This is a wonderful original Marvel UK cover by Liam Sharp (a first for the title) showing Deathlok breaking free just as he finally does in his strip inside, with Michael Collins’ mind now fully aware and communicating with the military computer inside the cyborg. It really kicks off this issue. That headline about the Star Slammers is obviously meant to shock, but given my love-hate relationship with that particular story and its characters, I’m really not feeling bothered either way. But that doesn’t detract from how excited I am to read another issue of Havoc!
I can’t believe I’m already at the sixth issue and I really, honestly do look forward to this day every week, but of course the more we fly through this on a weekly basis the closer we get to its premature end. Still, it’s clear from this issue the intention was originally to have this as a long running title, what with the inclusion of the first letters page and some of the answers given. We’ll get to that in due course, first up is the cover star and as you can see the strip now has a traditional Marvel UK border to the first page to bring us up to date. In fact, every strip has one now and I’ll show you each one.
You’ll see on these first pages that every one has the credits star inside something unique to that strip. For example, you’ll see it inside Robocop’s gun barrel, a monitor on the Star Slammers’ ship or an animal skin drum for Conan. Dwayne McDuffie and Gregory Wright’s (re)creation of Deathlok really does show off this time what the whole remit is about with an all-action entry in his origin story.
This issue’s chunk of story really highlights how Collins and the computer will interact and work together. Now recognised as its new programmer, he’s able to give the cyborg new instructions on the fly. The first thing is to tell it that killing enemies is off the table. After trying and failing to stop it previously in the jungle (apart from just about stopping it from killing a small child) here, recognised as the authorised input, a simple command changes all of that. The computer must now be smarter and work around this new parameter, which it does with aplomb as the story continues.
Ryker watches on and tries to stop them with every security measure possible and the straight-laced, logical computer and the flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants Michael make a great team. Even though the computer is just a machine, it almost comes across as banter between the two thanks to Michael’s very human reactions to its very logical statements, and vice versa! Ryker is having too much fun though in trying to kill his former friend and colleague.
Remember that huge tank thing a couple of issues ago? I knew it wasn’t for nothing and as Deathlok crashes through another wall to get around the force shield they come across the tank and suddenly it whirrs into life. They scan it and find another former workmate at the wheel. Questioning how he could possibly have gotten there so quickly when no one would’ve known which route they were taking, the computer informs Michael of the trackers in the helmet. There’s only one option, to remove it and take on the tank with Deathlok vulnerable for the first time.
This is the penultimate panel of the strip and is a great summary of the action we’ve been treated to in these wonderful five pages. It really is breath taking at times and this is only our main character trying to escape the compound of Cybertek, never mind the adventures that could come next. This lone cyborg going up against impossible odds, the computer’s monotone (in my head anyway) voice and Collins’ interactions make for great fun. What’s interesting is how Collins isn’t in control of the cyborg’s body. Instead, it’s moving autonomously with instruction from Michael. An interesting dynamic I’m looking forward to exploring more of.
Our second strip this time is part two of RoboCop’s Murphy’s Law. At the end of last week’s episode, in the midst of his own mental breakdown, RoboCop let go of the hovering garbage droid to land on top of a car being stolen by a gang of thieves. Causing the car to crash, with Murphy between it and a lamppost, it’s almost too much for his systems which were already under stress from the Nixcops attack and then watching a member of the public die because he couldn’t protect them, breaking one of his Prime Directives.
At Nixco, Dek Kyng is now in their hands so they immediately set to work making sure he won’t be causing any more problems, setting an automated surgical system on him to hack into his brain, turning him into another one of their robots. Meanwhile, Alex lays dormant on a table in his police district. A tough job lies ahead for the engineers but they see this as an opportunity to install some amendments and they’re given the go ahead to proceed, much to the chagrin of a new character called Laszlo.
You see, Laszlo was in charge of the ED-209 programme which RoboCop fans will know looked cool but were pretty awful at law enforcement. Believing the problems to have been fixed (yet the EDs are still the big, lumbering robots of the movie) Laszlo sets about making sure OCP have no choice but to terminate RoboCop and choose his path instead. His plan involves contacting a street gang and arranging to have a police officer kidnapped, who the ED-209s will rescue.
First up though it’s time for a commercial and some news updates from Media Break. I loved these in the first film and in particular in every episode of the TV series. I’d completely forgotten Delta City didn’t actually exist yet in the first film. I’m so used to seeing it complete (or at least in a more advanced state) in the series, complete with its self aware central intelligence, that reading this feels like a prequel to the RoboCop I grew up with.
Eventually his engineers realise its the human part of RoboCop that’s not operating correctly (for want of a better phrase) but they can only speculate on what’s going on inside his mind. They put out a call for his partner Lewis to return to HQ and help and in the meantime we get one of those trademark RoboCop memory scenes. While all of this is going on the various strands of the story come together before we leave things for another week.
Lewis is radioed to return so she can help with RoboCop’s recovery, but she’s currently in the middle of an arrest which in reality is a set up by Scarface’s men, the gang Laszlo contacted to kidnap a random officer. When news of her disappearance reaches Media Break, the bosses at Nixco see an opportunity to send in their own Nixcops to rescue her and prove their cyborgs are the future of law enforcement. What a mess this could be! Great stuff! Writer Alan Grant feels much more comfortable with this second story and is really getting stuck into the lore and the action, one never at the expense of the other. Perfect.
So, with Star Slammer Ethon being tortured in last week’s strip it’s no surprise to find out he’s the one who bites the dust. There’s a quick bit of mourning from Jailaia and Sphere before they decide to use the body of their fallen comrade to help them escape. Wow, that’s pretty cold. They don their gear and before boarding their own ship moored outside they tie Ethon into the pilot’s chair of the prison ship and set the controls.
I have to say this next part is really rather good. The main ship of the fleet is watching on and receives a distress call from the prison ship after someone on board discovers what’s happened. The huge vessel getting silently and ominously closer and closer is a truly terrifying sight for those watching and I think writer and artist Walt Simonson has done a superb job with this particular sequence, which culminates on the next page.
Of course, this escape is immediately covered up (as an unwarranted attack) by Krellik, who is no longer a senator but an all-powerful Admiral. Declaring the hunt on and how much the television networks will love it, he alerts the entire fleet to set out after the escaped Slammers. It feels like we’re finally getting somewhere, so adding this to the fascinating (and very relevant today) background politics from #4 we could be in for a treat in coming issues.
I’m still not sure if it’s really working being split up into chunks though. Maybe the coming weeks will prove me wrong, but at the moment it may have worked better in its original graphic novel form. Two out of the these first six chapters held real promise, so if the remaining parts of the story build on those, and we get a nice mix of story and action in the limited space afforded here, it may prove to have been worth the wait to get to this point.
This issue’s Eye Level is a particularly interesting one. During the summer of 1991 cinema goers were treated to a vast array of blockbusters with everything from City Slickers and The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, to The Rocketeer and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But one film that stood out above all others, definitely for teenage me anyway, was Terminator 2: Judgement Day and it’s the impending release of this movie which takes up the whole page, with 20 facts about the film and its star.
While I can’t find any evidence that the so-called ‘Jung and Freud’ film was ever made, there are other tidbits here which I never knew about, such as the fact Arnold Schwarzenegger was originally intended to be Kyle Reese in the first film, and before Robert Patrick was cast as the new T-1000 Billy Idol was hired for the role! I’m a fan of the series, the first four films anyway, so it’s interesting to see the contemporary coverage the best one received at the time, and it’s a clear indication this was a Marvel UK comic aimed at the older teen audience (and above).
Conan the Barbarian’s Cauldron of Doom comes to its conclusion this issue and as feared it basically boils down to Conan coming out of his hypnotised state and punching a few people. How this happens is rather good though, with slave girl Nateesa coming to his rescue. Terrified of her mistress Marielle, Nateesa can’t get close to Conan so she resorts to desperate measures and throws a stolen knife at him. She’s a very good shot from so far away!
Once returned to his senses he easily disposes of the two men guarding the cauldron filled with whatever liquid would’ve killed him and seized his body into a solid statue for Marielle’s collection. (The opening dialogue box refers to her as a witch for the first time.) As for the villainess herself, she chases after Nateesa who punches her out cold and… that’s it. It’s all neatly tied up in a big bow as Conan and Nateesa ride off into the sunset together. After the intriguing build up, the interesting Marielle in the first chapters and the very funny moments in previous weeks, it’s such a shame it has such a clichéd end.
At the end a caption states Conan won’t return until #8. No idea why he won’t be in #7 yet. Is one of the other strips due to get extra room for some reason? Are special features planned? Who knows, we’ll find out in seven days.
As if to soften the blow of the longer than normal wait for the next Conan story we get a two-page feature about the history of the character and his comics, written by comics historian Mike Conroy. Coming from a position of knowing nothing about Conan this was all brand new information to me. Most surprising was how young Robert E. Howard was when he died, and only four years after creating the character so he never got to see his meteoric rise. That’s such a shame.
Other surprises here for me are that the original Red Sonja was much different than the one in the movies, that she wasn’t part of Conan’s stories and the Conan movie was written by Roy Thomas (who adapted Havoc’s first story from Howard’s books) and Gerry Conway who blog readers may remember was the head writer on Marvel’s fantastic Visionaries comic. The feature does raise a couple of questions though, namely if the US comic was still in print why was Havoc using such early stories rather than the latest ones, which surely would’ve been a better fit? Also, what on Earth is Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo?!
The final strip this week is Ghost Rider and it’s all about that mysterious suitcase and the young gang of kids who stole it. Kingpin’s men have tracked them down and sent in that well worn stereotype, the bad guy who is so overly polite you just know he means the exact opposite of what’s coming out of his mouth. We must remember these stories are nearly 30 years old. His hints soon turn to actual threats until one of the kids is stabbed by a flying knife.
New Marvel bad guy, Deathwatch, has sent his ninja-like minions for the same purpose, to retrieve the briefcase that kicked all of of this off way back in #1 and all hell breaks out in the streets of the city. It’s clear this version of Ghost Rider is going to make for a very violent strip, much like the rest of Havoc really, and despite the central character being of supernatural origin it all comes across gritty and serious, and I like this juxtaposition.
Our reluctant hero Danny Ketch is driving about on his apparently completely normal motorbike and beginning to wonder if he imagined the whole thing from the night before. He’s trying to determine whether he wants to coax out whatever it was he turned into, thinking it might have some knowledge to help his hospitalised sister Barb. However, he’s terrified of doing so, but once he hears the gunfire and commotion the petrol cap on the bike starts to glow. He doesn’t want to touch it, but feels compelled to. He instantly regrets it.
I love this transformation scene, Danny’s skin engulfed in fumes and then them turning to fire, you can feel the heat radiating off the page in that close up of his face, followed by the exciting panel of him and the bike becoming one. Depending on how each individual story in Havoc is chopped up into various lengths, each issue we could get a lot of plot, or a more character-focussed bit of the tale, sometimes we just get a quick shot of excitement which keeps us hanging on for more the following week.
This week’s Ghost Rider definitely falls into the latter category and I’m not complaining one bit, especially when the next page ends this week’s strip with this image.
The gang war over the briefcase has escalated to murderous levels, endangering innocent lives and the Spirit of Vengeance is having none of it. There’s a lot of mystery still around the main flaming character and Danny is only slowly beginning to realise this could be his life now. It’s building momentum, it’s pace is quickening but it’s also taken time to establish its characters. As a result this feels like the most bedded in strip in Havoc. Plus, that’s just a really cool image to end the issue on.
We come to the end of another brilliant edition but instead of the usual full-page Next Issue promo we’ve got our first letters page in the shape of Cry Havoc. At last! I’d forgotten all about the fact we even had one. I don’t recall ever writing in, but given the short life of the comic I probably never got around to it. The letters here are all very positive and that’s the feeling I come away with; if this was the summer of ’91 I’d be thinking this appears to be a very successful new comic, such is the reception on display here.
There are definitely a couple of recurring themes here, for example a few mentions of The Punisher (and more received according to an answer) and his cancelled comic, which leads on to the other theme of hoping Havoc isn’t another short-lived Marvel weekly. Sadly at the time it did seem like every decent new comic didn’t last long. Unbeknownst to us Havoc was to be yet another casualty. But I’m enjoying it while it’s here.
One final note, Jim Black’s letter mentions the five-pointed star motif and I asked Paul Chamberlain (who designed it) if this was related to the fact there were five strips. It was actually just a happy coincidence. Watch out for a chat with Paul here on the blog soon! There are more Havoc comics to review first though, so join me again in one week. The review of #7 will be here on the OiNK Blog from Wednesday 17th August 2022.