Death Wish

Death Wish
Death Wish review
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Rebellion Treasury of British Comics - 978-1-78108-680-3
  • Volume No.: 1
  • Release date: 2019
  • Format: Black and white
  • UPC: 9781781086803
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

His film may have inspired the title, but there’s no Charles Bronson to be found in what was after all produced for a boys’ adventure comic. By any standards an eight year run in weekly comics largely decided by reader preferences is a phenomenal stretch, and Death Wish survived the merger of two comics before ending. Barrie Tomlinson’s premise is simple. As introduced in 1980, handsome daredevil Blake Edmonds survives a near fatal accident with horrendous facial scarring, which he hides beneath a full metal helmet. Considering his own life to be worthless at that point, he determines to undertake the most dangerous stunts ever attempted, his own survival being of no concern.

No, the 1980s weren’t a very touchy feely era, and Tomlinson exploited the title to the full over three page segments in which there’s no hope of redemption for Edmonds. In this collection presenting the strip’s first six months or so, Tomlinson explores every form of fast transport that occurs to him, having Edmonds risk his life on land, sea and air, in cars and on skis, and designed to thrill the audience of boys it was aimed at.

Vanyo was a prolific artist for British IPC comics of the 1980s, and David McDonald’s introduction may reveal to many for the first time that the prodigious work rate was partially down to the Vanyo alias encompassing brothers Eduardo and Vicente Vana Ibarra. In most cases Eduardo would pencil and colour while Vicente inked, and Eduardo notes Death Wish as his favourite strip. The effort they put in bears this out, obvious on every page where the crowds are full, the machinery detailed and Edmonds’ face mask a great passively emotionless design.

Death Wish originated in a horror title, and while Tomlinson obviously prefers the thrills he constructs, there was a nod to Scream’s theme every few episodes when Edmonds removed his helmet to reveal the disfigurement beneath. Vanyo’s art holding little back. The drawback to the strip is that Tomlinson was well aware of his audience, and that young boys had limited knowledge of literary and cinema clichés. For adults much will be predictable, and when Edmonds is rescued by a beautiful blind woman groans are permitted. At that point Scream had died the death, with Death Wish transferring to the more traditional adventure comic Tiger, allowing a greater emphasis on stunts, and less on showing Edmonds’ gruesome face. Tomlinson could also extend his stories further, and the last of the weekly strips is continued to good effect over a third of the collection, Tomlinson never forgetting the cliffhanger ending every three pages.

The concept works well, while the action and art are imaginative, but Tomlinson never really stretching himself beyond the target audience means it’s still really only aimed at them almost forty years later.