After last year’s fantastic Tini Howard and Kei Zama Death’s Head series, it’s about time to read the original run of the character. Collected in a 416-page trade paperback the new reprinting includes everything you need about Death’s Head before he was turned into an Image Comics’ looking 90s remix. These trade paperbacks tend to worry me before I dive in since the 80s at Marvel can be quite sloppy. I’m happy to report this is an interesting look at a science fiction future that must have been inspired by Akira coming from a slew of British creators. I was also happy to discover Bryan Hitch played a huge part in the creation of this character.
No matter how you shake it this work is filled with a menagerie of weird characters and it at all starts with Death’s Head. Opening on Earth in the year 8162, Death’s Head is an assassin robot who deeply hates the name assassin. He goes by the title of Freelance Peacekeeping Agent and is quickly taking out goofy looking sci-fi Mad Max looking killers. Soon we’re being introduced to characters dressed straight out of Akira in giant rooms run by N.U.R.S.E. (that stands for National Union of Retired Sports Experts) and you can see you’re not supposed to take this too seriously. How can you when Death’s Head finishes every sentence with “yes?” Death’s Head creator Simon Furman melds some interesting sci-fi and dystopian ideas together to make this feel unique on its own terms. The character fights mobsters, strange aliens, and characters that look like they belong in G.I. Joe. No matter what, Death’s Head gets the most aggravated when death occurs without payment. He has standards! When a drooling villain named Big Shot is your main adversary you’re likely in a goofy comic.
There is an endearing quality to the goofy nature of the book and that goes for the tie-in issues where Death’s Head fights the Fantastic Four and even Iron Man 2020. It’s also exciting to see some of Bryan Hitch’s earliest work–he was only 18 when he was drawing this book–which is entertaining if you’re a fan of his new stuff. To see his style and professionalism develop is quite cool.
Things get a little more serious with Death’s Head: The Body in Question, which involves Death’s Head’s parents complicating his life. The art is reminiscent of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Juan Giménez’s Metabarons with a lot of styles and dreamlike qualities to it. I can’t say the story makes a ton of sense, but it’s an absorbing reading experience. The visuals by Geoff Senior are top-notch and you’ll find yourself lingering on this strange world thanks to the color and environment details.
Closing out the book is What If? #54 where Death’s Head wasn’t killed by the revamped version of the character and finally Marvel Heroes #33. The latter story came out in 2011 and has an all-ages feel to it as if Marvel was testing out the character for a different audience. Both stories add to the “completeness” of the trade paperback and are fun asides to the character.
I had a blast with this book. Sure, it may read like it was a product of the 80s with a more verbose nature to the characters–and the silly nature of stories and characters is eye-rolling–but that’s part of the charm of the book. This is a product of the time and it’s well worth a read.