Tag Archives: Steve White

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.

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.