Created by John Freeman & Alan Burrows
Script by John Freeman & Dave Hailwood, Art by Brett Burbridge, lettered by Ken Reynolds
Death Duty is a comic project first conceived for an abandoned Shared Universe “WarWorldz” comic project first discussed by John Freeman, Craig Huston and Stuart Jennett, way back in around 1993/94 after Marvel UK “imploded”.
In 2014, Dave Hailwood and John Freeman began work on reviving the project for Dave and John Kirkham’s digital anthology, 100% Biodegradable, publishing the first episode drawn by Alan Burrows in 1995 and developing the storyline John conceived for a three book arc.
Artist Alan Burrows was the first artist to tackle Death Duty and drew a number of sample pages. The strip is now being drawn by Brett Burbridge.
In a war-torn future, crime and disloyalty to the Terran Empire are punished with conscription into mercenary law enforcement squads: soldiers consigned to do or die in order to prove their commitment to the common good. If they survive the period of their sentence – anything from 68 days to six years – they are free to once again become a citizen.
Of course, very few do: the average life expectancy for a recruit is four months, hence the street slang for the job: Death Duty.
Any ‘Dutyman’ who survives over a year is entitled to bonus and financial rewards for their work – and even the opportunity of early amnesty.
Dissidents in the Terran Empire are put on the infamous “List” – tracked down by Death Duty squads and terminated for their rebellion with extreme prejudice. A termination mission could take place anywhere – an alien worlds, a Martian cities or aboard a rebel spaceship or station.
Described by some as ruthless assassins working with the worst of intentions, these are just some of the men and women paid to kill to keep the Empire safe. For most of them, exactly who they kill doesn’t matter – until one of their number, Travis Wilson, begins to question the missions they’re assigned and goes AWOL – a wanted man.
The original Death Duty story was intended essentially be a chase across the War Worlds empire, with hi-tech battles across whole cities, subterfuge, double dealing and betrayal on a grand scale. The story enables exploration of many of the worlds in the War Worlds universe.
In the first story, “Renegade”, the role of one Death Duty squad is put under the microscope, and we soon get the general idea that here are some quite ruthless mercenaries working with the worst of intentions – men and women paid to kill to keep the Empire safe.
“Renegade” opens with a typical Death Duty hit on a wanted political terrorist on one of the Border Worlds of the Earth Empire. The status and technology level of the world is quickly established and it’s made clear that whoever this team of hardened killers are after, s/he has no chance of escaping once they find him. Their weaponry is state of the art – and in some societies on the fringes of the galactic empire, appears to be almost magical.
The Death Duty concept permits both an ongoing storyline and spin-offs featuring popular characters on Death Duty missions – and the first story even includes an appearance by the female warrior, Rourke of the Radlands, first created for Marvel UK’s STRIP, and owned by John Freeman and Liam McCormack Sharp, who kindly gave permission for her use.
Death Duty is © John Freeman Art © Alan Burrows
• The collected Death Duty strip is on sale for now from First Age Comics, Lancaster. This collection – price £10 – includes the first “Death Duty” story in full colour, plus the original “try out” black and white strip drawn by Alan Burrows way back in the mid 1990s. Limited stock!