Another week, another issue of Marvel UK’s fantastic anthology comic, Havoc. With it having started just as we finished school here for the two summer months, there was nothing to get in the way between Saturdays and each instalment of my new favourite strips. It was the perfect set of circumstances, making Havoc even more special for this young reader in 1991. There may be no more free posters but that didn’t make this issue any less special, in fact this is probably my favourite so far.

It feels like the strips are all settling in and finding their rhythm. This in understandable when you think about how these were American imports chopped up into smaller chunks. RoboCop finishes the first chapter in his story, Ghost Rider is in full swing and in Deathlok we’re seeing the start of what will make the character so unique and fun. The Star Slammers, being one long graphic novel length story is finally giving us some depth and Conan’s second adventure is proving to be a vast improvement over his first, with some unexpected comedy! So let’s get started.

We’ll skip by the ill-advised “Fear the holocaust of Havoc!” on the contents page (really!) and straight into Deathlok. The Federative Republic of Estrella is a natural beauty, vast swathes of country untouched by human hand. So naturally the Americans want to tear it down and take its natural resources. They fire what appears to be a dud missile into the country and out crashes Deathlok to battle with local soldiers protecting the land.

Ryker is hateful here, which is great because that’s what he’s meant to be. A construction company representative has paid a lot of money for Cybertek to eliminate the local resistance to the building of a new dam, which would destroy the lush forests in return for making the Americans wealthy. Clearly the resistance is no match for the Deathlok machine as it tears through their small village killing all who oppose it. It’s a brutally violent sequence, which is the point, then on the last page the brain powering the computer begins to wake.

Only on this final page do we get a hint of what’s to come. Michael Collins, our likeable father and dedicated Cybertek programmer who was duped into developing software for the Deathlok project and shot last issue, was actually shot with a tranquilliser and only now, his brain removed from his body and implanted into the cyborg, is he beginning to come to! It’s quite a horrific scenario when you really think about it, similar to when Alex Murphy’s consciousness awoke inside RoboCop, but this feels more brutal.

It’s certainly an exciting place to leave things for the next seven days. I can remember loving the character once everything was in place, it even had some elements of humour. But right now we must go through the terrifying transition and writers Dwayne McDuffie and Gregory Wright are building the tension nicely, Gregory and Jackson Guise’s artwork captures the action perfectly, with Richard Starkings’ lettering giving hints of how we’ll differentiate between the two elements inside the cyborg from now on. Exciting stuff.

This was a delight to see! I remember seeing The Rocketeer on video back in the 90s and really enjoying it. Earlier this year I decided to watch it for the first time since on Disney+ and I was pleasantly surprised at just how brilliant it was, becoming a fan all over again. I’m even reading the new comic from IDW. The original film was released the same summer as Havoc and has been mentioned in #1 and #2’s Eye Levels and now it gets a well deserved page all to itself.

Although, I can’t find information confirming Eye Level’s statement The Rocketeer was Disney’s most expensive film at the time. Either way, it failed to live up to expectations at the box office, but its success in the home market since resulted in a cartoon a couple of years ago and rumours of a new live-action sequel. I didn’t know this was Bill Campbell’s first film role (though he was a TV series/movie actor) which makes his performance all the more remarkable. The mention of Timothy Dalton as “the current James Bond” brought a feeling of sadness because ultimately my favourite 007 wouldn’t return to the role, although this wasn’t known at the time.

From being a strip I wasn’t too bothered about, to being probably the most fascinating of the issue

The Star Slammers, who have been somewhat short-changed in the page count department in previous issues get a whopping eight all to themselves this time, which is needed to tell a quite brutal part of their background. Young Ethon is remembering being on their home planet when Orion hunters came down to kill him and his entire family. Things kick off with a new opening panel to name our three main characters and give us a quick recap.

It appears “undesirables” were captured by the Orions and exiled on a planet with no resources to live off, placed there for the rich to hunt in a sick sport. I think we can take this to mean anyone but the privileged were captured and dumped there. Ethon saw his parents slaughtered, although his father did put up a fight using a handmade catapult (which we saw Ethon use as an adult in a previous issue) to kill one of his pursuers. This led to hunter party member Senator Krellik using this to further his fascist agenda.

Labelling the entire planet’s population as “savages” because one dared to stand up and fight back, he preys on his public’s fears, manipulating them into voting for extermination. It’s really not that far-fetched a tale given our real world in recent years and suddenly I find myself enthralled with this strip. If it had been written today it would be rather on the nose, so maybe writer Walter Simonson saw what was coming. His art and in particular Louise Simonson and Deborah Pedler’s colours during the flashback scenes are gorgeous (and we always love John Workman’s lettering and panel use, no matter what). This continues with the washed out feel to the senate scenes which Ethon can remember through shared memories with The Grandfather, Galarius.

As well as explaining the origins of Galarius, the supposedly traitorous Orion senator, we see how the government have lied to keep control of the population, even with a lack of food and resources (sound familiar?) the hunts and the resulting footage keep people in step and applauding their overlords. The previously mentioned Silvermind is also explained here. Their race can share thoughts and memories, and Galarius believes that in taking this to the ultimate end game of uniting them all psychically they can seek victory and justice for the oppressed.

If written today the Silvermind could be seen as social media, or at least the internet as a whole; a way of uniting people together in a common goal to overcome the oppressors and stand up for what’s right. But just like the internet, is this something evil can use too? From a strip I wasn’t too bothered about to being probably the most fascinating of the issue is quite a shift in my opinion of Star Slammers. A breather is needed before our next character, so here’s a quick Marvel UK advertisement.

At £1.75 this was quite the bargain, the equivalent of four comics in one. Today I collect DC’s Batman via Panini Comics’ monthly UK title Batman Guardian of the Knight. It may be almost two years behind but with two full comics’ worth of strips for £2.99, it’s even cheaper than just one of those American comics, and I much prefer it. I’m guessing The Complete Spider-Man would’ve appealed for the same reason although the strips were about a year old instead. It ran for 24 issues before being replaced with The Exploits of Spider-Man.

Ghost Rider is up next and again we get a new opening panel to bring us up to speed. The first couple of pages see him battle the police in his pursuit of justice for the innocent. As a new reader to the world of Ghost Rider I’m loving this supernatural level of determination to seek vengeance for the wronged. I say he battles the police, but he makes sure not to injure them and in pure A-Team fashion we see the cops all safe and sound after he tears through their roadblock.

In the end he gets away by driving vertically up a building’s outer wall before disappearing across the rooftops. There’s definitely plenty of action, that’s for sure and after the perfectly paced opening issues the action has some weight to it, some heft thanks to us getting to know the character trapped inside this entity first. The story then flips back to Danny Ketch when Ghost Rider stops in a secluded alleyway and, while reciting his duty over and over, we see his hands slowly transform back into human form.

Clearly terrified (and who could blame him) by what’s just happened, he runs off to find his sister Barb who was so seriously injured a couple of issues ago, while the motorbike morphs back into a regular, normal shape. Meanwhile, somewhere on Wall Street the boss of a large financial company is revealed to be Deathwatch and upon hearing news of the disappearance of the suitcase (that his and Kingpin’s men were fighting over in #1) and the unbelievable tale of the flaming skull motorbike rider, he grabs one of his men’s head and psychically sees the truth.

Even though it’s revealed as the truth he still blames his man for the failure, who reaches for a gun but he’s no match for Deathwatch. This darkly comic scene perfectly sets him up as a force to be reckoned with as he sends his remaining forces off to recover the briefcase from the gang of kids who stole it before “that fat, petty thug has a chance to recover it”. The ‘Next Week’ caption states, “The Suitcase Is Opened!” so I’m interested to see what this is all about, what Danny and Barb have accidentally stumbled into.

So far in Ghost Rider we’ve had some enjoyable main characters introduced, a well-paced set up, a strip which is an origin story while also having an interesting plot in its own right, a brief action-packed introduction to the main character and a brand new Marvel villain. Ghost Rider has consistently been one of my favourites every week and it’s clear to see why; this strip has everything Havoc promised us and as a teenager it had everything I wanted from a new comic reading experience. I may be turning into quite the fan again at this rate.

If there’s one Marvel UK title that doesn’t need any introduction surely it’s Doctor Who Magazine, which continues to this day, albeit now published by the aforementioned Panini. As of the time of writing this review DWM is currently on #580(!) and shows no signs of slowing down. This advert heralded the arrival of the first yearbook, a tradition that continues to this day.

A strip that may not have been as consistent as Ghost Rider, but which is certainly improving week-on-week, is Conan the Barbarian. What a shame then that the opening dialogue box, used to catch us up on what had previously transpired, ruins some of the story yet to come, just like RoboCop’s did in earlier issues. Could they not have checked where we were in the story more closely? We’re told here in the supposed recap that Mariella has only tricked Conan into thinking the statues from last time were carved by her. As I read these pages of the story it becomes clear this is a huge spoiler!

The cool and calm woman that tried to seduce Conan last time is clearly not all she appears to be. To be fair, Conan did see through her charade but took her home anyway, however even he is surprised by her lashing out at one of her servants. Trying her best at pretending to be truly sorry, she dismisses Nateesa and the wine she brought, replacing it with what she says is a much more expensive blend. But as Natessa leaves the look of worry on her face is clear. Does she know what’s about to happen?

As Conan takes a long drink, devouring everything in the glass, he slips into a trance, completely unable to move.

Claiming he is now her mindless plaything, her slave, it’s obvious to me now that all of those incredibly lifelike statues she was meant to have meticulously carved by her own fair hands are most likely real men, all drugged into motionless, mindless beings until called upon. Of course, I don’t think we were meant to have put this together yet if it weren’t for that opening dialogue box.

But I won’t dwell on that spoiler because the last page here (the strip is down to only four pages this week) is just so funny I don’t care anymore. Funny? A Conan strip? Indeed. Given the clear vicious nature of this femme fatale and this apparent lifelong fate for our hero as her mindless slave/statue, having the strip turn out a bit of comedy might be the last thing you’d expect. It certainly was for me. But it’s delivered perfectly and I found myself roaring. Given who Conan is, his build, his fearsome battles and the epic quests he’s endured, what he’s put through here is written completely for laughs, the idea for which was dreamed up by John Buscema and brought to life with Michael Fleischer’s dialogue and John’s art, with Janice Chiang on letters.

Taking a character and placing them into a situation where they act completely against type isn’t a new idea of course, but it’s written brilliantly here, right down to his worry about there being no guardsmen around to protect them both from ruffians, that I couldn’t help but laugh. The only downside is that it ends far too quickly, such is the nature of Havoc when each strip needs as suitable a cutoff point as possible within the page limit, so individual lengths vary from issue to issue. Oh well, it just means there’s more to look forward to next time.

We’re already on to our final strip and we get to the end of Kombat Zone, the first full chapter for RoboCop, whose monthly US stories were chopped up into the usual four parts à la all those back up strips in Transformers. (I can only assume Ghost Rider – as the only other US monthly here that has continued the same story since #1 – had a bumper first chapter.) Robo is inside the venue of the Kombat final looking for Dek Kyng, all the while dealing with crimes with every step he takes it would appear.

I love this, it really feels like the RoboCop I enjoyed as a teenager in the TV series. Finding Dek beside the ring, one look at the police officer that’s investigating him is enough to make him run for it. He attempts to do so through the ring, thinking the contestants can take care of the interference. Warning them that obstruction is against the law they obviously don’t listen and Murphy simply tosses them out of the ring as if they were cardboard cut outs.

He’s chasing down Dek to question him about malfunctioning suits of armour in these games and who he thinks could’ve killed Powky, who was one of Dek’s men. RoboCop doesn’t actually know Dek is involved at this stage, nor that he secretly filmed Robo’s suit with an x-ray camera for Nixco, a rival to OCP who are building their own law enforcement robots. Ironically, if Dek had just answered the questions he’d have been fine, but his guilt makes him run and “fine” is not how he and the remaining contestants end up.

It’s all quite light action for RoboCop but this is only the ending of the first story. In fact, it’s just the ending of the first chapter in his first story because it does so with a cliffhanger. It’s also an especially bittersweet read, with writer Alan Grant having passed away just this past week. A huge talent who’ll be greatly missed, I’ll admit I haven’t read much of his work but his influence is well known. I’m certainly enjoying his take on a favourite character of mine. (The credits are completed with Lee Sullivan’s pencils, Kim DeMulder’s inks, Steve White’s colours and Richard Starkings’ letters.)

With Kyng arrested, Nixco executives are getting nervous about their illegal behaviour in raising the funds for (and how) they developed the Nixco police robots. The tests are still incomplete but they’re sent out into the field anyway to intercept Alex and his prisoner. The thing is, these robots have already been programmed to think they’re the law enforcement replacements for Robo, so when they catch up with him they block him off and surround him.

There’s a missed opportunity here, surely RoboCop’s famous phrase should’ve been used instead of a stern wagging finger. Instead of “Surrender — while you still can”, I was hoping for, “Surrender, or there will be… trouble!” Maybe next time. Speaking of next time, the strip ends with the original comic’s ‘Next Issue’ banner, meaning we’ve reached the conclusion of the character’s first issue from the States. I’ve enjoyed the emphasis on detective work within the futuristic sci-fi setting, which is what the character was all about for me. Well, that and his painful past of course.

A good start anyway. For now we just need to wrap things up with the promo for the next issue. As per usual the actual on-sale date is different than the one here, so the next Havoc review will be available to read from Wednesday 3rd August 2022. What this page below means by “Conan boiled?” is anyone’s guess, but I am intrigued by “Ghost Rider weeps” and can’t wait to see the next chunk of Deathlok now Michael is awake! I’ll find out next week. As shall you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s