By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Urban legends can become the stuff of new nightmares and when there’s a mysterious figure by the name of Plague Doctor creating the terror, I’m hoping that he does not come knocking at my door! Dark Horse Comics‘ trade paperback release of Death Head by Zack and Nick Heller came out at the beginning of June, and I had to work up the nerve to read it in one go. There’s a sense of unease to wondering who is wearing that beaked mask, and there’s only one way to find out. I could have bought the individual issues when it originally came out, but there’s some serials I just do not have the patience for. To read this story all in one go was more satisfying.
At the start of this journey, Niles and Justine are introduced. They are out on a backtracking trip at a national park searching for Death-Head Hawkmoths. If that doesn’t sound ominous enough, young ‘Bee’ Burton meets a ghost of a murdered young girl. She saves him from falling to his death. Not every spirit has to be bad, and for her, the many long years of loneliness seems to have come to an end. For Maggie, her tale at living at an all-girls school sounds like a formula for a slasher flick. Readers will not clue in right away that these four are a family. Three tales are introduced and how it all converges makes for some good late night fun.
As a multi-layered tale, what’s told on paper speaks volumes about any movie that needs to be tight and compact. To delve into the problems Bee faces is interesting and I was drawn more to the relationship he develops with his newfound guardian spirit. I was more compelled to flip the pages to find his presence. When that was done, I had to reread the whole softcover book to understand the moments I missed since the entire tale does delve into the mysterious origins of the masked killer.
Visually, artist Joanna Estep evokes a mood straight out a John Carpenter film. The colours by Kelly Fitzpatrick adds to the feeling. The painted covers by E.M. Gist from the individual issues form the chapter break art are the highlight for me. His work is reminiscent of a few of the covers from “The Three Investigators” books I have. That alone makes waiting for the compilation release all the more worthwhile. I can admire the collection all in one go.
4 Star out of 5