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Cactus Jaq and Sahara Skyhawk

Hammerlocke was a science fiction mini series that was published in 1992 and lasted for nine issues. The story is set in a not so distant future Earth in which one of the most advanced technological achievements is the Olympus Starbridge, a 72,000 km railroad to outer space. It originates from a plateau in the Andean Mountains. At the halfway juncture is a stop for the Selene Space Colony and it ends with the Terminus Space Platform. It is highly guarded, contested, and the object of political ploys.

Cactus Jaq and Sahara Skyhawk are operatives for the organization called UNICORN (United Nations International Covert Operations Research Network). They are lovers. Cactus Jaq, or Jaq as she likes to be called, has red hair and a penchant for western-style garb; a pair of guns on her hips. Events in the story make it clear that Jaq is also cybernetically enhanced and has the ability to interface with computers and other electronic devices. Sahara is the end product of years of research in bio and cybernetic engineering. She has the ability to fly and favors a futuristic outfit. Her arms seem to be integral parts of her wings, ending in wing tips and not hands. From a comment Jaq makes, we learn that Sahara has been alive for eight years. It isn’t clear how long the two women have known each other and been lovers. In a letter column reply in the last issue, Tom Joyner commented that the women’s history would be explored if a sequel were approved.

When seen for the first time in issue #1, Jaq and Sahara play major roles in a mission to rescue and retrieve Amanda Locke, the only child of Sir Archer Locke (the architect and strongest supporter of Olympus) and Miranda Locke (current Olympus director). The two women fail in their efforts. Amanda is kidnapped and becomes a bargaining chip in a complex scheme devised by Hugo Tharn, leader of the Ecotechnic League that vehemently opposes the Starbridge, among other technological advances.

Cactus Jaq and Sahara join other operatives from deployed PeaceGarda units to fight the Ecotechnic guerillas who continue the effort to bring down Olympus after it was sabotaged in issue #1’s cliffhanger. Director Kingman Rhee sends the pair to Antarctica after they’ve come into some reasonable intelligence indicating Tharn’s lair is located on the icy continent. Jaq expresses the need to be cautious before starting into the hideaway. Amanda is quickly found, along with an older man named Harry who’d been captured years before by Tharn. Dialog alludes this man to being a grownup Prince Harry of Great Britain, but his story digresses from this bio’s purpose. The mission goes awry when a cybernetic construct controlled by Tharn ambushes them, and captures Jaq and Sahara. Later they awake to find themselves chained to separate stone pillars. Tharn has “possessed” a robotic form (ironic for someone who claims to be against technology) and menacingly looms near Sahara with a scalpel in hand. Unable to free herself from the chains (Tharn also fitted her with an electronic inhibitor), Jaq turns her consciousness inward to the advanced data net UNICORN wired her into and discovers a way to amplify her abilities to circumvent the inhibitor and free herself (presumably enhancing her strength). She also discovers evidence that Director Rhee had installed his own fail safe, a “pio-chip” that insured loyalty, a thing which Jaq destroys without hesitation. During this effort she had no awareness of either time or the outside world. Unfortunately the reality of Sahara’s dead and mutilated body hanging from chains is proof that Jaq is too late (issue #5)

A UNICORN sanctioned mercenary team arrives at the Antarctic base at least in time to help Jaq carry out revenge against Tharn (issues #6 and 7) which she succeeds at by causing Tharn’s death in issue #8. She, Harry, Amanda, and the mercenaries still must as Tharn’s security safeguards prove challenging and in Harry’s case, lethal obstacles.  Jaq comes to a terrible realization that Director Rhee would likely subject Sahara’s body to “medical studies”, and so she decides to enlist the help of another agent with phasing abilities (with the obvious name Phade) to inter her body well beneath the icy surface. Nkemete, the man whom Sahara flirted with and innocently kissed, is part of the rescue mission. Jaq and he recite Sahara’s favorite poem as an eulogy. Later, Archer Locke offers Jaq his gratitude for being instrumental in saving his daughter Amanda as well as his condolences. There is one more act before Jaq can begin to rest. She confronts Rhee about his own duplicity and culpability in matters relating to the mission and Sahara’s death. Thanks in part to a deus ex machina that occurred to Jaq during her fight with Tharn, she’s able to interact with Rhee’s artificial heart and induce a fatal attack. She’s last seen figuratively walking off into the sunset (issue #9).

Jaq and Sahara’s relationship is written as being perceived as normal by the other characters. In issue #2 Jacob Kingman Rhee is talking to Jaq while she watches Sahara cavort in the sky. She exclaims, “I’m watching, sweetie! Don’t get too close now!” and then to Rhee, “She’s such a kid sometimes.” In a following scene Sahara asks Jaq when they’ll return home, a place called Eagle Butte, Arizona. Jaq has brought Sahara’s favorite book, “Tales of Faraway”. Awkwardly hidden inside it is a necklace Jaq had made for Sahara, modeling it on the hero’s “ghost horn.”  Sahara is happy and promises never to take it off.

The pair is shown talking about concerns in bed in issue #4. In a bit of foreshadowing, Sahara confides she wants Jaq to avenger her if anyone should kill her, but Jaq is somewhat dismissive. Later, Jaq snaps at her girlfriend when Sahara expresses her anxiety about the possible odds the pair will face on their imminent mission to rescue Amanda Locke from Hugo Tharn’s Antarctica lair. Jaq is quick to apologize and admit her apprehension just as Sahara quickly forgives and eagerly carries out Jaq’s request to deliver a disc to Archer Locke. While delivering it, naïve Sahara falls for the charm of young Patric Nkemete, Archer’s aide de camp, who is equally beguiled her. The incident briefly becomes a point of contention for Jaq when Sahara innocently mentions it. The matter becomes moot when they’re captured, bound, and tortured by Hugo Tharn. Sahara is truly fearful of Tharn, and Jaq tries her best to calm her lover by reminding her of a poem in “Tales of Faraway.” And there is real grief, anger, and vows of vengeance from Jaq after she fails to save Sahara. Other characters sustain injuries or wounds, notably Archer Locke and Nkemete. Unlike Sahara, they recover. The women and their relationship were portrayed as the most affectionate in the ensemble cast. LGBT relationships were very much a novelty for comics in 1992; to have one partner murdered was both unique and tragic, and to my knowledge was not repeated till the Ultimate version of Colossus suffered the death of Northstar in 2008.

Cactus Jaq and Sahara first appear and are confirmed as lovers in Hammerlocke #1.

Created by and all rights reserved by Tom Joyner, Chris Sprouse, and K. S. Wilson.  Published by DC.

July 2, 2021
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