Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer(s): Zack Keller, Nick Keller
Artist: Joanna Estep
Colours: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Release Date: 24th Feb 2016
The final issue of Dark Horse’s Death Head mini-series reveals the fate of the Burton family, cursed by a mask that has brought sinister figures, known as Plague Doctors, upon them. In doing so, it addresses the key questions posed in previous instalments regarding the mystery of the Plague Doctors themselves.
Though this strand of the story is satisfying enough, as we learn the secret of the curse, the development of key characters seems forced during the resolution. Previous instalments touched upon the individual issues faced by each member of the family via subtle, realistic actions and dialogue: parents with older children facing a pregnancy later in life; severe adolescent bullying; and a teenager’s response to and exploration of her sexuality.
However, the action in the final issue overtakes all of the previous character nuances that were so welcome in the series. A recurring figure saves the day in an oversimplified sequence that takes away from the suspense of the final act. Similarly, the dialogue is strangely light and joking despite the danger and supernatural or fantastical experiences that the family encounters. It is apparent that writers Jack and Nick Keller are trying to tie all of the family’s issues together and reconcile relationships but this feels very rushed.
Artist Joanna Estep’s strongest feature is her depiction of the characters, which are very much at the centre of this story. Her rendering of faces in particular works to both imbue characters with individual personality and convey emotional signals in each frame.
Previous instalments of the Death Head series have been criticised for their light touch in regards to the horror elements. The final episode concludes on a striking and sinister note, which acts simultaneously as an absolute and open ending, and may polarise readers. The Death Head series can thus be contained in these issues, with a folkloristic turn via its dark ending, or it could easily be expanded should the creators wish to return to it.
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The writer of this piece was: Rebecca Booth
Rebecca Tweets from @rebeccalbooth