Friday, February 21, 2020

So... Much... Head

Be aware, this is a nerdy post, even by my standards.

By my count, there are at least four versions of Death's Head running around the Marvel Universe. This matters to no one but me and about three other people, but it's keeping me awake at night, so let's go for a deep dive into some obscure continuity!

(Just to be clear, I'm not cataloguing every version of the character; rather I'm trying to work out how many versions of him are active in the 616 reality.)

  • Original Death's Head
    The character that was introduced back in 1987, then bounced through various licensed comics, his own series, crossovers, and many cameos. He is supposed to be destroyed, assimilated, and replaced by Death's Head II -- see below -- in 2020, but a combination of Marvel's sliding timeline and DH's own time-jumping antics means that the 2020 of 1992 is now the alternate Earth-8140 and Original DH is safe from replacement. Probably.

  • Death's Head II
    Originally the original in a new body. He's also a time-and-dimension hopper and is active in the current Marvel Universe, at one point in 2008 working for Pete Wisdom's MI13 against Dracula. Yup. Since DHII has the personality of the original -- sort of -- I'll count him.

  • Big Death's Head
    This version appeared in S.W.O.R.D. in 2009 and is somewhere near the beginning of his career. He is Transformer-sized but hasn't yet picked up the "freelance peace-keeping agent" tic, suggesting that this appearance is from before his travels into the Transformers universe in Transformers (UK) #113 in 1987.

    Big Death's Head also appears in Iron Man (v5) in 2013. He is wearing his blue outfit, which confuses matters as he gets that after being shrunk, destroyed, and rebuilt, but it's written by Kieron Gillen, who also wrote S.W.O.R.D. so I'm going to assume it's supposed to be the same version.

    There is an argument that this one should be called Original Death's Head because it's the youngest non-flashback version of the character, but that kind of thinking makes my head hurt.

  • Avenging Death's Head
    In Avenging Spider-Man #17 in 2013, the Time Variance Authority contracts Death's Head to deal with disruptions to the timeline. DH is human-sized and is wearing his blue outfit, which puts this appearance somewhere between his 1988 solo series and the present. His employment with the TVA suggests that from DH's perspective, this appearance is from around Fantastic Four (v1) #338 in 1990, but I admit that's speculation.

    Anyway, Spider-Man punches his head off, but the TVA summons DH again, from a few seconds earlier in his personal timeline. This time -- ho ho -- things go better, and DH walks off into the sunset.

    Given the TVA's involvement I don't think this is Original Death's Head, but rather a timeline-diverged version of the character. Or it is ODH, but at some point he goes back and rejoins his own timeline. For the purposes of how many Death's Heads there are in the current 616 continuity, I'm not sure it matters.

    Then it gets timey-wimey. We have seen in Death's Head (v1) #10 that beheading is at most an inconvenience to DH, which is confirmed by an easily-missed bonus panel on the "next issue" page of the Spider-Man comic, so it appears there are two versions of this version of DH active!

I reckon that makes four, maybe five, at a stretch six, versions of the same character active in the 616 Marvel Universe, a situation that looks like an excellent premise for a team-up story. One day Marvel will let me write Death's Head Team-Up and I will write that story, but it is not this day.

But we are not finished yet! For the sake of completeness, because if I were reading this post I would probably ask about them:

  • Death's Head 3.0
    I read the series in 2006 but I have no real idea how this character connects to the original. I'm not sure anyone does. He's some sort of off-shoot of DHII but there was a suggestion at the end of the story that he was a precursor to Original Death's Head but that was Earth-6216 but then a bunch of unconnected but identical drone versions appeared in an Earth-616 Hulk story and I think we'd all be better off forgetting DH 3.0.

  • Death's Head 4.0
    This unit appears in Death's Head (v2) in 2019 as an intended replacement for Original Death's Head, but is superseded by Vee and -- spoilers! -- destroyed by ODH.

  • Death's Head 5.0/V/"Vee"
    Also introduced in Death's Head (v2), Vee is supposed -- like DHII -- to replace Original Death's Head but develops his own personality and hangs around with the Young Avengers instead. Unlike DHII there's no continuity or transfer of consciousness between him and the original, so I'm happy to consider this a different character with a similar name.

    (In the final pages of Death's Head (v2) Vee opens a door into what looks like a cupboard and behind the door is what looks like an inactive Original Death's Head, but then in the next panel we see ODH active and well elsewhere, so I don't know what that bit is about.)

  • Darkhawk Death's Head
    This fellow appears in Infinity Countdown: Darkhawk in 2018 and I think he's supposed to be Original Death's Head but he looks weird as heck. The version in S.W.O.R.D. also looked off-model but at least he was a robot; I'm not sure what is going on with this more biological-looking version. I will assume he's ODH until confirmed otherwise.

Should further versions of Death's Head pop up -- which is a strong possibility given the way the character bounces about -- I will update this post, but I think four -- or more! -- concurrent versions of the same character is more than enough to be getting on with, yes?


  1. I've never really known much about Death's Head, other than his meeting the Seventh Doctor in this comic from way back when:


    1. One of many meetings between the two!

      This one ends with the Doctor using the Master's Tissue Compression Eliminator to shrink DH to human-size, then dumping him in the Marvel Universe, just in time for the start of his solo series.

  2. Don't forget the original Death's Head who beat the Minion cyborg, as depicted in What If? #54 The thing is, once a character starts jumping around in time or across dimensions you start to get multiple divergent versions of them. The guys you list as Big, Avenging and Darkhawk Death's Heads might all be different points in one Death's Head's timeline, since his mechanical nature means he can change bodies/appearance fairly easily (cf the last page and panel of Simon Williams' Anubis story, but they might also be divergent versions of the original. Time-travel makes things confusing - just ask Kang the Conqueror.

    1. Indeed, but bear in mind that I'm not collating the many versions of DH, but rather listing how many times "Original" Death's Head is active in the 616 universe; that's why you don't see the What If? version or the possible Ultimate/Hydra version, because they are clearly alternate universe incarnations.

      I am almost certain that Big and Avenging are Original DH at different points of his timeline. I am confident that Darkhawk is too, despite the differences in design.

  3. Ta for that! I'd buy DH team-up!