Mr. Sensitive

September 26, 2011

Marvel UK – Doomed To Death

Filed under: Uncategorized — lbej @ 15:52

In a feature article in the March 1993 issue, Wizard declared that “the 90s should be remembered as the decade when Marvel UK finally lived up to Stan Lee’s old billing of the Marvel Bullpen as the House of Ideas.  Be warned,” the article concludes, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”  It is a deliberately ambiguous position, and not typical of Wizard’s fawning fanboy style in those days.  (The magazine’s tone would swing to the other extreme after five years of sharply declining circulation, becoming so poisonously cynical that it was hard to understand why they even bothered to keep publishing.)  The article focuses on Paul Neary, a fellow I only remembered as Alan Davis’ long-time inker, but who was also evidently the editorial director of the Marvel UK imprint.  He comes across as already bitter, as though he understood perfectly well that his imprint was crapping out one steaming, four-color dump after another, but drawing the paycheck and wearing the boss-man pants was a payoff worth holding his nose for a few years until the Yankee saps wised up and called it off.  Paycheck and pants did not, however, provoke enthusiasm.  And it’s easy to see why.

Let’s start with Death’s Head.  Death’s Head is a cyborg bounty hunter created during the 1980s to get on your nerves.  He has the speech patterns of a Bulgarian caricature and he jokes constantly; of course, his jokes aren’t funny, but it’s okay because he means for them to be ridiculous, not funny.

Death’s Head is a Howard the Duck sort of character, the kind whose first appearance is a revelation, whose fifth appearance is an insult, and whose tenth appearance is a reason to kill.  And kill, mercifully, is what Marvel did.  It was a perfect bad-joke ending to a bad joke.  If only Marvel hadn’t been serious.

In 1992, Marvel released the first issue of a four-issue mini-series called Death’s Head II, in which a mirthless cyborg bounty hunter named Minion kills Death’s Head and absorbs his abilities, unintentionally uploading some of his victim’s zaniness in the process.

Minion/Death’s Head is a one-robot commentary on the battle between wistful levity and soul-crushing seriousness that was being fought out on the comic book sales charts at the time.  Lobo came about in much the same way, as a parody that the fans read uncritically as straight-up meaningless violence—and they loved it.  Death’s Head II #1 sold out and went to a second printing (with a much cooler silver-ass cover).

The Marvel executives smelled blood—or gold—or golden blood—and they decided to go all-in.  Not only would they publish an ongoing Death’s Head II series after the mini wrapped, but they would make it the flagship title of a new comics universe, and Death’s Head II would be the mirthless prototype for every series that followed.  I’m 100 percent sure that the executives thought that Death’s Head II was the name of a character, which of course it isn’t.  There’s Death’s Head, and there’s Minion, and they wanted a book about Minion which they called Death’s Head II.  I love executives.

The executives thought that if the fans liked remorseless, oblivious killing (they did), they would like it even better with the X-Men guest-starring.  So the X-Men guest-starred.

This sold fantastically.  Meanwhile, the original Death’s Head II mini-series was scorching on the secondary market.  Clearly, demand was not sated.  So Marvel went House-of-Ideas all over your ass and burned the midday oil looking for words that mean darkness and death, only that was hard, and darkness and death were already available, so boom—ideas!

This is the spirit of Marvel UK in a nutshell: if there’s not enough death, add more death, and if there’s too much death, add more death.

First there was Death’s Head, then there was Death Metal, and so naturally there was also:

All the comic math I know tells me that ugh times stop multiplied by no gives you exponential perfection.

Exponents mean subtlety.  And by calling this series Death3 , Marvel is declaring that Death’s Head, Death Metal, and Death Wreck are identical quantities, so that the product of the three can be expressed as any one of them to the third power.  And there’s ‘Death’ in the family even if no one dies, because everybody is already death!  Subtlety!  And math!

So what else was there to do?  You already had death to the third power—could it be that the bar was set too high?  Not when the world is so wonderfully full of death and crap.  First you get Alan Davis to do you a purty drawing, even though it means all your characters will have Cheshire Cat Alan Davis-face.

There now, those characters can’t suck that bad if the guy from Excalibur is willing to draw them all flying out into the beautiful, pumpkin-colored sky.  And look, only the guy at the top right with the glowy hand has Alan Davis cat-face.  Do you think Alan Davis died a little inside when he had to draw Death’s Head and all his Deaths on one page?  I certainly hope so.

If you can’t get Alan Davis to do any more work for you because you’ve killed too much of his soul, you can always get Wolverine to make an appearance.  Good old Logan is usually up for anything, and he’s typically a good sport about it.

Or not.  Maybe it’s because he’s not into big guns and hi-tech mysticism.  Or maybe it’s because they’re making him do the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes dance.

And if you can’t get Wolverine, you can bet that Cable’s available.  Hell, he worked exclusively for Rob Liefeld for a long time, so you know he’s not choosy.  Just don’t tell him what he’s going to be doing in the comic.

And you won’t have to lie about it if you have no idea what’s happening yourself.

I don’t know which is worse sometimes—knowing that something terrible is happening or having not the first clue what is going on.  As bad as the conceptual framework was—robots, guns, and robot guns—the art was up to the challenge.  The challenge being hurting feelings while teaching nothing.

Is this the worst art you’ve ever seen?  What is the blue robot lady fighting in the upper left corner?  A cave painting?  No, it’s not the worst, because this happened:

Paradise lost indeed.  I wish I had a higher resolution image so we could figure out what is coming out of his arm, but alas, high-resolution pictures of Die-Cut #4 are illegal in most states.  Bear in mind that these are covers.  The cover is what the artist spends the most time on.  Presumably the interior is nothing but blank pages, stained with tears.

I’m being unfair, of course.  Sometimes it’s perfectly clear what’s happening on the cover.

Everyone on this cover is taking a dump, including the guy in the ‘Marvel UK’ box in the upper left corner.

And this gentleman is using his robot penis arm to mate with a giant, wingless bird made out of gray tissue paper.

And here, Tony Stark has awoken from a night of hard partying to find that he has wandered into a Renaissance fair.

And this is a zombie attack, duh.

Somehow, it didn’t work.  Read this catalog of 1993 Marvel UK publications out loud (and by read I mean scream) and tell me you don’t want to read them all:

  • Battletide
  • Battletide II
  • Black Axe
  • Body Count
  • Cyberspace 3000 (don’t worry, I bought this one last and I’m totally going to read it!)
  • Death’s Head II
  • Death Metal
  • Death Wreck
  • Death3
  • Death Metal vs. Genetix
  • Death’s Head II and the Origin of Die-Cut
  • Die-Cut
  • Die-Cut vs. G-Force
  • Gun Runner
  • Hell’s Angel
  • Dark Angel
  • Dark Guard
  • Killpower: The Early Years
  • Plasmer
  • Motormouth
  • Wild Thing
  • Super Soldiers
  • Warheads
  • Warheads: Black Dawn

And last but probably not least, the crossover that was supposed to integrate the Marvel UK universe into the mainline Marvel U.  They rolled out all the stops for MyS-TeCH Wars, didn’t skimp on the caps lock, and even made sure to get Hulk a new pair of his favorite purple pants.

All to save the world.  Problem is, the world is somewhere over the Hulk’s shoulder.  I don’t know where they are.

They should have called it MyS-TeCH WarZ with a capital Z.  I don’t know who dropped the ball there, but I can only hope he was fired, preferably before everyone was fired.

The Marvel UK imprint was wound down in 1994—even Bart Sears’ Ominous Press (publishers of Brute & Babe comics) managed to outlast it.  In the end, Death Metal had it right.

Perhaps it should have been ‘destined to destroy, doomed to die.’  Or ‘doomed to destiny, destroyed to death.’  Success is such a fragile flower.



  1. Great 900th post, toogie. I honestly don’t know which of those I think is the worst one. They all look so incredibly terrible. I think Die-Cut jumps out at me as the worst one for some reason.

    Comment by euregirlsandboys — September 26, 2011 @ 16:44 | Reply

  2. I love this post so much. I can’t even. You slayed it. (I guess “it” is Marvel UK, but also writing this post.) So good, dude. So good.

    Also, I used to think some of this stuff was awesome, only not in an ironic way. That Death’s Head II cover? You betcha. The Marvel Series cards for all these guys was a thing I had at some point (or took from you at some point), too. I think there was a guy named Blood Axe, and I’m pretty sure his axe could cut through time and space, which was the Did You Know portion of his card. I am certain that Death’s Head II (and that was his name on the card; no Minion there) asked Did You Know that he had multiple personalities.

    Man, between this and Katie’s magazine updates, you all are killing it all the time lately.

    Comment by Marcus — September 26, 2011 @ 20:19 | Reply

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