Death Head #1 – REVIEW

Dark Horse plans to launch ten new titles this summer, but only one of them promises to deliver countless buckets of blood. Death Head #1, a new horror book launching this week hits all the right notes and only suffers a few (easily forgivable) missteps.

Here’s the official word from Dark Horse:

“When Niles and Justine Burton go camping to get a break from their stressful lives, they expect to find peace . . . not an abandoned village hiding an ancient evil. In a turn of events ripped straight from a horror movie, a brutal killer wearing a plague doctor’s mask begins hunting Niles, Justine, and their two kids.”

The horror genre loves masks. For proof, consider Jason, Michael Myers, and Ghostface as exhibitsDeath Head A through C. Given this, it makes sense that writers (and brothers) Zack Keller and Nick Keller would try to infuse their newest horror thriller with a monster who dons a ghoulish mask loaded with disturbing cultural symbolism. Enter Plague Doctor, a (for now) silent villain whose motives and methods remain hidden during this inaugural issue, but whose appearance is beautifully chilling — as the name would suggest, the dude wears a special “beak” mask utilized by physicians during the Plague.

As readers might expect, most of issue #1 is dedicated to universe building — the Kellers present a script that tries to set the stage for the six issue arc to come, but what’s really remarkable here is how deftly they do this. Most inaugural issues can waste a lot of time fawning over their premise while failing to launch an actual story, but Death Head #1 bucks this temptation and delivers an engaging introduction to the family (we assume) Death Head will ultimately torment. Yes, there are some overwritten moments loaded with the type of cheesy dialogue that dog most horror scripts, but there are also several beautifully creepy scenes that’ll make your skin crawl — think little dead girls! Of particular delight is the introduction of Burton daughter — a boarding school brat who offers the reader all the backstory we’ll ever need via a sarcastic prayer to God. It’s a narrative trick that the Keller’s execute beautifully.

The art, provided by Joanna Estep is strong. Estep’s primary talent is twofold: close-ups, and large panel shots. Her close-ups reveal a knack for capturing facial expressions that ooze with emotion and her large panel shots are reserved (mostly) for creepy moments that help amp up the terror of the book. At times, and especially with multi-character panels, the characters looked washed out or rushed, but this is a small criticism when compared to the larger success of her work.

So far, Death Head is a winner — issue #1 is a freaky, perfect launch that’ll leave you wanting more.

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