We’re back in the late 70’s and Black Friday is almost upon us. Christmas is just around the corner. Time to get out and shop for toys for all those good little girls and boys. I wonder just how many Hasbro Rom Space Knight toy robots were sold by Mattel back then? I think it would be safe to say not near as many as the number of comics that Marvel sold during Rom’s six year plus run.
In this month’s Arcs & Runs we take a look back to the late seventies and a new super-hero enters the Marvel Universe. My inspiration for this week’s post is just about as odd as a toy being turned into a Marvel Super-Hero. I was looking through a Power/Man Iron Fist Essential trade paperback when the book skipped from issue #72 to #74. No issue #73. A Rom appearance! And then I remembered that due to a dispute between Mattel and Marvel over ownership of the Rom character there is no reprinting of any Rom stories with him in it, regardless of the title. Thus no Power Man/ Iron Fist #73 reprint. There are a few other books Rom appeared in Marvel Two in One #99, Hulk# 296 come to mind. The only way to read old Rom comics is to buy the originals, which are mercifully cheap and are usually found for under $5 in bargain bins. There is news on the return of Rom and the Micronauts as well. IDW has purchased the publishing rights to both of these properties from Marvel and reportedly plan to produce comics of both in 2016. The details of how this going to transpire aren’t public yet. I really wish Marvel had just settled with Mattel and brought them both back in house.
This brings us to the sad tale of Bill Mantlo, who co-created both Rom and the Micronauts. Bill wrote all seventy-five issues of Rom plus the four annuals. In the late eighties Bill Mantlo left comics and became a lawyer. In 1992 he was the victim of a hit and run accident while out roller blading that left him wheel chair bound and with permanent brain damage. Like I said very sad indeed. I didn’t realize the staggering amount of work Bill Mantlo had produced until I googled him for this article. He also co-created Rocket Racoon.
Talented Sal Buscema worked alongside Mantlo and was the artist for most of the title. Steve Ditko also got to draw a few issues near the end of the run.
Rom himself really got around the Marvel Universe during his brief stay. The Jack of Hearts, Power Man/ Iron Fist, The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, The Sub-Mariner, Doctor Strange, Alpha Flight, Rick Jones, the Hulk and others all crossed paths with our cosmic hero.
Today we will use issue #1 to introduce you to Rom and his mission here on earth. We will follow this up with two battle stories with Rom facing off with his greatest foe – The Hybrid. He really needs help with this guy and gets it. First with the X-Men followed in the second story by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants or should I say the Sisterhood? Let’s get to the stories!
Our story begins with Rom hurtling through space and landing in the middle of a highway near the small town of Clairton Virginia. A car driven by Brandy Clark swerves to miss Rom. Saying nothing he pulls out his energy analyzer (looks like a ray gun) and fires it at Brandy. It detects correctly she is human. He still says nothing and he flies into town. Once in the middle of town Rom pulls out the energy analyzer and this time he see’s humans and something else. He pulls out another gun this one is called a neutralizer and he points it at two of the people in the crowd and fires turning them into neat piles of ash. Panic ensues. Brandy Clark arrives and questions Rom who picks her up and flies to a quiet space. He uses a translator to speak to her. Rom tells Brandy that the “people” he neutralized were not human but Dire Wraiths evil shape shifters from another galaxy. She thinks he is mad. Rom then gives Brandy a brief history of his mission, and The Legend of the Spaceknights.
This story begins over 200 years ago. Rom is from a distant planet called Galador. Galadorians are peaceful people never having known war. There flying armada comes across the Dark Nebula, home of the Dire Wraiths. The Wraiths attack and destroy the Galadorian armada and then set out to destroy Galador itself. The Galadorian leader the Prime Director asks the unthinkable to save the planet. Volunteers to become powerful Spaceknights. Rom is the first to give up his humanity and join the program. Rom becomes the most revered Spaceknight of all and defeats the Wraiths on there home world but they scatter to all ends of the galaxy. Rom has been hunting them down ever since, and earth is apparently infested with them. Brandy listens but still can’t forget what she saw. We find out Rom’s neutralizer does not kill the Dire Wraiths but banishes them to limbo (can you say Phantom Zone).
Story time for Brandy is over as Dire Wraiths disguised as humans have called out the National guard, who it turns out are no match for Rom. One soldier does possess an alien disrupter which he fires and hurts Rom. A second chance doesn’t occur as Brandy warns Rom in time and he dispatches the wraith as the first issue comes to an end.
Clairton becomes the Rom’s home away from home throughout the story and Brandy Clark becomes the seemingly impossible love interest. The townsfolk also take to Rom and trust him as their protector from the Dire Wraith menace.
We move ahead to issue#17 and Cerebro is going bananas. The X-Men (Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus and Kitty Pride) join Professor X to discuss next steps. The signal is diffuse and coming from Clairton Virginia. The Professor sends them on their way to investigate this possible new mutant. Meanwhile back in Clairton, Doctor John Stennis is on his way to the Marks farm. It’s the dead of winter Jacob and Marjorie and little son Jimmy live there, but something is obviously very wrong. The livestock are all dead or dying and so is Marjorie. Jacob Marks arrives and reveals himself to be a dire wraith and introduces him to his son Jimmy. The doctor runs away in horror to the Clarks house where he finds Rom sitting on the couch. Home sweet home! The doctor quickly tells his story to Rom. Rom leaves for the farm knowing that a Wraith and a human being may have produced a child. Rom arrives and Jacob Marks changes to Dire Wraith form and tells Rom his story, how fell in love Marjorie, fathered the child, and the growing menace of his young son. Rom has heard enough and goes to confront the child, who has turned the inside of the house into an ice palace. Rom see’s a child suspended in the air, he pulls out his analyzer as see’s the horror called Hybrid with his cyborg eyes (he is a dreadful sight!) and the fight is on. Jacob Marks tries to intervene and appeals to his son to stop. Hybrid responds by slaying his father a pitch fork. Rom fights on madder than ever. Hybrid strong both mentally and physically and Rom see’s no choice but to banish him to limbo. Unfortunately, even at full strength the neutralizer doesn’t work. Rom see’s Hybrid now for what he is – the most dangerous threat of all and announces to Hybrid he must kill him. Not so fast Rom. Hybrid has changed shape to the child Jimmy Marks and is in the arms of Kitty Pride, while the rest of the just arrived Wolverine and the X-Men are out to make Rom scrap metal as this issue comes to an end.
There is a quick re-cap of last issue for those who missed it and then the battle begins. Hybrid as Jimmy Marks tells the X-Men, Rom killed both his parents and destroyed the farm. That is more than enough for Wolverine who tears into Rom and causes pain with his claws. Hybrid creates a white-out that Storm can’t control. Hybrid takes out Colossus by turning back to flesh and blood. Rom is battling everyone including the elements. Kitty Pride sees Hybrid for what he is and tells Wolverine. Wolverine finds Rom’s neutralizer and tries to fire it at Hybrid, but the backlash nearly breaks all of the bones in Wolverines body. Kitty finds the gun and with her phasing power is able to fire the gun and hits Hybrid. He is hurt and mad and coming for Kitty when Rom grabs Hybrid from behind. Holding Hybrid Rom tells Kitty to use her phasing powers to fire again full blast. She does and Hybrid is blown apart and Rom caught in the same blast falls through the open portal to limbo. Everything is calm the storm has passed and so has the danger. The X-men lament the loss of Rom and on the last panel we see Rom falling further through the limbo dimension, where next issue he will meet up with all the vanquished Dire Wraiths and the Space Phantom! We however are moving on to Rom #31 & 32 and a final encounter with Hybrid!
The Torpedo (resident Clairton hero) is flying the sky’s above old Marks farm when he see’s something forming in the snow (it’s winter-again). It is Hybrid re-forming. The Torpedo knows a bad thing when he see’s it and attacks at full speed and Hybrid swats him away like a flea. Torpedo picks up Hybrids famous pitch fork (the one he killed his dad with) and throws it full thrust at Hybrid who stops the throw with mind in mid flight. Hybrid announces himself and tells Torpedo he will be the death of him. We switch scenes to Windust prison where four members of the Brotherhood of Evil are being transferred after there battle with the Avengers (Avengers Annual #10). The prison truck is stuck in snow and inmates are out clearing it away when one slips and is about to fall under the truck when Rom arrives and saves him. The inmates dupe Rom into thinking that were slaves of the prison and he sets them free. He then heads to the prison to set the other slaves free. Inside the prison Pyro, The Blob, Avalanche, and Destiny are about to be set free by Rogue and Mystique. They are about to leave when Rom arrives at the gate. He soon learns that he was fooled by the other inmates and attacks the Brotherhood. In short order Rom takes down The Blob, Pyro, and Avalanche. Mystique, Destiny, and Rogue fly away, prompting Rogue to say maybe they should re-name the team the Sisterhood. The warden takes Rom to task for all the lost prisoners and Rom leaves promising to atone for his mistakes. The “Sisterhood” meanwhile are looking for a place to rest and pick a bad place to hideout – old Marks farm where they are greeted by Hybrid as this issue comes to an end.
The Sisterhood attack Hybrid with no effect. Hybrid plants his version of history in Mystiques mind. Destiny see’s Hybrid as an ally against Rom and Mystique agrees, so does Hybrid and an uneasy alliance is formed. We switch scenes to the home of Brock Jones alias The Torpedo, where he is laid out but not dead. Rom arrives and after a quick consultation is off to the Marks farm to confront Hybrid. Before he gets there the four inmates arrive at the Marks farm and have the misfortune to run into Hybrid. Destiny see’s death and so do we. Hybrid lifts the inmates in to the air and begins spinning and spinning their bodies until there is nothing left but skeletons. It is a gruesome sight one that brings Rogue to tears. Destiny see’s Rom on the way and Hybrid lays out their plan of attack. Rom arrives to find Mystique in tatters, rom decides it’s a ruse but too late Rogue attacks. Rogue pretends to be beaten but does this to get close to Rom. Destiny has seen Rom is half human and Rogue attempts to kiss Rom to steal his powers. The human portion of Rom has no powers all she gets is a good kiss which she likes. Rom is a little stunned by this and Hybrid begins his attack. As Hybrid attacks his mental barriers breakdown enough for Destiny to see Hybrids plans for them after the battle is over. They are to be used as breeder stock to create new super-powered hybrids. Mystique decides the team will leave at let Rom or Hybrid destroy each other. Rogue will have none of that and she joins Rom in the battle. The power of a good kiss. Hybrid has the upper hand and Rogue grab’s Hybrids hand to drain off some of his power. She does so and it makes her very sick. Rom gets in a couple of licks but it is not enough, Hybrids mental powers are too great. Rogue attacks Hybrid from behind and this time takes a bunch of power. Rom takes advantage and blasts the weakened Hybrid into atoms. He returns in Rom Annual #3 to face Professor X and the New Mutants. Rom thanks the Sisterhood as they go their separate ways and he hopes to meet Rogue again someday. It is her wish as well.
Listed below are the Overstreet values for the five issues of the run we covered today. They are the most expensive of the bunch and I have found all Rom books in the bargain bins at one time or another. Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema did a lot of good work here, it is worth checking out. We will visit with Rom again sometime in the future and I think we will begin with that Power-Man/Iron Fist issue.
45th Overstreet Price Guide
Hope everyone survives this year’s Black Friday!