An in-depth, issue-by-issue exploration of Marvel's Micronauts comics, including background on the Mego toys, the publishing contexts of its 1978 - 85 run, as well as its place in the pop culture and some of its lasting influences.

                                                          

Last Free Comicbook Day I managed to almost complete my recently started back-issue collection of Micronauts.  I have almost all the issues up to the end of volume one and a few of volume two, but as Bill Mantlo wasn’t involved in volume 2, I’m not as interested in those.  I think it’s great that the writer who created the comic series was able to tell the stories he wanted to tell for 60+ issues.  (More or less – see later posts.)

The story is that Mantlo was inspired to create the Micronauts comic series at Christmas 1977, when he looked closely at some of the Micronauts toys his son had got.  The Micronaut toy line was begun in 1976 by Mego, and Micronauts issue #1 was released by Marvel comics just before December 1978 with a January 1979 cover date.  (30 years ago!)  It was Mantlo who pushed Marvel to acquire the rights to the toys as he was convinced he could tell a great tale with the properties.  Sadly, this meant that Mantlo’s perhaps best and most fondly remembered work is twice removed from him in terms of ownership of the ideas.

This is a good site that focuses on the toys rather than the comics, and will give you an idea of the raw materials that Mantlo had to work with.

The dates are interesting, because a lot of Micronauts is reminiscent of Star Wars, which was released in May 1977.  Most similar is the major villain Baron Karza, who, with his jet-black armor and face-covering, grill-mouthed helmet, is incredibly similar to Darth Vader.  A lot of the elements of the story too, are similar, beyond the rollicking space-opera/medieval fantasy feel.  Baron Karza commands a galaxy-wide empire and our heroes are a minority band fighting what seems at first to be a hopeless rebellion.  Further, just like Star Wars, the hope for the future lies with the children of the recently ousted royalty.  (Princess Mari is even introduced wearing a kind of headdress that is an echo of Princess Leia's Apple Strudel earmuffs)

As the toys, the comic and the movie all came out around the same time, it’s possible that they were all thought up independently, but some of the plot developments in Mantlo’s tale must have been partially inspired by Star Wars.  The series is ostensibly science fiction, but like Star Wars there is a force permeating the universe that functions much as magic would in a fantasy story.  In Jack Kirby’s New Gods it was called the Source, in Lucas’s film, the Force, and in Mantlo’s comicbook space-opera it is the Enigma Force that binds the universe together and grants supernatural powers to those who can tap into it. 

In many ways Micronauts is a much more successful attempt to do what Kirby was trying to do several years before.  It is much more accessible and simple than the New Gods, which was off-putting to many.  It’s a more kid-friendly New Gods with the corners knocked off it and the rough edges smoothed out.

 

Issue 1

Mantlo came up with a fairly original source of Karza’s political power, which has nothing to do with the toys.  Karza is a former professor whose control of the body banks, where obedient citizens’ lives can be extended indefinitely, has given him power over the whole society.  Fear of death is something fundamentally human, so it’s interesting to see it worked into this fantasy tale so overtly.

The main hero of the early parts of the story is Commander Rann, also known as Space Glider.  He has been on an extended deep space voyage to the edge of the universe for the past 1000 years, so he serves as an excuse to tell the reader what has been happening in the meantime.  His many years of suspended animation have somehow linked him to the Time Travellers, who are otherworldly representatives of the Enigma Force.  His ship is very old-fashioned compared to what are used now in Karza’s empire, so what took him hundreds of years can now be travelled in a matter of days. 

A helluva lot happens in the first issue.  Prince Argon and Princess Mari are captured by Karza.  In his prisons they meet Commander Rann, the mighty warrior Prince Acroyear and the roguish Bug.  We also meet the robot pair of the tall, fastidious Biotron and the small, brave Microtron.  (Hhhmmmm!)

Rounding out the cast are the mysterious shadow priests, the villainous Acroyear Shaitan, and the enigmatic Time Traveller himself.

At the end of the issue, the rebels, having escaped from the prisons, flee to the very edge of the universe and break through to the Universe beyond.

Issue one ends with the following:  “Six fugitives breach the fabric of space and streak faster-than-light speeds towards.... EARTH!”

 

(1400 - 170512)

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Heh. "Brad Satanism."

Who's cribbing who?

What are you talking about? One compares them to toys designed by five year olds, and the other to toys designed by three year olds. That's completely different!

Mine was published in 1997.

My reference is the FantaCo Chronicles Series Super-Sized Annual published circa 1983 or so.
Actually, Mr. Satanism the character's first name is "Nigel".
Ah.

On June 11, 2010 at 9:30pm Figserello said:
Thanks to Jeff and the Time Traveller for that look at the 1st annual. I'd really love to read it some day.

I wonder to what extent Mantlo felt obliged to include each and every toy? It was his freedom of interpretation that made this a great comic.

I just thought I'd record that I've now bought and read Micronauts Annual #1. Something had nibbled the top left-hand corner of the cover in the decades since it was published, but otherwise an enjoyable read!


Image from www.comicvine.com

Although I loved going back to that earlier era of the story, there isn't really much to add to what we said before.

The beauty of comics is that you have to accept what's there on the page. Although I'd objected earlier to all these dramatic events happening the very day before Micronauts #1, once you see them on paper, well, that's what happened... The comic does show that Karza was the de facto ruler of Homeworld for centuries before deposing and executing the King and Queen, who were merely figureheads by this time, which softens my earlier objections. Perhaps Mantlo was obliged to include a few more toys that didn't make it into the main story, but he did fill out a few gaps in the narrative, showing us more of Mari's royal family just before tragedy strikes, which isn't such a bad thing considering the very broad strokes all the characters are drawn in.

I still loved reading a new (to me) Ditko story, and an extra-length one at that. His art did 'ossify' somewhat as he got older. The frames are full of his stock poses and expressions. Still, he is a one-off, with a very personal and unique style. It looks like he was working off the toy models too. Even though he takes short-cuts, resulting in the Mego characters looking 'cruder' than Golden's, he stresses some details that owe more to Mego's toy designs than to Golden's visualisation of them. For example, he draws Biotron much taller than Commander Rann. He also depicts more of the characters with the 'pincer' hands that were a hallmark of the toys.

Reading up on my comics lore a bit more since I dropped this thread, I can see that Neal Adams was an influence on later Micronauts artists, such as Milgrom, Chaykin and Broderick. While seemingly not an influence on Golden, their styles had a lot in common, using light and shadow in more 'realistic' and dramatic fashion than Kirby and Ditko. So Ditko, despite influencing so many later Marvel artists, isn't really an influence on any Micronauts style. Which makes it all the more interesting to see his art on this series.

While fascinating (and even exciting!) to longtime fanboys like myself, I'd imagine Ditko's art here may have been offputting to young readers accustomed to the slicker well-finished 70's style. Both Micronauts Annuals seem to have been put together and released quite quickly and Ditko was an 'old pro' who could get the job done without a fuss, throwing in a few posters introducing the characters too. No doubt this counted for a lot with commisioning editors.

BTW - I'm hoping to continue this thread shortly, back into the Microverse on the quest for the Mystic Keys! I am aiming to finish this series some day. I'm looking forward to reading more Micronauts comics but it's just a matter of finding the time...
Figserello said:
BTW - I'm hoping to continue this thread shortly, back into the Microverse on the quest for the Mystic Keys! I am aiming to finish this series some day. I'm looking forward to reading more Micronauts comics but it's just a matter of finding the time...

Looking forward to it! I'm better prepared to contribute to a Micronauts discussion without re-reading the comics themselves than I am to a Morrison JLA one. That's not to say I won't re-read Micronauts (or Morrison's JLA), it just depends on what all else I'm into reading at the time. So much to read, so little time! A couple of times I've come this close to pulling out and re-reading the JLA stuff, but so far I've resisted the temptation. But you've gotta read what you're in the mood to read, and that goes for participating in a discussion as well as leading one. My Micronauts shortbox is still sitting on my sort table awaiting the resumption of this discussion whenever you are ready.
Looking forward to the return of this thread. The "mystic keys" storyline was my favorite as a kid.

And I can confirm that when I discovered the Annuals in a comic ship back in the 1980s, I was VERY disappointed with the art, as I was used to Golden and his heirs on the series. In fact, now that I think about it, this may be the genesis of my lifelong hatred of Ditko's work.
Jeff said But you've gotta read what you're in the mood to read, and that goes for participating in a discussion as well as leading one.

Generally I agree with this Jeff, absolutely. It's all about the enjoyment, and I'm very happy for everyone to participate at whatever level suits them. I enjoy having this forum to throw my opinions out there. (That's not to say that all commentary isn't appreciated of course!)

For myself, I do go out of my way a bit to get the books and read the stuff if a reading thread is ongoing for something I'm interested in. I have tons of stuff beside my bed and in my 'comics cave', but the very fact that someone is reading something here often makes me put it up the list quite a bit. Instead of just reading something, saying 'Mmmm!' and tucking it away again, we do have this opportunity to discuss some pretty obscure stuff. I think it's too easy to take that for granted. (I mean ... the Micronauts... Really?! A comic based on a line of almost forgotten kids' toys? That hasn't been published in a quarter of a century? Where else could I do this?)

From where I sit now, I think I might just see this reading project out. (And the Morrison one) It does mean that sometimes I have to post on them when I'm not really feeling like it, and when that happens the posts are probably a bit ...'meh' :-), but it's the only way to keep them on the road.

I'm not usually a 'sticker' or a 'stayer'* but I seem to be making an exception for these threads...

And now some puzzle fun to get us warmed up again....

*They don't call us 'feckless' for nothing...
Spot the difference:







Spot the difference:

Doctor Who: The Keys of Marinus
(Fifth storyline of the First Doctor, 1964):

Our heroes journey through various vastly different zones of an alien world to locate a number of keys which will restore order to the planet. They travel through separate areas of dangerous seas, freezing cold and subtropical jungle. The quest for each key in each zone comprises its own self-contained story and they get temporarily split up along the way. When they arrive to use the keys in the designated place, they find out that things aren’t what they seem with the person who originally sent them on the quest.

The Micronauts: The Mystic Keys of the Microverse
(Issues 30-35, 1981):

Our heroes journey through various vastly different zones of an alien world to locate a number of keys which will restore order to the planet. They travel through separate areas of dangerous seas, freezing cold and subtropical jungle. The quest for each key in each zone comprises its own self-contained story and they get reunited with a member of their team along the way. When they arrive to use the keys in the designated place, they discover things aren’t what they seem regarding the person who had sent them on the quest.



Spot the difference:

a) In April 1981, readers discovered that John Byrne and Roger Stern had left a promising stint on Captain America only 9 issues into their popular run. Apparently, they'd quit due to Jim Shooter’s new rules at Marvel meaning they couldn’t deliver multi-part stories*.

b) In June 1981 Bill Mantlo and Pat Broderick embarked on a complex 6-part story detailing the hunt for 3 Mystic Keys of the Microverse and the subsequent confrontation with the ruler of Homeworld. Each issue pushes forward several strands of the complex story, before satisfyingly bringing the different threads together for a well-staged climax on Deadzone.

*My copy of War and Remembrance, the 1990 TPB of the Stern/Byrne run has an introduction by Jim Salicrup, editor at that time, confirming this. Salicrup recounts that he was told some two-parters are ok, but 3-parters would only be considered if they are as good as The Galactus Trilogy by Kirby and Lee. He cites this as the main reason Byrne and Stern left Captain America.
Now I'm less impressed.

Oh well, Star Wars was just the Magnificent Seven, which was just the Seven Samurai.
I've seen both of those covers before, but I never made the connection. Just last weekend I came across two pulp covers which I had never seen before that two Fox/Sekowsky JLA covers were obviously based on.

I saw "The Keys of Marinus" for the first time when it was recently released on DVD, but it's been far too long since I've read "The Mystic Keys of the Microverse" for me to have made the connection. It suggests an interesting comparison/contrast experiment, though.

Every time Jim Shooter's "done-in-one" edict comes up in conversation I wonder what was he thinking!?
That's really well-spotted, Fig, and also the plot debt.

The colours seem based on the older cover's, so either Broderick coloured the cover himself, or the colourist was asked to use those colours.
If you have Star Wars #7-9, THAT was the Magnificient Seven!

Mr. Satanism said:
Now I'm less impressed.

Oh well, Star Wars was just the Magnificent Seven, which was just the Seven Samurai.

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