December 16th, 2009
Here in Mindlessland our habits and schedule are all over the queue-crammed shop at the moment. At this time of year half of us are likely to be so drinkfucked that, instead of being busy at our blog-desks we’re far more likely to be found sleeping underneath the pier, the night tide slurping away at our feet, kindly come to take us away from the brain-pained horror of waking up again. So with that in mind, all conventions merrily abandoned in the name of seasonal silliness, there’s no Tuesday Reviewsday nonsense tonight. What could have been a dispirited recap of the (byrne-stolen, sorry) SWORD #2, I thought instead I’d concentrate on taking one of the characters from the issue, and nostalgically telling the world about why he is so ace, why British comic readers of a certain age are so giddily stupid when it comes to the galaxy’s deadliest freelance peace-keeping agent, Death’s Head.
What follows is an account of his finest moment. Better than when he went toe-to-toe with Galvatron even after having his arm ripped off. Better than when he took out the entire Incinerator Jones Clan. Better even than his first appearance, when he killed that barman for asking him to pay for his tab. Yes – it’s Death’s Head vs. Shockwave.
Did you know it’s over twenty years since Shockwave, everyone’s favourite Decepticon Lieutenant/Caretaker-leader, apart from Soundwave and Starscream and some others, died? Yes, you’re right dear reader, time does fly, just like Shockwave, even in Gun Mode.
Fuck, look at that massive hand! Run!
Shockwave himself* is quite a tricky toy or comic/cartoon character to get into super-position Death-wise. He’s died on different ways an on numerous occasions, depending on the continuity source: flattened by Unicron, decapitated by Skystalker (who?) or left to the tender mercies of the Galvatron/Megatron insane phallus double-act, after one betrayal too many. That’s nearly as many deaths as Jean Grey, or Resurrection Man. Luckily, Transformers continuity, boiled down, is very simple. If Simon Furman wrote it, or it’s in Transformers: The Movie – no, not that one, that one of course – then it happened. If not, it just didn’t. It really is as simple as that – anyone who disagrees is a fool absolute and you can ignore him.
(*That’s just your original ‘G1′ transforming flying hairdryer Shockwave with the hexagon face. There’s at least half-a-dozen others. While we’ve got the parentheses here, just to say for the remainder of this post I’m going to refer to him as ‘Shockers’. Imagine you’re saying it in a plummy English accent, as though the Decepticons are your favourite rugby team and Shockers is nearing the try-line: ‘Man-on Shockers! Well-played Shockers!’ – like some giant metal bellend.)
If I gave a bit more of a shit about this post, I could go on some boring ass thing about how the The Prism (a word describing a condition we like a lot around here) is a sequence of two lenses, one being Global Communication Networks, the other being Toys, and it is the movement through those that has turned our beloved backwater superhero into these big open-ended franchise-beasts over the last decade or so. Look how multifarious the poor reality of even a relatively forgettable toytown native such as Shockwave is. The state of quantum indeterminacy out funnybook strongman is now forced to adapt to is how they are all the time – this is the state the superhero has always been moving towards, endlessly shapeless, all its leoparskin-thonged information now smeared across the event horizon of capital’s black hole.
Thankfully, this post isn’t about that, it’s about the Death of Shockwave, and the Radness of Death’s Head. And maybe helping that nice blog guy who’s always looking in vain for good Transformers comics.
Shockers’ thing is that he’s the Vulcan of the Decepticons, a dutiful and emotionless servant to his true overlords, Logic and pure Reason., As with Mister Spock, this is all bullshit and front, and in reality betwen the cold exterior lurks a raging ego thirsty for power and gratification. Death’s Head thing is that he isn’t that. He’s a genuine professional, in it for the money, cool to the last. That’s why it’s so fitting that he is ultimately the one who gives Shockers his final exit.
Okay so, the backstory: Unicron’s head has landed on the planet of the Junkions, where he has telepathically enslaved them so they will build him a new body. Shockers has put a lucrative contract out on the Decepticon traitors Cyclonus and Scourge, who DH chases to the same planet. They all get mindgrabbed too, and Unicron sends them back to Cybertron with a simple mission: kill Shockers and take over the Decepticons, and send them, all of them, in a suicide run against Autobot HQ, so that all the Transformers will be too busy fightin’ to notice that Unicron is getting fixed up.
(All art in this post by the amazing Geoff Senior, Marvel UK’s definitive penciller.)
Cyclonus and Scourge are playing possum, and while he is doing that Decepticon leader thing where they sit around pontificating about how evilthey are, Death’s Head is just gonna straight up turn around and blast him, job done.
But you don’t get to high position of authority in an army of mental militaristic mechanoids like the Decepticons with0ut picking up a trick or two.
You tell him Shockers. Man on!
There follows a ‘deadly game of cat and mouse’, as Shockers and DH chase each other round Shockers’ weird Scaramanga-style shooting gallery. At one point Shockers gets the upper hand – he might be a nerd, but he has had stand-up battles with both Prime and Megatron in his day. Shockers is no chump, and in the throes of an imagined victory, his implacable dot-face mask thing slips and we see the mechalomaniacal psycho behind the cool, logical facade:
But of course he’s crowing too soon. We all know how this is going to end. DH zaps him, damaging and humiliating him in front of his troops. He skulks off to lick his wounds, leaving the Decepticon army in the charge of Cyclonus and Scourge, Unicron’s wishes fulfilled, with Shockers vowing to return and take his somehow logical revenge another time.
Zap! There it is. This shit almost writes itself.
Ooh, yuck! Check that out, roboguts hanging, debris and droidshit all over the place! Mech-on-mech violence doesn’t get much more graphic than that, does it? You’ve been stalloned Shockers, time for that early bath.
Jesus, hang on I said! This is a kid’s comic! Enough of the violence okay? There was no need to shoot him again!
Oh dear look at that mess. That shot’s a bit more coy, the full extent of Shockers’ damage hidden from view, but there’s something about his kneeling form, the missing gun-arm, the hint of dangling flesh-metal, somehow makes it all the worse. Still, that’s got to be enough now, how much harder can Death’s Head beat him?
Oh right, literally blasted to pieces. Notice how Senior sells the body language there – DH himself can barely look at what he’s doing, which is why he’s so awesome. He’s not into this game because he’s a sadistic freak, he just can’t bear killing for free…
Still at least Shockers has had it as bad as it can get. He is a robot after all, he can probably be put back together again, have his brain rebooted, right?
Wait a minute, what’s he doing?
Oh that’s just sick… Mechanized melodrama gone murder-porn. Sometimes, not often on the 2D vistas of the comicbook page, dead means dead. That Death’s Head, he don’t play. And that’s why, whenever he’s on the page, if you listen carefully, you can still here those croaky 30-something voices cheering him on…