This just isn’t fair. That’s how I felt during September 1991 when #10 of Havoc failed to appear, the comic unceremoniously cancelled without so much as a note to the readers. This issue continues on as normal with cliffhangers and ‘Next Issue’ promos as well as hints of what was yet to come. Clearly pulled after it went to print, Havoc was the latest in what felt like a long line of comics I’d committed to which ended up the same way. Now having enjoyed the series 31 years later in real time I’m left with that same feeling of unfairness as I finish off #9.

If you look at the cover date you’ll see the next issue was due 7th September 1991. With #1 arriving as soon as the school summer holidays had begun, #10 would’ve been the first after the next school year began, Havoc’s brief run perfectly wrapped up in the holidays. When I returned to school I found out several of my friends had also been excitedly collecting it and we ended up sharing our disappointment in its disappearance.

Goodbye Havoc, it’s been a blast and you deserved better

None of the included strips saw a conclusion and two new stories actually begin here, such as the first for Deathlok after Michael Collins’ origin story. Even though it’s the beginning of a new tale we still got a catch up banner to bring new readers up to speed, something no other ‘Part One’ received. Jesus Saves adds new talent with Scott Williams (New Mutants, Superman Unchained, Batman: Hush) joining as inker with Gregory Wright now only writing, and Paul Mounts (Fantastic Four, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Ultimates) as colourist, although he goes uncredited here. Joining Gregory on writing duties is co-creator Dwayne McDuffie, pencils are by Jackson Guise and lettering by Richard Starkings.

Nice use of the Daily Bugle there, as ever doing what any tabloid does and using exaggerations and shock journalism to strike fears into its readers, with the almost mythical rumours of Deathlok reported as fact on the front page, something Spider-Man fans will be all too familiar with. I’d never read a Spider-Man comic at this point in my life so was completely unaware of the Bugle being a part of the Marvel universe. Through this the strip also establishes our setting as Coney Island.

The Jesus the title refers to is Jesus Badalmente, a homeless man who would end up becoming a roommate and companion to Michael as he battled against Cybertek and tried to find a way back to his body, which he would find out was being kept alive. These are points I only found out in researching who this person was because the way he’s presented here I had a hunch he was being introduced as a regular. Jesus makes robots and is a bit of a cybernetics whiz, which I’m sure will come in handy at some point.

These first five pages of the story basically see Deathlok rescue Jesus from a mugging and in return he’s taken somewhere safe as the police arrive. Jesus’ first reaction is one of fear and revulsion, as will probably become the default as Michael encounters people. But just as he thinks Deathlok has only seen off the muggers so he can kill him, he is then saved by the cyborg from one of the muggers trying to run them down in a car. That’s enough for him to take a chance on this strange individual.

I’ve really enjoyed Deathlok. He was my favourite as a teen and it’s been brilliant to catch up with him again. The origin story was full of character and Dwayne McDuffie and Gregory Wright strike me as writers who’d make sure character development was key to the strip’s success. The action has been great, the interactions between Michael and the computer genuinely funny and I find myself really caring about what happens to them. One to track down for sure.

Before Murphy’s strip are two RoboCop features, with a third later in the comic. The first one concentrates on the franchise itself, in particular the in-progress RoboCop 3. The second movie had been released the year before and while it had proved to be a moderate financial success it was generally panned for not living up to the original. I remember being disappointed by it because Robo himself felt flat and boring.

What’s strange here is that Dave Hughes‘s feature describes the franchise as a “fatigued product” in a comic printing strips based on that product! How did that make it past the editor? He also criticises Robocop 2 but praises the fact that its head writer Frank Miller would be returning for the third film. Yes, I’m aware Miller’s screenplay went through various rewrites by other writers but it’s still a strange thing to be thankful for after not enjoying his first RoboCop sequel.

This second feature is meant to be all about the comic strip, a major selling point of Havoc’s anthology. Unfortunately, Mike Conroy really does take his sweet time getting to the stage of discussing them. It’s not really until the third column that he gets into the meat of it all and then it’s over. There really wasn’t a need to reiterate so much of the lore and background to RoboCop for people who would already have been up to speed on all of that.

Let’s move on to the strip itself, part two of Vigilante by Alan Grant (with pencils by Lee Sullivan, inks by Kim DeMulder, colours by Steve White, letters by Richard Starkings) and it kicks off with muggers on hover bikes, showing how the comic would go all-in on the future setting, taking the strip more into the sci-fi fantastical than the original movie, which was more grounded. But this is a different medium and it works well to get across the setting and how dangerous Old Detroit really is. After this, the father of the victim complains about how the police are locking up people like General Power from last issue when the city needs them more than ever.

These masked vigilantes’ reputation is a lot better than the reality of the people behind the costumes. Take General Power for example. After frazzling the man he was trying to save last issue he’s brought to the desk of Metro West by Murphy and told to give his name. After declaring himself as ‘General Power’ he’s ordered to give his real name which he hilariously admits is Jim-Bob Smith.

With a precinct full of wannabe superheroes, one of them has had enough and what comes next is a bit of a shock when read today.

RoboCop was set in the not-too-distant future and the first movie and the TV show were, in hindsight, really rather prescient. So much so its surprising at times watching the series to see how well they predicted our world thirty years in the then-future, providing a scary insight into where we could be going. Bear this in mind when you see this next panel of that wannabe you saw in the final panel above, going by the name ‘Doc Chainsaw’.

He says it’s not against the law to “put on a suit an’ prowl the night” (which itself sounds more creepy than I think he intended) right in front of RoboCop. As if his red hat wasn’t enough, his general attire and his choice of words when confronted by Alex would be a bit on the nose if written today!

I don’t think I need to make any more comment on that one. Soon the sarge barks an order; all the vigilantes are to be charged with misdemeanours and set free. This happens much to the chagrin of the officers but has come down from the “very top” and thus the main mystery of the new story begins. Robo leaves to see if there’s something he can do (but we’re not given any more hints as to what this could be) and then we see former mugging victim Dink and his dad settling down to watch the city’s latest reality show, ‘The Detroit Vigilante‘ and that’s where it ends.

Deathlok and RoboCop have similar set ups but they’re handled in such unique ways you wouldn’t think they were unless you stopped to break down what’s at the core of their main protagonists. I was never a fan of the movie sequels to RoboCop so initially had some trepidation about these strips since they were also direct sequels, released before the TV show. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find a nice halfway point between the original film and the show, with Alan Grant grasping the character much better than the movie studio did around the same time.

“Pain is inflicted quickly and harshly upon those who would harm innocent children.”

Ghost Rider

It’s hard to judge a comic strip series based on only the first couple of stories but I’ve been impressed with this version of Murphy so far. The first story brought the action, the second concentrated more on the characters and this one feels like it’s settled in more to the episodic nature of the storytelling, this first part setting things up nicely. Normally I’d be eager to see the next chunk but it’s just not forthcoming right now. Sadly, it’s goodbye to another favourite for the time being.

To soften the blow (although this wasn’t the original intention) we get a third feature for our part man, part machine, all cop hero, billed on the contents page as an interview with Marvel UK artist Lee Sullivan who did superb work on RoboCop for the American arm of the publisher. Calling it this is a bit of a stretch though. It reads as if two quotes by Lee were pulled from a general career interview, with one answer about RoboCop and the other about Doctor Who, filled out with information about the artist.

“…and because we know where everything is, we methodically begin to eliminate anything that ought not to be there!”

Star Slammers

Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting information and a good article but I was looking forward to an actual interview about Lee’s work on this particular strip. That’s two of the three features about this character that feel like they included an awful lot of padding to make up the page count. Such a shame because I do enjoy Havoc’s extras but I’d have preferred those two to have been combined into one and another Eye Level included instead.

There’s mention here of Marvel no longer having the RoboCop licence which again is a strange thing to include when you’re trying to entice readers back for more. About a year before this, Marvel UK’s Transformers announced the forthcoming release of a new RoboCop fortnightly comic. It was never released, with Robo appearing the next summer in Havoc instead.

Danny Ketch and his Spirit of Vengeance get the bulk of pages this issue with part one of Do Be Afraid of the Dark (written by Howard Mackie, pencils by Javier Saltares, inks by Mark Taxeira, colours by Gregory Wright, letters by Michael Heisler) which begins with the gang of kids from previous issues, now referred to as the Cypress Pool Jokers, hunted down by who we assume are Deathwatch’s minions. Demanding to know where the canisters are, they’re threatening the lives of the kids at gunpoint when a bright light and roar of a motorbike from a nearby hedge halt proceedings.

Out zooms the Ghost Rider, glowing against the night sky, only to be met by a hail of bullets. What’s interesting is that everyone knows his name already, his presence in the city plastered all over the newspapers and of course the criminal underworld would be all too aware of him after he took some of them out. Falling off the bike and back into the hedge, the night goes dark again, the Ghost Rider’s flame apparently extinguished. Until the next page that is.

Scenes involving the Ghost Rider when apparently surrounded and outnumbered are always great fun but I can only imagine how awesome these would’ve seemed to a teenage me. (I’m sure they were but my memory has let me down.) I can confidentially say this was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Brutal but thrilling in equal measure, this first part of the new story really hits the ground running. Essentially a direct follow up to the origin story, it’s unfortunately not clear in these first seven pages whether any other main plot would be introduced.

On the next page it’s stated how Ghost Rider would normally take his time, ensuring to inflict the most pain possible on these men, equal to the pain of each individual’s past offences. But this night he needs answers and so he lashes his magical chain around one of them and drags them away off the back of his bike, the criminal’s body bouncing up and down on the road over the ghostly flames.

Hung over the side of a very tall building Eldon finally admits he’s not part of either criminal enterprise. Instead, he’d heard about Kingpin looking for the mysterious canisters and so he thought he’d take his gang out to find them, present them to the criminal mastermind and get in his good books. Ghost Rider gets no answers but that image of him, followed by the fate of Eldon have me gagging for more.

The kids see him drive off, recognising him now as one of the good guys. “Man, he’s hot!”, exclaims one as he disappears from their sight, and from mine. This appears to be the most serialised of Havoc’s strips rather than individual stories, at least for the time being and I’m gutted this is my cut off point again. As my introduction to Ghost Rider he’s been a brilliant character in a very well written strip illustrated in a scratchy, mature fashion that perfectly suits him. Defintley my favourite part of Havoc and the one I’ll miss the most.

Part two of Conan’s Barbarian Death Song (written by Michael Fleischer, pencils bJohn Buscema, inks by Armando Gil, letters by Janice Chiang) sees our female guest character finally named (Tasmara) and she explains the cloud from last time was actually some random god who bestowed the jewel upon her neck because he was so enraptured by her beauty. She’s now being chased down by Baron Gerdeg and his Falcon Brotherhood because it gives her the ability to see the future, something she realised through tragedy as you can see above.

This gives this fantastical element a sense of foreboding right from the start; it’s a curse rather than the gift it was intended as. As they chat she sees something else shocking, Conan’s death! Her vision includes his funeral procession, accompanied on either side of his coffin by both allies and foes he’s previously fought alongside and against, taken directly from the poem this story uses as inspiration. For more on that check out last week’s review which explains Conan’s last ever story.

Conan and Tasmara head into the local town to eat and drink before making their way elsewhere, hoping to beat death by getting far away from danger. But the Brotherhood, who also have history of being defeated by Conan, have bribed a dancer in the tavern to dance for Conan using birds they supply her with, their talons tipped with a deadly poison.

Conan collapses and his last view before he blacks out is of Tasmara being taken. We then see his consciousness slip into another realm, a realm of death and decay by the looks of it. You can see the Next Issue caption at the bottom of this next page. Yes, this is how Conan ends! 

It would have been a great cliffhanger normally, but this was where we were left hanging as we desperately waited for #10 to appear. Now knowing it never would makes this all the more frustrating of course. Conan’s first story may have been somewhat outdated and out of place in Havoc, but the second story made up for that somewhat with its humour despite its underwhelming ending. This story seemed to have more going for it and, knowing the poem it was based on, I was eager to see how it turned out. Alas, for now I can’t.

I’ll admit this issue’s Star Slammers (written and drawn by Walt Simonson, colours by Louise Simonson and Deborah Pedler, letters by John Workman) is eye catching, I’ll give it that. Each of its five pages are split up into these smaller panels, carrying on the theme of the Silvermind from last time. In fact, this penultimate part of the story kicks off with Jalaia finally reaching that near death point and activating the hive mind of the Slammers. Suddenly every single one of them can see, sense and hear everyone else, turning the tide of the battle against the Orions. So naturally Admiral Krellik cuts the televised feed to his home world in an attempt to control the narrative.

The way this is depicted, how they’re able to instantly react to the enemy from anywhere in the battle, how it turns on a dime from a slaughter to potential victory much to the shock of the enemy, is really very good. Alien Legion was due to replace Star Slammers in #11, so one week before its conclusion this strip finally became something of interest. It’s a cool few pages but with the lack of characterisation or storytelling in many previous parts it’s just too late to save it.

Our last Cry Havoc finishes things off and once more it’s got that exciting fan club feel to it which just makes it all the more heart wrenching that this is the end. But before we go there’s just time for a few more letters and typical Marvel UK-style replies which I loved so much as a kid. Highlights include some dismay at Gary Oldman’s casting in Dracula (oh, how he’d prove the naysayers wrong) and word of an upcoming Ghost Rider movie which wouldn’t actually become a reality for another 16 years.

There are some cheeky answers here too (“How about you being grateful for what you’ve got so far?”) which is very Marvel UK indeed, instructions to invest in the future of Havoc for new Deathlok (oh deary me, you’ll start me off again) and a funny final answer which refers to the fact RoboCop was coincidentally coloured by Havoc’s editor. Then just to rub salt in the wound is the Next Issue box and a reservation coupon. This is not the end this comic deserved.

It took a couple of weeks to realise Havoc wasn’t just running late. With this I became so fed up of fantastic comics with a potentially very bright future being cancelled early that I swore off trying new ones after Havoc, solely collecting Transformers which I’d begun buying years before. I’ll admit this changed when Thunderbirds The Comic appeared in October 1991 but I stuck with it for only about a year before Commodore Format enticed me to the way of magazines. Even Transformers was cancelled just five months after Havoc!

It feels like no time since I took this photo for Havoc’s introductory post and given the potential here it really was no time at all. Havoc deserved to run and run. My school friends who had collected 2000AD for a few years already loved it even more than Tharg’s mighty organ. From the first issue I loved three of the strips and over the course of these nine short weeks I’ve come to enjoy a fourth. The final one was to be replaced soon so I could have been a fan of everything in the end.

As it stands it’s still a remarkable little collection of top quality characters. I think that sums it up best for me. It’s not just a random selection of strips, the stories I’ve enjoyed have all been about remarkable characters. Characters I want to read more of. Look out for a special blog post soon when I chat with freelance designer Paul Chamberlain who worked on several Marvel UK comics and created Havoc’s logo. Until then, it’s goodbye Havoc, it’s been a blast and you deserved better.

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