Did you know that once upon a time, Marvel Comics owned the rights to publish Doctor Who comics?
Well, it was actually the Marvel UK branch of the company and if you go right back to 1979 and the first issue of Doctor Who Magazine (then Doctor Who Weekly), you’ll see the familiar Marvel logo in the top left-hand corner. Marvel Comics UK had been around for years giving us heroes like Captain Britain and his sister, Psylocke (who went on to find high acclaim in Uncanny X-Men) as well as lesser known characters like Dark Angel, Digitek, and Motormouth.
Death’s Head was also a Marvel UK creation, first appearing in issue 113 of Transformers UK in 1987. It was in the 1990s that he got his own run of 10 issues. However, between 1987 and the 1990s, he put in an appearance in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine in issue 135 where his gigantic robotic height was shrunk down to a more human height thanks to the Master’s tissue compression eliminator.
Then Death’s Head seemed to vanish from the comic book landscape, mainly due to contractual problems with Hasbro who owned Transformers. Because he appeared in one of their comics, even under the Marvel imprint, they fought that the character was theirs. Of course, Marvel eventually won but aside from a few cameo appearances in other titles, including Captain Britain and MI13, he seemed to fade away.
However, Death’s Head is back now in a new five-issue limited series and to celebrate, Marvel is re-releasing all of its Death’s Head material, minus issue 8 in which he meets the Doctor properly for the first time.
Death’s Head actually shares quite a lot of history with the Doctor and it’s a shame we won’t get to see that in any collected editions in the future. Expelled from the Transformer’s Universe, Death’s Head collides with the Doctor, where a startled Seventh Doctor shrinks him down to human size. He then sends him far into the future to the year 8162. Then in the missing issue 8, he is hired by Josiah W. Dogbolter to kill the Doctor. When Death’s Head found out he had been betrayed by Dogbolter, he failed to carry out his mission.
But Issue 8 won’t be featured in the collected volume as Panini now own the rights to everything Doctor Who related from 1979 onwards. Titan owns the rights to the new stories they tell but Panini took over the Doctor Who Magazine from Marvel when the UK branch shut down.
It seems for now that the Death’s Head/Doctor Who crossover will be consigned to collectors corners and eBay until the rights are finally resolved. As a character who shares so much history between the Marvel and Doctor Who universes, it’s sad we won’t get to relive their initial meeting.
But for fans of both, we’ve still got the Titan Comic series for the continued adventures of the Thirteenth Doctor, where she has just met her old friend, the Corsair.
And for fans of Death’s Head, in his new limited series, he’s met the Young Avengers, most notably Hulkling and Wiccan (the sort-of-children of the Scarlet Witch and Vision). I actually picked this issue up, not expecting much, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
For now though, it seems like Death’s Head has found his home in the Marvel landscape once again.
Death’s Head: Freelance Peacekeeping Agent is out in March 2020, and features art by DWM artist, Lee Sullivan, and storyboard artist during the Russell T. Davies era, Bryan Hitch.