What does a “mature content” Marvel comic from 1988 look like? In the case of Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown, it’s painted by Jon J. Muth and Kent Williams.
I didn’t start reading comics until the early/mid-’90s, and thought Marvel was all safe superhero stuff. I still had no idea the Epic Comics imprint existed until this volume was sent to me. In reality, Epic was around from 1982 and, yes, didn’t end until the 1990s. It began wildly ahead of its time, with creator-owned work, but would slip into “edgier” stuff with traditional Marvel characters, again, perhaps a prescient predecessor to the grimdark period that would immediately follow.
In Meltdown, “mature” pretty much just means Wolverine saying “b*tch” a bunch of times to describe one of the primary antagonists. Which is strange, considering it was written by both Walter and Louise Simonson. It wasn’t their idea, though, as the pair state in the book’s back matter. Muth and Williams wanted to work with Wolverine and Havok, and looked to them for a way to make it happen.
Was Havok really popular in 1990 and I missed out? In any case, his presence becomes the crux of the story. You see, the partial nuclear meltdown of the Ukraine’s Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986 wasn’t due to lax regulations, it was an inside job that went awry. Havok is the puzzle piece that was missing, and the story’s villains find him palling around with Wolverine in Mexico.
Again, how these two became so chummy and why they went on spring break together isn’t readily apparent. (Nor is why we needed 14 pages of Chernobyl description, but I digress.) This part is actually fairly entertaining, in a Robert Rodriguez movie sort of way, as the two X-Men steal the car (???) of a beautiful woman, only to be betrayed by her to start their adventure.
The story and the players make their way to Russia (and, eventually, to India), and on the way there’s a lot of people thinking other people have died and of course the femme fatale falls in love with Havok. Everything involving her is pretty cringey in 2019, but it does make for an interesting plot point at the end. There are a lot of neat twists in Meltdown, but things tend to drag in the middle. The quicker pace in the last issue probably should have been emulated for the whole book.
The art is a similarly mixed bag. There are times when the painted panels (with an almost watercolor type of feel) are remarkably evocative, capturing facial expressions you might not have thought were possible. There there are times when Wolverine’s mask looks like a jester’s hat. Not to mention the two pages made up nearly completely of a single hue, meant to represent a desert.
Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown isn’t a bad story, but it sure is inconsistent. The pacing is all over the place, and while there are interesting plot points, the characters’ actions and motivations don’t always make sense. It’s good enough that it’s a little surprising it’s been so forgotten, especially given the creators involved, but it’s not going to break any ground for a modern reader, either.
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