Jul 2, 2012

Back Issue Ben: ROM: A Retrospective, Part 7

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

ROM: SPACEKNIGHT: A Retrospective
Part Seven: And the Deathly Hallows

by Ben Smith

Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 2. 
Click here for part 3.  
Click here for part 4.
Click here for part 5.
Click here for part 6.

For those that came in late, first of all, you're really late, and second of all, I am attempting to read and review every single issue of the classic 1980s Marvel comic series, ROM: SPACEKNIGHT. As we learned in the first six parts, Rom is the hero of the alien planet Galador, charged with ridding the universe of evil alien shape-shifters the Dire Wraiths. Bill Mantlo has written every single issue up to this point, while regular penciller Sal Buscema was replaced by the legendary Steve Ditko.

Last time, Rom and his loose cannon of a sidekick Starshine announced on television that the Earth has been infiltrated by aliens. Exposed and threatened, the Wraiths unleash their master plans to conquer and destroy the Earth. Aided by the U.S. government and its military, Rom and Starshine struggle to save the humans caught in between them and the Wraiths in their all-out war. Fortunately for us, Brandy has just been separated from the Starshine armor, and now lies comatose in a hospital. What comes next, I don't know, why don't you find out with me? Better yet, buy your own comics and read them yourself. Why do I have to do all the hard work?

#61. As innocent beachgoers look on in horror, scores of Wraith witches swarm the sky. They change shape and merge, combining into one gigantic black vortex in the sky. A stream of black energy shoots forth from the disc, aimed at the sun.

Rom arrives on the scene, and starts banishing Wraiths left and right. The creation of the star disc had required every Wraith on Earth to assemble, and Rom, sensing the opportunity to end his centuries long quest, seeks to take full advantage. They are able to successfully flee from Rom by flying directly into the star disc of their creation.

Rom returns to General Locklin and his Wraith-Hunter Rangers unit. He seeks to question Cindy Adams, the young girl whose mind was merged with that of a dying Wraith. Despite Rick Jones' best attempt at being a pain in the ass, Cindy reveals that the star disc created a hole in the heart of the sun, stealing its power to create a black magic beam that will draw the Dark Nebula's sun and Wraithworld itself into the orbit of the planet Earth, causing untold devastation. This plan goes by the name of Worldmerge.

Agent Gyrich takes this opportunity to try and convince Rom to let them duplicate his neutralizer weapon, which Rom claims cannot be duplicated by Earth science. Gyrich not only disagrees, he declares that there is one man that has not only done it, but refuses to let anyone use it, and that man is the mutant Forge.

I love this Secret Wars ad.

My brain thoughts: Wow, Mantlo really liked using the word "eldritch." I am very tempted to add a "eldritch" counter to these recaps, but that sounds too much like math. Finally, the Wraiths end-game is revealed, and it looks like we might be headed toward the ultimate climax for this series. I really don't understand why they've decided to focus on creating more neutralizers, when the big hole in the sun that's dragging an entire planet towards Earth seems like the more immediate problem. Rick Jones is even worse, berating Rom for actually seeking information from Cindy, just to, you know, save the entire planet. Rick Jones, never was useful in any situation. Jackson "Butch" Guice provides some solid inks to Ditko's pencils in this one. I like the combination.

#62. Forge turns down General Locklin's demands to turn over his version of the neutralizer weapon. His version of the weapon works differently from Rom's, as it merely removes the abilities of the target instead of banishing them to limbo. Gyrich had previously used it in his mad quest to rid the world of mutants, and Storm was the one that suffered the consequences.

Rom looks in on Brandy, still asleep after the ordeal of being separated from the Starshine armor. He daydreams about them getting it on, only to be interrupted by her waking up for real. She is shocked to discover that she is human again, and regrets her helplessness in the face of the Wraith war.

Rom departs to talk with Forge himself, to try and convince him to help save the entire planet. As they debate whether or not the weapon should be used, Wraiths descend upon Forge's tower in an attempt to wipe him out.

My brain thoughts: I had completely forgot that Forge was trying to duplicate Rom's weapon, which was then misappropriated to use on the mutant Rogue, but instead used on Storm, causing her to lose her powers for a time. See kids, Rom matters! It's shocking the amount of people that seem very unwilling to help save the entire planet here. Not only that, some of them are actively being a hindrance to the entire effort.

#63. Rom and Forge bust up some Wraith menaces, and their little dog(creatures) too. Finally convinced, Forge agrees to help them combat the alien menace.

 Construction of a giant weapon in space is quickly developed and undertaken. The device will amplify the power of Rom's neutralizer, and direct it at the entire Earth, banishing every Wraith on the planet at once.
Forge still fears that Gyrich will try to use it to remove the powers of every super-being as well, and Gyrich is trying to do just that.

The Wraiths arrive to try and sabotage the operation, and the battle ensues.

My brain thoughts: Anybody that complains about decompression in modern comics really needs to look at the last few big storylines in this series. Don't get me wrong, I'm still enjoying it, as we finally seem to arrive at some big stakes, but not much is happening in these single issues. Brett Breeding is Ditko's fifth inker in five issues, adding more fuel to the rumors that not many inkers were happy with the level of effort he was putting into his pencils at that time in his career. Personally, I like seeing the different melding of styles, so it's fine with me in retrospect.

#64. Worldmerge is happening, causing untold destruction across the planet. While Forge works on completing his neoneutralizer, Rom returns to the Earth to help lessen the damage and save innocent lives.
Brandy, Rick Jones, and Cindy grow closer during the chaos. I see where this is going…

While Rom surveys the devastation on Earth, he is tricked into letting down his guard by Wraiths in disguise. They use that opportunity to use their sorcerous powers to immobilize him, stranding him in place while Forge awaits his return in space. Back at the ranger camp, Rick puts out the call for help.

My brain thoughts: Sometimes Rom isn't so smart. Flying down to save a handful of humans instead of just staying put and saving all of them isn't the best strategy, but something had to stretch this story out another issue. I'm calling it right now, either Brandy is going to fall in love with Rick Jones or he's going to fall in love with her. P. Craig Russell takes over as the inker this issue, and from what I recall he sticks around for a little while. I believe he was on record as being enthusiastic about finishing the work of the legendary creator. Unfortunately, the end result has been my least favorite so far. It's still good, but not as good as the others, which is strange since I like both of them as artists.

#65. Immobilized in place while the world falls apart around him, Rom is despondent. He uses his cyborg vision to look out into space, where Forge still awaits his return.

Gyrich still has his priorities in order, as he continues to focus on eradicating all super powers on the planet.
Rom is surrounded by larger and larger crowds of Wraiths.

Just when it all looks to be hopeless, Captain America comes busting in followed by the Avengers, the X-Men, the Defenders, and more. Brandy, Rick Jones, and the Wraith-rangers have arrived as well. Brandy uses the power of love to cancel the spell holding Rom in place, much to the dismay of Rick Jones, who has fallen for Brandy himself.

Rom joins the battle and starts banishing Wraiths by the droves. Reminded of the greater need by Cindy, he flies up into space to finally put an end to their menace once and for all. To the surprise of Gyrich, they turn the neoneutralizer not upon the Earth, but upon Wraithworld itself, successfully destroying the entire world.
As they sun returns to normal, and the humans celebrate the victory, the caption declares "the long Wraith winter has finally reached…The End."

My brain thoughts: What did I tell you? Rick Jones is determined to ruin every single comic book in Marvel's history. All the heroes arriving to help finally answers the question of why they weren't helping in the first place, and it was a great scene to boot. (Spider-Man was noticeably absent from the crowd.) The turnabout against Gyrich was another excellent moment, as he was clearly focused on all the wrong priorities. Why is there always a government agent that secretly cares more about some ridiculous personal goal instead of helping the protagonists save the day? I'm looking at you, Paul Reiser. (If you get that reference, I will be impressed). It looks like the Wraiths might be defeated, or if not, certainly back on their heels. With ten more issues to go, we'll have to wait and see.

#66. With the Wraith planet destroyed, and the Earth back to normal, all that remains is the clean-up.

Debating with the remaining Wraiths on the planet over their ultimate fate, they request death, but Rom opts for banishment to limbo.

His mission completed on Earth, and the heroes all departing back to their own series, Rom announces his intention to leave. Brandy tries to convince him to stay out of their love for each other. Rom persuades her to stay with Rick Jones and Cindy Adams, and build a normal life for herself.

A tearful goodbye later, Rom departs the Earth for the wonders of space.

My brain thoughts: The Wraith threat on Earth apparently appears to be over. Wrapping up the long-running premise of the series was a big risk, providing a jumping off point for readers, and may have led to its eventual cancellation in but nine more issues. It's always a delicate balance, you keep dragging the story out, and fans may get impatient and quit. You give them what they want, they may reward you with quitting anyway. For a series like this that was so dependent on the Wraith war storyline, I suspect it was the latter that happened. As usual, we'll see where it goes from here. Steve Leialoha inks Ditko this issue. As usual, Rick Jones ruins everything.

#67. While Brandy continues to mourn the departure of Rom, Rick Jones tries to get in her pants. Okay, maybe not, but that's how I choose to interpret it. He even uses the line, "I may not live long, Brandy. I'm dying of cancer."

Rom explores the cosmos. He comes upon a world and its people that only get to live for less than a day every millennium or something, before both go back into suspended animation, teaching him the preciousness of enjoying life.

My brain thoughts: The recapping through dialogues was especially heavy handed in this issue. P Craig Russell returns to ink Ditko in this issue, and the results are better than their previous collaborations. It seems like Mantlo was a little stuck for what to do with the series at this point. Rick Jones continues to suck.

#68. Rom intervenes in a war between humans and their artificially intelligent machines, but is unable to stop it before they destroy each other.

This Bullpen Bulletins from Roger Stern is one of my favorites.

"No, I won't tell you who the Hobgoblin is!"

My brain thoughts: Brett Breeding returns to provide finishes for Ditko this issue, and I think this is the best combination I have seen so far. The series continues to tread water in an effort to find a new purpose and identity. The struggle between man and machine is probably some metaphor or something, but I don't really care. Mantlo is nothing if not subtle.

#69. Rom finds himself upon and inside a living planet that turns out to be Ego…the Living Planet. Discovering Wraiths inside being fed upon, powerless without the sorcery provided to them by their home planet, Rom banishes them to limbo to spare their pain. He also discovers and frees two Spaceknight comrades, Scanner and Seeker.

My brain thoughts: Some interesting visuals offered up by Ditko and Russell in this issue, but overall still treading water. At least they established that Wraiths still exist throughout the cosmos, but that they no longer have any sorcerous powers due to the destruction of Wraithworld.

#70. The Spaceknights arrive on a planet seeking to locate another of their comrades. There they find more powerless Wraiths, forced to work in servitude for a mysterious "hidden God." The hidden God turns out to be the Spaceknight Unam.

Rom objects to Unam subjugating the enemy, and banishes all the Wraiths to limbo.

"Swok" is the best sound effect ever!

Rom and his fellow Spaceknights depart, leaving the broken and twisted Unam behind to lament the loss of his slaves.

My brain thoughts: A purpose to these final issues may be starting to form, as Rom and friends seek out fellow colleagues in an attempt to return home. Kim DeMulder inks Ditko here, and I like the results.

My final brain thoughts: Finally, the end of the Wraith war on Earth brings the series to a natural (if not actual) conclusion. I've long been curious about Steve Ditko's work on this series, and the results have been up and down (mostly up!) depending on the finisher, sometimes in the very same issue. Overall, he brought some interesting visuals to the stories, especially in the post war issues with exotic landscapes and cosmic backdrops, which really play to Ditko's strengths. The team-ups, or lack thereof, continue to drive my enjoyment of the series issue to issue. These ten issues saw him teaming up with Forge, my least favorite X-Man of all time, and lots of time spent on Rick Jones, the most worthless character ever devised. Worse yet, I have to sit through issues of Rick trying to convince Brandy why she should forget about Rom and give him some loving. Maybe that didn't actually happen, but that's how I choose to remember it. I'm glad to see that the series wasn't ended before a satisfactory conclusion was given to Rom's mission on Earth. Actually, it's almost unfortunate that the series continued past that point. Rom at its best was basically a MARVEL TEAM-UP title, and now that he's out in space, he's relegated to solo morality tales, or worse yet, teaming up with the other horrible Spaceknights. Still a fun and worthwhile series, just not up to the largely positive standards set by the series prior to this point. Or maybe I'm still just cranky because I had to read about Forge and Rick Jones helping to save the world.

The end draws near, with only five more issues and an annual to go. Will Rom get the happy ending with Brandy that he deserves? We'll have to wait until the next and final installment of my Rom retrospective to find out!

Go to Part 8!

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