With this, only the fifth edition of the superb Havoc weekly we’re already halfway through its run. Not that we knew this as readers of course. So let’s concentrate on the issue at hand and Ghost Rider makes his second appearance on the cover after #2, leaving the Star Slammers as the only characters not to grace the front page. That’s because these covers are reprints of Marvel US ones and the ‘Slammers never had their own title, appearing in an anthology series instead.
So Danny Ketch and the flaming skull are the main draw for new readers and as you can see the title logo not only changes colour each issue but the headline strip does as well. This issue Danny’s hellfire alter ego also has a special one-page feature, replacing Eye Level for one week. But let’s kick things off with the first story and it’s Alex Murphy inside the RoboCop armour in the first part of his second story, which takes pole position just as Conan did when he began a new tale in #3.
Murphy’s Law (nice) begins with Robo battling a group of new Nixcops. Programmed as his replacements they believe our hero is now impersonating an officer and must be destroyed, and his prisoner taken into custody. In reality his prisoner, Dek Kyng, could expose the corruption at Nixco and so the bosses are using their new cops to put an end to Robo’s investigation. His internal thoughts alongside the readouts of his systems are very similar to Deathlok’s but this isn’t a complaint. Alex is much more in control of his systems, they are him, so it’s different to the other cyborg strip.
It’s nice to see his Prime Directives come into play here when he ends up putting himself in even more danger to protect innocent passersby. But the Nixcops have no such qualms and one of the citizens is killed. As Alex makes a run for it his head is filled with doubt. He keeps playing the word ”failed” over and over, his computerised half seeking cover while his human half thinks there’s no point anymore, he should just give up, he’s failed his third directive and broken his own laws. This shows how, despite his human side, how binary his thoughts can still be thanks to his programming.
In the original film and TV show his outward speech wasn’t as free-flowing and natural as it reads here, which of course was very deliberate. It made his internal thoughts, memories and the times he’d act with surprising humanity all the more important to the character because they were so jarring with the machine cop he was presented as. It’s what made him unique. I’m glad to say, while the strip has him speaking more as a regular human, these moments filled with doubt are superb and somehow still maintain that jarring feel.
The weight of breaking one of his Prime Directives is almost too much for him. These are core to his central programming, his very existence and because of this it’s almost too much to bear for his human brain. Most action heroes would shrug it off until later when they’d manage to get revenge for the killing, but RoboCop struggles straight away. He’s just about able to commandeer a flying garbage droid and make his escape but I’m really interested in seeing where this goes next week.
Next up is that Ghost Rider feature. It’s rather strangely designed with a huge title and just a teeny tiny picture of the character almost cropped off the bottom of the page, but it reads very well. I’d always assumed the original version of the character had the same modus operandi as this 90s reboot but it appears I was wrong, the whole Spirit of Vengeance thing was brand new at the time. My knowledge of the character is very limited, but with the movie sequel having this title while being based on the original character I had just assumed.
I’m sure reading this feature excited me as a teenager, with how it hypes the strip as a new Ghost Rider for the 90s. It certainly reads like the kind of page that would’ve pumped me up even further for the character and the future of the comic. I was so sure this was just the beginning of a long and happy journey with Danny Ketch and his spirit.
On to the story itself and reading this now I’m reminded of just how much I preferred reading the American strips on these larger Marvel UK pages (or indeed, how much I preferred reading DC’s Batman in larger UK editions) and I have to say I’m loving it.
We begin by catching up with Marvel villain Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin as he trains, his large size certainly not slowing him down. The mysterious briefcase apparently contains something which poses a great danger to his organisation but we’re not told what it is, not even when we see the gang of kids open it in their cemetery hideaway, just that it contains little canisters. The main thing to happen here is Danny finally arriving at the hospital to check in on his sister, Barb. Greeted by his mum, a friend and her dad, Captain Dolan, the events of the night finally prove too much.
The story picks up later and after Danny tells the police captain he can’t remember much of the monstrous man who the police think was responsible (we can see how they’re being positioned for future conflict with each other) we get a tender scene of Danny watching over his unconscious sister, the bleeping of the machines the only response he gets as he opens up about what had really happened.
Previously having discarded the bike and fearing for his life, on the last page Danny actually makes his way back to where he left it, where it sits in its regular motorbike form. He needs answers, so following advice from his far more adventurous sister (we saw this dynamic back in #1) he sets off in the desperate hope that he’ll be able to help her recover, thinking the bike has some magical powers to it. Little does he know!
Ghost Rider gets the star treatment this issue with the most pages of any of our stories and even though none of the eight pages actually feature the Spirit of Vengeance themselves it certainly isn’t any less compelling. In fact, quite a lot of ground is covered here between Kingpin, the gang, the briefcase and the introduction of important new characters. Most of all though it’s about Danny. He’s not an infallible hero, he’s just a regular guy caught up in something beyond his understanding. This is the kind of hero I enjoy.
Passing out, lying to police, crying by his sister’s bedside and then finally using some of her strength to go back to the bike in some belief that, despite how terrifying the experience was for him, somehow it might help Barb. The Spirit of Vengeance residing within the bike is silent for now but I wonder what they make of Danny at this point. I’m finding the story really interesting and that’s been the biggest surprise for me. I just hope we can get far enough along in the set up of everything before Havoc comes to its early close.
In Star Slammers our main characters leave hyperspace to find themselves immediately surrounded by enemy craft and captured. They’re soon knocked out and Ethon is taken off to be questioned, seemingly an easy target as he’s the youngest. The mind link they share shocks Sphere and Jalaia as it suddenly hits them that Ethon is being tortured. But not by humans like the senator from previous issues, instead by an alien creature we haven’t seen before, although the people working for him are humans.
This alien could be an inquisitor for hire, or the true leader of Orion, we just don’t know and this is a bit frustrating if I’m honest. Because the strip was created as a lengthy one-off it continues to stutter and jerk about from week-to-week. Last time we got a nice, decent chunk of background and the story was beginning to gel, but now we’re back where we were, with what feels like hastily written dialogue and bad pacing. For example the guards say out loud they’re meant to be watching the prisoners but want to watch the torture instead, and in the next panel Sphere mentions the guards have gone and that he and Jalaia should “Shift to extreme combat regime”, whatever that means. It’s not exactly subtle.
It leads on to this final page and it seems Sphere and Jalaia have easily escaped off-page. It just seems too handy, that the plot is being forced along rather than any attention being paid to how these things happen or any thought given to the characters. At least we get a bit of context at last, adding a bit more information to last week’s info dump, but overall it comes across as rather amateur, like a fan strip, which is shocking when you remember this was written by Walt Simonson! Last week’s chunk still gives me hope for future instalments, let’s hope it reads better as a whole when it’s all over.
Last week’s Conan the Barbarian ended with the caption, ‘Next Week: Conan is made ready for the cauldron!” Well, it’s only in the final panels here that the sinister Marielle tells her servants to prepare Conan for said cauldron, so the editor seems to have gotten ahead of themselves. The story begins after the entranced Conan and Marielle return home and as he attempts to fawn over her she snaps and scolds him, suddenly deciding she’s had enough.
Conan begins to weep and after Nateesa is ordered to bring them food and wine we huffs and begins to rebel. He may still be under her influence but he’s not meant to talk back. Suspecting he needs further drugging, Mariella orders Nateesa to give him more wine filled with the toxin but quickly realises Nateesa has been giving him regular wine, trying to help bring him out of this state naturally.
Marielle orders another servant, a vile man by the name of Zogran to take Nateesa away and punish her. Conan doesn’t flinch at her pleading as she’s dragged away and soon Marielle is feeding him more of the laced drink. We see Nateesa trying to convince Zogran not to harm her and it appears he’s well aware Marielle is evil, but even in getting this across he’s still a creep in the way he describes her body and soon he’s whipping her, the screams echoing throughout the mansion.
Things end for now as Conan is led towards a giant cauldron. Marielle has finished with him; her male servants tending to the pot are shocked he lasted almost a week! With the spoiler in the summary box last week it’s clear whatever is in this cauldron turns men into stone for Marielle’s collection of lifelike statues. (So in a way I guess she did create them after all.) I think we’re set for the conclusion next time, but it’s been a fun ride with some surprising dialogue so far. I hope it keeps the surprises coming and doesn’t just end with a clichéd fight.
Our final strip for this issue has been my most eagerly anticipated, what with Michael Collins just beginning to wake inside the Deathlok cyborg. Tearing its way through the settlement from last time, killing any and all forms of resistance, Michael can do nothing but look on in horror at what his brain is helping achieve (it’s confirmed here in a scene in Ryker’s control room that the live human brain is used for storage). He tries to mentally battle with the computer and it appears to be working when the termination program (see #1) fails.
Michael’s brain proves to be a formidable foe for the computer, and later we find out its new operating system won’t allow the computer to destroy the brain after what happened to Colonel Kelly. Deathlok asks headquarters if it should proceed and Ryker obviously instructs it to do so. Michael screams at Ryker but no one can him except the computer. Then Deathlok comes across a young girl who picks up a large gun in desperation, with no idea of how to use it. The Deathlok computer selects ‘Full Assault’ but Michael’s reaction actually stops it. This is where things get really interesting!
Michael now knows he can interact with the program running the machine and Ryker’s response to it letting the child live is truly shocking. Clearly there’s nothing this man won’t instruct Deathlok to do for his client’s money. Days later the techs are going over Deathlok with a fine-toothed comb and Ryker has his suspicions about Collins being “in there”. With the cyborg in its recharge cradle, unable to move, Michael asks the computer to open up the operating system and thus begins what I loved the most about this strip.
Michael’s countermanding order was enough for the computer to accept him as its new programmer and finally we get to see the two of them interact. These interactions between Michael’s Everyman language and the computer’s monotone voice would lead to some great moments from what I remember, including some well placed humour, very much reminding me of the earliest episodes of Knight Rider when K.I.T.T. hadn’t yet loosened up from interacting with that show’s own Michael.
I’d completely forgotten about this visual representation of Collins as he hacks into the computer systems Ryker’s team were about to use in order to wipe his brain clean, to effectively kill him all over again. That last panel with Deathlok confirming they’re now able to physically move has me super excited for #6. Hoo boy, I can not wait! Between Ghost Rider and Deathlok it’s impossible for me to pick the strip I’m most looking forward to over the coming weeks, I keep switching back and forth between them. That’s not a bad problem to have in writing these reviews!
As always, ignore the date on the Next Issue page above, the next review will be here from Wednesday 10th August 2022. There may only be four issues left before the comic was unceremoniously pulled by Marvel UK, but I’ve a feeling it’s going to be a great month! See you in seven.