The 1980s and early 90s saw a repeat of the British Invasion, only this time comic books lead the charge instead of music and television. During this era, Marvel UK (the publisher’s British imprint) decided to publish US-style monthly comics. Series like Knights of Pendragon, Dragon’s Claws, and Death’s Head floundered in the British market (supposedly because customers overlooked the comics due to their smaller size), but they managed to find an audience here in the States.
Marvel also tried its hand at publishing a bi-weekly comics anthology magazine, Strip, during the same period. Anthology magazines were (and still are) a traditional comic book format in the UK, featuring multiple stories serialized over several issues. Strip didn’t last very long, probably because it featured more re-printed stories than original content, but it did reveal one of Marvel’s strangest comic characters had an even stranger origin story than anyone could’ve suspected.
Mommy, why is that horny robot on the cover roughing up a stubbly girl in pig-tails and a mustache?
That “horny robot” is Death’s Head, one of the weirdest –and most delightful– characters to ever appear in Marvel Comics’ history.
That’s a bold claim.
He’s a time-traveling “freelance peacekeeping agent” (read: bounty hunter) originally hired by the Rodimus Prime to track down Galvatron. Although he was a Transformers character, Marvel had him appear in a one-page comic in some other series before that issue came out. This was done so the publisher would own the character instead of Hasbro, since Hasbro got to keep any original characters debuted in the series. After going toe-to-toe with the Transformers a few times, Death’s Head literally ran into the Seventh Doctor and wound up crossing over into Earth-616 of the Marvel Universe. Since then, he’s teamed up with all sorts of Marvel heroes, collected bounties on criminals in the future, and even saved the universe a couple of times.
A badass time-traveling robot who’s hung out in the Transformers, Doctor Who, and Marvel Universes does sound pretty great.
Right? And this issue of Strip is where we get to read the start of his origin story.
How’s the guy getting arrested tied into the origin? Did he kill Death’s Head’s puppy or something?
OK, first: Death’s Head has a pet vulture. Second: The dude he’s strong-arming on the cover is Rogan, and he isn’t important at all. We barely learn his name before he dies in the first ten pages of the story. He’s just part of the opening act so we can see what a badass Death’s Head is when he’s chasing criminals in 2020 New York. The second most disappointing thing about this issue is the reminder that we still don’t have flying cars.
What’s the most disappointing thing?
Rogan doesn’t even wear the mustache before he dies.
So what does this origin story get right, broken mustache promises aside?
Death’s Head is hired by his sorceress mom to kill his magic cyborg zombie dad,
OK. So. Death’s Head was created by Lupex and Pyra. Lupex is a sorcerer of immense power who lives in an unspecified time and place, on a world of fluctuating “majik” and “techno” zones.
I’m offended by those words.
Well, get used to them. They appear a lot.
I thought you said this was a British comic. Isn’t proper spelling imprinted into their DNA?
Anyway. Because Lupex wields–
–don’t you dare say it–
–both majik and techno–
–oh my god–
– the dueling powers burn out his body. So he frequently “hunts” young men and possesses their bodies. Eventually, he decided to build a permanent host and Pyra helped him build Death’s Head. When Lupex possessed (and burns out) the body of Pyra’s lover, she installed a program that would drive Death’s Head to kill Lupex. But someone steals Death’s Head before he can be activated (and, I guess, enlarged to Transformer size), and Pyra has to track him across time so she can hire him to kill Lupex. Which he does, pretty brutally.
Who stole Death’s Head and took him to the future? That sounds like pretty big part of the puzzle
We never find out! It’s a plot point Pyra reveals on the last page of the story, as she talks to Death’s Head. He actually states that he doesn’t want to find out who stole him, as he seems pretty shaken up after killing his “father.”
Wait, what? That makes, like, less than zero sense.
I’m not sure, but I think this plot might’ve ended sooner than Furman originally intended. The story ends with the demise of Strip, which seems to come without much warning at issue 20. Furman ties everything off in about two pages of dialogue, so it’s not surprising there are a lot of dangling threads and gaping plot holes. It’s a problematic end to an otherwise fascinating story.
If the ending sucks so badly, why pay attention to this issue at all?
Well, this issue of Strip is interesting because it marks the start of Death’s Head’s origin story, which was published through the rest of the series. Basically, Marvel spent approximately four months telling this story in seven-page installments. The run was eventually collected into a graphic novel, and it reads really well in a non-serialized format. But it’s a major piece of Marvel lore that first came out as part of a forgotten anthology magazine.
How major a piece of Marvel lore are we talking here?
Death’s Head never really caught on as a major character with Marvel readers (though Death’s Head II was wildly popular for a year or so), but he enjoys a kind of cult status among the community. That said: He’s had guest roles in several Marvel books from time to time –I’d especially recommend checking out Kieron Gillen’s S.W.O.R.D. - No Time To Breathe if you want to read something particularly fun and weird– and won Marvel’s 2005 online poll when it asked fans which character it should reboot into a new series.
Death’s Head got a mainstream Marvel series? Because fans loved him so much? Why haven’t I heard of this?
It was terrible. Poorly drawn, poorly written, and devoid of all the weird time travel goofiness that made Death’s Head so popular in the first place. Nobody likes to talk about it in polite company.
Yeah, well. It could’ve been worse.
Death’s Head originally appeared in a Transformers comic. If Marvel hadn’t been sneaky about retaining rights to the character, he probably would’ve appeared in the Michael Bay movies.