Halloween-time Recommendation (Sprinkled with Analysis): The Amazing Screw-On Head – by Tyler Crissman
A disembodied mechanical head that hops around and rivets into robotic bodies is great subject material for Halloween time (or any time at all, if you ask me). Thank Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, for making that an established thing. Enter The Amazing Screw-On Head. There’s only a single, one-shot story, but Mike Mignola has made that meager amount of material into a mildly macabre, mind-blowing, cranial comedy, crammed with colorful composition. I don’t want to spoil much of the story or the jokes for anyone. However, I will say that this one-shot is surprisingly distinct from Hellboy. For all the similarities—Mignola’s abstracted, boldly shadowed art style; the supernatural subject material; and the prominence of humor—there are also major differences. Hellboy incorporates genuine character development and drama, while The Amazing Screw-On Head proceeds with tongue firmly planted in cheek. To be fair, both works share some similarities in their respective senses of humor. Both throw often comical amalgamations of science fiction, fantasy, and more into explosive action. Hellboy, for starters, centers around a humanoid demon with one stone hand working as an agent for a supernatural defense force. Granted, the premise of Screw-On is head and shoulders above that when it comes to outlandishness, but Hellboy still brings in some comical spectacle. For example, well…take a gander:
Yep. In an early story, Hellboy throws the still-living head-in-a-jar of a Nazi scientist into the mouth of a cyborg gorilla. (I regret spoiling that for anyone who didn’t get to experience it naturally by reading the story…but oh, well.) For another example, in a story of Hellboy’s youth, the ranks of hell lament with fervor when the young demon decides he likes pancakes (because pancakes are…the antithesis of hell?). The whole two-pager is below, for your reading pleasure.
Still, much of the humor comes in the form of Hellboy’s sarcasm, often in the vein of superheroes and action heroes.
Meanwhile, the eponymous Screw-On Head, paralleling Hellboy’s premise, serves the U.S. government as a vanquisher of supernatural threats—but the silliness is heightened. Screw-On Head lives in an anachronistic 19th century, utilizing a steampunk arsenal at the behest of Abraham Lincoln and thwarting his arch-nemesis Emperor Zombie. On top of that, The Amazing Screw-On Head takes on a more parodic, perhaps even satirical, tone. For a good example, just look at this:
As in Hellboy, it’s hard to discern exactly what Mignola might be trying to say (if anything in particular) with his humor. Mignola could be appreciatively having fun with some things while he jokes, or he could be critiquing them with his jokes. Look back at “Pancakes”. Is the stuffy general insistently feeding Hellboy pancakes with a “USA”-engraved fork a critique of certain strands of American ideology, or is it simply a playful exaggeration? If it’s the seeming antithesis of hell, it seems like it would be a good thing, but the presentation of the imagery makes it ambiguous. These ambiguous and possibly satirical moments, from what I’ve read of Hellboy, are not as common as wild spectacle humor (see the gorilla incident) and the hero bravado humor (see the drinking-with-skeletons one-liner). However, they seem to almost be Screw-On’s bread and butter (or, pancakes and butter, if you will), only nearly beaten by wild spectacle humor. In the delightful cremation joke above (no, seriously, I un-ironically think it’s delightful), the above-mentioned ambiguity features prominently. Is this just a silly line, or does it serve to critique something in particular—like governments fearing intelligent minds, or inversely, the notion of governments fearing intelligent minds? Like I said, I don’t want to spoil this lovely one-shot, so I won’t go into any further examples, but I do think the jokes are excellent, regardless of ambiguous messages or lack thereof.
More accurately, the whole comic is excellent, not just the jokes. Hopefully, my look at the comic hasn’t made you want to tell me to screw off for being a headache. If it has, though, a purchase of this Halloweenish Mignola comic is the perfect remedy.