As many of you know, I read comics. A lot of comics. Some have been good. Some have been bad. Some have been trash fit for only the most wild dogs. However, once in a great while there’s a series which makes me sit up and say why aren’t more people reading this. One of those series is one that I’ve already spoken about in several blogs and one of our podcasts, but bears fleshing out even more: ROM the Spaceknight.
For many out there, you probably don’t know what the hell I’m talking about so I’ll give you some back story. Back in the late 70s-early 80s, DC and Marvel whored themselves out to every toy and game company out there promising to deliver more kid customers for their products by creating a comic series showcasing said product. We’re talking not just the big series everyone remembers: GI Joe, Star Wars, Transformers, He-man..but slew of other comics were created: Atari Force, Chuck Norris Karate Commandos, Care Bears, you name it.
One such company that took Marvel up on their offer was Parker Brothers who had created an electronic robot action figure they called “ROM”. It had lights and whistles and large scuba diver fin feet, all and all an interesting looking figure. (although many toy geeks tell me the toy was cheap with very few points of articulation…blah..blah toy stuff..blah)
I don’t know if Parker Brothers came up with the concept or not, but all the ads for this toy basically touted the fact that it fired a ray blast that disintegrated people. This was later changed to “banished to limbo” after I guess disintegration was deemed too harsh. But in essence this was the turd of back story handed to Marvel and they had to do their best to shine that up and make it respectable as possible for the masses.
The job ultimately fell to legendary Marvel writer Bill Mantlo, who had written a lot of these product tie in comics before such as his run on the Micronauts book. And luckily it did because I don’t think many could have taken such a crappy half assed concept and made something of it other than old Bill.
Overall, I have a lot of respect for Mantlo (especially after reading about the incredibly tragic accident that left him currently penniless and requiring around the clock care), but his work on ROM adds a lot to his prestige in my mind.
He, with Sal Busecma as his artist, took this toy and gave him a grand backstory of being originally from a utopian society on a planet called Galador. The series details Rom’s defeat of an invading alien race known as Dire Wraiths, and the continuation of their battle on Earth and other planets. Unlike the technologically advanced Galadorian civilization, the Dire Wraiths rely primarily on dark magic and their power to change their appearance. Later you find out the Dire Wraiths are an offshoot of the better known Skrull race, but I digress.
Galador’s ruler, the Prime Director, calls for volunteers to be transformed into cyborg warriors called ’Spaceknights’, so that they can defend the planet from the invaders. Rom was the first to volunteer, and was transformed into a large, silver humanoid that at first glance appeared to be totally robotic. Sorta like Cybermen from Doctor Who only heroes.
Rom was then given Galador’s greatest weapon – the Neutralizer – which could banish the Wraiths into the dimension known as Limbo forever. Inspired by his beastly example, 1,000 more Galadorians volunteered and were transformed into other Spaceknights, each with his or her own unique armor, powers and code names.
Fast forward some 200 years, and Rom makes land fall outside a small town in West Virgina. He’s come to chew bubble gum and kick ass on all the Dire Wraiths that live on Earth, which puts him at odds with the general populace at first as these Dire Wraiths have taken the shape of normal humans, or in one case a pimp’s cadre of hoes and their unsavory clientele.
Eventually, ROM gets the word around that these peeps are evil body snatchers and people leave him to business of crushing Wraithkind. In the typical Marvel manner, he also teams up with the X-men, Nova, Power man and Iron Fist, and anyone other hero that has a thing for walking refrigerator boxes.
Although I’m poking fun at the last part, I’m actually really hooked on the series as a whole. Like his work on Micronauts, Bill really creates an epic saga type story with the ROM book, with tons of continuing stories and a serial type atmosphere. No one book in entirely separate or stand alone, and you find yourself wrapped up with reading the next issue immediately because there’s no real jumping off point. With ROM, you are on one non stop trip, and you best have packed a lunch as you are in for a haul. This is especially true given that Bill wrote all 75 issues, which allows for truly one man’s vision to unfold from beginning to end.
Like his work on Spectacular Spiderman, Sal’s art is, although far from mind blowing, it’s incredibly consistent which adds to the notion of flow from one issue to the next. He also knows how to frame a story well which adds a lot of high drama to the tale of one Spaceknights war on the forces of evil.
ROM himself is written as a very noble yet tragic hero, trapped in a cold metallic coffin of a body, torn between his sense of duty and his spirit that yearns to be free. Add in a pretty great supporting cast of characters and again a strong commitment to continuity and you have quite a little gem of a series which I don’t think enough comic readers have given a chance to.
Personally, the major reason I feel is because the series can’t be reprinted in trades or even mentioned in current Marvel continuity due to Hasbro actually owning the license to the character and concepts. In fact, currently Rom appears in Hasbro’s “Shared Universe” with the Transformers, M.A.S.K. and whatever else they own.
This is extremely disappointing as I feel that with the new interest in the galactic type books at Marvel such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Annihilation, there’s no doubt that ROM should be a part of all that. Fighting side by side with Star Lord and the rest. After you read the series, it’s a natural fit that he should have stayed a Marvel character instead out there on his own or shoehorned in some different universe.
In closing, I recommend picking this series up in dollar bins and anywhere else you can find it. It would be shame if this character or this impressive run was completely forgotten by the ravages of time…or worse..crushed by the Dire Wraith hordes.