This would be a good death

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Radnyess?

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.

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(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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Zap! There it is. This shit almost writes itself.

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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.

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Jesus, hang on I said! This is a kid’s comic! Enough of the violence okay? There was no need to shoot him again!

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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?

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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?

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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…

13 Responses to “This would be a good death”

  1. Zom Says:

    Wow, haven’t read this stuff in years, but now Death’s Head’s status in my brain as a total badass makes all kinds of sense. He’s one hardcore muthafucker.

  2. The Beast Must Die Says:

    No-one puts together a firefight like Geoff Senior. Word needs to also go out to Steve White, whose vibrant colouring brought so many of the Marvel UK comics to life (God, will the nerdism ever end?!)

    Unicron’s sadism never fails to chill.

    Yes?

  3. David Golding Says:

    Pope Primus Furman double defeats Anti-pope Unicron Budiansky here. First, by revealing that raging ego, he saves Shockers from Budiansky’s characterisation as a petty logicrat who gets into arguments with Ratbat about the fuel budget. Second, he literally saves Shockers from an ignominious death at the hands of Spike Witwicky. (I am pretty sure I learned the word “ignominious” from Shockwave/Furman in Target: 2006.)

    One of the ideas that Furman really ran with was that robots could stand a huge amount of punishment and still be revived. But instead of giving us video game restores, he showed the cost of having to hold onto all these bodies for which there weren’t parts, energy or repair expertise. Making it extra stunning when someone really was killed.

    Of course he never let any detail go. I loved that he later revealed Shockwave’s future death via Cyclonus and Scourge’s time travelling to the present Shockers, rendering him semi-catatonic until he realised that he had twenty years to do something about that future… and so I do like to visualise, in one of the possible timelines, Shockwave alive and well in 2009 (the future!), having fooled Death’s Head and Unicron with an advanced facsimile construct.

  4. David Golding Says:

    I am rereading Time Wars at the moment in honour of Vibrational Match‘s sudden hiatus. It’s got the gothic Dan Reed and the dynamic Lee Sullivan, but it really suffers from the lack of an issue or two by Geoff Senior. (The UK stories as a whole would later suffer irreparably when they went to black and white instead of Steve(n) White.)

  5. The Beast Must Die Says:

    If Time Wars had been all-Senior it would have rivalled Watchmen.

    I’m not kidding.

    ‘Anti-Pope Unicron Budiansky’ is fucking genius.

  6. Thrills Says:

    I learned the word ‘cataclysmic’ from Transformers comics, as I remember reading it out loud in a dramatic voice and having a great time.

    Time Wars was the story that taught me the power of comics as something other than just “here is something to read and copy pictures from while I eat some Highland Toffee”. Bit scared to reread it incase it’s merely ‘not bad’. I find myself worrying that maybe Furman isn’t that good, he was just good compared to the other Transformers writers of the time…

    That said, I read his Ronan the Accuser miniseries of a couple of years ago, and that was some fun stuff. And who cares if my childhood opinions are not identical to my adult ones? Be a bit worrying if they were.

    Embra Forbidden Planet has Dragon’s Claws in the sale just now, might go for it.

  7. Faisal Says:

    This site causes me more ontological crises than any other, because as often as I visit, and for the amount of posts and comments that just resonate with my whole existence, sometimes I will have no damned clue as to what you guys are talking about.

    Hehe.

  8. The Sunday Papers | Rock, Paper, Shotgun Says:

    [...] Mindless Ones on Death’s Head Versus Shockwave. This was the Ali/Foreman fight of 80s [...]

  9. Lupex Says:

    You are so right. DH is and always has been the don. None of that Minion DHII shit.

  10. Madmacs Says:

    Meh, same thing happened to me last time :\

  11. VersasoVantare Says:

    While I like Death’s Head, I thought he was a bit of a wanker for killing/maiming that barman rather than paying his tab. I’m sorry lads, but there’s just nothing bad-ass about not paying for your drinks.

  12. Botswana Beast Says:

    Spot on, mate. Truer words etc.

  13. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Rogue’s Review: Starscream Says:

    [...] You just know it was Shockwave’s fault. The breakthrough that goes wrong. This is a proper superhero/villain story, here. We know our boy has that mutation, that special thing that scientists later tried to replicate, to poor results. It’s made his soul different than other ‘bots. Whether he was stalking through the comics pages as a zombie, or floating through space and time as a ghost in the ‘toons, Starscream’s got something nobody else has got. How did he get it? [...]

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