful info dump, as characters bring readers up to speed on who could be behind the brutal Deathmatch games. This is always a tricky part of any story, and it certainly doesn't ruin the book (or series) but as a reader I hope Jenkins will be able to more forward more fluidly in future issues now that we have the information we need about the formidable Intelligencia.
Magno's art continues to impress as he juggles a massive cast and makes them feel somehow both like the DC and Marvel analogues they represent and also wholly their own. Character references are generally clever (visually and otherwise) but the artwork is so detailed and consistent that it's incredibly easy to follow along and get to know the characters -- even with so many on the playing field. Magno has designed these characters well and he clearly knows them like the back of his hand, and yet he doesn't get hung up on the details in lieu of good storytelling. He delves back and forth between the "deathmatch" action and talking heads with ease. Michael Garland's colors have a gritty darkness that's beautifully fitting for a superhero book with such a bleak tone.
Even in an issue in which "Deathmatch" stumbles a bit as it juggles exposition heavy back story, it's still a solid comic, and one that is worth picking up -- against all odds. I remain impressed, and perhaps more importantly, excited to see where Jenkins and Magno are taking us.