Death Dealer: From Frazetta, to Opus Comics

“You’ve never had a Death Dealer before?” Oh, it was such an elementary tactic from the worker at my local comics shop, but it worked. They also tried to sell me a book of Frazetta’s art and Image Comic’s mini-series done in 2006. I only bought the mini-series. Look, I know it was impulsive, I know that’s like twenty bucks I’ll never get back, but there’s something liberating in reading a comic focused almost entirely on the action and art. The mini-series was simple, gory, and violent — what’s wrong with that? Sure, it wasn’t the best comic ever written, and it certainly wasn’t the best series I’ve read recently, but it still had tons of fun moments and badass, Doomslayer-esc finishing moves on freakish monsters. That’s kind of what the Death Dealer/Dark Rider reminded me of when reading the comic, but this interpretation is much different than the protagonist in Iverson’s 2022 run.

Before that (I know, I’m being such a good writer in teasing the reader, then leading them in a different direction), first I must cover a brief history of the Death Dealer, because why not? It’s no secret that not just writers, but artists and creators find inspiration from numerous resources: past creators, nature, everyday life, movies, tv, games, and countless personal experiences. Well, Frazetta used one of his own paintings from 1973, using it as inspiration to carve a character from the dark knight riding a horse and holding his battle-ax. And then, despite his magnificent art, not much happened until 2006 from Image comics.

Frazetta is a legend, simple as that. There are a few different museums and galleries throughout the United States displaying his work, the most notable being the “Frank Frazetta Museum” in Pennsylvania. “The Godfather of Fantasy Art” is another name for this man, and I wasn’t particularly familiar with his work before the research for this article. The name was still oddly familiar, creating a shadow in my brain as I pondered a name I should recognize but couldn’t quite pin down. So, in that local, small-town comic shop where a money man tried to reel me in with Frazetta’s incredible artwork, I knew I had seen Frazetta’s work before: pictures of Conan, warriors, knights, dragons. I had seen so much of it, recognizing many of the artworks he showed me, but I suppose I had never been able to connect the name and work.

That work inspired a future generation, with Image Comics running a six-issue series featuring the dark fantasy character, and it is a decent comic. Joshua Ortega focused more on horror elements, using a young man as a vessel for the Death Dealer to possess in order to end a war against a demonic army. However, we don’t learn much about the rider outside that it’s a spirit that shows up during times of war and kills whoever it needs to end said war. Throughout the entire series, it’s told primarily from Adelia, Haden’s (the host) love interest who tracks the Death Dealer through the gruesome battlegrounds, and because of this decision the Death Dealer seems more like a horror monster than a fully developed character at times, popping in and out as he butchers demons and dragons before riding off into the distance‚Ķ and it kind of works.

The Death Dealer is menacing because of the distance between him and the reader. He’s dark, intimidating, and incredibly fun to watch during acts of incredible violence. Sure, I can moan about how the character gets little development, but do we really need it? The death Dealer is a monster, as much so as the ones he fights, and what you find yourself wanting in these comics is to see Death Dealer maim and hack away at hellish demons. You don’t really care about Haden nor the relationship with Adelia because you find yourself feeding off the rage and brutality of the Death Dealer, and in the end, these characteristics are what bring the heart-racing intensity to the series. I don’t know, I still debate if I care about the lazy writing of “he just showed up one day” combined with the minimal character development because all we get as the reader is Haden giving a subtle confirmation that he’s still inside the Death Dealer somewhere.

This wasn’t something I noticed until I read the first issue from Opus Comics featuring Death Dealer. Mitch Iverson goes for a more “human” version of the character, allowing him to speak in full sentences and display romanticism during a sex scene in the middle of the issue. It was then I realized I like Iverson’s version of the character more, but part of me wants the ominous butcherer from the Image series. We still get some of those bloody moments, and the Death Dealer still feels menacing as hell, but Mitch Iverson presents noticeable vulnerability to the character, and perhaps the most interesting part of the comic for me is the introduction of conflict between the spirit and host, opposite to the Image run. Instead of having the host personality and Death Dealer unified perfectly into one being, Mitch Iverson gives us a character that’s powerful in himself but dislikes using the Death Dealer’s powers, and in doing so, the spirit talks to the host about losing control. It’s an interesting dynamic that suggests if the Death Dealer’s powers are used too much the host can become corrupted. Also, there are the confirmations that this series will connect with a sort of “Frazetta Universe” filled with some of the artist’s other creations.

At the time of posting this, the second issues of Mitch Iverson’s series will be out, and I will certainly check it out, recommending for others to do the same. And, who knows?! Perhaps I’ll write another post about it down the line!

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