Friday, October 3, 2014
X-amining Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown #1-4
Nov 1988 - Feb 1989
In a Nutshell
Havok and Wolverine are targeted by the villainous Meltdown.
Writer: Louise Simonson & Walt Simonson
Artists: Jon J. Muth & Kent Williams
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Designer: R S Bozeman
Editors: Margaret Clark & Steve Buccellato
Editor-in-Chief: Archie Goodwin
Issue #1: Two Russian men, Meltdown and Doc Neutron, play chess, as the nuclear facility in Chernobyl begins to melt down, an event they orchestrated. They realize they will need help for the next part of their plan. Meanwhile, Havok and Wolverine are on vacation in Mexico, unaware they are being watched. After picking a fight with the locals, they escape via a confiscated car, bringing along the female owner. However, she shoots them at close range, and when Wolverine awakens inside a hospital, he is told the bullets were laced with Bubonic plague, and that Havok is dead. An enraged Wolverine leaves the hospital and goes to Havok's grave, but when he digs up the coffin, he only finds a pinata filled with rocks.
Issue #2: Wolverine interrogates the local thugs, learning Russians are involved with kidnapping Havok. Meanwhile, Havok awakens in a seeming hospital, recovering from the Bubonic plague, and meets an attractive nurse named Scarlett. However, Scarlett is actually Quark, an agent of Meltdown, and she enables Meltdown to keep watch over him. When Scarlett tells Havok that Wolverine is dead, he refuses to believe it. This unsettles Scarlett, as it means the brainwashing drugs she's giving Havok aren't fully working. Meanwhile, Wolverine sets a trap for the Russians. Back at the hospital, Scarlett changes tactics, telling Havok someone has been asking about Wolverine, and setting up a meeting with this apparent "spy". Elsewhere, Wolverine's hotel is bombed by a Russian agent, but he gets the drop on the agent, learning where Havok is being kept. Havok meets the fake spy and is told Wolverine has been brainwashed by Soviets in Poland. He and Scarlett escape from the hospital and end up flying away in a plane arranged by Scarlett just as Wolverine arrives, too late.
Issue #3: Havok and Scarlett fly into a thunderstorm as Wolverine tracks them. Coming across one of Meltdown's operatives, Wolverine kills him, then tells Meltdown and Dr. Neutron he's coming for them. Worried their plot is unraveling, Meltdown absorbs some radiation, testing his capabilities. He knows he could be more powerful, but to do so, he needs the tool Scarlett is bringing him: Havok. He and Scarlett land at the town of Merida. Leaving him to arrange transportation to Poland, she contacts Doc Neutron, saying she has an idea for dealing with Wolverine and expressing doubt over their plans. En route to Poland, the pair grow closer. Meanwhile, Wolverine arrives in Merida, but is attacked and subdued by Meltdown's men, at which point Dr. Neutron orders a total mindwipe. Arriving in Poland, Havok and Scarlett reach a KGB facility where Havok believes Wolverine is being held. Inside, he's attacked by his brainwashed teammate, and in self-defense, he uses a full power blast, killing Wolverine, just as Scarlett planned.
Issue #4: Scarlett finds Havok, devastated he had to kill Wolverine. As he prepares to bury him, Scarlett seemingly discovers a map of a nuclear reactor in India. Havok reasons whomever is behind this wanted him out of the way so he couldn't prevent the explosion of that reactor. Putting the map in his coat and wrapping Wolverine's body in it, he buries his friend. Elsewhere, Neutron and Meltdown receive word that Havok has killed Wolverine. In Poland, Wolverine awakens, his healing factor having saved him. Finding the power plant plans in Havok's jacket, he departs for India, determined to save Havok from Scarlett. In India, Havok and Scarlett find the plant already on fire. With Scarlett in a radiation suit, they enter the reactor, and Havok begins to put the control rods back in place so he can absorb the energy. Just then, he's attacked by Meltdown, who wants Havok to absorb all the plant's energy then blast him with it. Even though Havok blames Meltdown for Wolverine's death, he holds back, until Meltdown attacks Scarlett, killing her. Enraged, Havok unleashes his power, but the villain only grows stronger. Just then, Wolverine arrives, telling Havok to handle the explosion while he takes care of Meltdown. As Havok absorbs the energy, Wolverine kills Meltdown by pummeling the villain with the control rods, blocking his access to Havok's energy. Havok blasts his stored energy safely into space, and the heroes escape as the authorities arrive. Elsewhere, Doc Neutron laments the failure of his plan, yet is confident there are other games that can be played.
Firsts and Other Notables
This is a prestige format limited series, with each issue square bound and printed on high quality glossy paper, running 48 pages, and released through Marvel's Epic imprint, created chiefly as a spot for creator-owned material, but which also eventually showcased unique or more adult takes on established Marvel characters.
It is written by Louise and Walter Simonson, with full painted art by Jon J. Muth (handling the Havok scenes) and Kent Williams (handling the Wolverine scenes).
Issue #1 marks the first appearance of the series chief villains: Meltdown, Doc Neutron and Scarlett/Quark. The first two will pop up once more in a future issue of Wolverine, while a seeming double of Scarlett will appear in X-Factor #112-114.
A Work in Progress
Havok appears only as a "ghostly haze" on Scarlett's medical equipment, though it's never established how Meltdown and Neutron know Wolverine and Havok are still alive.
Her brainwashing techniques are also less effective on him, as he's been trained to resist mind control.
I Love the 80s
The first issue opens with a dramatization of the Chernobyl disaster.
Meltdown rails against Mikhail Gorbachev and the policy of Glasnost, having apparently been ousted from the Soviet government at some point.
The Best There is at What He Does
It's noted that Wolverine doesn't know who his mother is.
Wolverine is able to detect from Havok's scent that his heart was racing. Not sure how much sense that makes.
Something you won't see in the average issue of X-Men (or even Wolverine): at one point, Wolverine visibly thrusts his claws through a guy's chest. Later, he does the same thing with another guy's face.
Havok believes that he can kill Wolverine with a full power blast, but he's ultimately proved wrong.
Havok string of bad luck with women, in which the women he loves invariably turn evil, is both commented on in the story and continued by the story.
Meltdown plans to use Havok's "distrust of affection and fear of betrayal" against him.
In the end, Wolverine keeps to himself the knowledge that Scarlett was working for Meltdown, deciding Havok has been through enough.
Reading this in close proximity to "Pharaoh's Legacy" doesn't do that story any favors, as Meltdown is pretty much the same story only, you know, better. It ditches the whole Living Pharaoh thing (though, amusingly, both villains' ultimate goal is still to have Havok shoot them with his plasma), but keeps the sadsack Havok love life angle, pairing him with another femme fatale that plays him like a chump (to his credit, this story makes it clear she's also subtly brainwashing him throughout).
Coming from the Epic imprint, it's also allowed to be darker and edgier, something which Wolverine takes full advantage of. It also has more thematic meat, even while most of it is wedded fairly firmly to Reagan-era nuclear anxiety, and it does a much better job of selling us on the Havok/Wolverine friendship, showing us a pair of buddies just looking to drink themselves into oblivion while on vacation, rather than just telling us they're besties.
Of course, Meltdown also features absolutely gorgeous, fully painted art. Often times, painted art in comics comes too close to being abstract and hard to follow, sacrificing the storytelling elements in favor of a wow-factor, but Muth and Williams thread that needle carefully. Wolverine is perhaps, at times, a bit off model (particularly his hair wings), and the series features its fair share of attractive pages more concerned with mood or abstraction than characterization or storytelling, but for the most part, the art manages to tell the story while still being artistic.
In the grand scheme of things, this lands somewhere just off to the side of the larger X-Men narrative: it fits relatively seamlessly into the happenings of Uncanny X-Men at the time (particularly in terms of Havok's relationship woes, in which it follows on almost directly from "Pharaoh's Legacy" even while it's one upping it), but it doesn't add a whole lot to them either. Nevertheless, Meltdown is well worth a read for its darker take on the characters, its "of the moment" thematic elements, and some pretty fantastic art.
Next week, Uncanny X-Men #246 features the return of Master Mold, New Mutants #77 features Doctor Strange, and X-Factor #42 features...more trolls.