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Death Head (Trade Paperback)

    Ian Jane

  • Death Head (Trade Paperback)

    Death Head (Trade Paperback)
    Released by: Dark Horse Comics
    Released on: June 1st, 2016.
    Written by: Zack Keller, Nick Keller
    Illustrated by: Joanna Estep
    Purchase From Amazon

    This mini-series from Dark Horse Comics, written by Zack and Nick Keller and illustrated by Joanna Estep, introduces us to Justine and her husband Niles. They're out in Shadowcliff National Park on the hunt for Death's-head Moths, it's a bit of a break from the kids they've left back at home and a chance for them to enjoy each other's company before she gives birth again in a few months.

    While they're out exploring they come across the remnants of an old town that isn't shown on their map. At first they figure it's a reenactment town, setup by the park for visitors to experience what it was like living in years past but once they start poking around, they start to wonder if the town isn't still in use somehow. They find what looks like a ceremonial dagger in the church and can't help but notice the distinct lack of dust - and then they find out where all those moths they were looking for have been hiding… and then Niles falls down a trap door.

    Cut to a woman named Lena posing provocatively - she and a few friends are goofing around, they're schoolgirls at a Catholic school and hiding out from Sister Mandalay. They're bust and one of the girls, Maggie, goes to confession and is told to do one hundred Hail Mary's to atone for her sins. When she's left alone in the sanctuary she confesses to Christ on the crucifix that she's in love with Lena.

    Cut again to a woodsy area where a young boy named Bee is standing in front of an entrance to a sewer, confronted by a few bullies. They send him in and tell him an urban legend about someone or something that lures kids in there and snaps their necks.

    Back at the 'abandoned' town, Justine goes down after Niles only for the two to realize that they're actually in a crematorium…

    Two Pinecrest Gas & Electric workers heading down into the sewers for what should be a normal, regular, every day job. They bitch about the recent baseball game and note how high the water is - and then, once they get to the grate, they find out why. Rats. And lots of them.

    Meanwhile Niles is at the hospital getting a bone fragment removed from his leg. He splits and makes a call to the ranger station at the park he and Justine were at in the first issue. He asks about the ghost town they found and why it has its own crematorium but the conversation doesn't get him anywhere. He does a bit of online research and he starts piecing together the history of what he and his wife just experienced… that is until a swarm of gulls come crashing through the window of his office. Or do they? Is he hallucinating? His patients sure hope not.

    In the library, Bee is trying to find some books he needs for class. He's shocked to see Rosie there. Shortly after he's bullied by Nate again but Rosie puts a stop to that shortly after it begins. Meanwhile, Lena has gone home to visit her family and it's here that we learn she's Niles and Justine's daughter and that Bee is her brother. The family ties are all coming together here but as soon as they sit down to dinner, Niles starts acting weird again and it all ties into their trip to that park up in Shadowcliff. Maybe he should stop carrying that mask around.

    We head into the Burton home where Bee quickly crams the mask he's started obsessing over into his backpack. Niles and Justine make breakfast for the kids and afterward Niles tells his pregnant wife that work will be good for him - it'll help him keep his mind off of their vacation! He heads off to the office, but takes a turn off of the highway. Justine doesn't know it but he's heading back towards to the park.

    Meanwhile, Bee catches up to Lena and tells her about the mask, about what he saw when he put it on. She tries it on herself but sees nothing. Niles winds up at the lighthouse near the park, wondering if the keeper will have any info that will help him figure out what the heck is going on. At school, Maggie surprises Lena by kissing her and the other girls see this - and promptly make fun of them. Maggie tells them off and Lena is impressed.

    Bee heads to the bridge and throws rocks into the water below. No one believes he saw what he saw except Rosie, who just so happens to appear. They talk… and then she gets hit by a freight truck. Bee flips out, until he realizes she basically puts herself back together again and it's then that he learns what we've known all along - she's a ghost. Then she takes him flying.

    Meanwhile, Justine is at work hoping to inoculate the monkeys she needs to deal with but one of the chimps starts freaking out - something spooked her and the others. And then Niles meets the lighthouse keeper.

    Bee's nose is bleeding, he can't get it to stop. Maggie and Justine look on, trying to comfort him, but he's upset. The sidewalk turns into the edge of a cliff and the masked 'thing' that has been haunting the family manifests, calling Bee to it. Birds appear, it rains blood and Bee is, quite understandably, terrified. This thing is calling him to his death.

    When that stops as suddenly as it began, Maggie calls Justine out - she and their dad have been acting odd ever since they got back from that trip, that same trip where they first found the mask to begin with. Justine tells her kids that she thinks something followed them back. Meanwhile, underground in the park where all of this started, Niles and his cop pal are searching for an 'ancient killer.' The sheriff tiles Niles what happened to his son, how it ties into what he's dealing with and the town's history. They're looking for anything they can find to try and set this right, and then they see 'the doctor' at his operating table - except there's more than one. There's a lot of them.

    The further into the caves they go, the more they find the weirder it gets. Meanwhile, Bee gets a visit from Rosie, a warning of sorts.

    The thing in the mask is in the house, Justine is trying to stop it from getting to Bee and Maggie, the later of whom is holding the body of her girlfriend Lena, bloody and maybe not even alive anymore, in her arms.

    Just as the masked thing tries to bring the three of them through the portal in its coffin, Niles comes out of said coffin and holds a knife to the cloaked murderer. Here, things take a strange twist as the thing in the mask and the cloak points at Niles and tells he and his family that this is about more than them, this is about the fate of humanity itself. From there, more doctors, those things in the masks and the cloaks, come out of the coffin portal, intending to kill Niles and his family 'so that others may live.'

    The doctors bring Niles and the rest back to their operating room, the one that was first revealed in the beginning of the series, where one of the doctors explains to Niles, bound to a filthy operating table, what it is that they're trying to do - they need to find a way to break the curse. When they took that mask way back when, they set back their work by an innumerable amount, and that the evil they were trying to contain now lives inside the Burton family.

    It seems that the evil spreads by touch… and now what the doctors have been doing? It's starting to make a twisted sort of sense. Only fire destroys the curse.

    This is going to get gory and crazy before it's all over.

    The series ends well. You think that everything is going to be all wrapped up nice and neat, maybe with a pretty little bow on top, but no, the Kellers' story takes a couple of interesting twists before it calls it over and done with that you probably won't see coming. The family dynamic that exists between the Burtons in this issue is stronger than what we've seen in the past but that makes sense given the events that led up to this finale, and the script plays off of that in interesting ways. It makes the family likeable, it makes you get behind them here, it makes you want them to make it out of this situation alive and wholly intact. Occasional, albeit minor, injections of humor do seem just a bit out of place when it hits the fan as it does here but that's a tiny complaint - all in all this wraps things up really well.

    Joanna Estep's artwork works well here. The panel layouts are sufficiently dramatic and there's a nice sense of movement during the more action packed pages. Kelly Fitzpatrick's colors help to bring it all to life, and those covers by E.M. Gist? Fantastic stuff. The letters pages indicate that, not so surprisingly, a trade paperback is forth coming and at this point, it might make more sense to wait for that than to try and get caught up but regardless of how you do it, give Death Head a shot if you're into horror.

    Exclusive to this collected edition and tucked away in the back of the book are some creator essays - two pages from each of the Keller's talking about what went into writing this comic. There's also an interesting Making Of Death Head section where we get to check out the modeling work that was done for the mask as well as some of Joanna Estep's character design work, some logo concepts and a couple of pin-up pages.

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