The third issue of Havoc begins not only with a RoboCop cover, the ‘Half Man, Half Machine, All Cop’ detective is also the star of the free gift poster. It would be a few years before I’d become a big fan of the character through the series, but I had enjoyed the film and was curious about him at this stage, so I remember this cover eliciting an excited response from 13-year-old me. As a 44-year-old adult now though, I’m not too sure about boasting how there are “predators” inside! It was a different time.

What a glorious poster! Lee Sullivan’s painted image looked incredible on my wall and I may just have to put this one up in the home office too. We’ve definitely been spoiled with Havoc’s free gifts so it’s disappointing we wouldn’t get any more for the rest of the characters, or the “psychotic good buddies” as they’re described on the contents page. Inside the 36-page comic the strips have been swapped about a bit with the beginning of a new Conan the Barbarian tale up first. Whether the choice of order was deliberate or just to shake things up, I think having the first chapter of a new story as our opener was a good move.

Last week I spoke about how I wasn’t enamoured with the character of Conan after it felt like he was preying upon the mysterious woman he met in some snow-covered mountains. From some comments on social media about the review I see I’m not alone in this thinking. It was based on one of the original Robert E. Howard tales but his next adventure, Cauldron of the Doomed! is a Marvel original, with a plot by the strip’s artist John Buscema (The Avengers, The Punisher, Kull the Conqueror) however the dialogue has been written by Michael Fleischer (The Spectre, Jonah Hex, Rogue Trooper), with lettering by Janice Chiang (Batman, DC Super Hero Girls, previously featured on the blog in Visionaries).

In these first seven pages Conan comes across as much more heroic and chivalrous than the brute last time, which is good because I really didn’t want to read more of what we had previously. Of course we start things off with some brutal violence, it is still Conan after all. Taking part in a paid-for fight in a town he’s passing through in order to afford a horse for his further travels, he eventually defeats the local champion much to the delight/horror of those placing bets. During this display he also catches the eye of a woman watching from the stands.

Marielle De Bruvahr fakes an injury to grab the attention of Conan, a trick one of the onlookers is all too familiar with in a funny panel above. Conan isn’t falling for it but he plays along and on this one page alone he comes across as a completely different character than the one in the first two issues. He takes her home, making sure she’s safe. She shows him a massive mansion full of statues of strong men she admires, including her father. The strip ends when it’s revealed she is the sculptor.

Clearly intelligent and talented, she also barks orders at her slaves and clearly manipulated Conan into coming home with her. What she wants from him isn’t known yet, nor whether she’s friend or foe, but it’s clear she’s isn’t another damsel in distress. I’m intrigued and I’m rather enjoying this strip, it’s a world of difference compared to what came before. A good start then to #3 and it continues with Howard Mackie‘s reinvented Ghost Rider, pencilled by Javier Saltares, inked by Mark Texeira, coloured by Gregory Wright and lettered by Michael Heisler.

“The innocent blood spilled here tonight must be avenged! It is my solemn duty.”

Ghost Rider

Remember, this was my introduction to the character and actually I’ve never read any more after the cancellation of Havoc, so all these years later this is my re-introduction. With the build up complete and that wonderful reveal on the final page last week we can jump straight into the action with Danny Ketch now fully transformed. A flaming skull is something you’d think was the embodiment of evil, so of course this is the first impression he leaves on those around him, but in reality he’s pretty much the embodiment of that “psychotic good buddie” line.

I love this juxtaposition, the frightening creature instilling fear into the bad guys. Yes, that idea isn’t new, but this isn’t Batman with his strict rules, this is something… else. My first impression is this Spirit of Vengeance needs to be battled by Danny; will he be able to control its murderous ways, what is he able to remember afterwards, is he fully aware while in this form but can’t control it, or maybe he doesn’t want to control it while transformed? Please, no answers, I’m discovering this fun character anew.

“The innocent blood spilled here tonight must be avenged! It is my solemn duty.” I love that quote, especially coming from a character that looks like this as he holds a police officer up in the air. Even with his instruction to the police that his sister Barb (again incorrectly described as his girlfriend in the opening dialogue box) needs medical attention and the fact he’s saved one of the hoodlum kids, the police still assume he was responsible for Barb’s condition and the deaths of those men strewn about the place.

Fired upon, the Ghost Rider doesn’t injure any of the cops, instead throwing the one he held aloft at his colleagues in order to escape and flipping one of their cars over onto the other to stop them pursuing, as he rides off on that really cool bike. No wonder I loved this strip so much as a young teen! This is definitely the one I’m most looking forward to in the next issue, the character already has my full attention. Although, I do remember almost every issue my favourite could change and that’s probably likely to happen again if these first three reviews are anything to go by.

The weekly news page, Eye Level brings us all the latest from the world of fantasy films this time. It begins with news of a film I love, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, but from what the column says here it could have been very different indeed. (I’m relieved the article’s writer crossing their fingers didn’t make any difference.) Although, how reliable is that bit of news when no less than three sequels announced here never made it to the screen?

Of course, at the time of The Rocketeer’s release a sequel looked like a sure thing but a disappointing box office return soon put that idea to bed. At least for a few decades anyway, with news just last year of a long-awaited sequel, the original film having gathered quite the cult following in the years since (and a cartoon series a couple of years back). As a fan of the movie, let’s hope this Eye Level isn’t as wrong as it reads and perhaps was just 30 years ahead of its time!

The lead strip in the first two issues, and cover star for the premiere edition, Dwayne McDuffie and Gregory Wright’s Deathlok is tucked away in the middle of the comic with the story taking a big step forward in its set up. Michael Collins, the loveable family man from #2, heads off to work at Cybertek where he develops artificial intelligence software in robotic limbs for amputees, believing he’s helping make the world a better place. Sudden demands from on high and being locked out of classified systems he previously had access to worry him. So he decides to hack in and see what’s really going on.

He discovers the Deathlok programme and sees footage of the death of Colonel John Kelly’s brain (from #1). Furious that one of his colleagues knew about this (he’s told, “Everybody who could handle it knew”) and believing there’s a conspiracy within the company he confronts Ryker, who he sees as a friend and confidant. First though, we get a tender scene of him at home where he asks his wife what she’d think if he quit his job on moral grounds. She backs him and there’s even a funny moment involving the dishes amongst the drama.

Having been able to share his frustrations (although not telling Trace what he found out in order to protect her and Nick) he plucks up the courage and goes to see Ryker, not knowing he’s actually the man behind Deathlok. Drawn by Wright and Jackson Guise with lettering by Richard Starkings, this double-page spread below ends the story for now and it’s all building momentum brilliantly. I like these small, weekly chunks. We’re all set now for the next phase in the story, seeing Deathlok again but with a murdered, peace-loving family man within it!

You just know Michael is going to end up going toe-to-toe with that huge tank, don’t you? That’s a Chekhov’s gun if ever there was one! Moving on to writer/artist Walt Simonson’s Star Slammers next and that shuttle craft last issue was more important than I thought. Somehow Lackland had made it far enough away in a few seconds to jump into it, take off and attack the Slammers. It all comes to an end just as quickly when the one dressed in red, Sphere (we’re finally getting their names) uses a catapult to fling a rock through the cockpit, causing her to crash.

According to the terms of their contract, the Slammers are awarded any spoils of war and they take this to the extreme, commandeering the Skriks’ ship and any and all weaponry the citadel had used against them. As you can see below it’s quite the selection. It’s here they take off and we realise for the first time, three issues in, that this planet and the skirmish on it were merely an introduction to the main characters and not part of the overall plot. Instead, said plot only begins now.

Alongside leader Sphere are female Slammer Jalaia and young boy Slammer Ethon. In the booklet that came with #1 the Slammers’ page was made up like a Wanted poster by the government of the planet Orion. It said they were associates of the traitorous Galarius of Orion, who it was believed moulded them into the army they had become. In this issue our three protagonists are taking a break while their ship travels through hyperspace and we’re finally able to get a bit of an insight into each of them and the background to the whole tale.

All of the weaponry they’re collecting, the spoils of all the jobs they’re hired to do, aren’t being used in a war just yet. Instead, it’s been foretold that Orion is going to invade their planet, although when this is meant to happen hasn’t been determined. Instead, they’re putting their faith in the predictions of ‘The Grandfather’, a former resident of Orion. This must be Galarius.

Most interesting is the fact the Star Slammers have a sort of hive mind. They call it ‘bridging’. Ethon is a newbie and has bridged with Jalaia but not with Sphere yet, however he has been the Slammer to bridge with The Grandfather the most and he’s being lined up to be the deepest mind-bridger of them all. What this actually means and how it will help them in the coming war is anyone’s guess right now.

So far this strip still feels ill-suited to the anthology format. While none of the others were written to be read in small chunks they all seem to suit Havoc, giving us enough every week to satisfy. They were written as monthly comics with roughly 22 pages of strip so each tale is only being split into four, however Star Slammers was written as a large one-off, graphic novel-size strip so its pacing is going to be vastly different. That could be why younger me didn’t take to it at the start because nothing seemed to happen. Hopefully as we get further along into the meat of the story that’ll change. The art is lovely though, coloured by Louise Simonson and Deborah Pedler, with distinctive lettering by John Workman.

It would appear Nixco’s potential RoboCop replacement isn’t exactly the most accurate of crime stoppers if these panels from the next part of Kombat Zone are anything to go by. There were meant to be a couple of twists in this chunk of the story, namely how Kombat promotor Dek King (who Murphy is looking for) is involved in the Nixco robot and that he has x-ray film of RoboCop’s inner circuitry to help them. Unfortunately both of these story elements are given away in the dialogue box at the top of the first page, which is only meant to catch us up on what happened last time.

This is rather careless and ruins the main plot points before we have a chance to read them. It’s a real shame because Alan Grant’s story so far, while it does have much in common with RoboCop 2, is so far a lot more enjoyable than the sequel. I also really like the scene when Nixco’s Krayton and Mr. Darkstone look over the film of Alex’s circuitry to see where they’ve gone wrong. I’m not going to pretend I understand how these scans could solve their programming errors, but I don’t think we’re meant to dwell on it that much. Lee Sullivan’s pencils, Kim DeMulder’s inks, Steve White’s colours and Richard Starkings’ letters set the scene in such a good way I just went along with it.

After another Media Break in which we find out Spain has declared war on four North African countries and the Detroit Zoo is miniaturising its animals to alleviate their cramped conditions, Murphy shows up at another Kombat game in search of Kyng, coming across some drug dealers outside. It’s here I find the strip is kind of a cross between the over-the-top violence of the original movie and the later TV show I was such a fan of.

One of the dealers opens fire on Robo, trying to take him out (this is set in the earliest days of his time on the beat and they’re still surprised to see a robot cop) and so he does return fire and kills him. However, the others are captured alive, two of them ingeniously knocked out in a way that really does remind me of the more fun ways he’d subdue criminals in the series rather than just opening fire like in the movies. Save for the Havoc error with the dialogue box this is great fun!

That’s us at the end of another issue, already a third of the way through a run which should’ve been so much longer. The Next Issue page doesn’t really give too many hints about what’s to come, although we can deduce that RoboCop will somehow end up in the fighting ring and Michael’s brain will be causing some grief for the Deathlok computer. I’m interested in seeing how the Star Slammers story adds to the grand background tale and Conan has redeemed himself somewhat, but it’s still the other three strips I’m gagging to read more of.

I’m glad I only have to wait seven days! While there’ll be no more wonderful posters to gawk at, there’ll hopefully be plenty to enjoy inside. The review of the fourth edition of Havoc from Marvel UK will be here from Wednesday 27th July 2022.

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