I recently got my hands on a run of Rom comics from 7-24 plus a smattering of other issues.  I can add these to my copies of #40-60 plus a few others that I already had.

 

So far, I’ve read up to the end of issue 18, which went a little bit like this:

 


 

Wahey!

 

As I suspected they would be, these are enjoyable, well-made comics.  In some ways they are quite masterful.  The aliens-amongst-us paranoia storyline is given a fresh twist by having the hero also be an alien, whose intentions are easily misunderstood when he seemingly blasts normal everyday folk to ash in front of terrified witnesses.

 

Anyone who has read my Micronauts thread will know that I hold Mantlo in very high regard.  He did the same spadework with Rom to ensure that the ongoing story would have plenty of legs.  However, if you look at the following advertisement for the toy from 1979, Parker Bros did make up a lot of the backstory for Rom that Mantlo brings to life in the comics. 

 

 

The ad is quite detailed on many aspects of the mythology that Mantlo would use: Rom being the greatest of the Spaceknights, having defeated the Dire Wraiths, and now arriving on Earth to hunt them down.

 

Introducing the 8 foot tall, gleaming Spaceknight to small-town America, and giving him a small-town supporting cast is probably the main thing that Mantlo brought to the mix.  Rom and Micronauts both appear to be very early precursors a kind of comics series that became very popular in the 90’s:  The 60-70 issue mega-story with a beginning, middle and end.  It's one of the reasons they deserve a lot of respect.

 

In this light, Mantlo puts a lot into the early issues to bring small-town Clairton to life.  We walk its streets and meet its modest citizens.  Clairton makes for the realistic setting that most good science-fiction needs to ground it. 

 

The main thing that Mantlo added to the mythos was that the Neutraliser gun doesn’t ‘disorganise any moleculer structure’ as in the ad.  That probably sounds a bit too much like ‘kill’, so instead Rom’s neutraliser opens a gateway to Limbo and sends the disembodied Wraiths through it, to leave their physical forms as ash.  Comics being still ‘for kids’ in 1980, I can see why he did this!

 

I won’t be commenting in too much depth on these comics, but I am impressed and wanted to say a bit about them in any case.  Have to keep an eye out for the first 6 issues now!

 

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I'm a big fan of Bill Mantlo's work, too.

His Rom comics could arguably be considered some of Marvel's best during its run. Maybe not at the No.1 or 2 slots, but definitely in the top 10.

I found his Hulk comics, which he wrote for about 75 issues, to be some of my favorites because they were about a man tortured by the monster inside him, not a snarky jerk that he later became.

Finally, have you read the Bill Mantlo tribute book? You can grab a digital copy here: http://www.wowio.com/users/product.asp?BookId=3387

It's quite a good look at his work!

I've been slowly making my way through that Mantlo tribute book. I take it with me on the rare times I go eat breakfast at a restaurant. It is really good though..
Marvel has the rights to the term "Spaceknights" and to the Dire Wraiths, but not the actual ROM! Still not sure why!

Well I’ve written two posts already that explorer has taken down with it when it collapsed.

 

Grrr!

 

So the very short version:

Thanks LJ for the link to the magazine.  Already read some of it.  Went straight to the Micronauts bits.  Will comment more over on that thread of mine.  LJ – haven’t seen you over there yet...

 

What Mantlo nailed was how to portray the mythic hero in bang-up-to-the-minute pop culture terms.  I hope I’ve shown examples of this in the Micronauts thread, but he does it all over again, in concentrated form, with Rom.

 

 Rom is the knight in shining armour that we all need to exist, if only in stories.  It’s not just the shiny outer casing, but Rom’s courage, self-sacrifice and dedication to his mission all mark him out as a mythic knight.  His knightliness is in his name and his appearance, but Mantlo makes his every action that of a true hero.  And just so we get it, Rom is about 8 feet tall.  He’s the nonexistent good guy we all want looking out for us.

 

That such mythic heroes exist only in fiction is a consolation, and beats not having them at all.

 

Mantlo’s hero might be a more distilled version of the mythic protector than most other superheroes.  Spider-man for instance is very wrapped up in his own problems.  Mantlo pulls an extraordinary stroke with Rom, by having all the hero’s sacrifice in his past by the time we the readers are introduced to him.  He has already given up everything to save those he loves, including those he loves!  That’s quite a daring move at the outset.  It’s the kind of thing Mantlo doesn’t get enough props for at all.

 

I chose this little sequence of panels to illustrate how well Rom works as a mythic protector of those that need him.  Who wouldn’t want an 8 foot tall paladin like that breaking through walls to get us out of life’s jams?

 

Regarding Rom’s reassuring height and bulk, Buscema keeps it very consistent, which I’m sure wasn’t easy to do.  I did almost wince at a few of the Sal-isms in the art of the first few issues, such as the many instances of Sal’s trademark ‘trapezoid-mouth’, but once I settled into reading a few issues in a row, I began to appreciate the consistency of Buscema’s work.  The consistency builds on itself to become something quite admirable and pleasing as the run continues.

 

Gary Frank and Dake McKeown are fine artists, but they had a lot of trouble depicting the Hulk being the same size from panel to panel never mind issue to issue during David’s run.

 

The You-tube entry for the little ad up there says that it was made on the launch of the toy in 1979.  Presumably it precedes the comic.  Note that the toy in the ad has green eyes, whereas our Rom with his red eyes looks like he’s been on the whiskey half the night before.   In the Parker Bros ad they talk about the Dire Wraiths, so I’m guessing the toy company came up with that concept.  Further, the letters pages of the issues I’ve read reveal that the Rom series was only allowed to show the Dire Wraiths spirit/soul forms as they were blasted by our hero.  They weren’t allowed to show what their physical form might be like, as Parker Bros were planning on releasing toys of them if Rom took off (He didn’t, believe it or not!)  So somehow Marvel seems to have retained control of the term.  Parker Bros mustn’t have actively held onto that term as they did Rom’s name and concept.

 

According to Wiki, Rom was a tentative toe in the water of action figures for Parker Bros, who normally did boardgames.   Rom’s failure meant that they leapt out of the pool and didn’t expand their action figure line any further.

Well I’ve written two posts already that explorer has taken down with it when it collapsed.

 

That is why I always do my long posts in Word or something like that. 

 

I actually remember the toy, there was one kid on my block who had it. I was never a big fan of either the toy or the comic. I still read it though since my brother collected it. My brother loved the comic, and like I always said it was any easy comic to get the whole series from 25 cent boxes.

I collected the series. I even had a letter printed in one issue (#48, still have it). I loved it. It was a great series.

A pleasant happenstance for me was that the covers of the earliest 6 issues of my run, that is 7 – 12, are by Michael Golden.

 

He is a gifted artist, and I’m beginning to see why his name is so often mentioned by discerning critics.  (I knew nothing about him even a year ago!)  As well as the enjoyment of seeing his work on another key Mantlo project after Micronauts, there’s lots to admire in just this handful of covers.  He handles Rom really well, emphasising the bulk and strength which other artist’s don’t quite capture.  His Spaceknight seems to have mass on the page and fill a 3 dimensional space.  Golden often presents Rom in the foreground rather than doing an action in the middle ground as on most standard superhero covers.  This adds to the impression of Rom’s bulk.  Again and again I see evidence of Golden thinking thinks through to an admirable extent, and approaching his assignments with a seriousness that these garish throwaway pop culture illustrations don’t usually receive. 


For the cover of issue 7, Golden goes all the way back to the high Renaissance for an approach to the subject matter of Brandy’s concern and grief for her fallen hero.  Check out this cyborg pieta!

 


Like the classic pietas, that cover owes its pleasing layout to the triangular shape the figures are arranged in.

Issue #8 has a great EC/Gene Colan light and shadow interplay going on, in keeping with its old-school horror subject matter.

 


 

The cover to #9 best illustrates how Golden gives Rom bulk, mass and weight.  Schwarzenegger himself would be envious of those upper arms and thighs!  Also the way his legs are half-submerged in the water, seemingly immoveably planted, adds to the impression of Rom’s strength and weight.  There are eye-pleasing triangles in the lay-out here too.


 

The other thing that this cover illustrates is Golden’s preference for picking more pensive moments from the action inside.  Even though they often, like this one, show that conflict isn’t far away, they show how broad the emotional range of these much-maligned comics can be, beyond just showing muscular types whaling on each other.

 

Number ten has many unusual elements that we rarely see in superhero covers.  The off-kilter horizon line and the clashing diagonal flight paths of the different planes give a sense of things being perilous and dramatic.  That the main plane is flying right-to-left, in contravention of how we usually read a page, adds to the sense of menace and danger.  This time, rather than glorying in Rom’s heavy metal bulk, Golden has drawn Rom dwarfed by the USAF hardware pitted against him, and we have to strain a little to pick him out.

 

 

Issue 11’s cover isn’t as strong as the others, being a more standard superhero cover – full body shot of the main character in the middle ground.  It shows the kind of thing a good cover artist has to really think around to avoid.  There is use of the triangles here.  Interestingly, Golden makes the setting more hellish than in the story, to highlight Rom’s mental as well as physical torment.  If Golden based these covers on scripts sent to him, he’d have seen that only one machine bursts into flames in one panel, and Firefall flies across another panel in flames, but that was about the extent of the inferno imagery in the comic itself. 

 

Golden’s final Rom cover - #12 – evidences some of the things I’ve been highlighting.  Again, Golden structures his page around various triangles. - very explicitly in the case of Jack of Heart’s ‘Kirby krackle’.  Rom is in the foreground filling half the page with his weighty bulk.  Although countless superhero covers have depicted one hero facing off against another like this, there’s something about how Golden has placed Rom fully in the corner here that sets it apart a little.


 

One of the other cover artists is worth mentioning at this point. No less than Frank Miller himself drew the iconic first issue cover, as well as the conceptually ambitious cover of issue 3.  He also drew the covers to the two issues depicting Rom’s meeting with the X-Men and the Hybrid.  I highlighted the first of these, the cover to #17, in my opening post because it really does make me go ‘wahey!’ every time I see it.  I’ve have only just found out that it’s a Miller cover, so I guess quality does shine through.  Although it conforms to various standard ways of depicting conflict that Golden tries to avoid – middle ground, adversaries trading blows – it’s still a superior example of the ‘standard’ superhero cover.  Sometimes that’s all you need!

Good to hear your different stories of reading Rom back in the day.  I’ll look out for your letter when I get to that issue, Horn’d One.  I’ve become a big fan of Mantlo since I started reading Micronauts a year ago, so I’m looking forward to reading Mantlo’s Hulk some day.  I’ve read the first few Essential Hulks, but I’ll probably try to read the intervening issues to take me up to Hulk #245, which is the first Mantlo issue.  So that’s a huge project right there, even before I get to the bit I want to read. 

 

It’s nice that Abnett and Lanning are keeping the Rom-love alive.  Their Marvel war-in-space saga would be incomplete without the Spaceknights of Galador.  Once I’ve read to the end of the Rom issues I have, I might look into later Spaceknight tales.

 

Just to take us closer to the point I left Rom down, here are a few more notes on issues 7-12. 

 

Rom is badly injured at the start of issue 7, but Brandy’s boyfriend Steve is able to fix him as he is a car mechanic.  Yes, that’s right.  Sadly we do not get to see him attaching jump leads to Rom’s nipples.

 

Mantlo manages a balance between making each issue a standalone tale with its own threat for Rom to overcome, and telling one long saga.  Issue 8’s threat is a Deathwing that the Wraiths conjure up at a mock funeral they stage for their buddies that Rom has sent to Limbo.  Issue 9 gives us Serpentyne, the last surviving member of a reptilian race that apparently Ms Marvel had encountered.  It doesn’t cite an issue number, so I’m not sure if her meeting with them actually occurred in a Marvel comic before this. 

 

Serpentyne should have been a natural ally of Rom’s as the Wraiths had wiped out his people and he was hunting them down, but he’s demented with grief and dies trying to appropriate Rom’s weapons.  Warfare demeans those that let themselves get too caught up in it in Mantlo’s world.  Perhaps Serpentyne is a foreshadowing of the pitfalls Rom has to avoid?

 

Rom’s neutraliser is a running thread in these issues as the Wraiths steal it in issue 7 and Rom has to track it down.  First he busts Brandy and Steve from Clairton Jail, as in my post above.  They are being held because of the death of Steve’s best friend, Artie, in issue 7.  The circumstances of Artie’s death are pretty nasty for a comic aimed at kids.  Rom pushed the envelope a bit in this regard.  Mantlo is a very moral writer, and I believe myself that it is far better to show the true grizzly results of violence and warfare rather than giving the impression that it has no consequences, as many superhero comics do.

 

Although Rom uses his analyser on the policemen holding his friends captive, and finds none of them to be Wraiths, Steve happens to avoid the beam.  This is bad news for everyone as they don’t know that he has been replaced with a Dire Wraith, while the real Steve is held captive elsewhere.

 

Rom then flies to Washington, where he’s been told his Neutraliser is being held.  There he himself is captured after the fight with the Air Force planes depicted on the cover of issue 10.

 

Of course Project Safeguard, the government body that is holding the Neutraliser, is run by the Wraiths.  In the course of issue 11, another potential ally of Rom’s dies.  A human had been merged with the Spaceknight armour of Firefall, but he dies getting Rom’s gun back.  The loneliness of Rom’s mission is emphasised by how these potential allies are snatched away from him.  The issue ends on a great cliffhanger with Rom having just ‘killed’ the director of the project in front of a platoon of government guards.

 

Jack of Hearts is summoned to defend the base from Rom in the next issue.  I see he was created by Mantlo and Keith Giffen in 1976 in Deadly Hands of Kung Fu.  Rom has a Silver Surfer moment while fighting Jack.  Realising that he has got his gun back and having ‘neutralised’ the Dire Wraiths infiltrating Project Safeguard, Rom tries to simply fly away in mid-fight.  Rom absorbs too much of Jack’s radioactive energy while fighting him and he has to fly to the edge of space to release the energy with explosive force, causing both comabatants to fall to the Earth separately.  Rom lands unconscious at the bottom of the sea.  To be continued...

Travis Herrick said:

I actually remember the toy, there was one kid on my block who had it. I was never a big fan of either the toy or the comic. I still read it though since my brother collected it. My brother loved the comic, and like I always said it was any easy comic to get the whole series from 25 cent boxes.


Do you figure what the toy line needed was Las Vegas Rom, with a little microphone with accompanying short-playing record with a computer-generated performance of One For My Baby? Also Camouflage Rom, with attachments that could make him look like a vacuum cleaner, and Master of Disguise Rom, with a detachable moustache and bowler hat, glasses, blonde wig and fishnet stockings?

Just a couple of quick comments about the Rom action figure ...

According to things I've read, toy industry folks point to a couple of issues with the Rom toy, which caused it to fail.

First off, the Rom toy was woefully in-articulate. Apparently, only his arms moved. His body was packed with electronics (hence his boxy shape). These electroncs also reached up into his head, so his head couldn't swivel.

His legs also didn't move -- not even a pivot in the groin area.

This all meant he was already behind the times because even the 12-inch G.I. Joes of the era -- which were actually introduced in the 1960s -- were more "playable" than Rom.

Also, this was a couple years after the Star Wars toyline debuted. When Star Wars came out in 1977, there were two sizes available -- 3.75 inches and 12 inches. By the time the Empire Strikes Back came out, the buyers had made their voices heard: They wanted the less expensive, less doll-like 3.75-inch figures. (A few Empire 12-inchers were made -- Boba Fett and IG-88, I believe, but that was the end of the line.)

The size preference shown in the Star Wars line soon became the industry standard ...  Buck Rogers came out, even Fisher-Price's Adventure People were already that size and then, years later, G.I. Joe switched too. That essentially made Rom an odd ball. Even if you did "cross-over" play where Rom met up with Buck Rogers, it was an weird Godzilla-like meet-up.

Also, Rom was actually pretty hard to operate. Check out this "re-typing" of Rom's instruction manual. He was a practical Blackberry device of the time!

Finally, I also would suspect that Rom was rather pricey, though I can't find his original suggested retail price for him.

More interesting Rom reading: Geek Life entry and Rom promo art (one showing a bended-knee Rom)

Seriously, as a kid I thought of Mantlo and Sal Buscema as journeymen. Later I learned to appreciate the fact that their work together was solid and enjoyable. I guess the comic was a lot like a Silver Age title in that it was based around good concepts and kept accessible.

 

Thanks, LJ. I don't think I ever saw the toy (whereas I saw the Micronauts ones before I ever saw the comic, and always coveted them).

I should be going to my storage place tomorrow. If anyone wants, I can try to get my ROM out! ;-)

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