Characters Appearing: Algernon Crowe, Black Axe, Brendan Rathcoole, Bronwen Gryfnn, Death's Head II (Minion), Eadmund Porlock, Gudrun Tyburn, Mephisto, Ormond Wychwood, Sunfire
Black Axe #1-3
Issue(s): Black Axe #1, Black Axe #2, Black Axe #3
This Black Axe series is actually from a second wave of Marvel UK titles, but for continuity reasons it's showing up pretty early in the project, before the first wave of the explosion (books like Motormouth and Warheads). That actually gets to another point: the UK books were laden with guest stars, but it doesn't seem like there was any kind of coordination going on between the US and UK offices. So Sunfire appears in this series in his old costume, for example.
I had never heard of Black Axe, but he does appear in some much later (2012) issues of X-Men. The thing to know about the character is that he is immortal, and many of the issues of his series are flashbacks to various time periods, going back some 10,000 years. The intro blurb on the title page of issue #1 says 50,000 years...
...but that's actually contradicted by the opening narration in the same issue...
...and going forward the intro blurb says 10,000 years.
This arc starts with some armored troops being sent to investigate an island in the South Pacific called the Moreau Atoll, not knowing if they are going up against SHIELD or AIM or someone else. And they start to get sliced up.
The troops turn out to be Hydra.
Death's Head II has taken a job protecting a Hydra genetic scientist who is researching immortality, but he's really here to meet and fight Black Axe, "a legend in my line of work".
So here's Black Axe, in his huge exoskeleton with his HUGE weapon.
After Death's Head II shows up, we next see what i first thought was a flashback, showing Black Axe having made a "jump" to a woman named Emily that knows him as Robert Hyde.
What we're really doing is jumping past the battle between Battle Axe and Death's Head II, with Axe having had to retreat. We later see a snippet of the fight, as flashback, in issue #2 (and it's not much of a fight; Death's Head II demolishes Black Axe).
But remember, i'm pulling this forward from issue #2. In issue #1, we just have a confusing jump between the initial confrontation from Death's Head and the scene with Emily.
For now, Black Axe is taken to a chamber for healing, and as that's happening we get an actual flashback showing how he wound up with this assignment. He's contacted by members of the Mys-Tech Corporation (Mys-Tech will be properly introduced in some of the first wave UK books, but the basic idea is that they're immortals that made a deal with Mephisto in return for their immortality, and a lot of their schemes are now about trying to get out of their deal) and asked to kill the scientist that Death's Head II was guarding.
Note that Black Axe is mainly interested in taking jobs for the challenge.
After Black Axe is healed and his "axe" is repaired, a group of minions called the Sisters of Grace show up. They are working for Mys-Tech.
They fight for a bit...
...but the Sisters manage to take Emily hostage, and Black Axe surrenders. It turns out that the Sisters are only there to make sure that Black Axe isn't reneging on his assignment.
Black Axe is next seen on a plane heading to Japan. Not, as i initially thought, because that's where the scientist has gone. But because after the defeats by Death's Head II and the Sisters of Grace, he feels he needs to spend time meditating, fasting, and training. So he's in Japan for a "month".
Also in Japan, the Hand is having a practice session with a big misshapen guy named Kage.
Kage is said to have been awakened after centuries of slumber. A Hand elder sends Kage to retrieve a legendary Great Sword.
But Black Axe winds up attacking the Hand ninjas because his axe was being held by a woman named Kaori Tamayoshi (i guess she's been holding it for him while he's in the country), who the Hand are interrogating about the Great Sword.
After the ninjas come the "heavy brigade".
So Black Axe pulls out his axe.
The fight draws the attention of Sunfire.
Kaori ensures that there isn't a Misunderstanding Fight.
Sunfire then teams up with Black Axe to defeat the Hand's heavy brigade. And then suddenly Black Axe is heading home, with a special pass from the Prime Minister's office that helps him get through customs. And now he's ready to go face Death's Head II again. Except we're shown Death's Head laying unconscious somewhere.
Black Axe returns to the Moreau Atoll and finds that the Hydra installation is in ruins, and Death's Head II has indeed been knocked out (and, thank god, it wasn't meant to be that DHII was knocked out by Black Axe when he teleported away a month ago, as i initially feared when i saw the end of issue #2, as if i wasn't already confused enough by that sequence).
Black Axe notices a sulfur smell as he's investigating the ruins. Death's Head's repair systems kick in, and Death's Head briefly thinks that Black Axe was responsible for the bombing of the island, but then they team up to fight some genetic experiments from Hydra's labs.
Note that the entity observing them says that Black Axe is from Earth, but from a more ancient lineage than humans. That entity turns out to be Mephisto (the Romita version).
The Hydra scientist's work on immortality was all a ruse designed by Mephisto to torment Mys-Tech.
But Mys-Tech is now interested in having Black Axe as an agent. So we see Mephisto delve into his memories.
But Mephisto determines that Black Axe has "No lust. No ambition.", and so he's of no use to him.
Death's Head shows up and starts fighting to help Black Axe escape, but Black Axe seems pretty much immune to Mephisto and able to hurt him, so Mephisto teleports them both away.
Black Axe then goes to Mys-Tech and reports on the fact that the Hydra scientist's work was a hoax. He doesn't accept payment from them because he feels like the challenge of these events was payment enough. And the experience has also convinced him to go back into action full time after having been retired for a while (the Mys-Tech assignment was the first in a long time).
The art is generally bland, with some really weird poses at times. There are difference in style between US and UK art; you can find a lot of similarities in style between the art here and what we saw in the initial Knights of Pendragon series, for example. So i try to come in without the same expectations and with the understanding that the art may be a little subdued compared to American comics. At a time when the Image artists were having an outsized influence on the industry, something a little less flashy might not have been a bad thing, but the art here is downright dull, and just not very good. The bigger problem is the constant jumping around, without it being clear what is going on, and that's a problem shared between the art and the writing. I have no idea what happens to Kage after the Hand's heavy brigade show up, for example. I don't really understand why Black Axe decided to go to Japan right after the Sisters of Grace beat him up over delaying the fulfillment of his assignment for Mys-Tech. The jump skipping the fight with Death's Head is downright weird, and the anti-climatic return to the airport after Axe's team-up with Sunfire is pretty strange as well. We're also not given any reason to care about Black Axe. He's got no personality aside from a relentless search for a challenge, and in these three issues the most i've gleaned about his history comes from the little blurb box that i reproduced (even counting what we see from the memories Mephisto pulls out). So far he's just a random cipher of a character that wanders from incident to incident, and he's boring.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: This was published in 1993, but the MCP has this as Death's Head II's first appearance after the 1992 mini-series that had him coming to present day Earth. The placement is likely due to Sunfire, who is wearing his old costume, which places this prior to Uncanny X-Men #284. Over a month passes between issues #1 & 2.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
I always like immortal characters who lived through most of history, but this... terrible art, terrible plot, terrible character design...
Posted by: Berend | February 24, 2016 5:32 AM
Black Axe looks so much like Valiant's Gilad the Eternal Warrior that debuted roughly a year earlier that I wonder if this series began as a proposal for Valiant.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | February 24, 2016 9:42 AM
Edmund Perryman appears to be attempting to mimic Barry Windsor-Smith here, and failing miserably.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 26, 2016 11:37 PM
Just heard the news that Edmund Perryman passed away at the age of 50 from cancer :(
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 16, 2017 3:46 PM
Comments have been disabled for the summer while i'm not around to moderate.
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