Death's Head is a robotic Freelance Peacekeeping Agent created by Simon Furman and Geoff Senior for the Marvel UK imprint of Marvel Comics. He was originally intended as a minor throwaway character for the licensed Transformers series, but the creators decided that he had too much potential to limit him to a single story, leading to him appearing in a couple further stories before making the jump to the Marvel universe proper.
Exactly how Death's Head's rights remained with Marvel rather than being owned by Transformers owner Hasbro, as per the two companies' agreement that the rights to any original characters that first appeared in Marvel's Transformers comics instantly belonged to Hasbro, is unclear. A commonly-circulated story, perpetuated for a time even by This Very Wiki, explains that Marvel had him first appear in the one-page story "High Noon Tex" in several Marvel UK comics ahead of his Transformers debut to circumvent the arrangement, but the strip was evidently drawn in 1988 (as per artist Bryan Hitch's signature, "Hitch '88", on the final panel), one full year after Death's Head first appeared in Transformers.
Regardless of how Marvel managed to maintain the rights, the company would first cement Death's Head as a mainstay of the UK imprint through a series of guest appearances in various Marvel UK titles. Firstly, in Transformers, he was hired by various Transformers to assassinate members of the opposing faction. At the end of that story he fell into a time portal and a Doctor Who Magazine story revealed that he had crashed into the Doctor's TARDIS. In defense, the Doctor shrank him to human size and dropped him on Earth in the year 8162, leading to a confrontation with the elite troubleshooters known as Dragon's Claws.
After all of this, the first Death's Head solo series was launched (in 1988) by Marvel UK, with a tinkerer named Spratt rebuilding Death's Head, who then resumes work as a Freelance Peacekeeping Agent, initially still in the year 8162 and based in North America. The series included another clash with Dragon's Claws and another encounter with The Doctor - this time leaving Death's Head in modern day New York and setting up clashes with the Fantastic Four and Iron Man 2020.
That series was followed by a Marvel UK graphic novel (Death's Head: The Body In Question), which was also serialised in the Anthology Comic Strip, as well as a reprint compilation. At this point Death's Head also made a number of guest appearances in Marvel's American titles.
As part of the Marvel UK's 1992 expansion, Death's Head was redesigned and relaunched in a new series as Death's Head II, a cyborg that assimilated the skills and knowledge of over a hundred of its victims. The final victim - and the only robot - was Death's Head, whose personality was uploaded along with his talents, prompting a HeelĖFace Turn by the newly independent cyborg.
His destruction at the cyborg's hands initially seemed to mark the end of the original Death's Head's story, but his time travelling background still allowed writers to reintroduce him in new stories. In 2009 a relatively young Death's Head (not yet reduced to his usual human size) appeared in the S.W.O.R.D. mini-series penned by Kieron Gillen. In 2013, he reappeared as a supporting character during two arcs of Gillen's Iron Man run, and again as an antagonist of Jeff Loveness' Nova run.
In 2014, he was one of the protagonists of the Revolutionary War event, which revisited many of the Marvel UK characters. His storyline saw him encountering his replacement and creating a paradox which allows both versions of Death's Head to exist in parallel.
In 2018, he showed up in the Infinity Countdown: Darkhawk mini-series and in 2019 he got a new limited series written by Tini Howard - his first solo title since 1988.
(Additionally, although itís not part of Marvel Universe continuity, a 2011 issue of Marvel UK's Marvel Heroes younger readers series featured "Hulk vs. Death's Head," written by Ferg Handley and Simon Furman)
Death's Head (the original, yes?) exhibits the following tropes:
- Alternate Company Equivalent: Geoff Senior has compared him to DC's Lobo.
- Arch-Enemy: Many, most notably Big Shot, who became Axe-Crazy in his vendetta against Death's Head.
- Berserk Button: Death's Head hates it when people call him a Bounty Hunter. He insists on being called a "Freelance Peacekeeping Agent" yes?; people who call him a Bounty Hunter never do so twice.
- Black Comedy/Deadpan Snarker: Death's Head's preferred form of wit, usually delivered with a Bond One-Liner after completing his latest assignment.
- Bounty Hunter: Death's Head, though he insists on being called a "Freelance Peacekeeping Agent". People don't make the mistake twice.
- Cranial Processing Unit: Death's Head can continue to control his body even after being decapitated. In Death's Head II issue #1, he gets "assimilated" by being stabbed in the head.
- Crossover: Going by the stories, Death's Head has encountered the Transformers, the Seventh Doctor, as well as joining the mainstream Marvel universe (both present and future). Best to just chalk it up to the multiverse...Geoff Senior: He really was the ultimate intergalactic, time and space hopping, hitch-hiker of the Marvel Universe playing a role kind of similar, in some respects, to Lobo in DC Comics.
- Death Is Cheap: During an appearance in Iron Man, he is stuck inside a self-destructing superweapon, and isn't shown making it out. He shows up in a different title a few months later, completely intact.
- The Dog Bites Back: When he was hired by a group of rebels to assassinate an oppressive king, Death's Head discovers he was actually set up by the King and expected to die in an ambush. Death's Head proceeds to kill the palace guards and the King — completing the original contract.Rule One: Always honor a contract but never trust a client!
- Distinction Without a Difference: Death's Head isn't a Bounty Hunter, he's a freelance peacekeeping agent, yes?
- Equal-Opportunity Evil: For a given value of evil (bad guys tend to pay better), but he does not discriminate in who he goes after or who hires him.Rule Two: Make no concessions for age, size, or gender.
- Everything Is Racist: A Running Gag during his crossover with Iron Man. He repeatedly accuses Tony Stark of being prejudiced against robots.
- Fantastic Racism: He's not fond of organic life. Upon learning that Darkhawk is actually a human piloting an android body:Death's Head: I assumed you were a superior mechanoid life-form. Instead, you're little more than a grim reminder of a fate worse than death, yes?
- Freelance Peacekeeping Agent"Anyway, client's money is good, eh? Beyond that, I don't care who I kill. Who they are, what they've done, doesn't concern me."
- Future Me Scares Me: Doesn't think too highly of his 'successor'.
- Good Costume Switch: After being rebuilt by Spratt and the Chain Gang, Death's Head swaps his original green outfit to his better-known blue outfit seen today. But then again, he was never that heroic to begin with.
- Grand Theft Me: Forms part of his origin story.
- Heroic Comedic Sociopath: As a Freelance Peackeeping Agent, Death's Head often falls into this role. He doesn't really care who his targets are as long as he gets paid, yet by various coincidences only the truly deserving end up dead.
- Improvised Weapon: Death's Head is willing to improvise weapons from whatever is at hand, including furniture, barbecue skewers, and doors. If the room isn't empty, he's armed."Skilled warrior is only out of ammo when room is empty, yes?"
- Insistent Terminology: "Freelance peacekeeping agent," yes? Not a mistake anyone will make twice if I can help it, right?
- Irony: One of Freelance Peacekeeping Agent Deaths Head's early cases is when he is hired by a group of rebels to assassinate an oppressive king. During the hit, Death's Head discovers he was actually set up by the King as part of an ongoing ruse to stop assassins before the real rebels can hire them. Peeved, Death's Head proceeds to kill all of the guards and the King — completing the original contract.
- Jumping Out of a Cake: Inverted in a scene from Death's Head first solo title. A big cake is brought into a mobster's birthday party, so of course he assumes a gunman is inside it. He has his goons 'cut' the cake by blowing it to bits with blaster fire. Only it really is just a cake, which ends up splattered all over him. He then sits down to a slice of birthday cake, which explodes when he sticks his fork in it. Deaths Head set the whole thing up.
- Law Enforcement, Inc.: The self-described "Freelance Peacekeeping Agent" Death's Head."In the name of extreme profit, you are under arrest."
- Let's You and Him Fight:
- Occurs in Death's Head #10, when an Upper-Class Twit manipulates Death's Head and Iron Man 2020 to fight each other while he bets on the outcome.
- Occurs again in Fantastic Four #338, when Death's Head is hired to investigate a temporal anomaly and runs into the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Thor.
- And in Kieron Gillen's Iron Man run. First time was gladiatorial combat, second was because Death's Head was being controlled.
- Magitek: Death's Head was created with a mixture of technology and magic, originally intended as a replacement body for his creator.
- Mind Rape: Was on the receiving end of this from Unicron in Transformers, and Rigellian Recorder 451 in Iron Man.
- More Teeth than the Osmond Family: Infinity Countdown: Darkhawk gives him a mouth full of fangs, complete with Gold Tooth.
- Mr. Fixit: Death's Head's Sidekick Spratt is pretty competent with a toolbox, and rebuilt Death's Head after he was nearly destroyed by the Dragon's Claws, although not to the level of a Gadgeteer Genius.
- Only in It for the Money: This is Death's Head's primary motive; he considers revenge to be unprofitable, and selfless heroism to be a weakness. When he does perform "good" deeds, he'll justify it in terms of profit or reputation, such as taking down a rampaging mechanoid for free before a large crowd for the publicity.Rule Three: Never kill for free, but it pays to advertise!
- This goes so far that when he was told he had to save his future self he refused at first because he doesn't do jobs for free. After a bit of convincing, he settled for doing it as "life insurance".
- Robotic Psychopath: He is severely lacking empathy, understanding of people and has terrible control over his impulses. In one What If? story he sacrifices the lives of several superheroes to stop a villain he cannot defeat while finding their selflessness baffling.
- Rocket Boots: What he uses when he needs to move around the battlefield, or leave it.
- Samaritan Syndrome: Averted; on the rare occasions when Death's Head acts altruistically, he either has an ulterior motive or Lampshades himself for "being soft"."Universal peace sounds like a worthwhile endeavor, but the bottom line is the bottom line. Daddy's got a tax bill."
- This point is hammered home at the end of What If? #54, after sacrificing the Fantastic Four and several other Marvel heroes in a fight to the death against Minion/Charnal:"It's strange, this hero thing. Whole lives devoted completely to helping others. For no financial reward whatsoever. Struggling ceaselessly against impossible odds, risking almost certain death to help those in trouble. I... I just hope it's not catching, yes?"
- This point is hammered home at the end of What If? #54, after sacrificing the Fantastic Four and several other Marvel heroes in a fight to the death against Minion/Charnal:
- "Second Law" My Ass!: He obeys no organic, and likes very few of them.
- Sidekick: Spratt.
- Skull for a Head: Though it's more robotic and alien than most examples.
- Spin-Off: From The Transformers (Marvel) UK.
- Strange-Syntax Speaker: Freelance Peace-Keeping Agent Death's Head turns most of his statements into questions by adding the word "yes" to the end, yes?
- Swiss-Army Appendage/Swiss-Army Weapon: Death's Head has several different weapons that he can swap his right hand with. His most common ones are a mace, an axe, a blaster, and several different types of missiles.
- Timey-Wimey Ball: The first incarnation has made numerous appearances after Death's Head II came into being, including the two meeting (and fighting) each other. The chronology of the appearances from his perspective is anyone's guess. To quote Kieron Gillen: "If you can't bring back a time-traveling dimension-skipper, who can you bring back?"
- Transplant: When Marvel UK was publishing officially licensed Transformers comics and Doctor Who Magazine as well as Marvel Universe comics, the character Death's Head, who originated in the Transformers continuity, was transferred into the Marvel Universe via an encounter with the Seventh Doctor in the DWM comic strip. (The middle installment explains why he shrinks from Transformer Humongous Mecha size to humanoid size - the Doctor shot him with one of the Master's Tissue Compression Eliminators, a lethal Shrink Ray that the Master used to turn people into doll-sized corpses in old-school Doctor Who. Death's Head was badass enough that the 'eliminating' didn't take, but enough 'tissue compression' took place that he's now the size of the characters he'd now be interacting with.)
- Unexplained Recovery: Death's Head surviving a collapsing superweapon in Iron Man wasn't adequately explained the next time he appeared in Revolutionary War, though he mentioned something about "backups".
- Verbal Tic: Death's Head often uses terse sentences, and ends most of his sentences with questions, and more frequently with "Yes?", "Right?" and "Eh?"
- We Can Rebuild Him: After being nearly destroyed by the Dragons Claws, Death's Head was taken in by the Chain Gang and rebuilt by Spratt.
- What If?: To address the personality change of Death's Head II, Simon Furman and Geoff Senior wrote What If? #54, "What If Death's Head I Had Lived?" In it, Death's Head survives Minion's attack with an emergency teleportation device. He rebuilds his body into a larger, more heavily-armed form, then recruits various Marvel heroes in a Heroic Sacrifice against Minion's One-Winged Angel form before destroying him personally. Simon Furman has said that writing the story was "deeply satisfying and cathartic".
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: He gets annoyed when organics treat intelligent robots like they are just unfeeling machines.
Death's Head: "You're not one of those guys who has a code against killing "except for robots"? I hate those Krypto-fascists."
- During a Team Up with Tony Stark they discusses the rights of sentient robots and heroic ethics.
- An Arm and a Leg: Lost an arm to Galvatron at one point.
- Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Death's Head is one of the few beings to ever walk away from a battle in the center of the mind with Unicron, even after provoking him repeatedly.
- Humongous Mecha: He started out as this in the Transformers stories, and was a similar size to those characters - but the Doctor (then in his seventh incarnation) shrank him to human size.
- Losing Your Head: In their first encounter, Iron Man 2020 decapitates Death's Head in battle. Annoyed, Death's Head used his headless body to beat up Iron Man and work off his aggression.
- Foreshadowing: Vee is Death's Head 5, but the last version introduced in previous comics was Death's Head 3.0. Doctor Necker unleashes the previously unseen Death's Head IV on the original Death's Head in the final battle.