To a certain generation of pre-teenage boys in the late 1980s, writer Simon Furman and artist Geoff Senior were the supreme masters of comics entertainment, producing classic runs in toy line comics Transformers and Action Force, and eventually going on to develop their own hugely popular series, Death’s Head and Dragon’s Claws, all for the much-missed Marvel UK. The demise of Marvel UK in the early 1990s – and indeed much of the UK comics industry in general – has led to subsequent generations missing out on their unique action-packed comic adventures. But now, after years of working on separate projects, they are back together for a brand new British comic: To The Death, created and independently published by the immensely talented creative partnership.
Skillfully adapted from its original 18-episode webcomic format published back in 2016, it’s evident from the first page that time has not stood still for Furman and Senior. Senior’s artwork has particularly evolved: behind a cover that could have been a page from Action Force lies 40+ pages of sheer gorgeousness, as Senior combines his traditional sharp angular edges with a new-found appreciation of blurring colours and scratchy ink work, creating a “digital hand-painted” effect, merging the best of both traditional and modern computer-created art techniques.
Much like Death’s Head and Dragon’s Claws before it, To The Death is a monthly science-fiction futuristic action title, focussing mainly on the life of hyper-masculine hero shooting at various cads trying to kill him. In this case, it’s tough, intergalactic career soldier Aleksy Dryagin – imagine Dragon from Dragon’s Claws only with blonde hair – who, like Dragon, also dreams of a quiet life with his family.
Furman’s story is slightly more adult in tone than might be expected – both in terms of world-building complexity, and certainly in terms of language. However, there’s nothing here that wouldn’t happily appear in a in a 15-rated action movie, or a more recent prog of the ever-popular weekly anthology 2000AD.
But the more things change, the more things say the same. The story is packed with huge weapons, massive spaceships, muscley men with a solid line in witty retorts, statuesque females, big action sequences, and a thoughtful, tragic lead character. The storytelling itself is quite straight-forward: After opening with a continuous 14-page combat scenario, the rest of the issue quiets down considerably as we discover Dryagin’s inner torment, as he longs to return home to his wife and son, while feeling very strongly that something is going to go wrong (which it inevitably and tragically will do by the end of the series’ limited run). We are also introduced to a few members of Dryagin’s platoon, although mostly appear to be name-checks for future reference; plus we also meet Dryagin’s wife Lena and her unhappy life on their ranch; and the apparent villains of the piece, The Triumvirate, named – somewhat unrealistically – Veni, Vidi and Vici… and that’s about it.
Assuming this first issue lays out the the structure for subsequent issues, it would appear that To The Death is a continuous 10-part 400+ page epic, rather than the traditional format of several shorter self-contained stories (with occasional story threads carried over) that comic readers are used to. This leads to the issue ending somewhat abruptly, rather than with a deliberate cliffhanger moment. However, this sudden stop works surprisingly effectively and will leave you itching for the next issue. I can’t wait to see where this goes.
Issue #1 of To The Death will be published 19th June, with further issues released every four weeks.