HAVOC #8: ENDiNGS & LATE BEGiNNiNGS

Conan the Barbarian was back in style. After taking a one issue break not only did a new story begin for the Cimmerian inside Havoc #8, he also got this glorious piece of cover art to announce his return. Although, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ could be the tagline for any of the Conan stories featured so far to be honest. But what a lovely cover it is nonetheless and it may only have been a week but I’ve missed having all five strips included.

Beginning again with Deathlok we finally get to the end of his origin story after seven hugely entertaining weeks with Brains of the Outfit, written by his resurrectors Dwayne McDuffie and Gregory Wright. It’s all wrapped up brilliantly well. After last issue I wouldn’t have been able to guess how they’d conclude Michael Collins’ first outing after that action packed strip. Now that I’ve read these final seven pages there was simply no other way they could’ve done it. It’s great.

That panel above is the beginning of an incredibly dark moment as Michael/Deathlok takes to a roof above the city and contemplates ending his life, even placing his high powered gun into his mouth. But he knows the Deathlok machine would just be found, he’d be stripped out and some other poor soul would be forced inside instead. Nothing would be stopped, nothing solved. He hooks himself up to electrical wires on the building to overload and explode, but decides he needs to call his son first to say goodbye and uses the phone lines instead.

The Deathlok computer detects a ‘HeroQuest’ program running at the number given to it (how topical for 1991) and it creates an avatar for itself to interact with the player, young Nick, who knows his dad has died. This is the game we saw him play previously, when Michael tried to explain to him how bigger and better weapons don’t make the hero, it’s about being brave against the odds and, telling him that he’s a friend of his dad’s he reminds him of this in a touching scene.

In fact this scene takes up the main bulk of this final part and I think it’s just lovely. Nick tells the character on the screen that his dad isn’t there anymore and in response he’s told this doesn’t matter, it doesn’t make it any less true, “You want to win at this game, you’ve gotta learn how to be a hero.” With a few tears running down is face, Nick promises he will and turns the computer off, unaware of who he made that promise to.

Disconnected from the call, the Deathlok computer asks if it should continue with the self-destruct and as you’ll see below Michael looks to the sky as a new day dawns and thinks about the advice he’s just given his son. This feels like the perfect ending to such a character driven story, one that I’ve been really invested in for the whole summer. I love this final page, especially that last panel with the hint of a smile on our true hero’s face.

What a brilliant origin and I’m already a huge fan of the character, not just Deathlok but of Michael himself. I could see his family being involved in future stories very much in the same way Alex Murphy’s were in some episodes of the RoboCop TV series, although the difference here is that Michael has already tried to tell his wife who Deathlok really is. That could lead to some great moments. To say I’m eager to read more is an understatement so, although the next issue is the last I’ll look forward to its small chunk of storyline to get an idea of what the future could’ve held.

Next up we take a break from the strips for Eye Level, the news page compiled by Dave Hughes this issue. It may be back to one page after the larger spread it had a week ago for the cinema releases of Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, but a quick glance down the article at all those movies and TV shows in bold and it was quite the busy release schedule wasn’t it?

There are a few I’d never heard of (Miami Blues, Only the Lonely and Trust), a couple of childhood favourites (Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey and The Witches) and a cartoon series that completely passed me by because I never saw the film it was based on until much later in life. Even the references to the films recently released remind me of why I loved the 80s so much! Speaking of 80s movies, the official RoboCop continuation strip is up next and venturing into the world of superheroes.

Well, wannabe superheroes anyway. As you can see from this opening splash page it certainly looks like Old Detroit has a new warrior in the fight against a seemingly insurmountable level of crime and violence in the forgotten city. I like how the story starts off with that famous RoboCop quote about a crime happening somewhere and how we’re led to believe it’s in reference to the mugging happening on the ground. A clever piece of misdirection by writer Alan Grant.

The next page plays out like an old-fashioned, clichéd superhero comic with ‘General Power’ using his ‘Electro Gauntlets’ to incapacitate the muggers, complete with corny one-liners such as, “General Power: The shock that crime needs!” It’s an exaggerated, almost spoof-like homage and it’s all going swimmingly for the masked crime fighter until he tries to help the victim to his feet but forgets to turn off his gauntlets, frying the person he was trying to save!

Cue sirens and a police car pulls up. Our panicked wannabe begins to scale the wall in a bid to fade back into the night like any good vigilante but he hadn’t bet on two things, his own incompetence and the officer being Alex Murphy aka RoboCop, who makes his entrance into the story in this glorious drawing by penciller Lee Sullivan and inker Kim DeMulder. An awesome page, this!

A quick shot through the wire General Power was using sees him fall to the ground but the victim, all charred from the accidental electrocution, pleads with Alex to let the man go. They try to convince him that he’s on the same side as the police but Robo stands firm, no one can take the law into their own hands and when Power tries to use his gauntlets on the metal cop it backfires big time. The story ends with Murphy radioing into HQ that he’s picked up “another vigilante”.

This third RoboCop story shows the creative team have well and truly settled into the character

“Another”? Intriguing. Has there been a rash of such people trying to fight crime recently? I’m going to guess it can’t be a coincidence, that there must be some nefarious reason behind it all, so I’m interested to see how much of the mystery is revealed in our final issue next week. There’s definitely a confidence in this third RoboCop story that shows the creative team have well and truly settled into the character, especially in the art department! Lots of potential here for future stories. I’m going to miss them.

Alongside Deathlok, Ghost Rider’s origin story also ends this issue, with part eight of Life’s Blood which acts as a kind of epilogue. In his demonic form Danny Ketch bursts into the local hospital to deliver the young gang member who initially scared him back in #1, who was injured in the battle between Kingpin’s and Deathwatch’s cronies over the mysterious suitcase and its canisters. After this first page he reverts back to human form for the rest of the story.

But as I’ve said before the strip has always been about more than just the Ghost Rider himself, I’ve enjoyed the character of Danny and the building blocks being put in place for future stories. For example, we get the obligatory conflict character, someone in Danny’s life who thinks his alter ego is a menace to society and this comes in the shape of Captain Dolan, the father of a friend of his and his sister Barb. The Ghost Rider is all over the press and Dolan has made his mind up.

Danny tries to reason with him but we know already this won’t help, this is a character who’ll go up against the Spirit of Vengeance in future issues without knowing who it really is. It’s a bit of a cliché but Danny is such a sympathetic character, and the Ghost Rider such a fascinating idea that I’d love to see where this relationship goes. For now though, Danny concentrates on his sister who remains in her comatose state as the story ends. 

Actually, after this scene we get two large panels showing Kingpin shouting at his men that his entire operation is in jeopardy if those canisters aren’t found, and one in which new villain Deathwatch has killed one his men for losing the suitcase and he declares all witnesses are to be eliminated. But it’s this scene in the hospital which is the more dramatic ending for me, with Danny struggling to understand what’s happened to him, scared for his sister’s life.

It leaves me thinking is there something his Ghost Rider form can do for Barb? Having this scary, demonic, vengeance-fuelled being caring for his host’s sister could make for interesting storylines in the future. This may be the first series I want to try to collect in graphic novel form after Havoc finishes in just seven days. Watch this space. On the next page we’ve got two pages of space given over to a special feature about the Star Slammers, or at least that’s how it was described on the contents page.

As you read it you’ll realise it’s actually an article about the creator of the Star Slammers, Walter Simonson and his illustrious career. I’ll admit as I read it I was a bit miffed it didn’t mention Walt’s adaptation of Jurassic Park, which featured in the first five issues of the UK’s comic based on that original movie and which was covered on the blog. Then I had a bit of a moment when I realised Havoc was published two years before the movie was even released. Whoops.

I certainly didn’t think I’d see Death’s Head in Havoc though, there’s always that.

Before we move on to Walt’s strip we have the return of Conan the Barbarian after his one-week hiatus and his next story is entitled Barbarian Death Song. The credits box has been accidentally left blank. Michael Fleisher, who provided the dialogue to the previous story has written this one, with pencils by John Buscema, inks by Armando Gil (Jurassic Park, What If…?, Ka-Zar the Savage), colours by George Roussos (G.I. Joe, Fantastic Four, The Avengers) and letters by Janice Chiang.

In 1972 writer Lin Carter wrote a poem called Death-Song of Conan the Barbarian which is the last story for the character, chronologically speaking. Written for a Robert E. Howard (Conan’s original creator) fanzine and later reprinted in Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan, in it Conan reflects on his life, those he’s met, those he’s fought and the people he’s killed. Themes include the inevitability of death and living a fulfilling life and crossing over to the other side, which he does travelling alongside those he knew in life.

Is this going to be reflected in this comic strip with a similar name? So far the answer is no but remember this would’ve been cut into at least four smaller parts for Havoc. Originally published by Marvel US in 1985 the story begins with Conan turning down the offer of the Nemedian King to take up a ranking position in his army. He then stumbles upon an assassins league called The Falcon Brotherhood (who he has dealt with before) and rescues a damsel in distress who I initially thought was Nateesa from the previous story.

Nope, this is meant to be a completely different character even though she is identical to the damsel from last time, giving me the impression female characters are somewhat interchangeable in these stories, which isn’t a nice impression to have. Her name isn’t given yet and she has just about enough time to start telling us her story before she’s unceremoniously cut off for seven days. The jewel around her neck is what the Brotherhood sought and she tells Conan that while tending to her father’s goats a few days previous a cloud which was not a cloud appeared before her.

The best bit is the opening page with its fierce looking battle but it’s immediately forgotten

That’s it, we’ll have to wait until next week to see what that’s all about. A strange place to stop the tale but sometimes it’s inevitable that sometimes the forced cliffhangers won’t quite hit. However, as a result there’s not much to say about these first five pages. The best bit is the opening page with its fierce looking battle but even it is immediately forgotten as the story jumps forward to a few days later. Hopefully the story begun here will be elaborated upon lots more next week.

Between Conan and the final strip is an advert for a Marvel UK comic I never bought as a kid. This is actually the first time I’ve even seen a colour advertisement for it as it seemed to be in almost every issue of Transformers every week in black and white. I’ve heard nothing but good things about The Knights of Pendragon, so it could be something for me to look into at a later date when I’ve covered all the comics I did buy back then.

So, we finish our penultimate issue with the Star Slammers and if I thought Conan’s strip didn’t have much going on then this one has absolutely nothing. At first glance it all looks very exciting, with a unique layout to the battle scenes and it entices the reader in, only to find not much there upon closer inspection.

We begin seeing their homeworld, which the Orions use as their hunting grounds being devastated from above, the cowardly hunters staying out of harm’s way, at least for now.  The pages have that aforementioned uniqueness about them. They’re made up of lots of small squares in apparently random fashion, meant to represent the Silvermind, the ability of their race to share all their thoughts as one. Knowing everything that everyone else is doing all at once could turn the tide of the battle.

But Jalaia realises Ethon was only able to heighten his own telepathic powers to the SIlvermind when he knew he was about to die.

In that moment Ethon let all his defences down, even the ones he didn’t know his mind had put up. Jalaia decides to put herself in harm’s way so she can be the trigger for it this time. I do like how, over a few pages the many squares holding faces of Slammers start to go blank one by one, as more lose their psychic connection with their comrades. But it’s not enough. Even with Jalaia making what could be the ultimate sacrifice, I still found myself struggling to care for any of the characters.

There really hasn’t been the character development necessary for something trying to be so epic. I should be on the edge of my seat with this story but I just haven’t been able to connect with anyone involved, despite the earlier issues having some interesting world building. That’s it in a nutshell really; the story has concerned itself with the big scale events at the expense of the small scale moments and character. As it stands, I find myself rushing though it to get to the letters page!

I always liked how Marvel’s comics wouldn’t hold back on printing criticism received, with the first letter really not holding back on their opinion of my least favourite strip. That being said, these letters were sent in by readers after #2, so opinions expressed are still limited to those first two issues. I laughed when Deathlok was described as “a RoboCop for the present”! Robo was still about for a good few years after this! The same letter even praises the Slammers. There’s just no accounting for taste I suppose.

Interestingly the reply states Conan is the strip receiving the most negative feedback. Given how these letters were written only after his first adventure I can understand that though. It also appears back in 1991 the UK didn’t have the same appetite for spandex as it does now. How times have changed. The next time we read another Cry Havoc will be the last so none of the proposed changes would get the chance to take effect. But I’m still looking forward to it; each issue was growing in confidence and with the origin stories out of the way the future looked brighter than ever.

The suddenly cancelled Havoc’s swansong review will be right here from Wednesday 31st August 2022.

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