And do you know the best part about asking 'Who the Hell is Black Axe?'
is? I can't actually tell you.
Confused? Let me explain.
Black Axe was created by Michael W Bennett and Edmund Perryman, for his own ongoing series, pencilled by Perryman and written by Simon Jowett. It came out in 1993, running for a grand total of 7 issues. He even had John Romita Jr do a few of his covers.
But I can't tell you who the hell Black Axe is with complete certainty, because when the whole series ended abruptly with #7 (As several of the Marvel UK ongoing books did, at that time) Black Axe's true origins and identity were yet to be revealed.
You see Black Axe was devised as (and remained as) an enigma. Known to the select few in the Marvel Universe AS Black Axe (Mys-Tech, The Hand, the creators of the Minion project), but in terms of who he actually was? That’s a bit more complicated. In the seven issues we had he was shown to have been an immortal being of unspecified race, who had been active in many time periods throughout history - From ancient Egypt to Feudal Japan, from the American Civil War to Britain in the thick of World War 2. An immortal being who has kept himself hidden by taking on a plethora of assumed identities and aliases across history - living them out for as long as is useful, before faking their death and moving on.
His last know alias was Robert Hyde - an identity he held during World War Two. But he apparently retired that alias in 1961 (The papers reporting how he had died in a local accident), leaving his entire estate in Loch Lanark, Scotland, to one Emily Hall - a young orphan girl whom ‘Hyde’ had rescued from London at the height of the blitz years. She maintained the property as per the instructions left in his will. His turning up alive (albeit beaten to within an inch of his life) on her doorstep, looking not a day older in 1993, came as bit of a surprise.
Although we can't be certain what exact race Black Axe belongs he does at least appear human, and to be of terrestrial origin. He is also shown to be a highly trained and effective assassin, possessed of some incredibly sharp reflexes, enhanced senses (Smell in particular), enhanced strength, stamina and durability. Part of this could simply be down to centuries of training, but as is shown in the very first issue he can take one hell of a lot of pounding without suffering terminal damage - due in part to his own fairly incredible durability and in part to the incredibly complex armour he wears.
Oh yeah, and he’s got a really Big Axe...
Although I'm guessing you probably noticed that.
Seriously, I mean LOOK at it! It's bigger than HE is!
This was the 90s, of course, and over-sized weaponry was the style of the day. Even Cable would have been proud of a weapon THAT over-sized…
The modified axe and armour are two examples of the spoils of Black Axe’s centuries on this planet. He has accrued wealth, and a shed load of tech, to assist him in his activities - which in his case is working as a merc for hire to a very select and privileged few. Its unknown as to whether he built the kit he wears or if he acquired it, but he certainly knows how to use and service it to it's best. And not only can that armour take a lot of damage, it's packed full of sensors and systems which help the guy to formulate battle-plans - predicting opponents moves and coming up with countermeasures. He's like a dark ages, but high-tech, version of Iron Man in there. ;)
That big, black, axe itself is also complete with gadgets. Although some of the,m rather defeat the point of it. For example, what is the point of giving the guy a huge hand weapon, and then allowing him to fire laser beams out of its hilt? That one still doesn't sit right with me...
Slightly more practical, though, is an in-built teleportation system. He can use it to travel instantly to other locations, even carrying a limited number of passengers with him. However using it over any large distance does drain the energy in the axe pretty quickly, and therefore only short distance jumps are really advisable.
I guess what some of you are asking though, is do I think that a character who has that much 1990s styling is still usable in modern comics. Well, I kinda do. Not because of his near indestructibility, mind you (I definitely think a few very creative chinks in his armour would be much needed to make him believable), but more so because he's still quite an open-ended character in terms of development. He has some interestingly established backstory - the concept of all these former aliases, and appearances in past history - but remains an enigma. We don't have his full origin, just glimpses of his former personas.
There's plenty of room for work here. A new writer could present us with more past personas, do a storyline tying past personas in with modern events, or even give us their own take on an origin story.
This guy's immortal, right? And aside from the tech he does have some very natural more than human powers. How did that come about? What other Marvel race might he belong to? I find myself wondering, as I look at the style in which Perryman pencils Black Axe's technology (such as Hephaestus Four -the life support system he has in the basement of the house in Loch Lanark) I definitely see some strong influences of Jack Kirby and John Romita Jnr at work, with all those straight lines, sharp angles and intentional details.
Couple that with a guy who even names his tech after a Greek God and i find myself wondering if he isn't in some way related to The Eternals? A black sheep of the family, perhaps? Or some long lost relation? That'd certainly be tallyable with the recent Neil Gaiman/John Romita Jnr reboot of the characters.
He certainly has the presence of a higher being about him, that's for sure. When Mephisto touches his mind in #3 he is unable to twist Black Axe to his will. He cast him aside, stating that
"No Lust. No ambition. Such a singularity in purpose is unique, but alas is of no use to me... My darlings, he is yours!"
It's also worth stating that after trying to cast him aside Black Axe fights back and engages the demon. Mephisto is unable to destroy him, and Black Axe actually manages to draw blood. Considering how powerful a deity Mephisto is the marvel Universe, that's no mean feat.
That singularity in purpose, that need to pursue the goal of being the perfect assassin and to celebrate it almost as if her were a representative OF it, is followed throughout his series. Death's Head tells of how in his own time period Black Axe has become almost a legend. Many historians can prove his presence across history, but while many have hunted for him none have been able to find him. He says that it is believe that he retired at some point (Presumably after he terminated his Robert Hyde persona) as there was nobody left to challenge him. Quite possibly. It was the 60s and the world had changed. People clamouring to celebrate peace and love. Even the superheroes of the day were not as powerful as he is shown to be here, and war was being waged in a much more technological and less confrontational manner.
Black Axe states that one of his great regrets in coming out of his retirement is that,
"After centuries of scheming, fighting and killing, I took on the challenge of peace... and failed".
Exploring what truly motivated him to come out of retirement, and who he truly is could make for a genuinely interesting story. His armour, and indeed his axe, are shown as varying greatly in size, shape and styling over the ages. Put down the eccentricity of the 90s as the reason for their quirky appearance in 1993 and there's plenty ways of reshaping him into a more post-2000-friendly shape, I'm sure.
I doubt you'd get that many people ready to pick up a new Black Axe ongoing series, sure, but he's not without potential on other books.
Well, I think so, anyway.
If I don't get the chance before folks, let me wish you all a very Merry Christmas. We have something planned for a Christmas Blog - but we're debating as to whether it's possible to get it ready in time to post up on Christmas day. If it is, then there will be a Twitter alert on the day.
As with all of these Who the Hell is...? articles please feel free to add your tuppence worth.