Greetings from Galador, Weirdlings
As you can probably tell by the images featured as well as the title of this particular post, I’ll be saturating your brains with thoughts on Marvel’s ROM: Spaceknight this week, possibly one of the greatest titles of the Marvel Bronze Age. I know that I am prone to hyperbole from time to time, but THIS…this is not such a time. ROM is a stellar work of graphic fiction, and because of that I am fully committed to blogging about each and every single issue as I read them. I promised myself years ago that I would revisit this gem of a series from my childhood, and it was exactly 2 decades ago that I last did just that, so I’m long overdue in keeping said promise. Plus, with middle-age comes foggy memories, and I’ve found my ROM trivia knowledge slipping as of late.
Nah, I’m exaggerating. I still remember in detail my favorite panels from the entire series. This superhuman feat I attribute to endlessly reading each of my original copies until they literally fell apart. ROM was the be-all and end-all of superhero sci-fi for me back in the early 1980s, so I should castigate myself for not having at least tried to pick up the series again during the last two decades. But life has a way of siphoning time from us, like a Dire Wraith sucking the marrow from the world. Luckily, because of the holidays, huge swaths of time has opened up to me lately, and I’ve been itching to fill that time with some Galadorian super-cyborg action in the mighty Marvel manner.
But first, a bit of history concerning ROM and his initial creation.
Most of you probably know by now, either through direct or indirect exposure to the series, or through internet osmosis, that the greatest of the Spaceknights started off as a toy.
WTF??! NOT the ass-kicker ROM from the comics. You’re probably thinking: “This looks more like a glorified lamp or nightlight for my kid’s room, or a cheap award presented to a fanzine editor at a sci-fi convention.” Well, nobody would blame you.
ROM was designed for game publishing powerhouse Parker Brothers in the mid 1970s by Scott Dankman, Richard Levy, and Brian McCoy. Despite having little to no confidence in the initial prototype, Parker Brothers decided to go ahead and produce it (as cheaply as possible, of course), since there was no way to judge accurately whether it would be successful down the line. But Robots were big with the kiddies, so they probably thought it was worth the risk. However, low articulation and crappy LED effects coupled with poor packaging and marketing made the toy ROM a financial flop. BUT, and this is a resounding ‘but’, there was one thing they did right – and this is what concerns us here, true believers. They licensed ROM out as a comic book property to Marvel, in order to boost awareness of the toy. The comic book, in stark contrast to the toy, was a roaring success, at least during it’s first four years of publication. Launched in December 1979 it ran for 75 issues and 4 annuals till June 1986, when it was unceremoniously canceled after sales finally started to plummet.
ROM was written by Bill Mantlo, with art predominantly supplied by workhorse and industry legend Sal Buscema, who delivered what to me is his most spectacular work ever, even eclipsing what he gave us on his legendary run of The Incredible Hulk. Added to that, the final 20 issues of ROM were pencilled by Steve Ditko! And the scripting by Bill was top-notch. He had already cut his teeth on Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, and collected a slew of credits as guest-writer and fill-in scribe on almost all Marvel’s superhero titles. Mantlo gave us great dialogue, interesting character dynamics and plot twists, heartfelt moments delivered with perfectly plotted pacing. And action. Action on every page. Damn! This comic had it all! An amazing protagonist. A compelling supporting cast. Sinister and creative villains. An intricately designed sci-fi mythology. A fantastic origin story…I could go on an on.
Here they be. The creators!
You might also be aware, dear reader, that IDW started publishing a new ROM series in 2016 after obtaining the license from Parker Bros/Hasbro. The series isn’t half bad. But it ain’t no classic ROM, that’s for sure. Even though I briefly enjoyed what I read of that and the new Micronauts comic, I quickly became bored and dropped off both titles. The original Marvel ROM looms too large in my mind. This new guy is a completely different character in a universe I don’t recognize and don’t care enough about to explore further. Turns out he might have something to do with IDW’s Transformers universe too. NOPE. Uh uh. NOT for me. Different strokes, right?
In March 2018 it was also announced that a ROM movie was in the works from Paramount. It’s sad to think that they’re probably going to base it on the new IDW version of ROM, rather than the superior Marvel version. But hey, I’m still glad that the character is out there, making waves again after all these years. Go ROM! Give those Dire Wraiths on the big screen hell.
Which brings us back to this, the reason for me posting this so-called sneak peek in the first place. Since I am going to be going issue by issue, slowly and meticulously working my way through my tattered ROM collection, the following posts will have a much different format than this one. Sure, I’ll drop some creator knowledge every now and then (probably stuff I picked up reading Back Issue Magazine and Alter Ego) but I’ll mostly be focusing on the story and art, the building blocks of this medium we obsess over. I can truthfully say that without ROM I would probably be a lesser human being. This sounds disingenuous, but remember this; I read this comic during a formative time in my life. It taught me about how to deal with loneliness, how to sympathize with the plight of the outsider, how to appreciate life and to live every day to the fullest. All these and more life lessons Mantlo managed to work into his stories, and I will always be grateful for that. This comic is and always will be near and dear to my heart.
But enough sentimental temporizing! I AM, after all, here to give you an actual sneak peek. So screw up your eyeballs, weirdlings, and get ready to be ANALYZED, then NEUTRALIZED, as I consign you to a formless LIMBO dimension with the following tantalizing images from my next post…
Stay weird, weirdos
Post addition: For those of you willing to donate to the Bill Mantlo Support Fund, please do so at https://www.billmantlo.com/. Bill was the victim of a hit-and-run accident in 1992 and has been in institutional care ever since. He needs all the help he can get. Let’s give something back to a creator that gave us, as comics fans, so much during our childhoods. Thank you all.