Tag Archives: Louise Simonson

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.

HAVOC #7: ONE MAN DOWN (CYBORGS UP)

Alex Murphy returns to the cover once more as Havoc #7 set newsagent shelves alight back in 1991. There’s something missing from the wonderful looking cover though and that’s any mention of Conan the Barbarian. As stated in the previous issue the Cimmerian would be taking a break for one week and on the contents page under his banner are simply the words “Back next week”. So why has he been forced out of the issue?

Two of the strips here, namely our title star RoboCop and Star Slammers get more pages apiece, particularly Robo who ends up with more than any strip has been given in any issue so far and this brings his current story to an end after three issues instead of the usual four. Each character would get a different number of pages every issue depending on what was happening in their individual stories, while also taking into account the following chapters, cliffhangers, endings etc, not just the current issue’s contents. 

For example, on the letters page this week the replacement for Star Slammers in #11 is mentioned. Swapping out finished strips, working out suitable lengths for each chunk of story and planning for each issue to have as much content as possible would require some flexibility, especially as they were dealing with strips not written for this anthology format. To get the best out of each strip, including Conan, they may have to drop one for an issue to ensure things run smoothly in the long run.

Speaking of the editorial team, there’s been a bit of a shake up. Launch editors John Freeman and Harry Papadopooulos have jumped ship already, leaving the tiller in the capable hands of Jacqui Papp (editor for titles such as Motormouth, Die Cut and Battle Tide, all comics from the Marvel UK Genesis Project) and Steve White (colourist for Transformers, Jurassic Park’s Xenzoic Tales and editor on Visionaries). Their first issue is a doozy, so let’s get started with Deathlok.

Up to this point Deathlok has been full of action, strong character development and some rather terrifying moments when Michael Collins awoke. I’ve previously mentioned how I remembered there being a lot of humour too, particularly between Michael and the monotone computer operating the Deathlok cyborg. We get to see quite a bit of this in part six of Brains of the Outfit, such as the computer’s recalculating moment and when they finally destroy the massive tank and it looks like the killer cyborg is about to see off its driver Ben, a former colleague of Michael’s, only for the above to happen instead.


“Who asked you?”
“You did.”
*sigh*

Exchange between Michael Collins and the Deathlok computer

It shows how Michael has successfully reprogrammed the machine and the humiliation of Ryker is probably all the worse for the head of Cybertek; not only is he spectacularly defeated, but his cyborg war machine has avoided murdering someone again and it’s had a laugh at his expense in the process. Brilliant stuff! In the sewers we get more of this sort of thing as Michael forgets his thoughts are now part of the machine.

However, as you can see the strip can flip in an instant, from genuinely funny moments to those of terror and heartache. Michael arrives home and obviously Tracy isn’t going to believe him when he tries to tell her who he is. Already devastated by the news of his death, this is almost too much to bare. That final moment when he repeats his funny comment about their son from #3 before running off is a much more perfect cliffhanger than any action scene could be. For all its bravado, Dwayne McDuffie and Gregory Wright’s story has a human heart running through it that’s just as compelling.

For only being seven pages, this really has it all! What a superb story and he’s definitely a Marvel character that deserves much more exposure today. It’s a crying shame he hasn’t had his own movie or TV show by now. Speaking of movies, Eye Level doubles in size this issue thanks to two of the most hotly anticipated movie sequels of the 90s. One would go down as an absolute classic, the other not so much.

On first reading I don’t think the writer was too enamoured with Terminator 2: Judgement Day, although they were right in that the film did end up as one of the most successful of all time. Personally I loved it and remember watching it on VHS in school on the last day of term after it came out in the home market. Not the best way to watch it first time around but it still made an impact and I enjoy it to this day. All of the things about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze meant to improve upon the original are the reasons why my friends and I never liked it, so these were massive misjudgements on the part of the director and studio.

That competition at the end though, with “no captions complimentary to Mr. Ice” allowed… how very Havoc!

RoboCop uses his hand spike to take control of the ED-209’s weaponry

RoboCop: Murphy’s Law Part Three takes up the centre of the comic with a large nine page chapter this issue, ending the story earlier than expected. OCP’s Laszlo has ordered his criminal contacts to kidnap a police officer so that his reprogrammed ED-209s can rescue them and prove their superiority over RoboCop while Murphy’s brain (distraught from losing a civilian) has shut down his systems. But Nixco have also sent their new Nixcops to do the same. RoboCop awakens when he learns that his partner Lewis is the officer in question, snapping him back into life. It’s all set for an explosive climax.

But first, either the ED-209s have shrunk since the movie or that’s one hell of a big van! Also, if dealing with other civilian crimes is only ‘Law Enforcement Program 231’ what are the other 230 before it? I’m nitpicking, so I’ll just ignore these and get on with the main bulk of the story. The two sets of rogue robots start to take each other out, both believing they have the proper authority to rescue Lewis and that the other is breaking the law. An ED-209 even attempts to kill Alex because it deduces he’s trying to stop it rescuing her.

Pinned down on all sides, his car trashed and time running out for Lewis, Robo’s solution is one that I wish we could’ve seen in a movie or the show. Using his spike (a way of interfacing with other computer system ports) he accesses the ED-209 that tried to shoot him and takes command of its weaponry, eliminating all of the Nixcops in a few seconds flat.

Lewis may be tied at the wrists but she isn’t a damsel in distress. Taking advantage of the commotion outside distracting her kidnappers enough for them to be lined up at the first storey window, she rushes them and pushes two of them out to their death. But the final one slaps her to the ground and takes aim at her head just as Alex enters the building downstairs. Knowing he won’t reach her in time he scans up through the ceiling and I just wanted to let you see how another of his well known abilities is represented in comic form, thanks to (new editor) Steve White’s colour work in particular.

You can see what’s going to happen here and after the kidnapper crashes through the floor, landing at his feet, RoboCop appears to be back to normal again. It’s been a more action-packed story than the one from the first four issues, but taken together they work really well to bring us both sides of the character, the logical and the human. You’d think having both this and Deathlok together in one comic would feel repetitive, but they work really well together as two completely different takes on the same basic idea. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for Murphy.

Part seven of Ghost Rider: Life’s Blood is up next as the lengthy origin story continues and it feels like it’s wrapping up the action quotient of the tale here, so I can only guess that perhaps next week’s part will feel like an epilogue and deal with the aftermath for the characters involved. If I’m right I’m all for that, the variety in these little weekly chunks heightening the tight scripting by Howard Mackie.

The gangs fighting over the suitcase are destroying whole city blocks in their war for the canisters, with the kids who stole it in the first place caught in the middle. No longer the cocky street gang of earlier issues here they’re cowering for their lives after seeing one of their own killed. But one roar of a motorbike engine later and things take a decidedly different turn. Danny Ketch has transformed again into the Spirit of Vengeance and I love this particular page above, introducing another skill of the flamed rider’s.

This is just the kind of thing teenage me would’ve lapped up. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m lapping it up right now at the ripe old age of 44. Ghost Rider approaches the kids, the same gang that terrified Danny in the first issue and reaches out his hand, telling them he means them no harm. I was surprised at this, I just didn’t expect it from the character and it’s a nice touch. However, he’s soon involved in the fight again and one of Kingpin’s men has had enough, pulling out what looks like a rocket launcher from the boot of his car!

With the demon rider (the gangs may have named him this but they still believe he’s just a person wearing a flaming helmet) the gangs are down to their last two survivors. Joining together to force a confession out of the girl who took the suitcase, while ready to double-cross each other, the tension builds until a sudden chain flick from behind knocks them both out and in their place stands that very same flaming skull, with his hand outstretched once again to help her to her feet.

Again, this proves what I said earlier about the cliffhangers Havoc’s editors would choose, not always relying on the shocking action scenes. For example, it would’ve been easy to end Ghost Rider with the rocket scene above but instead we get a further couple of pages and this ending of the terrifying demon reaching out his hand to help the innocent. It’s just as much of a surprise as the explosion and it works so much better in my opinion as a moment to end on for now. I want to see more of this character, much more.

If you’re only coming to these reviews now let me explain that this was my introduction to the character back in the early 90s and in the intervening years I haven’t read any Ghost Rider comics or even seen the movies. This is pretty much introducing me to him all over again, so it’s basically all new. As with some of the other Havoc stars there’s a lot more beneath the surface of the character to discover and I for one find him a fascinating creation so far. I’m eager to learn more, so little moments like this are huge to me.

Less fascinating are the Star Slammers. Also getting a good portion of the comic, we see how Grandfather and Sphere first met, the former as a senator bringing a warning of a future planet wipe, the other the leader of the people on the planet used for sport. As the Slammers prepare for the war at last, Sphere and Grandfather reminisce about that first meeting, how the elder had to prove himself and how he engineered the Mindbridge.

Able to communicate psychically already, his equipment and injections were to lead them to a point when they could all communicate as one, the whole race combined as one unstoppable force. Only then could they face their hunters, the Orions. The name ‘Star Slammers’ is taken from one of their weapons and it’ll be the name they use as they fight for others to make money and collect the weapons and ships they need. There’s also a hint that the exiled humans are closer to their ancestors than the ones consumed by hatred (the ones who hunt them for sport because they’re different).

It’s here that the main problem with the strip rears its ugly head, one of pacing. At some points in previous issues nothing much has happened at all, in others we’ve been treated to some nice action or background details. But more often than not it’s felt a bit muddled, as if it was just buying time until the next issue. As we all know by now, Star Slammers wasn’t written as a monthly comic, instead it was a complete story in #6 of Marvel Graphic Novel. I’ve said previously how maybe it wouldn’t have any of these problems if read in one go, as was originally intended. Now, I’m not so sure anymore.

Even here, with a flashback to those early meetings it just reads like forced exposition, a far cry from similar scenes in #4 when we got the background to the animosity between Grandfather and Kryllik. But by this stage in the story it feels like any interesting story sections are being rushed through, like space is running out and writer Walt Simonson has to suddenly squeeze everything in. This is a similar feeling to the one I got when reading the final chapter to the Jurassic Park movie adaptation, also written by Walter.

What could’ve been a fascinating origin story here isn’t helped with pretty bad dialogue either, combining to give an impression of everything being forced just to get the story to the actual battle it’s been predicting since the beginning. Could Simonson’s galaxy-spanning tale full of relevant social commentary simply have been too ambitious for the final page count in Marvel Graphic Novel? Perhaps. But here at least we get an inkling that some excitement could be on the cards next issue.

With the war about to begin we close off all of our strips for this week with Cry Havoc and the second instalment of readers’ letters. Kicking things off with the promise of t-shirt prizes for star letters, ironically the issue number given for when this would start will actually be the first one to never appear in the shops. Then it seems the issue after that one was to be the first with a new strip since #1, with the Star Slammers having ended by then. Intriguing little hints about the future that was not to be, followed by a surprisingly young person’s advert on the back page.

Having said that, I did love Fiendish Feet and kept eating them well into my teens too.

That’s us at the end of another issue and, despite it being one character short and extra pages given to my least favourite strip, it was another goodie. I will look forward to a full deck of anti-heroes next week though. Speaking of which, that next issue will be the penultimate one already! Where has this summer gone? Join me again soon. Havoc #8’s review will be here from Wednesday 24th August 2022.

HAVOC #6: CRYiNG HAVOC AT LAST!

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.

Laszlo’s plan involves having a police officer kidnapped, who the ED-209s will rescue

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.

One film that stood out above all others in the summer of 1991 was Terminator 2: Judgement Day

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.