Imagine the checkmate, the ultimate move in any chess game – but deadly! Well, that’s how you get DEATHMATE, unless I’ve misunderstood terribly and it’s actually just the opposite of “lifemate,” or a really grim version of a roommate for budget conscious corpses who want to split the cost of a casket.
The actual Deathmate in question, however, was the singular company-wide crossover between Image and Valiant Comics, the enfants terrible and potential heirs apparent of the 1990s comic boom. Although not the only company-wide crossover initiated by the literal crossing over of one character from each publisher into the other’s universe, it’s possibly the only one in which the core conceit was that both universes would be destroyed if their characters ever fucked. Thank goodness no one crossed over with Penthouse Comix, I guess.
Deathmate was simultaneously innovative – issues were designated by color rather than number and could be read in any order, for instance – it was also a nightmare. Image dropped the ball on their issues, leaving Valiant with half a series and retailers with a tremendous amount of cash invested in books which seemed like it would never come out, which might be a metaphor for the Nineties all across the board.
As far as I’m aware, only two comics ever went to press with the Colorforms covers – “blank” glossy cardstock covers which bore only a cityscape background, polybagged with sheets of vinyl kiss-cut figures, sound effects and props, which readers could then peel from the sheet and apply to the cover to make their own dynamic action scene. These books were Worlds Collide #1 and Superman: Man of Steel #30, both from DC Comics, and this was the best cover gimmick in the world bar none. Shut up if you disagree, you’re a horrible person and you should go to jail.
The logistics of these covers must have been a nightmare – imagine being the poor artist and having to draw the equivalent of a crowd scene involving two dozen iterations of the same character, plus all the errata and onomatopoeia, and then identify the lines for kiss-cutting the sheet. But still, of all the cover gimmicks of the 90s, it’s the only interactive one and the only one which didn’t seem to say “This book is IMPORTANT and VALUABLE,” but instead invited the reader to play …
Here’s list of some of the characters, teams and books which debuted in the 1990s and which had Death-, -Dead or Die- in the title: Deadpool, Die Cut, Deathmate, Lady Death, Deathblow, Death Dealer, Death Jr, The Deadly Duo, Death, Deathwing, Death Angel, Death Doll, Death Masque, Deadzone, DeadEye, Deadfall, and Deathcry.Would’ve loved to have put Deathstroke on this list, because I still consistently fail to interpret his name as “A killing stroke” and rather “having a stroke, which kills you.”
As the 90s progressed, DC Comics had to grapple with the realization that they may have prematurely played their biggest promotional card. The Death of Superman had resulted in a media blitz then-unprecedented in comics – news outlets all over the world were reporting the impending snuffing of the Man of Steel as thought they’d just been handed a “Save the Date” card for a presidential assassination. The result was a tremendous uptick in sales, a stunt repeated less dynamically with the next big Superman event, the time he became a barbershop quartet. By the time they announced “Superman’s getting a new costume and new powers,” the opportunity for even the most content-deprived news channel to make something of that particular hay was worn out. Luckily, it meant more than a decade would pass before DC would try to gin the news cycles again with retractable non-events, and that was kind of a nice, quiet period.
With the industry booming in a way it never had before, Dark Horse – always an unlikely victor in the marketplace, from its licensed books to its considerable market share, not to mention a successful venture into film and (natch) launching Sin City, Hellboy and the like – inexplicably decided to try its hand at superheroes. Every other company did – and still does – respond to a boom in the marketplace by trying their hand at a shared universe, which is why we’re all awash in such famous Dark Horse superheroes as the Pit Bulls, Monster, Division 13, Hero Zero, Rebel and whoever was the lead guy in Out Of The Vortex. Barb Wire, Ghost and X admittedly enjoyed some success, but for the most part Comics’ Greatest World pooped out without much fanfare.