A stylish blend of Cold War science fiction and superhero action/adventure, the limited series Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown was published in 1988-89 under the imprint of Epic Comics. Originally a creator-owned division of Marvel Comics, the imprint was known for such titles as Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Elektra: Assassin and Archie Goodwin’s The Shadowline Saga. Epic was also one the first American publishers to reprint titles from other countries, releasing translations of the Moebius graphic novels Airtight, The Incal and Blueberry, and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira.
Written by Walter and Louise Simonson, Meltdown’s artwork is split between Jon J. Muth and Kent Williams, who each provided pencils for the respective protagonists. The first issue opens on a game of chess between series villains General Meltdown and Doctor Neutron. Their unfolding dialogue serves to narrate the planned meltdown at a Russian nuclear plant at the hands of two patsies. Displaying an amazing sense of design, this segment is comprised of a visually stunning series of technical drawings, tense silhouettes and watercolor splash pages. The cold detachment of the narration and scientific imagery is well-balanced with the frenetic energy of the faceless silhouettes of the plant workers, trying to stop the chain reaction they inadvertently set in motion.
After the meltdown, the story switches gears to a tiny Mexican town on the Gulf Coast where we find Havok and Wolverine on vacation. In their civvies, they’re keeping a low-profile far until Logan ends up in bar-brawl. A bored Alex looks on from while Logan goes to town on some of the locals, introducing them as the protagonists of this team-up book. This buddy adventure set-up carries Alex and Logan through a somewhat predictable set of mishaps as they find themselves targeted by a severe-looking paramilitary group. Ambushed at their hotel the next morning, by thugs from the bar, they steal a car to make their escape. Before peeling out, Alex pulls the car’s owner, a beautiful woman in a black dress, in with them to keep her from getting shot. In the desert, they find themselves under fire by the shadowy pursuers from the town.
The ensuing car chase and shoot-out with their mysterious antagonists ends with Logan and Alex losing their tail by way of plasma bolt. There’s no time to ask questions, however, as their beautiful companion pulls a gun on the heroes and fires. In the next scene Logan wakes up in the hospital. There he learns that they were shot with bullets containing the bubonic plague, and that Alex died from the illness. Going to the local cemetery to visit Alex’s grave, Logan smells that something is amiss and digs up the casket. Stuffed inside is a man-sized piñata, confirming Logan’s suspicions and sending him down a violent road for vengeance and answers.
While an entertaining read, the strength of Meltdown’s storytelling lies with its painted artwork. The Simonsons offer a fairly straightforward adventure-mystery, with a decent premise and some solid banter between Alex and Logan to keep things lighthearted. Given the melodrama each of these characters tend to be embroiled, it’s nice to go back and read through some older exploits. As the story progresses, much of the dialogue and plot elements do begin to show their age, feeling very dated, so be mindful of the kitsch factor. From a visual standpoint, Muth and Williams do their best to carry the book and serve as great collaborators throughout, especially in the tense and visually compelling opening segment. Their complementary styles, with Muth taking on most of the painting, blend together quite well. However, Williams’ highly-stylized Wolverine reads as a bit silly at times, with the excessive prominence of his iconic winged hairdo.
While a very 80s story, that probably wouldn’t stand up to today’s audiences and tastes, this team-up does have a lot going for it. It’s a fun adventure romp, an international mystery with some interesting imagery and some visual highlights throughout. In an era sometimes overwhelmed by gritty violence and excessive superhero drama, it serves as an effective break from other titles. While not the strongest title in Epic’s catalogue, Meltdown still stands out as an entertaining read.