Paul Jenkins has gotten a lot of praise through his career for emotional, character-driven stories like the ones found in Peter Parker: Spider-Man and Inhumans. His latest project? Deathmatch for BOOM! Studios.Sure, superheroes fighting to the death in tournament-style brackets might seem like a far departure from what fans may be used to seeing from Jenkins — but as he told us, the project came with near-complete creative control, and allows for plenty of exploration of character along the way. With the series debuting in December, Newsarama talked with Jenkins about creating a new universe from scratch, working with artist Carlos Magno and where the franchise might go next. ENLARGE Newsarama: Paul, at face, Deathmatch seems like a very different project for you. You've been known for a quieter type of stories throughout your career, and this is a series called "Deathmatch." What inspired it?
Paul Jenkins: It's kind of funny, actually. You're right. I recognize what I've been known for, I get it. When I started with Hellblazer, they would say, "Well, this guy's a horror guy." Then I ended up doing horror and other stuff for Marvel, and it's like, "Well, this guy's an intelligent superhero guy." I did Spidey, and it was just fun, single-issue stuff. I've done lots of different type of things.
Then I do a project that appeals to me like this, and I have heard a couple of times, "You're not really that guy, are you Paul?" It's not really true. I like what I like, and I know this is crazy, but I actually was asked recently if I would do this comic for the guys at Wizard for The Situation — the guy on Jersey Shore. I think they were surprised when I said, "Yeah, I'd do that." Something appeals to me about the idea of, "What an interesting challenge. Make a character out of some guy on TV." It's not the first time I've done it, I was asked many years ago by Todd MacFarlane to do one for Ozzy Osbourne, and I always thought that comic we did was this cool little comic. I never looked at it and said, "Eh, it wasn't a good idea to have done it." I think the projects that appeal to me in strange ways like this are more for me than falling into the morass of the superhero grind.
"Why Deathmatch?" It was simply because they gave me absolute creative license, and it wasn't just to do the death matches. It's a world, a superhero universe — "the Deathmach Universe." We can do new characters, we can do the first new superhero universe since, I think, Astro City, and it'll be in the vein of Astro City or Watchmen. It'll be thought-provoking. Sure, we're using the lowest common denominator if you look at it in some ways. It's "Who's the strongest: Hulk or Batman? Who wins?" I'm OK with the relatively visceral examination of "Does Superman beat Batman in a fair right?" Here's the thing you forget about when you talk about that: It's so thought-provoking when you begin to discuss why a character would do a certain thing against another character.
What I've been able to do is create new characters with new superpowers. I've found that superpowers kind of imply story potential. To give you an example, our main character is "Dragonfly." One of his powers is that he can fly for one minute, and he has to touch something that's grounded. If he does so, then he can keep flying. If he goes over a minute, he falls to his death. That little thing was so cool, that it made you say, "What's he like? What does he do if he's in trouble? Has anyone ever saved him? What if he grabs another character and literally flies as fast as he can up into the Earth, knowing that he's gone past his minute barrier, and they're both going to plunge to their death?" I just think that's really compelling. The editors and I got into great conversations about these brand-new characters — we were having these great, story based conversations that suggested themes, and scenes just because we were talking about who would beat who.
Nrama: So since you were creating a new universe from the ground-up, did that project require more foresight and planning than a typical assignment for you?
Jenkins: No, because I'm a prep guy, so I do a lot of lead work, always. But a couple of other people have asked me, "Is it so hard to create a universe?" and my answer is, "No, I love it, it's easy." It's fun. I could probably create 300 more and not even blink.
Nrama: How many new characters have you created so far?
Jenkins: We've done 32 so far, because there are brackets. We've done 32 plus another 10 or so peripheral characters including some other villains and heroes that we don't really see in this series, but we allude to, or mention, or show in flashback.
We've got these crazy guys like "Glass Man." "The Projectors." Groups, "The Persuaders." "Second Force." "First Force." And all these imaginary conflicts, and crazy-ass things that you'll never see; or we haven't seen yet. Villains like "Homunculus."
Nrama: It seems like a pretty rare opportunity to freely create in your own territory.
Jenkins: And that's the thing, they absolutely let me create without restriction. That's what I have been really, really angling to do at the mainstream companies for a couple of years. Going back to the Marvel Knights days, absolutely I could, but not as much these days. And that's understandable; they have different owners, in the case of Marvel; they have different ways of doing things. That's OK, I'm getting to do what I've always liked to do, here.
Nrama: Are the characters all wholly new creation, or are some analogues or composites of existing characters?
Jenkins: There are a couple of analogues. One character is somewhat an analogue of Superman, one character is somewhat an analogue of Batman, there's a Hulk-y kind of character.
Nrama: With so many brand-new characters, how do you approach the challenge of making sure the reader cares about them enough to root for (or against) them in a battle to the death?
Jenkins: I wish I had more time. I wish I could do an individual story about each one of these characters. I really do. I wish I could do an entire series about some of these characters.
We do have sort of a Batman and Joker analogue, very much so — Joker's probably the most obvious analogue, because we have this crazy clown guy called "Mr. Chuckles." One of the things that I feel like saying to the fans is, if I do these analogues, I can tell the stories that I really wanted to do with Batman and Joker. The good ones. The ones that they wouldn't let me do.
Nrama: So what's the format? Miniseries?
Jenkins: In a sense it's a maxiseries, I suppose. It has the potential to really expand, so let's hope that the fans really dig it, because the colorist is great, art's really cool, and I think the best thing to say to people is, "If you wanted to read a certain type of Batman, Superman,-type stories that you weren't really able to get — and I'm not saying we're using Batman and Superman, I'm saying one of these superhero stories — now you're getting them." You want people to die and stay dead, you don't want the soap opera all the time. I think we're able to do that.
Nrama: How has it been working with artist Carlos Magno?
Jenkins: I've seen his art, and it's just great. I would describe the character and say, "I think it's like this," and he sent something in, and I went, "Wow, didn't see that coming. Better than my idea."
I already have a personal favorite. It's a character called "The Rat." He's ultra-resourceful. His power is that he's so resourceful — he can get anything done. There's a great scene in an early issue where he literally screws a screwdriver into his arm, so he goes into the corner, and picks off the stitches and pulls the screwdriver out and tries to get out of jail.
Nrama: Before we go, have to ask — what was your experience like writing a comic book about The Situation?
Jenkins: It was fun. I talked with the guy. He was a smart guy; he's not what people would assume from the TV show. I liked it, it was fun. I think we did a fun little comic, and that's what it was supposed to be.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!