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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 204: Death’s Head II #2

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Death’s Head II #2, which was published by Marvel (Marvel UK, to be exact) and is cover dated January 1993. Enjoy!

Now THAT'S a codpiece!

For some reason, I obtained the entire Death’s Head II mini-series several years ago. I think someone knew I liked comics and just gave me a bunch of them – these were in the bunch, and I know several issues of Hyperkind were in there too. Anyway, I think I’ve read this series once, and even though I got them when I enjoyed this kind of book more than I do today, even back then I knew it was crap. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t get a good first page, does it?

Dan Abnett simply sets the scene here, as he at least engages in some of that wacky banter that even “serious” comics engaged in back in the day. I mean, there’s something inherently stupid about a man dressed in a bright yellow and blue costume with claws coming out of his hands fighting a dude with a horned head and a giant codpiece, but most Marvel and DC books these days are so deadly serious that they never wink at the audience. Abnett isn’t exactly doing that, but at least he goes over the top with his description – the reader needs popcorn and a ringside seat to the “fight of the year” between Wolverine and Death’s Head. With not a lot of prose, Abnett gives us the names of the participants and the fact that they’re in Paxton, Oregon (which doesn’t exist, by the way, in case you needed to know). So he does his job for a splash page – tells us some very basic information, hyperboles it up, and gets out of Liam Sharp’s way!

It’s Sharp who defines this mini-series, because it’s really very NINETIES X-TREEEEEM, and Sharp was pretty good at giving the readers what they wanted. Sharp was only 24 when this comic came out, and he got a lot better over the years, but this is standard pencil work for far too many comics of this era, in case you’re a young’un who missed the 1990s. Sharp designs the page perfectly well – our eye travels down the diagonal well, and Wolverine balances Death’s Head nicely. Sharp can’t resist some ridiculousness, though – Wolverine’s right arm muscles bulge crazily, and Death’s Head’s legs are … well, they’re something. The thing that might bother a new reader is the weird right arm of Death’s Head, because it’s too long and it simply looks like a mass of metal, to the point where, because it’s behind Wolverine, we might wonder whether it’s actually his arm or not. However, Abnett and Sharp show us pretty quickly that Death’s Head can somehow regrow and reform his arm in whatever shape he wants, so a reader’s confusion would be momentary. As this is before comics got all serious (which means blood and guts fly freely), the only indication we get that Wolverine is wounded is the ripping costume next to Death’s Head’s arm. Sharp adds some blood to his arm and face, but it’s not all that bad. It’s a bit tough to “read” the scene without thinking about how wrong the drawing is – did Wolverine leap at Death’s Head, and if so, from where? Is Death’s Head supporting Wolverine with the arm, or is Wolverine falling toward his opponent? How did Death’s Head not impale Wolverine if Wolverine was leaping through the air? Did Wolverine somehow twist in mid-air to avoid that massive right arm? What the fuck is up with that codpiece? But if we can move past those nagging doubts, Sharp does give us a fairly dynamic splash that gets our juices flowing for the big throwdown. Helen Stone does a good job with the colors, too – as with most of these mainstream comics, she has no choice but to use the standard colors for the costumes, but Sharp wisely draws Wolverine so Stone can emphasize the yellow in his costume, which contrasts nicely with Death’s Head’s blue. She chooses browns and greens (and a weird pink) to surround the two main characters, so that their bright colors stand out among the drabness of Paxton, OR. It’s one place Stone has some leeway, and she chooses wisely.

I guess the only good thing about this comic is that somewhere in England, a teenaged Kieron Gillen read this thing obsessively and decided to use Death’s Head in S.W.O.R.D. many years later. So there you go!

Next: Well, I’ve done this before, and my random pulling of comics has turned up another issue that has been recolored, and I have two different versions of it! Come along as we examine what modern coloring can do (or can’t do!). Can you find the other instance of recoloring I’ve shown in the archives?

14 Comments

“I think someone knew I liked comics and just gave me a bunch of them – these were in the bunch, and I know several issues of Hyperkind were in there too.”

This is exactly how I ended up with a bunch of Death’s Head II comics. I don’t remember these books being out in the States, so I wonder how these other people ended up with them to give to me.

And is the next story Flex Mentallo? I believe you touched on the re-coloring bit in a previous article.

The Lotus FX was awful but there were some good DHII comics before and after this one

Just a point about your reference to Deaths Head in SWORD there, that was actually Deaths Head 1, who was an entirely different character as well as a different series, so it was more likely either that series or the Transformers series he originated in that was favoured by teenage Gillen.

Ian: That’s weird. WHO HAD THESE COMICS?!?!?!?

No, it’s not Flex Mentallo. I already featured Flex, but it was before the new collection came out.

Sandra: This is the only Death’s Head comic I’ve ever read, so I’ll have to take your word for it!

Whitster: Ah, I see. I forgot that were more than one. That’s probably it, yeah.

These Death’s Head books, especially the Death’s Head II mini and beyond, were pretty popular in the states from what I remember. I would see lots of the Marvel UK books have some slight bit of popularity for a while, mainly due to the inclusion of Marvel heroes in a lot of the books.

Killing Joke next, maybe.

Oh, good or bad, I only meant to say that I thought that you meant “the original” when you wrote “I obtained the entire Death’s Head II mini-series several years ago”. Even discounting the previous character Death’s Head I, there were comics about Death’s Head I earlier.

I never really liked the Death’s Head II saga myself. I was a fan of the old school DH stories. (And the SWORD appearance was great, since it featured the Transformers-sized pre-Doctor encounter DH.
(And Furman’s What if Death’s Head had Lived is easily one of my favorite stories, though appropriate to nothing here._)

Giant Fail on the background art, surprised that you didn’t mention that the upstairs area is clearly bigger than the downstairs can support if there’s to be a stairway there, you’d bump your head a few steps up. Who cares, though? It’s Wolverine! WOLVERINE!!!!!

And I’m pretty sure most towns, even in eastern Oregon, have paved streets like everyone else.

I really loved this comic. I have a full run of any Abnett and Lanning penned appearances DH2 made including, I’m proud to say, the Mys-Tech mini). Though it may not seem like it on the surface, it was a pretty self-aware comic of the testosterone-fuled 90s without being a parody and had a lot of fun with the “themes” of that time. The last issue of the ongoing is especially fantastic.

Ganky: Hmmm. That’s a good point about the stairs. I’m not sure what Sharp was going for. And maybe it’s a recreation of an Old West town, hence the non-paved streets! :)

eh_ver: Maybe I’ll have to re-read it. I’ve only read it once, and maybe I just wasn’t catching onto the parodic elements.

I was wondering about the length of Wolverine’s claws… and right now it struck me that it is not even a matter of artistic license: there is no way for such long blades to fit into his _forearms_, let alone his hands.

Unless they bend or something.

Luis: I never comment on the length of Wolverine’s claws, even though you’re absolutely right. So many artists have made them too long over the years that I tend to chalk it all up to “It’s KEWL!” and leave it at that! :)

you got me looking at the stairs now, and I’ve spotted they slop down towards the back which is doing my head in

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