Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Bish's Review: Marvel UK #133 "Headhunt" Part 1
Headhunt Part 1 was written by the ubiquitous Simon Furman, pencilled by Dan Reed, lettered by Richard Starkings and coloured by Steve White.
The frankly excellent cover was by a fellow called Dave Gibbons who worked on an eighties superhero comic called Watchmen. It contrasts rather sharply with Dan Reed's more "organic" style within the actual pages, but, well, look at it. I don't need to tell you why it's good.
We find ourselves on the planet Scarvix in the far-future time of 2007. In an office, within a twisted example of alien architecture we find Blot, a Decepticon with a proposition. He is trying to talk a mostly hidden figure into taking a job.
It's quite obvious if you know your previous comics that this hidden mechanoid is Death's Head, especially as he replies with the iconic "Yes" at the end of his sentences and reacts "poorly" when Blot calls him a mercenary. Blot wants Death's Head to take revenge on Rodimus Prime because the Autobot leader cheated him out of getting any money from the Galvatron job but the ever pragmatic Death's Head doesn't believe in revenge and will only do the deed for profit, which Blot eventually agrees to - 10,000 shanix, naturally.
The title splash is of Death's Head in all his glory, which suffers a bit if you already know it's him and is drawn by Dan Reed, who can't quite match Geoff Senior's iconic version.
A week later, on Cybertron, Rodimus Prime agrees to once again check the state of Autobase's trench fortifications. He is troubled by inaction, by the stalemate that the war has ground down to. In this future the sides are evenly matched and engagements are indecisive.
He fills in some gaps in his history for us by reminiscing about his time as Hot Rod, especially his Targetmaster partnership with Firebolt. His anguish at the memory of Firebolt's death on Earth is palpable.
Meanwhile, at the Decepticon stronghold, Cyclonus and Scourge are incensed that Shockwave has hired Death's Head to assasinate Rodimus rather than tasking them with it. There is obvious tension within the Decepticon command, as Scourge and Cyclonus have a huge superiority complex about being forged by Unicron, whereas Shockwave distrusts them because of it. They invoke Galvatron's name but it falls flat, as he is currently messing about in Earth's past.
They will not be deterred however, and Cyclonus determines that they will take Prime out first and so claim leadership of the Decepticons. Shockwave's contemptuous laughter, spilling out even over an exterior panel of the fortress, shows what he thinks of their chances. It takes a lot to make Shockwave laugh.
While patrolling the heavily armed trench emplacements Rodimus is concerned by a sudden noise. He is momentarily distracted and when he turns around his two Autobot guards are gone. Death's Head stands on a high parapet and lobs something at the Autobot leader.
Rodimus leaps out of the way just in time but is surprised when the object doesn't explode. The surprise turns to horror as it turns out to be the head of one of his bodyguards. Death's Head slams down in front of him and professes his disappointment that Rodimus is not a more elusive prey.
He continues to chastise Rodimus' lack of preparation and challenge as he knocks the Autobot leader around with little effort. The only thing that stops him is the trench floor giving way as the two of them crash down into the sewer tunnels that run under Autobase. Death's Head is unfazed apart from a whistful sense of disappointment at losing his favourite axe.
Unfortunately for Rodimus the "freelance peacekeeping agent" has several other weapons and the "titanium shot blaster" is his tool of choice. After assuring the Autobot leader that this is all "just business" he points and shoots. There is a massive explosion and ... a cliffhanger!
Furman turns in an excellent issue here packed with great ideas and setup. If, like me, you're excited by the possibility of a parallel narrative set in the future of the movie that we can visit from time to time it's nice to see this fleshed out. Shockwave in power is logical, given Galvatron is insane and Megatron is both insane and missing in action in the eighties portion of the storyline and it makes sense that Scourge and Cyclonus don't really fit in with the normal Decepticons.
Furman gets to play with a more war-torn setting here because there are no humans around and the gloves are completely off. Unfortunately it seems that when the gloves come off, the Autobots and Decepticons can't do much more than jab ineffectually at each other, and Cybertron appears to be settling in for another punishing few millenia of total war. Furman and Reed sell this with imagery obviously inspired by the First World War - trench emplacements so tough that neither side (except Death's Head) can hope to penetrate them. It's a bleak idea for a children's comic, but subtle enough to pass by without upsetting anyone.
Similarly bleak, but also inspired is the apparent death of Firebolt. We don't know how he died and we don't need to know, but it's a good indication that things have changed for the characters in the period between the "present day" comics and the "future" and lends a bit of weight to Rodimus Prime's fight. This was a good choice because the reader was, at this point, only just getting used to the Headmasters and Targetmasters and killing one off, even retroactively, would have sent a powerful message, especially as this is an organic, who cannot be rebuilt. Organics hardly ever died "on-screen" in these comics.
As for the story itself, it's difficult not to love Death's Head, especially when he is in full stalking mode. One might imagine that he would very much like to get his own back on Rodimus Prime but it is a great detail that without a profit motive he just won't do it. Furman effortlessly sets up clashes that will clearly have repercussions in who knows how many future issues? Obviously Death's Head vs Rodimus Prime would have been a decent story to tell, but we also have the possibility of Death's Head vs Scourge and Cyclonus, Scourge and Cyclonus vs Rodimus Prime, Scourge and Cyclonus vs Shockwave and any combination of the above. Even from this opening, this is shaping up to a be a twist-packed story and the dour, guilt-ridden Rodimus is a fitting hero for this bleak future world.
Dan Reed's art is... well it's wobbly, isn't it? I mean that in the sense that it literally is wobbly: Everything has organic looking edges and moves in whichever way serves Reed's agenda in that particular panel. I also, unfortunately mean it in the rather more colloquial sense of wobbly meaning "uneven". Reed has some excellent panels - although it's only small, I enjoy Shockwave on his throne, and I love his very VERY busy depictions of Cybertron, which seem reasonable for a metallic world that must have been turned to scrap a thousand times over. However, some of his linework is downright bizarre, and contorts the characters in very unnatural ways. Check out, for example, this panel of Hot Rod and Firebolt, where Hot Rod is doing the splits for no reason whatsoever.
The colouring is mostly fine, but Reed's work is rather difficult to colour particularly well as there are details lines all over the place and there is more block colouring for background characters than I like. Unfortunately I think this is something I'm going to have to get used to as the book continues.
Headhunt kicks off in a very promising way. I can't wait to see where this leads. It was available in the Titan collection Legacy Of Unicron, the title of which should give you some clues. Again, out of print but available here. And if you fancy checking out that Gibbons chap's work beyond Transformers, you could do worse than this.
Part 2, coming soon but fans of Death's Head (and insightful reviewing) should come back tomorrow for another installment in our pal Chuffer's series on the "freelance peacekeeping agent's" solo book.