Tag Archives: Louise Simonson

HAVOC #5: DAMAGED PSYCHES

With this, only the fifth edition of the superb Havoc weekly we’re already halfway through its run. Not that we knew this as readers of course. So let’s concentrate on the issue at hand and Ghost Rider makes his second appearance on the cover after #2, leaving the Star Slammers as the only characters not to grace the front page. That’s because these covers are reprints of Marvel US ones and the ‘Slammers never had their own title, appearing in an anthology series instead.

So Danny Ketch and the flaming skull are the main draw for new readers and as you can see the title logo not only changes colour each issue but the headline strip does as well. This issue Danny’s hellfire alter ego also has a special one-page feature, replacing Eye Level for one week. But let’s kick things off with the first story and it’s Alex Murphy inside the RoboCop armour in the first part of his second story, which takes pole position just as Conan did when he began a new tale in #3.

Murphy’s Law (nice) begins with Robo battling a group of new Nixcops. Programmed as his replacements they believe our hero is now impersonating an officer and must be destroyed, and his prisoner taken into custody. In reality his prisoner, Dek Kyng, could expose the corruption at Nixco and so the bosses are using their new cops to put an end to Robo’s investigation. His internal thoughts alongside the readouts of his systems are very similar to Deathlok’s but this isn’t a complaint. Alex is much more in control of his systems, they are him, so it’s different to the other cyborg strip.

It’s nice to see his Prime Directives come into play here when he ends up putting himself in even more danger to protect innocent passersby. But the Nixcops have no such qualms and one of the citizens is killed. As Alex makes a run for it his head is filled with doubt. He keeps playing the word ”failed” over and over, his computerised half seeking cover while his human half thinks there’s no point anymore, he should just give up, he’s failed his third directive and broken his own laws. This shows how, despite his human side, how binary his thoughts can still be thanks to his programming.

In the original film and TV show his outward speech wasn’t as free-flowing and natural as it reads here, which of course was very deliberate. It made his internal thoughts, memories and the times he’d act with surprising humanity all the more important to the character because they were so jarring with the machine cop he was presented as. It’s what made him unique. I’m glad to say, while the strip has him speaking more as a regular human, these moments filled with doubt are superb and somehow still maintain that jarring feel.

The weight of breaking one of his Prime Directives is almost too much for him. These are core to his central programming, his very existence and because of this it’s almost too much to bear for his human brain. Most action heroes would shrug it off until later when they’d manage to get revenge for the killing, but RoboCop struggles straight away. He’s just about able to commandeer a flying garbage droid and make his escape but I’m really interested in seeing where this goes next week.

The whole Spirit of Vengeance thing was brand new at the time

Next up is that Ghost Rider feature. It’s rather strangely designed with a huge title and just a teeny tiny picture of the character almost cropped off the bottom of the page, but it reads very well. I’d always assumed the original version of the character had the same modus operandi as this 90s reboot but it appears I was wrong, the whole Spirit of Vengeance thing was brand new at the time. My knowledge of the character is very limited, but with the movie sequel having this title while being based on the original character I had just assumed.

I’m sure reading this feature excited me as a teenager, with how it hypes the strip as a new Ghost Rider for the 90s. It certainly reads like the kind of page that would’ve pumped me up even further for the character and the future of the comic. I was so sure this was just the beginning of a long and happy journey with Danny Ketch and his spirit.

On to the story itself and reading this now I’m reminded of just how much I preferred reading the American strips on these larger Marvel UK pages (or indeed, how much I preferred reading DC’s Batman in larger UK editions) and I have to say I’m loving it.

We begin by catching up with Marvel villain Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin as he trains, his large size certainly not slowing him down. The mysterious briefcase apparently contains something which poses a great danger to his organisation but we’re not told what it is, not even when we see the gang of kids open it in their cemetery hideaway, just that it contains little canisters. The main thing to happen here is Danny finally arriving at the hospital to check in on his sister, Barb. Greeted by his mum, a friend and her dad, Captain Dolan, the events of the night finally prove too much.

The story picks up later and after Danny tells the police captain he can’t remember much of the monstrous man who the police think was responsible (we can see how they’re being positioned for future conflict with each other) we get a tender scene of Danny watching over his unconscious sister, the bleeping of the machines the only response he gets as he opens up about what had really happened.

Previously having discarded the bike and fearing for his life, on the last page Danny actually makes his way back to where he left it, where it sits in its regular motorbike form. He needs answers, so following advice from his far more adventurous sister (we saw this dynamic back in #1) he sets off in the desperate hope that he’ll be able to help her recover, thinking the bike has some magical powers to it. Little does he know!

Ghost Rider gets the star treatment this issue with the most pages of any of our stories and even though none of the eight pages actually feature the Spirit of Vengeance themselves it certainly isn’t any less compelling. In fact, quite a lot of ground is covered here between Kingpin, the gang, the briefcase and the introduction of important new characters. Most of all though it’s about Danny. He’s not an infallible hero, he’s just a regular guy caught up in something beyond his understanding. This is the kind of hero I enjoy.

Passing out, lying to police, crying by his sister’s bedside and then finally using some of her strength to go back to the bike in some belief that, despite how terrifying the experience was for him, somehow it might help Barb. The Spirit of Vengeance residing within the bike is silent for now but I wonder what they make of Danny at this point. I’m finding the story really interesting and that’s been the biggest surprise for me. I just hope we can get far enough along in the set up of everything before Havoc comes to its early close.

In Star Slammers our main characters leave hyperspace to find themselves immediately surrounded by enemy craft and captured. They’re soon knocked out and Ethon is taken off to be questioned, seemingly an easy target as he’s the youngest. The mind link they share shocks Sphere and Jalaia as it suddenly hits them that Ethon is being tortured. But not by humans like the senator from previous issues, instead by an alien creature we haven’t seen before, although the people working for him are humans.

This alien could be an inquisitor for hire, or the true leader of Orion, we just don’t know and this is a bit frustrating if I’m honest. Because the strip was created as a lengthy one-off it continues to stutter and jerk about from week-to-week. Last time we got a nice, decent chunk of background and the story was beginning to gel, but now we’re back where we were, with what feels like hastily written dialogue and bad pacing. For example the guards say out loud they’re meant to be watching the prisoners but want to watch the torture instead, and in the next panel Sphere mentions the guards have gone and that he and Jalaia should “Shift to extreme combat regime”, whatever that means. It’s not exactly subtle.

It leads on to this final page and it seems Sphere and Jalaia have easily escaped off-page. It just seems too handy, that the plot is being forced along rather than any attention being paid to how these things happen or any thought given to the characters. At least we get a bit of context at last, adding a bit more information to last week’s info dump, but overall it comes across as rather amateur, like a fan strip, which is shocking when you remember this was written by Walt Simonson! Last week’s chunk still gives me hope for future instalments, let’s hope it reads better as a whole when it’s all over.

Last week’s Conan the Barbarian ended with the caption, ‘Next Week: Conan is made ready for the cauldron!” Well, it’s only in the final panels here that the sinister Marielle tells her servants to prepare Conan for said cauldron, so the editor seems to have gotten ahead of themselves. The story begins after the entranced Conan and Marielle return home and as he attempts to fawn over her she snaps and scolds him, suddenly deciding she’s had enough.

Conan begins to weep and after Nateesa is ordered to bring them food and wine we huffs and begins to rebel. He may still be under her influence but he’s not meant to talk back. Suspecting he needs further drugging, Mariella orders Nateesa to give him more wine filled with the toxin but quickly realises Nateesa has been giving him regular wine, trying to help bring him out of this state naturally.

Marielle orders another servant, a vile man by the name of Zogran to take Nateesa away and punish her. Conan doesn’t flinch at her pleading as she’s dragged away and soon Marielle is feeding him more of the laced drink. We see Nateesa trying to convince Zogran not to harm her and it appears he’s well aware Marielle is evil, but even in getting this across he’s still a creep in the way he describes her body and soon he’s whipping her, the screams echoing throughout the mansion.

Things end for now as Conan is led towards a giant cauldron. Marielle has finished with him; her male servants tending to the pot are shocked he lasted almost a week! With the spoiler in the summary box last week it’s clear whatever is in this cauldron turns men into stone for Marielle’s collection of lifelike statues. (So in a way I guess she did create them after all.) I think we’re set for the conclusion next time, but it’s been a fun ride with some surprising dialogue so far. I hope it keeps the surprises coming and doesn’t just end with a clichéd fight.

Our final strip for this issue has been my most eagerly anticipated, what with Michael Collins just beginning to wake inside the Deathlok cyborg. Tearing its way through the settlement from last time, killing any and all forms of resistance, Michael can do nothing but look on in horror at what his brain is helping achieve (it’s confirmed here in a scene in Ryker’s control room that the live human brain is used for storage). He tries to mentally battle with the computer and it appears to be working when the termination program (see #1) fails.

Michael’s brain proves to be a formidable foe for the computer, and later we find out its new operating system won’t allow the computer to destroy the brain after what happened to Colonel Kelly. Deathlok asks headquarters if it should proceed and Ryker obviously instructs it to do so. Michael screams at Ryker but no one can him except the computer. Then Deathlok comes across a young girl who picks up a large gun in desperation, with no idea of how to use it. The Deathlok computer selects ‘Full Assault’ but Michael’s reaction actually stops it. This is where things get really interesting!

Michael now knows he can interact with the program running the machine and Ryker’s response to it letting the child live is truly shocking. Clearly there’s nothing this man won’t instruct Deathlok to do for his client’s money. Days later the techs are going over Deathlok with a fine-toothed comb and Ryker has his suspicions about Collins being “in there”. With the cyborg in its recharge cradle, unable to move, Michael asks the computer to open up the operating system and thus begins what I loved the most about this strip.

Michael’s countermanding order was enough for the computer to accept him as its new programmer and finally we get to see the two of them interact. These interactions between Michael’s Everyman language and the computer’s monotone voice would lead to some great moments from what I remember, including some well placed humour, very much reminding me of the earliest episodes of Knight Rider when K.I.T.T. hadn’t yet loosened up from interacting with that show’s own Michael.

I’d completely forgotten about this visual representation of Collins as he hacks into the computer systems Ryker’s team were about to use in order to wipe his brain clean, to effectively kill him all over again. That last panel with Deathlok confirming they’re now able to physically move has me super excited for #6. Hoo boy, I can not wait! Between Ghost Rider and Deathlok it’s impossible for me to pick the strip I’m most looking forward to over the coming weeks, I keep switching back and forth between them. That’s not a bad problem to have in writing these reviews!

As always, ignore the date on the Next Issue page above, the next review will be here from Wednesday 10th August 2022. There may only be four issues left before the comic was unceremoniously pulled by Marvel UK, but I’ve a feeling it’s going to be a great month! See you in seven.

HAVOC #4: DEVELOPiNG NiCELY

Another week, another issue of Marvel UK’s fantastic anthology comic, Havoc. With it having started just as we finished school here for the two summer months, there was nothing to get in the way between Saturdays and each instalment of my new favourite strips. It was the perfect set of circumstances, making Havoc even more special for this young reader in 1991. There may be no more free posters but that didn’t make this issue any less special, in fact this is probably my favourite so far.

It feels like the strips are all settling in and finding their rhythm. This in understandable when you think about how these were American imports chopped up into smaller chunks. RoboCop finishes the first chapter in his story, Ghost Rider is in full swing and in Deathlok we’re seeing the start of what will make the character so unique and fun. The Star Slammers, being one long graphic novel length story is finally giving us some depth and Conan’s second adventure is proving to be a vast improvement over his first, with some unexpected comedy! So let’s get started.

We’ll skip by the ill-advised “Fear the holocaust of Havoc!” on the contents page (really!) and straight into Deathlok. The Federative Republic of Estrella is a natural beauty, vast swathes of country untouched by human hand. So naturally the Americans want to tear it down and take its natural resources. They fire what appears to be a dud missile into the country and out crashes Deathlok to battle with local soldiers protecting the land.

Ryker is hateful here, which is great because that’s what he’s meant to be. A construction company representative has paid a lot of money for Cybertek to eliminate the local resistance to the building of a new dam, which would destroy the lush forests in return for making the Americans wealthy. Clearly the resistance is no match for the Deathlok machine as it tears through their small village killing all who oppose it. It’s a brutally violent sequence, which is the point, then on the last page the brain powering the computer begins to wake.

Only on this final page do we get a hint of what’s to come. Michael Collins, our likeable father and dedicated Cybertek programmer who was duped into developing software for the Deathlok project and shot last issue, was actually shot with a tranquilliser and only now, his brain removed from his body and implanted into the cyborg, is he beginning to come to! It’s quite a horrific scenario when you really think about it, similar to when Alex Murphy’s consciousness awoke inside RoboCop, but this feels more brutal.

It’s certainly an exciting place to leave things for the next seven days. I can remember loving the character once everything was in place, it even had some elements of humour. But right now we must go through the terrifying transition and writers Dwayne McDuffie and Gregory Wright are building the tension nicely, Gregory and Jackson Guise’s artwork captures the action perfectly, with Richard Starkings’ lettering giving hints of how we’ll differentiate between the two elements inside the cyborg from now on. Exciting stuff.

This was a delight to see! I remember seeing The Rocketeer on video back in the 90s and really enjoying it. Earlier this year I decided to watch it for the first time since on Disney+ and I was pleasantly surprised at just how brilliant it was, becoming a fan all over again. I’m even reading the new comic from IDW. The original film was released the same summer as Havoc and has been mentioned in #1 and #2’s Eye Levels and now it gets a well deserved page all to itself.

Although, I can’t find information confirming Eye Level’s statement The Rocketeer was Disney’s most expensive film at the time. Either way, it failed to live up to expectations at the box office, but its success in the home market since resulted in a cartoon a couple of years ago and rumours of a new live-action sequel. I didn’t know this was Bill Campbell’s first film role (though he was a TV series/movie actor) which makes his performance all the more remarkable. The mention of Timothy Dalton as “the current James Bond” brought a feeling of sadness because ultimately my favourite 007 wouldn’t return to the role, although this wasn’t known at the time.

From being a strip I wasn’t too bothered about, to being probably the most fascinating of the issue

The Star Slammers, who have been somewhat short-changed in the page count department in previous issues get a whopping eight all to themselves this time, which is needed to tell a quite brutal part of their background. Young Ethon is remembering being on their home planet when Orion hunters came down to kill him and his entire family. Things kick off with a new opening panel to name our three main characters and give us a quick recap.

It appears “undesirables” were captured by the Orions and exiled on a planet with no resources to live off, placed there for the rich to hunt in a sick sport. I think we can take this to mean anyone but the privileged were captured and dumped there. Ethon saw his parents slaughtered, although his father did put up a fight using a handmade catapult (which we saw Ethon use as an adult in a previous issue) to kill one of his pursuers. This led to hunter party member Senator Krellik using this to further his fascist agenda.

Labelling the entire planet’s population as “savages” because one dared to stand up and fight back, he preys on his public’s fears, manipulating them into voting for extermination. It’s really not that far-fetched a tale given our real world in recent years and suddenly I find myself enthralled with this strip. If it had been written today it would be rather on the nose, so maybe writer Walter Simonson saw what was coming. His art and in particular Louise Simonson and Deborah Pedler’s colours during the flashback scenes are gorgeous (and we always love John Workman’s lettering and panel use, no matter what). This continues with the washed out feel to the senate scenes which Ethon can remember through shared memories with The Grandfather, Galarius.

As well as explaining the origins of Galarius, the supposedly traitorous Orion senator, we see how the government have lied to keep control of the population, even with a lack of food and resources (sound familiar?) the hunts and the resulting footage keep people in step and applauding their overlords. The previously mentioned Silvermind is also explained here. Their race can share thoughts and memories, and Galarius believes that in taking this to the ultimate end game of uniting them all psychically they can seek victory and justice for the oppressed.

If written today the Silvermind could be seen as social media, or at least the internet as a whole; a way of uniting people together in a common goal to overcome the oppressors and stand up for what’s right. But just like the internet, is this something evil can use too? From a strip I wasn’t too bothered about to being probably the most fascinating of the issue is quite a shift in my opinion of Star Slammers. A breather is needed before our next character, so here’s a quick Marvel UK advertisement.

At £1.75 this was quite the bargain, the equivalent of four comics in one. Today I collect DC’s Batman via Panini Comics’ monthly UK title Batman Guardian of the Knight. It may be almost two years behind but with two full comics’ worth of strips for £2.99, it’s even cheaper than just one of those American comics, and I much prefer it. I’m guessing The Complete Spider-Man would’ve appealed for the same reason although the strips were about a year old instead. It ran for 24 issues before being replaced with The Exploits of Spider-Man.

Ghost Rider is up next and again we get a new opening panel to bring us up to speed. The first couple of pages see him battle the police in his pursuit of justice for the innocent. As a new reader to the world of Ghost Rider I’m loving this supernatural level of determination to seek vengeance for the wronged. I say he battles the police, but he makes sure not to injure them and in pure A-Team fashion we see the cops all safe and sound after he tears through their roadblock.

In the end he gets away by driving vertically up a building’s outer wall before disappearing across the rooftops. There’s definitely plenty of action, that’s for sure and after the perfectly paced opening issues the action has some weight to it, some heft thanks to us getting to know the character trapped inside this entity first. The story then flips back to Danny Ketch when Ghost Rider stops in a secluded alleyway and, while reciting his duty over and over, we see his hands slowly transform back into human form.

Clearly terrified (and who could blame him) by what’s just happened, he runs off to find his sister Barb who was so seriously injured a couple of issues ago, while the motorbike morphs back into a regular, normal shape. Meanwhile, somewhere on Wall Street the boss of a large financial company is revealed to be Deathwatch and upon hearing news of the disappearance of the suitcase (that his and Kingpin’s men were fighting over in #1) and the unbelievable tale of the flaming skull motorbike rider, he grabs one of his men’s head and psychically sees the truth.

Even though it’s revealed as the truth he still blames his man for the failure, who reaches for a gun but he’s no match for Deathwatch. This darkly comic scene perfectly sets him up as a force to be reckoned with as he sends his remaining forces off to recover the briefcase from the gang of kids who stole it before “that fat, petty thug has a chance to recover it”. The ‘Next Week’ caption states, “The Suitcase Is Opened!” so I’m interested to see what this is all about, what Danny and Barb have accidentally stumbled into.

So far in Ghost Rider we’ve had some enjoyable main characters introduced, a well-paced set up, a strip which is an origin story while also having an interesting plot in its own right, a brief action-packed introduction to the main character and a brand new Marvel villain. Ghost Rider has consistently been one of my favourites every week and it’s clear to see why; this strip has everything Havoc promised us and as a teenager it had everything I wanted from a new comic reading experience. I may be turning into quite the fan again at this rate.

If there’s one Marvel UK title that doesn’t need any introduction surely it’s Doctor Who Magazine, which continues to this day, albeit now published by the aforementioned Panini. As of the time of writing this review DWM is currently on #580(!) and shows no signs of slowing down. This advert heralded the arrival of the first yearbook, a tradition that continues to this day.

A strip that may not have been as consistent as Ghost Rider, but which is certainly improving week-on-week, is Conan the Barbarian. What a shame then that the opening dialogue box, used to catch us up on what had previously transpired, ruins some of the story yet to come, just like RoboCop’s did in earlier issues. Could they not have checked where we were in the story more closely? We’re told here in the supposed recap that Mariella has only tricked Conan into thinking the statues from last time were carved by her. As I read these pages of the story it becomes clear this is a huge spoiler!

The cool and calm woman that tried to seduce Conan last time is clearly not all she appears to be. To be fair, Conan did see through her charade but took her home anyway, however even he is surprised by her lashing out at one of her servants. Trying her best at pretending to be truly sorry, she dismisses Nateesa and the wine she brought, replacing it with what she says is a much more expensive blend. But as Natessa leaves the look of worry on her face is clear. Does she know what’s about to happen?

As Conan takes a long drink, devouring everything in the glass, he slips into a trance, completely unable to move.

Claiming he is now her mindless plaything, her slave, it’s obvious to me now that all of those incredibly lifelike statues she was meant to have meticulously carved by her own fair hands are most likely real men, all drugged into motionless, mindless beings until called upon. Of course, I don’t think we were meant to have put this together yet if it weren’t for that opening dialogue box.

But I won’t dwell on that spoiler because the last page here (the strip is down to only four pages this week) is just so funny I don’t care anymore. Funny? A Conan strip? Indeed. Given the clear vicious nature of this femme fatale and this apparent lifelong fate for our hero as her mindless slave/statue, having the strip turn out a bit of comedy might be the last thing you’d expect. It certainly was for me. But it’s delivered perfectly and I found myself roaring. Given who Conan is, his build, his fearsome battles and the epic quests he’s endured, what he’s put through here is written completely for laughs, the idea for which was dreamed up by John Buscema and brought to life with Michael Fleischer’s dialogue and John’s art, with Janice Chiang on letters.

Taking a character and placing them into a situation where they act completely against type isn’t a new idea of course, but it’s written brilliantly here, right down to his worry about there being no guardsmen around to protect them both from ruffians, that I couldn’t help but laugh. The only downside is that it ends far too quickly, such is the nature of Havoc when each strip needs as suitable a cutoff point as possible within the page limit, so individual lengths vary from issue to issue. Oh well, it just means there’s more to look forward to next time.

We’re already on to our final strip and we get to the end of Kombat Zone, the first full chapter for RoboCop, whose monthly US stories were chopped up into the usual four parts à la all those back up strips in Transformers. (I can only assume Ghost Rider – as the only other US monthly here that has continued the same story since #1 – had a bumper first chapter.) Robo is inside the venue of the Kombat final looking for Dek Kyng, all the while dealing with crimes with every step he takes it would appear.

I love this, it really feels like the RoboCop I enjoyed as a teenager in the TV series. Finding Dek beside the ring, one look at the police officer that’s investigating him is enough to make him run for it. He attempts to do so through the ring, thinking the contestants can take care of the interference. Warning them that obstruction is against the law they obviously don’t listen and Murphy simply tosses them out of the ring as if they were cardboard cut outs.

He’s chasing down Dek to question him about malfunctioning suits of armour in these games and who he thinks could’ve killed Powky, who was one of Dek’s men. RoboCop doesn’t actually know Dek is involved at this stage, nor that he secretly filmed Robo’s suit with an x-ray camera for Nixco, a rival to OCP who are building their own law enforcement robots. Ironically, if Dek had just answered the questions he’d have been fine, but his guilt makes him run and “fine” is not how he and the remaining contestants end up.

It’s all quite light action for RoboCop but this is only the ending of the first story. In fact, it’s just the ending of the first chapter in his first story because it does so with a cliffhanger. It’s also an especially bittersweet read, with writer Alan Grant having passed away just this past week. A huge talent who’ll be greatly missed, I’ll admit I haven’t read much of his work but his influence is well known. I’m certainly enjoying his take on a favourite character of mine. (The credits are completed with Lee Sullivan’s pencils, Kim DeMulder’s inks, Steve White’s colours and Richard Starkings’ letters.)

With Kyng arrested, Nixco executives are getting nervous about their illegal behaviour in raising the funds for (and how) they developed the Nixco police robots. The tests are still incomplete but they’re sent out into the field anyway to intercept Alex and his prisoner. The thing is, these robots have already been programmed to think they’re the law enforcement replacements for Robo, so when they catch up with him they block him off and surround him.

There’s a missed opportunity here, surely RoboCop’s famous phrase should’ve been used instead of a stern wagging finger. Instead of “Surrender — while you still can”, I was hoping for, “Surrender, or there will be… trouble!” Maybe next time. Speaking of next time, the strip ends with the original comic’s ‘Next Issue’ banner, meaning we’ve reached the conclusion of the character’s first issue from the States. I’ve enjoyed the emphasis on detective work within the futuristic sci-fi setting, which is what the character was all about for me. Well, that and his painful past of course.

A good start anyway. For now we just need to wrap things up with the promo for the next issue. As per usual the actual on-sale date is different than the one here, so the next Havoc review will be available to read from Wednesday 3rd August 2022. What this page below means by “Conan boiled?” is anyone’s guess, but I am intrigued by “Ghost Rider weeps” and can’t wait to see the next chunk of Deathlok now Michael is awake! I’ll find out next week. As shall you.

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.