Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Long Box #7

Words: Simon Furman
Pictures: Bryan Hitch
December 1988

Death's Head has a rather interesting publishing history. To cover it we must first begin with the TransFormers. Back in the 1980's the Robots in Disguise were all the rage. In the U.S., Marvel Comics had been publishing them for years then when the movie was released in 1987 Marvel's UK publishing arm started to do a series based on the property.
The difference was in the US we had the pre-movie characters like Megatron, Starscream, Optimus Prime, Jazz and others. In the UK series Galvatron, Rodimus Prime, Kup, Ultra Magnus and other introduced in the movie were used.
At some point it was decided that Galvatron was going to hire a bounty hunter to kill the Autobot leader Rodimus Prime. That bounty hunter was going to be Death's Head.
The problem was Marvel liked the character to much for him to be a throwaway character and knew if Death's Head's first appearance was in TRANSFORMERS then Hasbro would own the rights to the character so the decision was made to put together a one page strip (High Noon Tex, shown right) where Death's Head would make his first official appearance before he appeared in TRANSFORMERS. So, with Death's Head now owned fully by Marvel things could move forward for him, yes?

The character would make a few more appearances in TRANSFORMERS then later he would pop up in DOCTOR WHO and finally in DRAGON'S CLAWS where he would be, presumably, destroyed. Up to this point we learned a few things about him...he wasn't human or a robot in the traditional sense, he referred to himself as a mechanoid, his left hand could be removed and replaced with any number of weapons he carried on his back, most of which were very lethal. He has a peculiar was of speaking as well. He would often end sentences with 'yes?', 'right?' or 'eh?' (see High Noon Tex for examples). Finally, and most entertaining, at some point he decided he didn't like being called a bounty hunter, he preferred the term "Freelance Peacekeeping Agent". If anyone called him a bounty hunter they most often only did it once...because it's hard to talk when you're dead.

So, DEATH'S HEAD #1 opens with DH (Death's Head, duh) stalking a target and going through his rules. For example, his programmer told him, "...always remember never to kill unless it's for a profit.' He follows it with: "I've almost always stuck to those words of wisdom. My programmer was one of the few exceptions. I killed him for fun, yes?"
We soon learn these are memories of past exploits and that he's in a lab somewhere and he's been rebuilt and fitted with new weapons and clothes and he's to be used to hunt down a group of villains called the Evil Dead.
DH goes through all his memories, basically rebooting himself then decides it's time to move after being dormant for so long.

This is probably one of the best introduction issues I've read. Even after having not read it in years and even though it was published over 20 years ago, it still stands up pretty well. The script gives you all you need to know about who and what this guy is even if you had never read anything he was in before.Simon Furman is top shelf when it comes to writing stuff about robots, he is the premier writer of the Transformers comics.
On the art side, I was surprised to see the name Bryan Hitch. recently he drew FANTASTIC FOUR during Mark Millar's run and it was a run I wasn't happy with. His biggest success was with Marvel's CIVIL WAR book. His style here, though, is very simple as it should be. Death's Head is a pretty basic character and could be seen as the template for the 1990's 'dark heroes' like Punisher, Ghost Rider and Deadpool.
I have to admit, I miss this character a lot. In the 90's Marvel brought him back only to kill him and give him a new body in DEATH'S HEAD II which was fun for what it was but it didn't have the charm that the Original Death's Head had. His design is one of my all time favorite character designs. Just look at the cover of his first issue, how is that not an interesting look?

Overall, this book still does it's job at entertaining and is still one of my all time favorite single issues. I do recommend this one.

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