COMiNG UP: OiNK! #33

Coming up on Monday is OiNK #33 and a theme which confused me as a kid. Have a look at the Next Issue promo below from the previous issue and you might wonder what could be so confusing, but living in Northern Ireland it seemed a bit late to me. But that didn’t stop me from really enjoying it of course, and there are some truly great standout moments in this next issue.

Tom Thug is the front page star on Lew Stringer‘s first mainstream comics cover, there’s a brilliant full colour double-page spread of Hadrian Vile‘s guide to the summer holidays, my favourite Rotten Rhyme, you’ll finally see a full Hector Vector and his Talking T-shirt strip on the blog and Burp helped teach me some morals as a youngster. No, really. The next review will be here from Monday 25th July 2022.

HAVOC #3: PSYCHOTiC GOOD BUDDiES

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.

HAVOC #2: FLAMiN’ HELL!

With five different strips to this anthology and each one an imported American story split into multiple parts across weekly issues variety was always going to be a key factor of Havoc. What I didn’t expect was how different each issue could feel as a whole. Last issue’s action packed Deathlok gives way to proper character introductions, Star Slammers begins to show a glimmer of political intrigue, Ghost Rider has the reveal we’ve been waiting for, Conan the Barbarian comes to a sudden end already and RoboCop brings in the satire and characterisation that always set him apart from other action fare.

In the middle of all this is a large, glossy Deathlok poster, the issue’s free gift. Drawn by Joe Jusko in 1989 it must’ve been a piece of art to promote the comic in 1990 when Marvel in the US brought the character back. I definitely remember having this on my wall at the time and I particularly like the way we see the complete human and cyborg sides of him next to the completed transfer and the birth of a character I loved that summer. In the comic itself there’s also an article about the strip with insights from the creative team.

First up though is the Deathlok story written by Dwayne McDuffie and Gregory Wright which begins by adding the logo, story title, credits badge and a quick recap to the original splash page opener by Wright and Jackson Guise, with the original lettering in the rest of this chapter by Richard Starkings. Cybertek Systems Inc. know fine rightly what happened to cause the disaster last issue. They also know without a human brain it’s “nothing but a multi-billion dollar mannequin” and then the reader is instantly taken to the home of Michael Collins, a software programmer working on artificial limbs.

In the scene in his home his young son is playing a computer game and upgrading his character with the biggest gun possible without giving thought to armour, speed, agility etc. Trying to teach his son that a real hero isn’t all about weaponry and violence, it falls on deaf ears as the boy is having too much fun. Even if I didn’t remember it, it’s clear the strip is setting Michael up as the new Deathlok, so his abhorrence towards violence is an interesting take. Like having Danny in Ghost Rider being a bit of a coward last issue.

As a teenager I always loved the quieter moments amongst all the action in my comics. Thing is, not all of the comics I tried out could carry it off. Transformers was surprisingly good at it although it rarely happened, it was part of the fun in G.I. Joe too and here the domestic scenes made the story (and the comic) feel more mature to thirteen-year-old me, like I was watching a really good movie set up all the pieces correctly with the right pacing and character development. I loved this juxtaposition. It wasn’t trying to entice me with endless action, I was expected to return to see it all develop. I wasn’t being talked down to.

The story ends this issue with Ryker of Cybertek ordering his team to neutralise the software fault by the next day for another brain transplant, even though they haven’t got a volunteer lined up. It’s clear he doesn’t intend to ask. On the next page the Deathlok article is an interesting read about what drew co-creator Dwayne McDuffie to the job and what the character meant to him. The way he describes the relationship between the computer and Michael reminds me of another character by the same name and his computerised partner, namely Michael Knight and K.I.T.T.; particularly in Knight Rider‘s first season when the two main characters butted heads a lot as they got to know each other, so I’m excited to see this play out in this strip.

The Star Slammers get a little more than four pages this time, although having read this part I can see that was the best place to end it a week ago. Having saved the citadel they make their way inside and are greeted by very welcoming, grateful hosts. The Slammers have no wish to celebrate, they know the Skriks will be back soon so they simply demand their payment and a place to rest. While they sleep an official called Lackland comes to warn them the others mean to kill their saviours instead of paying up.

But on the very next page it appears Lackland is working for the enemy, the Skriks. As they wait to see if the mercenaries will change sides, their ship on which they reside is locked up tight and flown off to the citadel, where it lands and is surrounded by tanks before the Slammers announce it was them. They had simply snuck up to the ship and locked the Skriks inside their own home. The episode ends with Lackland making a run for it as another ship comes into view above, so its unclear where this is headed.

To be honest, not much is happening yet. It’s still setting up its plot and characters, the background to the planet and the politics involved. There’s the potential of political intrigue here which I hope I’m right about, because so far it’s not great; the Slammers’ capture of the Skriks all happens off-page and I’m not feeling connected to anyone yet. It’s not necessarily the fault of writer and artist Walt Simonson (colours by Louise Simonson and Deborah Pedler, letters by John Workman) because this was written to be read as a whole, not as a serial.

While other strips seem to be benefitting from the weekly short doses, engrossing me in each chunk of story and building anticipation, it may just be these early pages of Star Slammers that aren’t so suited to the format. Maybe once it gets going it’ll fit in more and I do remember enjoying it later, so I’ll wait to see how my attitude changes in the weeks ahead. But for now it’s time to move on to the character whose introduction has really made an impact on me, Howard Mackie‘s Ghost Rider.


“I am Ghost Rider, the Spirit of Vengeance!”

Danny Ketch/Ghost Rider

The story’s recap incorrectly labels Barb as Danny Ketch’s girlfriend when she was clearly described as his sister on the first page of last issue’s chapter, and we kick off with the kids that scared Danny stealing the briefcase Deathwatch’s and Kingpin’s cronies fought over. Deathwatch leaves but not before ordering his men to pursue and kill all witnesses. The kids run but Danny is struggling with his unconscious sister and must find somewhere to hide. In a nearby scrapyard he carries Barb inside a pile of scrap cars where something glows in the dark at his presence.

As more and more lights begin to flicker all around him he spots a motorcycle and, while it just looks like a regular bike, it’s brand new. What’s it doing here amongst all this junk? He leans Barb up against it to keep her sitting upright but she’s bleeding everywhere. Meanwhile, the men outside capture the girl who stole the briefcase but realise the only way to ensure there are no witnesses is to level the whole place with a thermite grenade. It’s at this point Danny’s life changes forever.

His hands covered in blood, and in complete panic, he doesn’t know what to do. It’s at this point the original light he saw glows again. It’s coming from the petrol cap on the bike, which he touches with his blood soaked hand as he thinks about how he’d do anything to save his sister.

I remember seeing that panel and getting excited when I first read this. I was always someone who’d never flick through his comics before settling down to read them. Not since I’d done it with an issue of Transformers and had a shock ending of a story ruined for me before I’d read it. So I always read from front to back without so much as looking to see what features were inside.

I was so glad I kept to this because as the ground underneath their feet begins to rumble, Deathwatch’s men were about to get the shock of their lives, and young me got such a thrill when I turned the page to this final image! Ghost Rider’s art team are penciller Javier Saltares, inker Mark Texeira, colourist Gregory Wright and letterer Michael Heisler.

Now that’s a cliffhanger. In theory, not seeing the main character of the strip until the final page of the second chapter shouldn’t work. As mentioned above, the slower pacing of splitting up the stories isn’t working for the Star Slammers, but here it most definitely did. The bike has completely changed shape and looks awesome flying through the air as it jumps over the henchmen, the ghostly, flaming skeleton carrying Barb off to safety.

If you’re familiar with the character you may have to excuse me because apart from this back in 1991 I haven’t read any of the comics. I would’ve been hooked to Ghost Rider had Havoc carried on, I remember that much and I feel the same now only two issues into this read through. So yes, I’m a newbie, I’ll be describing things you may have become used to a long time ago, but I’m an excited newbie. You may see me grow into quite the fan of Danny’s as the summer continues.

After an Eye Level about a set visit to the filming of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is the RoboCop video competition promoted on the cover, but it wasn’t the video I was expecting.

I always found it strange to have cartoons and toys based on adult movies (the same goes for Aliens). I don’t mean collectibles either, I mean an animated series and toys actually aimed at children when the original movie was certificated ’18’. After the TV show later in the 90s I eased up on that somewhat (I spoke last time about why that’s my preferred RoboCop) but at the time of this, it was all rather weird. Anyway, the cartoon and associated merchandise wasn’t a success and only 12 episodes were made, broadcast in the States in 1988. Clearly it took a while for it to make its way over here.

Today Conan reads very differently in a more enlightened world

Conan the Barbarian is up next and I was very surprised to see it’s the conclusion to The Frost Giant’s Daughter already! Not being familiar with the character I assumed his stories would be the same length as the rest, but this short story ends here. There’s plenty of fighting as he takes down the two huge men he came up against last time, an uncomfortable moment when he tries to force himself onto the woman with a kiss to change her allegiance and it all ends with asking more questions than it answers.

Chased down by Conan in such a forceful way I found myself on the side of the woman (who is meant to be evil). She finally frees herself from his grasp and calls out to Ymir, the god who is apparently her father. I know the stories are from a different time but that doesn’t make it any easier to look past things like this. Adapted from Robert E. Howard’s original story by Roy Thomas, with art by Barry Windsor-Smith and lettering by Artie Simek, it looks the part of a classic comic strip but it doesn’t make for easy reading. Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t think anything of it I’m sorry to say. Today it reads very differently in a more enlightened world.

The colour of the page above caught my eye and I think Conan rather deserved the treatment dished out there! He awakens on the final page surrounded by the men he was previously fighting alongside. No one found any tracks or evidence of why Conan had just walked off on his own and it’s only when someone called Gorm speaks out that Conan realises what he’s holding. Was it a dream? A myth? Or real? It’s kind of left that it did happen on some level, but other than that it’s up in the air.

More amenable to my tastes is the last strip, RoboCop. The recap gives away a key plot point, explaining the video used to film Murphy’s fight with the gang last issue was an x-ray device, something the strip itself hasn’t told us yet. Proper credits are given this time though and with names like Alan Grant, Lee Sullivan, Kim DeMulder, Steve White and Richard Starkings the big guns (no pun intended) are pulled out to finish off the issue.

Some detective work leads Murphy to a legal Kombat game where men in insulated suits try to electrocute each other with tasers. Behind the scenes it’s all very reminiscent of modern day wrestling with over-the-top characters and hints that the match results may be fixed when a scan shows Murphy the suits have been tampered with. The previous victim was called Powky and Robo finds out he worked for the Kombat promoter, Dek Kyng. Meanwhile OCP are nervous that a rival company called Nixco are developing a rival to RoboCop.

Media Break, the news programme from the first movie and the TV series makes a return and while the hilarious advertisements for the consumerist future are missing, they’re still a neat way of getting plot and context into the story. There’s also a good deal of humour here too, such as how Robo deals with a suspect who uses metal teeth to try to fight back and gets them stuck in his arm. This results in Murphy questioning why anyone would willingly have flesh and bone removed and replaced with metal. While he recharges he reminisces about how he wasn’t given the choice, losing his wife and child in the process.

The final panel gives us a glimpse of the new rival robot and it feels very similar to the plot of RoboCop 2 so far, which wasn’t exactly a great movie. This strip was originally published in America in the same year as the second film so the plot should’ve been known, so it’s surprising this is going to use the same idea. But of course I could be jumping to conclusions here, I’ll wait and see how it develops, for now all the key elements that make a good RoboCop story are in place.

A really fun sophomore issue which, Conan aside, has me clamouring for more from these characters, even the Star Slammers had just about enough in their five pages to keep me locked in to their story for now. The Next Issue page promises more of the same but things are definitely building in at least three of the stories and with a giant RoboCop poster next time it’s another one to look forward to.

The third issue of Marvel UK’s Havoc will be reviewed right here this day next week, meaning you can check it out with a selection of highlights from Wednesday 20th July 2022.