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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From my post of a few months ago:

 

Looking ahead, I thought I’d mention that issues 41-43 and issue 48 are the last remaining gaps in my collection of the original series. If you have them, give them a read now and let us know what I’m missing when we come to them... (I say read them now, so that the back of your mind can be working on them while you do more productive things...)

So no takers on filling these gaps?  I'd start up again with issue 44, but you know how us raging fanboys are about gaps in the narrative...  Looking at the covers, and with a quick glance at issue 44, a lot happens over the course of these three issues that seem to be key moments in the overall story, and I hate the thought of brushing past them to cursorily.

 

Just to get the ball rolling:

 

Micronauts #41 - "Everyone's Little in Liddleville!"

 


A quick google gets me to some original art pages for auction that seem to imply that the Endeavour is lost down a sewer before they get to Doom's Castle in the Adirondacks, and they have to depend on the little runaround which breaks off from it.  Once again our diminuitive heroes are struggling in the garbage-strewn underbelly of modern society.

 

The art looks great in black and white, and shows the slick hand of Bulanadi again, as the style is much more like the Marvel house style of the time than Kane's very distinctive self-inked pages from Micronauts issue 39.

 

I got a summary of issue #41 from the Liddleville section of this rather mental encyclopaedia of every concept that has ever appeared in a Marvel Comics story.  This issue is a direct sequel to John Byrne's rather fun Fantastic Four #236, where Doctor Doom transplants the minds of the FF into tiny robots who live a seemingly idyllic life in the minature town of Liddleville.  I've had that issue on my reading pile for a while now, and was looking forward to rereading it, but there doesn't seem much point as I can't compare it directly to Micronauts #41.

 

"Seeking to build a new reducta-craft to take them back to the Microverse, the Micronauts followed a reccomendation from the Thing to try to reduction machinery present in Doom's Castle in the Adirondacks.  The castle was apparently empty, but the Micronauts encountered and investigated Liddleville.  Based on the requests of the villagers, they investigated the miniature version of Castle Doom within the village, fighting off Doom's attacking robots, but being knocked out by anesthetic gas when confronted by Doom.  In prison, they learned the origins of Liddleville from [Phillip] Masters [the Puppet Master], whom they then freed.  As the Micronauts again confronted Doom and his robots, Masters used a small amount of radioactive clay he had sneaked into Liddleville to fashion the puppet of Doom, which he then used to immobilize his former captor.  Masters mocked the helpless Doom as his castle went up in flames, and his own artificial face began to melt.

The Micronauts then left Doom to suffer his fate under Masters."

 

I never heard of the Micronauts fighting Doctor Doom. I'm missing these issues, too though it looks like Victor decided, for once, to rip off Darth Vader, who was ripped off by Baron Karza. Full Circle Time!

Ol' Doc is getting in some big lightsabre action there on the cover. It could very well be an in-joke!

As per my first post, Star Wars and the Micronauts toys both came out within 6 months of each other in 1977. It's probably just about easier to bring out a plastic toy at short notice than a movie, so if the resemblance isn't just a coincidence, Karza may be the copycat. But they would have to have been quick on their feet to rip off Darth Vader almost before he was famous or even heard of. Maybe they had their ears to the grapevine...

I looked up Karza's creation, and there is mention that he was based on a toy called Steel Jeeg from 1974. Here are a comprehensive set of images of Karza's honored forebear. Karza was literally cast from the same mold as Steel Jeeg, who even had a horse - Panzeroid - that he could merge with.


Although Steel Jeeg's body is identical to Karza's (apart from the multi-coloured plastic), right down to the multiple nipples and sexy thigh-high boots, Karza's head was specially made in 1977, which makes me think perhaps he was a rip off of Vader, after all...

Here is Steel Jeeg in action, from the 1974 cartoon. Note how his body comes apart during the credits with the magnetic ball-bearing joints just like Micronaut toys.


Come to think of it, only Darth Vader's hand was detachable! Until the prequels came along and showed that practically all of his body was detachable.

Speaking of one pop culture personage's debt to another, I was amused to see that Victor Von Doom used the alias of Vincent Vaughn in the persona of his Liddleville alter ego. (It only took me about a week to 'get it!' I'm slow.) I've looked it up, and the actor Vince Vaughn did NOT get his name from Dr Doom's appearance in Fantastic Four #236! 'Vincent Anthony Vaughn is his real name! Still, it's a strange coincidence.

“So no takers on filling these gaps?”

I’m sorry, man… I totally forgot! Here I was waiting on you, and all this time you were waiting on me! You should have reminded me! Gimme until over the weekend and I’ll try to put something together (not as in-depth as your analysis, but I can at least provide plot summary).

Good on you Jeff.  Sometimes my penchant for understatement gets the better of me.  I think we've covered #41 enough, unless you have something to add about the FF connection, and maybe there was some update on the situation in the Microverse?

 

Otherwise its just 42-43 that we could do with.

 

In other news, if you google 'Micronauts Comics', this thread is in the top 30 entries!  One the one hand I'm happy about that, but on the other hand, I'm worried that I'm happy about that.  It's come to this!

I don't have yours or Jeff's insights about the Micronauts, Figs, but I do have #42 so that's something! I'll give it a go!

Micronauts #42(Ju'82): Knave, Thy Name Is Nemesis!

The story begins in the wilds of Long Island where Devil struggles against his increasing savagery, Commander Rann and Mari share a moment and Acroyear and Bug lament their lost loves. In the nearby mansion of Janet Van Dyne AKA the Wondrous Wasp (quite the coincidence), a party is going on. Unfortunately she has a party-crasher (penny-snatcher) in the form of Doctor Nemesis, a size-changing foe of hers and Hank Pym's from Marvel Feature #10. While Jan is having a "woe-is-me" moment about her divorce to a man she knowingly married while he was mentally unstable, Doc N steals a miniaturized suit of adamantium armor that Pym created to once again increase his powers before his next trainride to Crazytown.

Meanwhile (as they say), the team is debating their next move when Bug senses the Wasp's dilemna and we're off! They arrive just in time to see Jan smashed through a window. She escapes the now powered up Doc N by shrinking. *CHEESECAKE ALERT* She wasn't wearing a costume so she's zipping along like a cross between Naked Anne Hathaway and Tinkerbelle. Now obviously enamored, with good reason, Bug makes the save, while bragging about his rocket-lance!

Doc N causes panic by shrinking items which leads the party-goers in a frenzy that they'll be "disintergrated" next. The Wasp leads the Micronauts against him to no effect with the adamantium protecting him. Mari deliberately lets herself be hit by Doc N's shrinking ray, hoping that it will send her back to the Microverse and she vanishes. Rann freezes in horror and Jan puts some clothes on and confronts Doc N who blasts her. But Bug, who can sense her through her command of insects, sacrifices himself  and he too vanishes. Space Glider, in a rage, barrels into him, smashing his faceplate. Now Acroyear grapples with, Doctor Nemesis is struck by his own ray and both he and Acroyear vanish. It ends with Rann, Devil, Microtron and Nanotron not knowing the fate of their three teammates.

It's obvious that Marvel wants the Micronauts to interact with the MU but story-wise they have to be in the Microverse. Here, they're just wasting time while their peoples suffer. Also the Wasp wasn't considered enough of a draw to be even mentioned on the cover. Plus Mantlo seems to be following Jim Shooter's anti-Pym agenda, showing Hank in a bad light. It was one of Shooter's pet projects to have a longtime Marvel hero become a villain, first he tried with Hank Pym, then Quicksilver.

How was that? 

<Best Monty Burns voice>Excellent!</Best Monty Burns voice>

 

Great work, Philip.  Extra points for the Freudian analysis of Bug's rocket-lance. 

 

I'll just stick this on here...tum te tum... like so.

 



Having the 'Nauts meet the Wasp is a logical step as she shrinks to about the same size as them. However, I'm not sure about Henry Pym's shrinking technology working down to the atomic level.

Just as the Flash is faster than Quicksilver, and Batman probably has the edge on Captain America, I'm pretty sure that Pym doesn't have the same grasp of sub-atomic shrinking technology as the Atom. It fits in with the DC characters being more idealised and Marvel's being more 'realistic' and 'human'. In any case, here it looks like Pym keeps his feeble efforts locked away...

Mantlo seems to be getting carried away again here. Why would being angry allow Rann to break his opponents otherwise indestructable adamantium helmet - with his own head no less? That's some noggin on him! Perhaps the Enigma Force was involved?

Bug and the Wasp being on the same telepathic insect wavelength just about passes muster though. Just about...

I can't believe the Endeavour is still missing. It's a tragedy. There are few enough references to Captain Cook in superhero comics as it is.

Hard *AHEM* not to notice the connotation while Bug's carrying a naked woman though, as they say, sometimes a rocket-lance is just a rocket-lance!

The original Ant-Man shrank into the Microverse in Fantastic Four #20, I believe and the Scott Lang version did it in an issue of Marvel Two-In-One (#86?) so there was the possibility of the Wasp and Doctor Nemesis actually being able to do the same.

Rann smashed the armor's faceplate, the only part that wasn't adamantium. Do you know how tempted I am to call it Atomantium?? I guess that's the drawback of an indestructible metal: you can't see through it!

The Wasp, in her debut, had antennae grafted on her as well as wings, in order to summon insects but they were seldom seen afterwards. They were brought back during Englehart's under-rated West Coast Avengers. Also, they made a big deal that the Wasp was the chairperson of the Avengers, yet she does nothing to stop Doctor Nemesis. She almost slips back to her "Stan Lee's Girl" mode!

Unfortunately my next issue is #47!

BTW, congrats on the Google ranking! More people should read your work as you put so much thought and effort into it!

The original Ant-Man shrank into the Microverse in Fantastic Four #20, I believe and the Scott Lang version did it in an issue of Marvel Two-In-One (#86?) so there was the possibility of the Wasp and Doctor Nemesis actually being able to do the same.

 

Once again my perfectly reasonable suppositions are ground under the heel of your relentless facts.  Bah!   I was influenced in basing Pym's lack of shrinking know-how relative to Ray Palmer on the fact that The Atom is a specialist and Pym is a Jack of All Trades, dabbling in cybernetics, entomology, robotics, human physiology and hybridization and the good Lord knows what else, besides ... shrinkology, or whatever it's called.

 

On the old board it was possible to see how many people viewed each thread, even non-members, but here, we're kinda whistling in the dark.  (Were you on the old board, Philip?)

 

Well, I'm very happy with that coverage of #41 and #42.  I think we are on the home straight now, as we've more or less figured out what Micronauts is about and what the creators are doing with it.  I don't expect to have as much worth discussing going into the final 3rd, but you never know.

 

Now its over to you, Jeff, to fill us in on #43, when you get the time.

 

Here's a start:

 

Micronauts #43 - "Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig!"

 



This one seems to co-star the Avengers, and they aren't on the cover, so perhaps it wasn't a slight on the Wasp that she didn't appear on the cover to #42.
I don't have yours or Jeff's insights about the Micronauts, Figs, but I do have #42 so that's something! I'll give it a go!

Thanks for stepping up to the plate, Phillip, because I blush to admit that I find myself unprepared this morning. It’s not that I forgot, it’s just that I was in full-tilt Green Hornet mode this past weekend (reading the NOW Comics and watching the TV shows that you brought to my attention).

On the old board it was possible to see how many people viewed each thread, even non-members, but here, we're kinda whistling in the dark.

I really miss that feature. When I was doing my Jack Kirby threads [one comic each day (excluding weekends) for 2½ years] I kept strict track of views. I would average 20-25 per day for each post, but not everyone checked in every day. I’d usually get the same amount over the weekend when I didn’t usually post. Those views are up in the thousands now, so I know Google searches are still finding them.

Now it’s over to you, Jeff, to fill us in on #43, when you get the time.

Tomorrow…?
ISSUE #43: Marionette, Acroyear and Bug, along with Dr. Nemesis, are shrinking their way through the Mircoverse back to Homeworld, but because Nemesis is not native to that plane, he continues to shrink out of existence. Mari and the others are distressed to learn that the rebel leader Slug has not only allied herself with the Mari’s brother Argon, the Force Commander, but has also consented to marry him. But all is not as it seems because first, Duchess Belladonna has switched bodies with Slug, and second, Argon has used the Body Banks to transcend humanity and she’s being forced to marry him against her will.

The three Micronauts are soon discovered by Argon’s aide, Degrayde. Pursued by Force Commander’s Dog Soldiers, they are found first by what remains of the rebel forces and are skirted away to the lower levels and Sanctuary. Once there, they discover the rebellion in ruins, with Mari and the Mirconauts fled, Prince Pharoid captured, and now Slug apparently betrothed to Argon.Mari agrees to take over command of the rebel forces.

Meanwhile back on Earth, Commander Rann, Devil, Microtron and Nanotron confer with the Avengers, consisting of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Wasp. After recapping their options, and a failed attempt by Thor to breach the Spacewall, the Avengers transport the Mircronats to H.E.L.L. in Florida. Devil leaps ahead much to the consternation of Commander Rann, but what Rann doesn’t know is that Devil feels a wave of savage, animalistic rage washing over him. The smell of rotting meat rising from the Pit drives Devil over the edge. Meanwhile, first Rann then Microtron and Nanotron are taken out by a mysterious foe eventually revealed to be Computrex the Living Computer, who (as you might guess from the cover) sets the rotting remains of Professor Prometheus against them.

Artwise (and this observation applies to the two previous issues as well), I think Danny Bulanadi’s inks completely over-power Gil Kane’s pencils. On the editorial side, on pages 12 and 13, Al Milgrom supplies five footnotes recapping previous events until he finally declares, “I give up!-Al.” On pages 16 and 17, there are an additional seven footnotes, credited as follows:

“Jim Salicrup sitting in for Al Milgrom.”

“Louise Jones sitting in for Salicrup.”

“Tom DeFalco sitting in for Louise.”

“Denny O’Neil sitting in for Tom.”

“Al. (I’m back! What? No one noticed I was gone?)”

And “Hrrmph! See if you get another footnote out of ME!-Al.”

The final footnote (immediately after that) reads: “Micronauts Annual #2-Shooter.”

I was greatly amused by that at the time.

What can I say? I was easily entertained.

Thanks Jeff.  Because of the whole 'southern hemisphere' thing, I woke up, saw your promise to provide it 'tomorrow' and then an hour later it's up there.  No wonder I get confused.

 

As Philip says, the Microverse is where the Micronauts logically have to be, if they are serious about 'freedom fighting'.  Golden said in his interview that Shooter insisted on bringing superheroes into the stories.  Interracting with Doctor Doom and the Wasp is fun, but nothing to do with the spine of the central story Mantlo is telling.  I guess 'fun' is its own reason too.

 

So does Argon know that Belladonna is inhabiting Slug's body?  Is Slug interracting with the Micronauts as Belladonna? 

 

Great high-stakes plotting with the Rebellion in tatters as we go into the next phase of the war against Argon, the Neo-Karza. 

 

(By the way, the Micronauts have fought two villains called Phillip in the last 3 issues!)

 

Artwise (and this observation applies to the two previous issues as well), I think Danny Bulanadi’s inks completely over-power Gil Kane’s pencils.

 

I whole-heartedly agree with this.  Bulanadi's is a slick, slightly Adams-esque style to keep the Micronauts looking consistent through changes in the artists. However, he is obviously doing much more than what most comics fans think of as 'just inking'.  Kane's self-inked artwork in 'The Forge of Friendship' was beautifully stylised and unique, and obviously a progression from his style on the 1960s Green Lantern comics.  It was something worthwhile to be savoured.  Bulanadi's inks aren't sympathetic to Kane's style at all.

 

I can see how the readership of the time would have preferred Bulanadi's illustrative realism to Kane's artier pencil-strokes, or Ditko's expressionistic comicbook shorthand come to that.

 

Given that what we're looking at seems to be as much Bulanadi as the main artists, and he's obviously a fine craftsman, it's a wonder they didn't just get Bulanadi to draw the whole thing, and cut out the middle-man.  Having read the great article Travis linked to on Alfredo Alcala, another Phillipino artist, I wonder if Bulanadi wasn't somehow 'ghettoised' as 'just an inker' too?

 

Actually I've just found his website - The Art of Danny Bulanadi.  In an interview there, he states that Marvel found him just too useful as a fast inker to give him many pencilling jobs.  I see he does commissioned pictures.  How cool would that be?

 

As for all the footnotes, that kind of peeking behind the curtain was a big part of what made Marvel Marvel.

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