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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Of course, these were printed as monthlies and I also find it hard to imagine that some issue in the late 30's has a box that says "Suddenly,last summer..." that tells us the Micronauts now go off and have an adventure that was published a year previously.

I forgot to check last night where I placed the second annual in continuity, but the situation you describe is pretty much what happened with the X-Men/Micronauts mini-series we discussed earlier in this thread.

I was under the impression that Commander Rann, being established as the original Space Glider, couldn't be used…

I don’t think there’s a problem as long as he’s referred to consistently as “Commander Rann” (Marvel name) and not “Space Glider” (Mego name). Rann, Marionette and Bug have been used from time to time after the conclusion of Micronauts: The New Voyages, but that’s a discussion for a later day.

I wonder have they decided who's writing/drawing it yet?

Yes, that was in the solicitation, but I don’t have it with me (something else for me to remember to check at home), but it was no one whose work I’m familiar with. The art looked good, but I think the cover artist might have been different from the interior artist. I’ll check.

…a recurring motif that Mantlo has used a few times before in this series.

Interesting observation.
Enigma Force is quite an acceptable substitute for Micronauts.

The Micronauts were known as the “Microns” for a time in the late 90s.

I can't get too excited about it, however, as they are already straying far off Mantlo's template of new and exciting concepts every month. Jarella's world? The Psyclops? Snore.

Apparently, Enigma Force is spun out of concepts introduced in the four-issue Realm of Kings: Son of Hulk limited series, at least one issue of which (#1) featured Rann and Marionette.

Remember what Mantlo said about making the Microverse seem infinite by not tying everything together?

Unfortunately, several sub-atomic realities were merged into one in Captain Marvel (Peter David’s version) #6.
I read some online reviews of Realm of Kings: Son of Hulk #1 this morning. They were all quite positive, a common comment being that it had more to do with Jarella’s World than the “Realm of Kings” family of titles. But that was a plus for me, so I went to my LCS over lunch and bought the first three issues (the fourth was out of stock). Just flipping through it I learned that the Micronauts are featured throughout (not just in the first issue) and that the green-skinned blonde I mentioned in an earlier post is Jarella’s hitherto unknown (by me, anyway) niece. Oh, and the proper spelling for the bug-eyed creature is “Psyklop” (with a "k").

I will undoubtedly have more to say once I’ve found issue four, read the whole thing, and we get to this point in the discussion.
Might be fun to pool our knowledge of Micronauts appearances post-New Voyages (once the whole series has been dealt with, of course). I know they showed up (our size!) in a bar scene in a 1980s X-book, and Rann, Mari, Bug, Huntarr, and Acroyear (now called "Spartak") have all popped up as a team here and there.

Thought I'd share some images I have on my drive:

Here's a sneak-peek ad, I think predates Issue #1:


And here are two covers for proposed Marvel re-boots that never happened. The first looks sort of thrown together, but I heard that at least one of these was done when it looked like Marvel might get the rights to all the characters back again:



And, finally, this is just a cool image from, I believe, one of the back covers later in the original run:


I love that the Hornetroid ship is in the background. I actually have a Hornetroid toy, though I forget where or how I obtained it.
Unfortunately, several sub-atomic realities were merged into one in Captain Marvel (Peter David’s version) #6

The ingrown toenail that is modern continuity...!

Jeff said: I will undoubtedly have more to say once I’ve found issue four, read the whole thing, and we get to this point in the discussion.

Mr S said: Might be fun to pool our knowledge of Micronauts appearances post-New Voyages (once the whole series has been dealt with, of course).

Hmmm! I'd better get a move on then. Not even at the halfway point of the first series yet...

Love those images. Marvel covers were a bit of a mess in the mid-1990s. The first one's maybe a mock-up, but its very much of a piece with ones that were on the shelves then.

That's Pat Broderick who done the 2nd one. It's a great pic of the Micros. Great perspective there, and I love that it could only be them. What's that pooch doing to the hydrant? Broderick's art developed nicely and it wasn't bad to start with. Acroyear's costume has been streamlined, but how do you improve on a classic?

I think the big wings on his helmet give him presence even when he's only 6 inches high, as do his boots. (One of the last few issues I covered stated categorically that they are 6" in height btw, not that that means much when the artist is trying to solve some problem of perspective.)

Rann, Mari, Bug, Huntarr, and Acroyear (now called "Spartak") have all popped up as a team here and there.

Glad they figured out a way to keep Acroyear in there. He's one of the coolest comic characters ever! Surely his costume is quite a remove from the little toy, so I'd hope he managed to hold onto it.

I have mixed feelings about such personal creations continuing after the original creators leave them. But I'm already glad Broderick got a whack at them after Golden left, so I can't be too lofty in my judgements.

I've obviously been staring at this monitor too long, because every time I see the word Hornetroid in your last post I think it says 'Haemorrhoid'. Time to take a break...

Love those links too. Great to see the Micro-love out there.

This is Scott's piece on the toys.
Might be fun to pool our knowledge of Micronauts appearances post-New Voyages

Thinking ahead, I’ve already started compiling a list. I think that bar scene is apocryphal, but other than that, here’s what I’ve got:

Cable #37-39
Alpha Flight #10-11
Captain Marvel #6
Realm of Kings: Son of Hulk #1-4
Incredible Hulks: Enigma Force #1-3

Regarding Captain Marvel #6 (and “the ingrown toenail that is modern continuity”), yesterday I should have said “several sub-atomic realities were revealed to have been merged into one” in that issue. In fact, Commander Rann says, “But some months ago, our reborn enemy, The Baron, joined forces with a being named Thanos to destroy all the subatomic realities. We and others called ‘mutants’ fought back. Ultimately a massive release of energy resulted in all micro realms being merged into one.”

A footnote credited to Tom Brevoort adds, “As seen in last year’s instant sell-out ‘Small X-Pectations’ one-shot!” but I can find no evidence that such a comic was ever released. Wikipedia refers to the events related by Rann to be a “largely untold tale” and credits them to Captain Marvel #6. Hmm… (And did you notice how Baron Karza was referred to as simply “The Baron”?)

Have they decided who's writing/drawing [Enigma Force] yet?

Scott Reed and Miguel Munera, the same writer/artist team responsible for RoK: SoH (which makes sense).

Thanks for posting those images, Brad. I’ve seen the first one somewhere before but I can’t for the life of me remember where. (Probably in whichever comic books it appeared in prior to the launch of the series.) The third one is from the Devil’s Due/Image series (note the date “2003” under Broderick’s signature). The second one, however, is from an aborted Marvel re-launch in 1998. I urge you to read the coverage here.

Hmmm! I'd better get a move on then. Not even at the halfway point of the first series yet...

No, no, no… please don’t get the feeling we’re rushing you. Take your time!

One of the last few issues I covered stated categorically that they are 6" in height

I always thought they were supposed to be 3¼ inches tall (or whatever the size of the toys was).

ANNUAL #2: I have Annual #2 slotted between issues #22 and #23 and here’s why: first, the Marvel checklist from that month shows that both comics were on sale at the same time; second, one of the pin-ups from the annual shows the villains and lists the issue of their respective appearance up through #22. Having said that, I admit I have not actually read these comics for 25 years so I will defer to you, Figs, as to where they fit in the overall storyline.
Mr. Satanism said:

Those add up to good appreciation/revisit of the first 11 issues. Also some story pages from the issues I'd missed.

Interesting that he

a) uses the same headline as I did - "They came from Inner Space" is a very clever play on a hoary old sci-fi tagline.

b) makes a link to Toy Story as I did. (It's an obvious thing, but worth pointing out, that by the end of the 2nd annual the Micronauts have fought malevolent toys twice, just as Woody and Lightyear would do years later.)

c) uses the adjective "whacked out", which is reassuring, as I was half-suspecting I'd made it up...

No, no, no… please don’t get the feeling we’re rushing you. Take your time!

The thing is, that I'd love to pull out and read the rest of the series. Especially now that we've had an upturn the quality. However, I'm really enjoying seeing how much I can dig out of each issue too. Seeing how much analyses these churned out pulp comics for children can take...

I'm worried if I read too far ahead I won't be interested in going back and looking at earlier issues, and I want to have some sense of reading them in order and not knowing what's around the corner, like the original readership did.

Speaking of upturn in quality, it may be worth noting that Broderick is cited as 'storyteller' along with Mantlo in issue 23 for the first time, which mightn't be a big deal as the artist nearly always bears the burden of 'storytelling' in the Marvel method, but begins to be cited as co-plotter with issue 24. Given the celebrated success of the Golden issues, and this upturn as Broderick contributes more to the plotting, perhaps Mantlo's writing style was especially suited to the 'Marvel method'.

The issues 24-28 are well worth another look, Jeff, in case you're on the fence about rereading them. Great Marvel comics fun.

My placing of the annual isn't satisfactory to myself, as Rann only puts a day between fighting Computrex and meeting Mentallo and the FIxer, but its still just about possible, and currently the best explanation. Biotron is in the annual, so...
"But I'm already glad Broderick got a whack at them after Golden left, so I can't be too lofty in my judgements."

Yeah, I must say I'm not overly familiar with his work, but that cover is amazing. My eyes are constantly drawn to the girl in the background with the glasses. If I met that girl in real life, I'd ask her out! And that's just a background character. Good, good stuff.
"I think that bar scene is apocryphal"

Without a doubt it was solely an homage, but does anyone know where it appeared?
Yeah, if he hasn’t been drawing a lot of comics since the Micronauts, Broderick hasn’t been sitting on his hands either. Everything in that hydrant picture seems to jumping with a life of its own. And he obviously still has a fondness for the Micronauts to produce such a cracking pic.

Regarding the list of subsequent appearances:
Cable #37-39 (Me? Read a Cable comic? Let alone 3?)
Alpha Flight #10-11 (Which volume is this? What year?)
Captain Marvel #6 (I have some early PAD Captain Marvel. I’ll be glad to look this up once we get to it)
Realm of Kings: Son of Hulk #1-4 (You’ll have to tell us if these are worth reading at all)

Micronauts issue 25

The Second Karza War Part 1 – Deathbirth!




It pleased me to group issues 25 – 28 as one epic, but the battle with Computrex in the previous issue should be counted as a prelude, too. The early pages of #25 would be a great jumping on point for a collected edition of these issues, as Biotron gives us a recap of of each character’s backstory while they get some rest and recreation. The scenes between the two sets of lovers on board the Endeavour are quite racy and sensual without giving the censors or the prurient anything to really worry about. It’s great that Mantlo is able to show them doing what healthy adults do without being titillating or juvenile about it. Their lovemaking is shown as a result of the deep bonding they have been doing up to now, and it’s not a bad depiction for young people of what it is ‘all about’. Fair play to all concerned!

The scene with Acroyears headgear looking down impassively on the Acroyear pairing is very well handled. Acroyear himself is trying to forge a new path, of love for its own sake, but the warrior’s code, symbolised by that helmet, may yet have the final say. Ironically it is his lover Cicilia who will be the first to chastise him for straying from the path. She has internalised the code much more than the questioning Acroyear, so this is great, and subtle, foreshadowing of things to come.

The Fixer suggests that they were able to surmise the existence of the Microverse from various data that Computrex had assembled, but Computrex itself didn’t make any connections when it encountered the tiny spaceship for the first time last issue. I can see why the villainous duo weren’t too bothered when Rann destroyed it.

It comes down to a scrap with this month’s villains in a bowling alley. I wonder were bowling alleys as ‘of their moment’ as skateboard parks and CB radios were the pop signifiers of 1978?

We discover that Mentallo and the Fixer are actually habitual losers, and their defeat at the tiny hands of the Micronauts confirms this. Rann is becoming a powerful telepath due to the Enigma Force growing in him again, and is able to read Mentallo’s mind. He discovers that Mentallo’s masters Hydra have in turn discovered that SHIELDs telepathic unit – called the ESPers – can make contact with the Microverse, especially “a globe of energy floating on a larva lake”. on Homeworld

Rann knows that the Enigma Force awakening in him again signals that bad times are on their way, and the back-up strip confirms that the ebony globe is Karza’s lifeforce which gets a body after Argon leaps into it.

I love the way the back-up strip dovetails beautifully with the main strip at this point. It’s elegant and clever.

Analytical young readers in 1980 might also have noticed that the introductory box leading into the ‘Stan Lee presents’ at the top of every first page since issue 11 mentioned that the Micronauts were ‘sworn to oppose the tyrannical rule of Baron Karza’, which was an indication, in the words of a famous Irishman, that the despot “hadn’t gone away, you know!”
According to Drew Geraci's website (here), the Abell/Geraci image is from a 90s proposal.

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