The serialization-to-collection publishing format works well for some comics; you use the lower-priced individual issues to get some readers on board, then launch the longer, more expensive collected edition with some positive word of mouth. The problem is that not all comics work well as a serialized story, especially if they were written with the collected format in mind. That’s how “Death Head” #1 comes across to readers; Zack Keller, Nick Keller and Joanna Estep’s comic may very well come together perfectly in a completed format but, right now, there’s very little to latch onto in order to buy the next issue.
“Death Head” #1 has three different story threads in its first issue. Justine and Niles are on vacation when they find an abandoned town and a near-fatal death trap awaiting them. Maggie is stuck in a religious school with illicit drugs and loves. Bee is taunted by his classmates and sent into an underground sewer with danger awaiting him. While these threads may start to intersect in future issues, they’re all divorced from each other enough that it’s hard to see the connections. Instead, the Kellers’ script jumps around so much that you can’t get a grip on any of the characters; Justine and Niles and Bee all are characterized by fear, while Maggie at least gets a dash of rebellion. There’s nothing more to them at the moment, save for their reactions to bad things; it’s an old-fashioned slasher film without the central plot to grab your attention just yet.
Estep and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick turn out some really nice pages, though, ones that remind me a lot of P. Craig Russell’s art in places. Who knew an incinerator that doubles as a crematorium could looks so beautiful? Yet, that’s exactly what we see here; Estep draws the bones and even the walls with gentle curves and graceful wafting smoke, while Fitzpatrick suffuses the inks with hazy, soft colors to complete the picture. They also tackle the presumed monster of “Death Head” well, although it’s hard to go wrong with a character wearing an old-fashioned plague mask and dark robes. Still, its lurking and sliding panels are striking as they finally step into the light. When Justine and Niles are attacked by the death head moths, it’s hard to keep your skin from crawling as you look at the hundreds of creatures descending on the duo, with them flowing perfectly from one panel to the next.
“Death Head” may very well come together once the remaining issues are published. However, taken solely as a single first issue, it just isn’t quite there yet. A few creepy moments aside, there’s little lure here to make readers dying to find out what happens next; none of the characters are quite likable or interesting enough, and the villain steps out of the shadows too late to have any proper menace. I hope the comic does well but, for now, it will have to do so without me.