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"Mr Schmidt, recently arrived in a small Bavarian village which lies eight miles northwest of Munich, a picturesque, delightful little spot onetime known for its scenery but more recently related to other events having to do with some of the less positive pursuits of man: human slaughter, torture, misery and anguish. Mr. Schmidt, as we will soon perceive, has a vested interest in the ruins of a concentration camp - for once, some seventeen years ago, his name was Gunther Lutze. He held the rank of a captain in the SS. He was a black-uniformed strutting animal whose function in life was to give pain, and like his colleagues of the time he shared the one affliction most common amongst that breed known as nazis: he walked the Earth without a heart. And now former SS Captain Lutze will revisit his old haunts, satisfied perhaps that all that is awaiting him in the ruins on the hill is an element of nostalgia. What he does not know, of course, is that a place like Dachau cannot exist only in Bavaria. By its nature, by its very nature, it must be one of the populated areas of the Twilight Zone." Deaths-Head Revisited is a 2009 graphic novel based on the 1961 Twilight Zone episode of the same name by Rod Serling. It was written by Mark Kreece and illustrated by Chris Lie. There have only been a handful of these Twilight Zone comic adaptions so far and this one seems like a slightly strange choice given its dark subject matter. The original television episode is powerful and humanistic - almost poetic - but the comic format is a more difficult medium for serious themes sometimes although the decision to tackle such an important subject (and perhaps help younger readers to learn just a little bit more about it) is certainly laudable I suppose.
In Deaths-Head Revisited "Mr Schimdt" (not his real name) arrives in a Bavarian village eight miles northwest of Munich. He appears to be a normal respectable everyday person but beneath his civilised veneer he hides a very dark secret that he is most certainly not eager to broadcast. Many years ago he was once the sadistic and notorious SS Captain Lutze during World War 2 and notorious for his cruelty when he served at Dachau concentration camp. Lutze is drawn to the ruins of Dachau where he happily remembers his time there as a Captain and the memories of absolute power and cruelty. To the cold hearted and bestial Lutze it was a wonderful time. In the deserted and eerie camp he suddenly meets an old inmate named Becker who appears from nowhere. He doesn't recognise Becker and takes him for a caretaker and the man seems to know him only too well. After first trying to protest his innocence and suggesting mistaken identity, Lutze shrugs off Becker's accusations of inhumanity to man by saying he was just following orders given from above and hurriedly prepares to leave. He is about to get a big and unpleasant surprise though and pay for all of his past crimes in true Twilight Zone fashion. The television screenplay for this has a vicious wrathful streak that is very effective in the end (although even the television episode seems jarring at first when one is presented with such a dark plot) and this comic adaption is certainly dark too with some nightmarish panels as Lutze has a taste of his own medicine and is forced to see what life was like for the people he tormented by having their experiences.
One thing I like about these comics is the way they insert Rod Serling into the start and end for his opening narrations and closing monologues and reproduce his words. Serling's words in Deaths-Head Revisited are amongst his most moving and powerful and it's commendable that they are included. "...All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes--all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God's Earth." The story turns potent and much more powerful when Becker appears and reminds the stubborn Lutze of the full horrors of the holocaust. "Men. Women. Childen. Infants. You tore up their bodies in rage. You shovelled them to their death." The story was first aired during the Adolph Eichmann trial and remains resonant today. People must be forced to face up to their guilt and crimes and Lutze is going to get some spectral Twilight Zone style vengeance from those he oppressed. There is a slightly troubling element to this story though I think in the victims force Lutze to go through what they went through. He certainly derserves it but are they not descending to the level of the Nazis? You certainly don't feel any sympathy for him so perhaps it's a moot point.
Lutze's trial is surprisingly horrific at times with scenes of torture and fire. He is to be driven insane for his crimes. I'm not completely sure that this was the best Twilight Zone story to adapt - important as it is. There are other graphic novels (Anne Frank) that introduce this topic to younger readers in a less visceral way and the art is sometimes too dark and cluttered so it is difficult to make things out. The moral of the story is of course timeless and remains relevant (men "turning the earth into a graveyard" somewhere has never really stopped) but perhaps this is a little bit much at times for a comic that is supposed to be for all ages. The artist here is able to paint a much broader vista of nightmare and horror memory than the black and white television episode as comics are only restrained by the imagination of the writer and not budgets. The colour too adds to the occasionally disturbing imagery. It's not an adult comic by any means and these adaptions are essentially aimed at younger readers but I would approach this one with slight caution. The art is certainly impressive at times although I preferred the crisp and more nuanced retro modern feel of the illustrations in The After Hours adaption I read recently. Deaths-Head Revisited is a good comic but I think there are many Twilight Zone episodes that would be better suited to the comic format and the power and plaintive poetry of the story is much better experienced in the television episode with dream sequences, actors and being able to hear Rod Serling actually speak with real feeling and passion.
These Twilight Zone graphic novels are interesting and worth collecting but this is maybe not the one to start with. Deaths-Head Revisited runs to 72 pages (paperback) and at the time of writing is available to buy for around £7.
Book Series: The Twilight Zone