May 7, 2012

Back Issue Ben: ROM: A Retrospective, Part 3

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

ROM: SPACEKNIGHT: A Retrospective
Part Three:Dream Warriors
 by Ben Smith

Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 2.

When times get tough, Ben keeps reading, and Rom keeps banishing Dire Wraiths to limbo. For those that came in late, 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 two 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 and Sal Buscema keep on rocking the writing and art duties, as they have from the very beginning. When we left off last time, Rom had finally gained the trust and acceptance of the people of Clairton, but his worries about his home planet continue to intensify.

#21. Little known Marvel hero the Torpedo joins the cast of characters this issue, as he and his family move to Clairton. The Torpedo is former football player Brock Jones, who was given a powerful super suit that helps him to fight the evil Rocketeers (really Marvel?).

Brandy finds Rom attempting to learn more about Earth by speed reading through encylopedias and studying the globe. Rom is still torn between his duty to the people of Earth, and his desire to see if his home planet of Galador is okay. As Rom flies off, Brandy lets out a none too surprising revelation, "Rom, I… love you."

The Torpedo, seeing Rom streak across the night sky, mistakes him for a new Rocketeer and attacks him. During the battle, Rom thinks to himself, "I grow tired of these misunderstandings." Eventually he is able to yet again convince the other hero that he is innocent. Comparing notes, they come to the realization that the Rocketeers that the Torpedo had previously fought were Wraiths in disguise. Rom is intrigued not only by the thought of an ally, but someone that can watch the Earth while he returns to Galador.

The last page confirms that the Rocketeers are tools of the Dire Wraiths, as they attempt to get the super suit they created back from the Torpedo.

The Spaceknight backup sees a believed dead Terminator break in to the storage facility with the living remains of the Spaceknights, with intent to destroy their bodies and trap them as Spaceknights forever.

My brain thoughts: Rom's thoughts about the misunderstandings echo my own. I know it's a Marvel tradition for the heroes to fight and then team up, but it's getting a little tired in this series at this point. With so many guest stars, it happens too often at this point. The Torpedo doesn't set my hair on fire, but I've seen worse guest stars in this comic (and we're only 21 issues in).

#22. This issue is pretty much a full-on action issue, as Rom and the Torpedo take on and take down the Wraith Rocketeers. The story ends on Rom, fully believing the Torpedo is capable of defending the town, deciding to travel to New York and seek assistance in getting him home.

The backup sees the Terminator stealing the remains of Rom, and taking them back to his new master, the evil Mentus. Mentus had used his (her?) powers to control Terminator, but he was able to resist destroying the bodies. Mentus decided that a new plan would be more devastating to Rom.

My brain thoughts: More development on the Mentus situation, and this could possibly reveal what Karas was referring to in limbo about him never being able to return to his body.

#23. This story continues over from Power Man and Iron Fist #73, as Rom and the dynamic duo (yeah, I'm stealing it) are in hiding on the streets of New York. Rom had come to New York to seek aid in his quest to return home, but the standard misperceptions of him banishing Dire Wraiths to limbo lead to him on the run as a "killer robot" with the National Guard patrolling the streets. Power Man and Iron Fist, already past the mistaken fighting stage and moved on to the assisting stage, attempt to get him through the city to the Baxter Building.

Back in Clairton, a mysterious mist appears to be affecting residents in an unknown manner.

Making their way through the streets of New York, into the Baxter Building, and past the building's defenses, Rom and the others run into a just returning Fantastic Four. After Power Man vouches for Rom, Reed agrees to let him use a Skrull hyperdrive warpship that he had procured. Rom finally departs for Galador, to see for himself if his society still stands.

My brain thoughts: It's always great to see Power Man and Iron fist together. Thankfully, having missed the first half of the story, I missed the obligatory fight that is getting so very tiresome at this point. The real treasure of the issue is the three of them running into a security detail of H.E.R.B.I.E. robots!

#24. Rom arrives at the coordinates for Galador, to find only empty space. His skrull spaceship is attacked by Nova and the Nova Corps (surprise). After a fight and some explanations, Rom agrees to go to Xandar in hopes of getting the location to Galador. Xandar has been under attack by the vicious skrulls. (Queen Adora is pretty comic book hot as well).

The skrulls attack and Rom aids the Xandarians in the battle. Nova flies off into space to confront Diamondhead, who is leading the skrull army. Nova is able to defeat Diamondhead and leave him drifting aimlessly through space. Rom turns the tide back on Xandar and the skrulls retreat in shame.

Nova, his mission ended, is returned to Earth powerless. As reward for his help, Xandar hero the Protector uses the collective intelligence of Xandar to locate Galador. The entire Golden Galaxy had been moved to another location. He proceeds to use his powers to teleport Rom there.

Back in Clairton, the mysterious mist continues to seemingly take more and more citizens under its mind control, including the families of the Torpedo and Brandy Clark.

My brain thoughts: Diamondhead is another in a long list of characters that look like they were designed by a small child. I assume he was a carryover from the Nova series. This whole issue read like a wrap-up for the Nova series that was probably cancelled, I wonder if it was.

#25. In this special double-sized issue, we finally get Rom's return to his home planet of Galador after 200 years away. He returns to the blind obedience and praise of the citizens of the planet. He soon learns that there is an imposter Rom, that looks and sounds just like him, that has taken over as Prime Director of the society. They battle, with the real Rom being defeated by the Angel Elite guard.

With Rom in captivity, he meets the mysterious Mentus. It seems the imposter Rom is actually the Terminator, transformed by Rom's human remains and by Mentus to look exactly like him. Mentus is revealed to be the former Prime Director himself. Feeling guilty over having sent so many loyal citizens out as Spaceknights, he built a Spaceknight armor for himself, but instead of grafting his body into it, he animated it using "the force of his will." Unfortunately, "the evil side of the Prime Director's persona" is what animated the body of Mentus. Mentus has been working with the Wraiths, and is moving the entire Golden Galaxy closer to the Wraiths home-system the Dark Nebula.

On Earth, Brandy and Steve are at a drive-in hiding out from the zombie like populace of the town. The mist has continued to affect everyone around them, leaving them the only two remaining not altered by it.

Rom and the Prime Director manage to escape, and then free the other Spaceknights that were frozen in suspended animation. With Rom leading the charge, they are able to defeat the Wraiths and overturn Terminator Rom's reprogramming and return him to their side. The Prime Director was able to successfully defeat his evil half, Mentus, at the expense of both of their bodies. His persona recombined, he appears before the startled Spaceknights as a floating head of energy. With his newfound cosmic intellect, he warns the knights of the coming of Galactus!

The second half of the book is a flashback tale written by Steven Grant (of Punisher fame) and pencilled by Greg Larocque. I really like Larocque's art in this story, and I kinda hope he does more work on the book. The story is another standard tale of a Dire Wraith that married a human woman, and has become to attached to being a human. After aiding Rom against other Dire Wraiths, Rom allows the Wraith to continue his life as a human in peace.

My brain thoughts: It was nice to finally get the conclusion to the fate of Galador. I don't really understand how the fake Rom could be using the remains of the real Rom's human body, since from my understanding the Rom is already using the most important pieces. Two thirds of the way through this series and I think I'm ready for a new writer and artist team. I enjoyed the backup story by Grant and Larocque quite a bit.

#26. Galactus and Terrax the Tamer arrive at Galador. Galactus consumes the energy being of the Prime Director, igniting the conflict. While the Spaceknights battle Terrax on the surface of the planet, the two Rom's travel to Galactus himself in the slim hopes of defeating him. Terminator Rom distracts Galactus while real Rom enters his spaceship.

In Clairton, the Brandy and Steve are dragged to one of the nearby caverns on the outskirts of town by the mist entranced people. Not surprisingly, the mist was a Wraith plot. Brandy and Steve are hypnotized by the dreaded mist, and led deep into the cavern along with the rest of the population of the town, only to be replaced by Wraiths.

Rom enters Galactus' ship, only to find a grand hall with catalogued representations of every planet he had previously devoured. Terrax is defeated back on Galador, and Galactus grows tired of Terminator Rom and blasts him, leaving him to fall limply to the planet. Galactus returns to his ship to find Rom had destroyed his museum of remembrance. Before Galactus can respond, Rom tries to convince Galactus not to devour Galador, but to devour the nearby Dark Nebula, home-system of the dreaded Dire Wraiths.

My brain thoughts: Terrax goes down like a punk, as he is known to do. I don't understand why Rom destroyed the remains of all those planets, other than to get Galactus' attention. I like the inclusion of Galactus in the series, and hopefully that will mean a future meeting with the Silver Surfer.

#27. Galactus and Rom return to the surface of Galador to announce their bargain. To make up for killing Terminator Rom, Galactus commands Terrax to bury him in a shrine of stone. Rom and the Spaceknights accompany Galactus back to his ship, so that Rom can lead him toward the Dark Nebula.

Back in Clairton, the Wraiths walk about freely in the town, while deep below the surface the real people are trapped in a white-cell that appears to go on forever.

Galactus and the Spaceknights arrive on Wraithworld, a burned out charred planet blanketed in acid rain and death. Every attempt Galactus makes to feed is countered by the planet itself, until eventually Galactus attempts to feed on the black sun of the Nebula itself. The Spaceknights flee to the safety of the ship, while Galactus is surrounded and attacked by Deathwings.

The Spaceknights are quickly joined on the ship by a ravaged Galactus. Rom reveals to the godlike being that he had hoped that either Galactus would be killed trying to feed on the dead planet, or that he would succeed and destroy Wraithworld forever. Amused by the audacity of the creatures, Galactus spares them, but uses his vast power to relocate Galador off its path towards the Dark Nebula.

Galactus departs, leaving the Spaceknights stranded in space, never to know where their home planet has been relocated to.

My brain thoughts: I have a hard time believing that Galactus would have such a hard time destroying the Wraiths home world, but I understand they needed to build up just how evil the Dark Nebula was supposed to be. I also don't really think Galactus would be so amused about being tricked by Rom, especially since he needs to feed. I can't imagine why Rom would stand by while the remains of his human body were entombed in stone along with Terminator Rom either. A good issue, but requires a lot of leaps in (comic book) logic to overlook.

#28. Stranded in space and denied the location of their home planet, the Spaceknights decide to continue their universe-wide mission against the Dire Wraiths. Starshine uses her powers to send everyone back to their previous locations at light speed, with her accompanying Rom to Earth. They arrive back in Clairton where the people have all been replaced by Wraiths.

As they study Rom's Wraith finder, they are alerted by one of the Wraiths in disguise about the people of the town being dragged through the ground. The fake Steve and Brandy convince the two Spaceknights to go to the abandoned mines to find out the cause of the disturbances. Starshine appears to be jealous of Rom's obvious feelings for Brandy, eventually revealing in her thoughts "Rom must love me as I have always loved him!"

They enter the mine and descend into the darkness, where they encounter moloids and then eventually the Mole Man himself. A short battle is interrupted by the real townspeople of Clairton, who reveal that the Mole Man aided them in first escaping from their prison, and then pulling the Wraiths through the ground from the surface above, to be defeated below.

Suddenly the Wraith Steve and Brandy attack them from behind using Wraith blasters, but Starshine is able to block the blast from hitting Rom by using her own body. Rom banishes the two imposters to limbo using his neutralizer.

As Starshine lay dying, she professes her love to Rom, and her jealousy over his obvious love for Brandy. Starshine dies, leaving Brandy shocked at the revelation of Rom's feelings for her, and a confused Steve.

My brain thoughts: Starshine has a great line toward Mole Man, telling him "silence you gnomish grotesquerie!" It's kind of foul play to bust Rom out on his love for Brandy right in front of her, but hey she was dying. Starshine went out pretty easy for a Spaceknight though, with it only taking twin blasts from Wraith blasters to end her for good. I'm glad she's gone though, as her triangle head really freaked me out.

#29. The town of Clairton gathers together with Rom at the funeral of Starshine, fallen Spaceknight. The Torpedo blames himself, but his spirits are lifted by a plan to alter his visor to be able to detect Wraiths true forms in much the same way Rom's analyzer does. Brandy laments the idea of Torpedo being able to fully protect the town on his own, freeing Rom to leave.

The Mole Man and his minions for some unknown reason steal the body of Starshine from below.

Rom, detecting strange activity, flies to nearby Lucifer Falls (who would live there?) to investigate. He find a family dying of radiation poisoning, and uses his neutralizer to cure them of it. The man recounts a tale of how the Incredible Hulk had stopped to stay at this small mining community, and fought with a local resident named Lincoln. Believing the Hulk perished in the battle below in the mines, he figures it is the Hulk's body that is seeping deadly radiation up through the ground and into the town.

Rom goes down below to investigate, and finds the man the town knew as Lincoln, but is really Hulk foe the Missing Link. His body generating deadly radiation, the Missing Link is the source of the town's downfall. Seeking to cure him using his neutralizer weapon, Link attacks him thinking it is an attack. The battle is begun, and is finished when Link accidentally ignites a nearby gas pocket, setting the cavern and the town above aflame. Rom cures Link of his radiation, and returns Link to the surface.

My brain thoughts: An entertaining story with yet another obscure Marvel villain. There's a pretty standard but still very corny shot of Rom at the beginning firing his neutralizer off into the sky while shouting "Starshine!" in his grief. Also, a bad bit of dialogue from Rom later on, "would to all the gods there be that such were not so!" I don't even know what that means.

#30. Bernie Tarpin's Clairton junkyard is under attack by giant metal spiders (a giant metal spider! That's for the Kevin Smith fans…). Bernie has a funny bit of dialogue when he says, "it's gonna dissolve and eat me like it ate my junk!" Yes, I know, I am six years old, it made me laugh. Turns out the spider's were tools of the mighty Metal Master, another former Hulk opponent.

Rom, Torpedo, and the others are gathered in the Clark's basement. Torpedo gets the finishing touches on his visor that will enable him to detect Wraiths on his own. Brandy runs off in tears at the prospect of Rom leaving the town forever. Rom and Steve discuss their growing animosity over competing over Brandy's heart, with Steve having these last words for Rom, "so, even though I'm your friend, I'm glad you're going. I want Brandy back. Seeya, Rom. Merry Christmas."

In Washington DC, former reporter Mack Killburn is stalked by Wraiths disguised as ravens, cats, dogs. Just as they are about to kill him, a cop on patrol stops them by shooting them dead. Their bodies melt into piles of ash, leaving a crazed Killburn and a confused cop.

Rom and Torpedo patrol the night skies over Clairton, and discuss his feelings for Brandy. The Torpedo tries to convince Rom to follow his heart, and go after Brandy. They separate, and Torpedo comes upon the burned Marks farmhouse, where he witnesses the materializing form suggesting the possible return of Hybrid!

The Metal Master happens upon a flying Rom, and sends his metal spiders out to analyse and collect his metal body for him. Rom defeats the spiders and then the Metal Master himself. Rom ends the issue by carrying the unconscious body of Bernie Tarpin inside, and leaving the Metal Master's ship for him in his junkyard.

My brain thoughts: Two issues in a row Rom has faced former Hulk villains, leaving even Rom to wonder when he will meet the Jade Giant. I'm sure it will be coming up soon. Rom has a great line when he's fighting the metal spiders, when he says, "I only know that this Spaceknight is not for eating!" I'm excited about the prospects of Hybrid returning.

My final brain thoughts: The quest marches on, thirty issues down. More and more obscure heroes and villains continue to show up in the title. I feel like I need to track down an old set of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe series just to continue (and I might!). I imagine Mantlo going to the editors, begging for guest stars to put in the book, only to get the castoffs and nobodies that no one else wants to use. "You want Dr. Doom? Here, use Diamondface instead". However, the Torpedo ended up being a great addition so far, I like him as a character. The villains are less impressive, but Mantlo makes the most of them. It's interesting to see one time castoff Nova making an appearance in this book. The letters page of issue 29 suggests that this was indeed a wrap-up for the previously cancelled Nova series, and that most fans were upset with the depowering of the character at the end of the issue. We all know he eventually came back though. Having recently reread some issues of the 1990s series NEW WARRIORS, I believe fans had to wait until then to see Nova again. Feel free to yell at Duy if I'm wrong.

 Overall I'd like to see Rom make more progress in his mission to rid the entire Earth of the Dire Wraiths, but I think Marvel probably knew they had a successful title on their hands and needed to prolong the drama. Fortunately for you, my faithful readers (Okay, reader. Hi, Danry), and unfortunately for me, there is only one way to find out. Join me for the next exciting installment in the history of Rom!

Go to Part 4!

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