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The most interesting conclusion I can draw from Deathmate is that if you were to physically show a friend or two what comics were like in the 90’s then you could do no better than handing them this. Deathmate at its core is simply an Image and Valiant crossover. It showcases the style of each publishing house at the time, and it does so over six books. Indeed the second most interesting conclusion that I can make about Deathmate is that you can actually only read the Prologue and Epilogue issues and get the entire story. But then you would miss out on the fun.

Deathmate, an example of 90's comics.
Ahhhh the 90’s.

Bob Layton successfully takes two very different companies, with very new characters, and creates a reason for them to coexist. And he does it whether you agreed with it or not.

The Prologue issue sets things up nicely. Solar from Valiant and Void from Image literally entangle to combine both universes. Then it’s up to our heroes, lead by Prophet and Geoff McHenry the Geomancer, to work together.

The six books themselves do at times feel disconnected and you wonder where they’re going with it. But then as you progress you realize that Image basically provides the bookends for the story. While Valiant makes up the fleshy middle.

Once you get to Yellow, things slow down a lot. Instead of getting one, massive action packed story, you’re treated to different chapters. It’s a bit disjointed but you do get some of the fun. Mainly because characters still die and you remember that there’s a point to all this.  

An example of Valiant's house style taken from an issue of Deathmate.
AnThe Valiant house style at the time.

If you were lost after Yellow (and I wouldn’t be surprised if you were) Blue anchors the story down to give it some logic. Geoff McHenry finally returns and he gives us the stakes and what this whole thing means. Two universes are combined that shouldn’t be combined, and he knows how to save both. With Yellow and Blue you definitely notice the Valiant house style with its pastel colors and spacious lettering.

If you’re a fan of the Valiant side of the equation, then Deathmate definitely shows you where Valiant was at the time. Ninjak was just getting his first issue and Bloodshot was just introduced. So you will be quite disappointed to see how much the writers underuse these characters.

But if you’re a fan of the Image side of the equation then you’re in for a treat. Ripclaw, Gen 13, and Youngblood do a lot of the leg work as well as Prophet being an integral part of the story. However both he and Geomancer disappear halfway through and it’s not until you hit the strongest book in the series, Red, that Image takes it up a notch.

And you definitely have to give sole credit to Rob Liefeld and his Youngblood for this. It’s interesting to see Liefeld in this context. He contributes mainly toward the middle-end of the series and because of that you see the stark contrast and style that he possessed in comparison to the other artists and writers. He was all about the sex. Liefeld is definitely what Image was at the time. No bullshit, balls to the wall, crazy action and everything notched up to 12.

Hell yeah!

And again, context is key here. To understand Deathmate you have to understand why there was room for a Valiant and an Image in the first place. Marvel and DC were all about their superheroes and setting up stories for the slow burn. No doubt to keep you hooked and to rake in as much money as they could. And they still do this. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s a winning strategy after all. And they do treat you to satisfying and compelling storylines along the way. It’s like watching one hundred and sixty two baseball games and waiting for that one miraculous play to happen.

But Image? And Deathmate? It tells the slow burn to fuck off. Because here you get everything. Betrayal, treachery and downright zaniness over six issues. It’s explosive, over the top, and it’s the 90’s. Because that’s what the 90’s were and that’s what the Image guys showed us. You can have your cake and eat it too.

And as you get to the The Epilogue, you will immediately notice that it’s the most beautiful book of the series. Mainly thanks to Marc Silvestri. It’s also a cosmic book that matches it cosmic counterpart in the Prologue. Layton hammers this one home and Silvestri helps him do it. Even if you didn’t want a Valiant and Image crossover, you can’t help but admit that they pulled it off. Yes we didn’t need those filler in issues, but they played in the playground for the right amount of time just before they put everything back together again.

The final issue of Deatmate, showcasing Marc Silvestri's mastery of sequential art.
Sequential art at its finest.

Did this thing hit a bunch of delays and problems because that’s what Image did at the time? For sure. But we don’t have to worry about that anymore because we can read it one go. So if you want a taste of the 90’s then look no further than Deathmate. Read it, and then read it again. And let me know if you understand it or if someone you know understood it. But really, don’t get too caught up in all that jazz, because then you’d miss the point of all this. Sex is great.

Further study

Robservations – DeathMate!

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