HAVOC #2: FLAMiN’ HELL!

With five different strips to this anthology and each one an imported American story split into multiple parts across weekly issues variety was always going to be a key factor of Havoc. What I didn’t expect was how different each issue could feel as a whole. Last issue’s action packed Deathlok gives way to proper character introductions, Star Slammers begins to show a glimmer of political intrigue, Ghost Rider has the reveal we’ve been waiting for, Conan the Barbarian comes to a sudden end already and RoboCop brings in the satire and characterisation that always set him apart from other action fare.

In the middle of all this is a large, glossy Deathlok poster, the issue’s free gift. Drawn by Joe Jusko in 1989 it must’ve been a piece of art to promote the comic in 1990 when Marvel in the US brought the character back. I definitely remember having this on my wall at the time and I particularly like the way we see the complete human and cyborg sides of him next to the completed transfer and the birth of a character I loved that summer. In the comic itself there’s also an article about the strip with insights from the creative team.

First up though is the Deathlok story written by Dwayne McDuffie and Gregory Wright which begins by adding the logo, story title, credits badge and a quick recap to the original splash page opener by Wright and Jackson Guise, with the original lettering in the rest of this chapter by Richard Starkings. Cybertek Systems Inc. know fine rightly what happened to cause the disaster last issue. They also know without a human brain it’s “nothing but a multi-billion dollar mannequin” and then the reader is instantly taken to the home of Michael Collins, a software programmer working on artificial limbs.

In the scene in his home his young son is playing a computer game and upgrading his character with the biggest gun possible without giving thought to armour, speed, agility etc. Trying to teach his son that a real hero isn’t all about weaponry and violence, it falls on deaf ears as the boy is having too much fun. Even if I didn’t remember it, it’s clear the strip is setting Michael up as the new Deathlok, so his abhorrence towards violence is an interesting take. Like having Danny in Ghost Rider being a bit of a coward last issue.

As a teenager I always loved the quieter moments amongst all the action in my comics. Thing is, not all of the comics I tried out could carry it off. Transformers was surprisingly good at it although it rarely happened, it was part of the fun in G.I. Joe too and here the domestic scenes made the story (and the comic) feel more mature to thirteen-year-old me, like I was watching a really good movie set up all the pieces correctly with the right pacing and character development. I loved this juxtaposition. It wasn’t trying to entice me with endless action, I was expected to return to see it all develop. I wasn’t being talked down to.

The story ends this issue with Ryker of Cybertek ordering his team to neutralise the software fault by the next day for another brain transplant, even though they haven’t got a volunteer lined up. It’s clear he doesn’t intend to ask. On the next page the Deathlok article is an interesting read about what drew co-creator Dwayne McDuffie to the job and what the character meant to him. The way he describes the relationship between the computer and Michael reminds me of another character by the same name and his computerised partner, namely Michael Knight and K.I.T.T.; particularly in Knight Rider‘s first season when the two main characters butted heads a lot as they got to know each other, so I’m excited to see this play out in this strip.

The Star Slammers get a little more than four pages this time, although having read this part I can see that was the best place to end it a week ago. Having saved the citadel they make their way inside and are greeted by very welcoming, grateful hosts. The Slammers have no wish to celebrate, they know the Skriks will be back soon so they simply demand their payment and a place to rest. While they sleep an official called Lackland comes to warn them the others mean to kill their saviours instead of paying up.

But on the very next page it appears Lackland is working for the enemy, the Skriks. As they wait to see if the mercenaries will change sides, their ship on which they reside is locked up tight and flown off to the citadel, where it lands and is surrounded by tanks before the Slammers announce it was them. They had simply snuck up to the ship and locked the Skriks inside their own home. The episode ends with Lackland making a run for it as another ship comes into view above, so its unclear where this is headed.

To be honest, not much is happening yet. It’s still setting up its plot and characters, the background to the planet and the politics involved. There’s the potential of political intrigue here which I hope I’m right about, because so far it’s not great; the Slammers’ capture of the Skriks all happens off-page and I’m not feeling connected to anyone yet. It’s not necessarily the fault of writer and artist Walt Simonson (colours by Louise Simonson and Deborah Pedler, letters by John Workman) because this was written to be read as a whole, not as a serial.

While other strips seem to be benefitting from the weekly short doses, engrossing me in each chunk of story and building anticipation, it may just be these early pages of Star Slammers that aren’t so suited to the format. Maybe once it gets going it’ll fit in more and I do remember enjoying it later, so I’ll wait to see how my attitude changes in the weeks ahead. But for now it’s time to move on to the character whose introduction has really made an impact on me, Howard Mackie‘s Ghost Rider.


“I am Ghost Rider, the Spirit of Vengeance!”

Danny Ketch/Ghost Rider

The story’s recap incorrectly labels Barb as Danny Ketch’s girlfriend when she was clearly described as his sister on the first page of last issue’s chapter, and we kick off with the kids that scared Danny stealing the briefcase Deathwatch’s and Kingpin’s cronies fought over. Deathwatch leaves but not before ordering his men to pursue and kill all witnesses. The kids run but Danny is struggling with his unconscious sister and must find somewhere to hide. In a nearby scrapyard he carries Barb inside a pile of scrap cars where something glows in the dark at his presence.

As more and more lights begin to flicker all around him he spots a motorcycle and, while it just looks like a regular bike, it’s brand new. What’s it doing here amongst all this junk? He leans Barb up against it to keep her sitting upright but she’s bleeding everywhere. Meanwhile, the men outside capture the girl who stole the briefcase but realise the only way to ensure there are no witnesses is to level the whole place with a thermite grenade. It’s at this point Danny’s life changes forever.

His hands covered in blood, and in complete panic, he doesn’t know what to do. It’s at this point the original light he saw glows again. It’s coming from the petrol cap on the bike, which he touches with his blood soaked hand as he thinks about how he’d do anything to save his sister.

I remember seeing that panel and getting excited when I first read this. I was always someone who’d never flick through his comics before settling down to read them. Not since I’d done it with an issue of Transformers and had a shock ending of a story ruined for me before I’d read it. So I always read from front to back without so much as looking to see what features were inside.

I was so glad I kept to this because as the ground underneath their feet begins to rumble, Deathwatch’s men were about to get the shock of their lives, and young me got such a thrill when I turned the page to this final image! Ghost Rider’s art team are penciller Javier Saltares, inker Mark Texeira, colourist Gregory Wright and letterer Michael Heisler.

Now that’s a cliffhanger. In theory, not seeing the main character of the strip until the final page of the second chapter shouldn’t work. As mentioned above, the slower pacing of splitting up the stories isn’t working for the Star Slammers, but here it most definitely did. The bike has completely changed shape and looks awesome flying through the air as it jumps over the henchmen, the ghostly, flaming skeleton carrying Barb off to safety.

If you’re familiar with the character you may have to excuse me because apart from this back in 1991 I haven’t read any of the comics. I would’ve been hooked to Ghost Rider had Havoc carried on, I remember that much and I feel the same now only two issues into this read through. So yes, I’m a newbie, I’ll be describing things you may have become used to a long time ago, but I’m an excited newbie. You may see me grow into quite the fan of Danny’s as the summer continues.

After an Eye Level about a set visit to the filming of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is the RoboCop video competition promoted on the cover, but it wasn’t the video I was expecting.

I always found it strange to have cartoons and toys based on adult movies (the same goes for Aliens). I don’t mean collectibles either, I mean an animated series and toys actually aimed at children when the original movie was certificated ’18’. After the TV show later in the 90s I eased up on that somewhat (I spoke last time about why that’s my preferred RoboCop) but at the time of this, it was all rather weird. Anyway, the cartoon and associated merchandise wasn’t a success and only 12 episodes were made, broadcast in the States in 1988. Clearly it took a while for it to make its way over here.

Today Conan reads very differently in a more enlightened world

Conan the Barbarian is up next and I was very surprised to see it’s the conclusion to The Frost Giant’s Daughter already! Not being familiar with the character I assumed his stories would be the same length as the rest, but this short story ends here. There’s plenty of fighting as he takes down the two huge men he came up against last time, an uncomfortable moment when he tries to force himself onto the woman with a kiss to change her allegiance and it all ends with asking more questions than it answers.

Chased down by Conan in such a forceful way I found myself on the side of the woman (who is meant to be evil). She finally frees herself from his grasp and calls out to Ymir, the god who is apparently her father. I know the stories are from a different time but that doesn’t make it any easier to look past things like this. Adapted from Robert E. Howard’s original story by Roy Thomas, with art by Barry Windsor-Smith and lettering by Artie Simek, it looks the part of a classic comic strip but it doesn’t make for easy reading. Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t think anything of it I’m sorry to say. Today it reads very differently in a more enlightened world.

The colour of the page above caught my eye and I think Conan rather deserved the treatment dished out there! He awakens on the final page surrounded by the men he was previously fighting alongside. No one found any tracks or evidence of why Conan had just walked off on his own and it’s only when someone called Gorm speaks out that Conan realises what he’s holding. Was it a dream? A myth? Or real? It’s kind of left that it did happen on some level, but other than that it’s up in the air.

More amenable to my tastes is the last strip, RoboCop. The recap gives away a key plot point, explaining the video used to film Murphy’s fight with the gang last issue was an x-ray device, something the strip itself hasn’t told us yet. Proper credits are given this time though and with names like Alan Grant, Lee Sullivan, Kim DeMulder, Steve White and Richard Starkings the big guns (no pun intended) are pulled out to finish off the issue.

Some detective work leads Murphy to a legal Kombat game where men in insulated suits try to electrocute each other with tasers. Behind the scenes it’s all very reminiscent of modern day wrestling with over-the-top characters and hints that the match results may be fixed when a scan shows Murphy the suits have been tampered with. The previous victim was called Powky and Robo finds out he worked for the Kombat promoter, Dek Kyng. Meanwhile OCP are nervous that a rival company called Nixco are developing a rival to RoboCop.

Media Break, the news programme from the first movie and the TV series makes a return and while the hilarious advertisements for the consumerist future are missing, they’re still a neat way of getting plot and context into the story. There’s also a good deal of humour here too, such as how Robo deals with a suspect who uses metal teeth to try to fight back and gets them stuck in his arm. This results in Murphy questioning why anyone would willingly have flesh and bone removed and replaced with metal. While he recharges he reminisces about how he wasn’t given the choice, losing his wife and child in the process.

The final panel gives us a glimpse of the new rival robot and it feels very similar to the plot of RoboCop 2 so far, which wasn’t exactly a great movie. This strip was originally published in America in the same year as the second film so the plot should’ve been known, so it’s surprising this is going to use the same idea. But of course I could be jumping to conclusions here, I’ll wait and see how it develops, for now all the key elements that make a good RoboCop story are in place.

A really fun sophomore issue which, Conan aside, has me clamouring for more from these characters, even the Star Slammers had just about enough in their five pages to keep me locked in to their story for now. The Next Issue page promises more of the same but things are definitely building in at least three of the stories and with a giant RoboCop poster next time it’s another one to look forward to.

The third issue of Marvel UK’s Havoc will be reviewed right here this day next week, meaning you can check it out with a selection of highlights from Wednesday 20th July 2022.

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