Sunday, June 28, 2015

Kid's Stuff, Part I: ROM #24

The crappiest toy ever to have a successful comic series

ROM the spaceknight made a mint for Marvel comics. Originally created by Bing McCoy as an Egyptian Mystic doll, ROM was remade as a cyborg in 1979 when McCoy couldn’t find any buyers. 

Parker Brothers snatched up the new design and negotiated a deal with Marvel Comics for a series about ROM. A series that would outlast the toy’s shelf life by about five years. 

ROM itself was an annoying toy. It had about three points of articulation (shoulders, hips and knees) so it wasn’t very poseable. The reason Rom was such as stiffy was that board game maker Parker Brothers hadn’t released an action figure before. They were cutting costs anyway they could. Originally designed with green LED lights for eyes, ROM got red LEDs instead because the green lights were too expensive. ROM came with a variety of gear to hold in his permanently bent arms, each emitting its own irritating noise. Usually this was a variation of “beep” or the nasty sound your garbage disposal makes when it’s backed up. 

I really despise this doll.

I was 12 years old when ROM came out and even I knew it wasn’t going to be popular. First off, ROM didn’t have any bad guys to fight. Secondly, the rigid arms and the stiff legs gave off the appearance of an “action-less” figure. My 12-inch GI Joe could kick his butt. Even the ones without kung-fu grip. So what if Joe didn’t beep. 

I could tell that there was a “cheapness” factor to ROM and getting involved with him would only end in heartbreak. No one wants a toy that is headed to the discount shelves next week. No one wants to be that “kid with the ROM doll.” I didn’t realize back then how right I would turn out to be. Even though ROM sold between two to three hundred thousand units, it was deemed a failure by Parker Brothers. The line was dropped. I never gave the comic a second look, but a very strange thing occurred with the book.

It became remarkably popular.

Marvel brought in Bill Mantlo to write the adventures of both ROM and the series based on the Micronauts toys. Mantlo had previously helmed both Iron Man and Thor titles with success. 

Something peculiar happened with these two toy titles. Mantlo breathed life into the hunks of plastic, eventually writing both series for more than seven years. ROM got a great backstory, villains and interactions with top rung Marvel heroes. Heck he even got to be Rick Jones’s pal. ROM went on for 75 issues and outlasted the Parker Brothers doll by five years. Meanwhile the Micronauts turned into an outcast team book in the tradition of X-Men. The Micronauts series won the prestigious Eagle award for Favorite New Comic in 1978 and was nominated for Favorite Continuing Storyline. The book thrived with issues well into the late 50’s. Mantlo and a stable of capable Marvel artists had truly taken two sow’s ears and turned them into silk purses.

Given my already outspoken hatred of the ROM action figure, I really have no cause to like the book, right?

Well, I do like it.

I love it, in fact.

Mantlo really knows his stuff and the art by Sal Bucema fits the silver age material perfectly. ROM’s background has him stranded on Earth while chasing a race of shape-shifting aliens known as Dire Wraiths. ROM is a spaceknight from the planet Galador and has been hunting Dire Wraiths after they were defeated on his homeworld. While being stuck on Earth, ROM has discovered the planet to be infested with the evil aliens. Recently the Wraiths showed ROM an image of his homeworld in ruins. This information drove ROM to borrow a Skrull saucer from the Fantastic Four’s leader Reed Richards. Richards programs a course to Galador for ROM and sends him on his way. Sadly, finding Galador isn’t going to be so easy.

“ROM hate stupid spaceship! ROM smash!” Sorry, I guess Mantlo must have been channeling his days writing Banner’s alter ego. Luckily for ROM, the sector of space he is in isn’t uninhabited. I guessing this plot twist was planned in advance because there’s nothing like drifting in space for several issues to really put a book on the top of the sales charts. So who is it that’s racing to intercept our hero?

Why it’s our old friend Nova and the ex-villain Powerhouse. They are zooming closer and closer to us. I wonder if they will be our friends? Not likely, given that we are riding in a Skrull saucer and Xandar, the world Nova is the protector of, is currently at war with the Skrulls. Oopsie? 

After fielding a few potshots to his saucer, ROM flies out an airlock to take the fight to them before they damage his space ride. Powerhouse is up first, but ROM causes the lad’s draining power to work in reverse. Leaving Powerhouse's unconscious body floating in space, ROM becomes the target of Nova.

I guess we know whose book this is. ROM tosses Nova around like a Frisbee, but gets a free pass to Xandar by mentioning Earth and then recounting his origin story. He also happens to mention what it is he’s looking for.

I’m sorry but “the golden galaxy of Galador” sounds like a breakfast entrĂ©e at IHOP. I believe it comes with a large Belgium waffle, two pieces of bacon, a slice of ham, one egg any style, a small Orange juice and a Coffee. But enough about breakfast, on to the planet Xandar!

Okay, make that “on to the four floating blobs of crap strung together like some high school biology model of DNA that we call the planet Xandar.”

On Xandar, we meet Queen Adora, Suzerain of all Xandar, who may know the way to Galador. This makes ROM happy.

But Queen Adora doesn’t know the way to Galador, she’s never heard of it. This makes ROM sad.


However, the Queen tells him that Xandar has giant living computers that might be able to find Galador. This makes ROM happy.


Except for the fact that Xandar’s Prime Thoran transferred all their knowledge into himself becoming The Protector, so now the computers are useless. This makes ROM sad.

But now that the The Protector knows all that the computers knew, he can tell ROM where Galador is. This makes ROM happy.

Unfortunately, The Protector left with the rest of the New Champions to pursue the Skrulls in Nova’s spaceship and hasn’t been heard from since. This makes ROM sad.

When suddenly, a message arrives stating that The Protector has returned with the New Champions in Nova’s ship from defeating the Skrulls. This makes ROM happy.

BUT when The Protector and the New Champions beam down into the midst of the gathered Xandarins, all they offer Queen Adora…

All the people that beamed down are Skrulls in disguise. This makes ROM sad.

And angry.

And disenchanted.

And whimsical. 

Ok, maybe not whimsical. 

Anyway, ROM starts blasting the Skrulls while Nova sets off to rescue his captured friends. Diamondhead has sided with the Skrulls and starts using his knowledge of the ship against Nova. Forced to attack his own spaceship, Nova cuts loose.

Nova gets better scenes here than he did in his own title. Way to go, Richard Ryder! All the Skrulls are sucked out into space, leaving only Diamondhead on board. He’s no match for a frustrated and mad Nova.

After leaving Diamondhead to float helplessly in space, Nova finds and rescues the Nova Corps, New Champions and The Protector. Meanwhile, ROM’s been pretty busy himself.

This makes the Kree look pretty damn wussy is all I’ve got to say. One, count ‘em, one spaceknight is handily decimating the attacking Skrull force. He has defeated so many enemies that he has to literally stand on top of their fallen bodies so he can shoot some more. Captain Mar-Vell, eat your heart out. 

Nova and friends arrive, the Skrulls are captured, and everyone has a happy ending. Nova is beamed back to Earth and ROM is beamed to Galador. The next issue setup comes in the final two pages showing that something is wrong with ROM’s friends on Earth. They are acting strange, perhaps they’ve been possessed by Dire Wraiths? 

Only buying the next issue would tell, which many, many readers did.

 --Please Read --
Bill Mantlo: a Marvel hero who needs your help

I wanted to say a few words about Bill Mantlo. Bill was a great writer. The few issues I had the pleasure of finding in his Micronauts run were some of the best, most involving comics I’ve ever read. 

Unfortunately Bill Mantlo was struck by a car while rollerblading in 1992. He suffered severe head trauma and spent over two weeks in a coma. He has since been institutionalized and is not expected to fully recover.  An article covering Mantlo's condition that will tear at your heartstrings is located HERE.

A benefit project for Bill Mantlo has been set up offering a book called Mantlo: A Life in Comics filled with interviews of Bill and an unreleased story by him. All proceeds of the book were donated toward the costs of maintaining Mantlo’s daily care. Currently the book is out of print, but if you would still like to make a donation, see the link below.

If you can, please give generously to someone who has given us so very, very much.

 A link the project can be found HERE.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Movie Tie-Ins, Part I: Jurassic Park: Raptor #2

Forget the snakes, we’ve got Raptors on a Plane! And they’re FLYING IT!

Topps Comics was a division of the world famous trading card company. They decided to jump into comics in the boom of the 1990’s. Like many other companies new to the comic book field, they made some mistakes. One of the mistakes they didn’t make was in obtaining licensing for hot properties like X-Files, Jurassic Park and some concepts from the retired (at the time) Jack Kirby. Headed by Ex-Marvelite Jim Salicrup, Topps also attracted some major talent in terms of writers and artists. The industry shrink was too much for them and in 1998 they closed doors.

But not before Topps had a chance to release a movie tie-in to Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and three follow up series. What we have here is the middle JP series, sandwiched in between 9 issues of “Return to Jurassic Park” and 4 issues of “Jurassic Park: Raptors Attack”. With all that talent you’d figure that the JP: Raptor book would be trouble free. It isn’t. Mainly because of the numbering issue. It’s issue number 2 of a 2 part series. And it ends by being continued in the next issue. That to me is a big problem, both math-wise and marketing-wise. When I invest in a mini-series, I believe it when the publisher says how many issues it will contain. When they continue the story to the next mini-series, I feel cheated. When I pick up number 1 of a mini-series only to find I’m in the middle of an ongoing story, I’m also a bit distraught. So when you say 2, end the story in issue 2, Topps.

How is the actual story in JP:Raptor? Not bad, really. It’s written by long time GL scribe Steve Englehart. Art chores are done by Armando Gil, Dell Barras and Fred Carrillo. Never heard of them and likely won’t again. The art is on the simplistic side and the colorist was only given two kinds of palettes to work from: neutrals and neons. Doctors Grant, Slatter and Malcolm reappear in pretty close likenesses. What we end up with is a not so great, not so bad book that plays to fans of the movie.

As we begin our story, Grant and Slatter have been captured by a big game hunter by the name of George Lawala. He’s also captured five newly hatched baby velociraptors. In our opening scene we find our good dino docs in one cage in the hold and the raptors in the other.

Grant gets upset because Lawala has gotten the raptors off of Jurassic Park. He asserts to Slatter that the raptors would like nothing better than to “take on the world”. This is absolutely the worst thing that could happen in his opinion. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

We’re all very proud for you doc. Oh, sorry. Grant is going to use it to pick the lock on the cage they are in. The raptors see what he’s doing and start imitating his actions. About this time Lawala decided to make a surprise inspection of the hold. He catches Grant in the act, causing him to break his buckle's long tongue off in the lock. Try getting your pants to stay up now, Dr Grant. Also Lawala’s got an overly high opinion of himself, it seems.

I’m thinking that being able to write his name in the snow has gone to Lawala’s head. Lawala and Grant engage in a verbal war of what man should and shouldn’t do, what makes a man worth of being called a man but stop just shy of telling “your momma” jokes. Grant tries to trick Lawala into disclosing who he’s stealing the raptors for, but it doesn’t work. Instead Lawala tells them they are going to be transferred to a sea plane and since he doesn’t want any scuffling during the move, he pulls out a device to knock out the raptors.

The knock out gas Lawala is using comes in two scents: regular and pine fresh. Who makes knock-out gas in an aerosol can? Look at how insanely powerful that stuff is. He sprays it on the raptors and they fall asleep. It doesn’t even look like it takes any time to take effect. Pity they didn’t have a couple of cans of that stuff in the movie.

It’s all purpose too. Stuff even works on people. I really could have used a few cans of this during my dating years. What? My girlfriends all had very violent ex-boyfriends. What did you think I was implying?

So, both docs are asleep and they didn’t get to warn Lawala about the raptors trying to pick the locks. Both of them get shoved on a plane and off they go with the baby dinos. Meanwhile the book checks in on Doctor Malcolm, who is in a hospital bed. The artists do a fair impression of Jeff Goldblum’s likeness. He is updated on the situation of Grant and Slatter going missing and utters some chaos nonsense to explain his position.

Slatter and Grant wake to find they’ve gone from frying pan to fire, since the raptors have picked the lock on their own cage. I’m sure this is NOT being conveyed correctly, because that cage looks too small for them to have escaped harm for very long. Those raptors would have hooked them and drug the to the side of the cage where they could tear them into bite size chunks that fit through the bars.

Next the raptors try to pick their locks (they're going to send them back to mother in a cardboard box? You better run!…No Floyd fans? Never mind), but fail because Grant’s long tongue is stuck in it still. Sorry, his belt’s long tongue is still stuck in it. Right about then Lawala and the pilot hear something shifting in the cargo hold. Lawala tells the pilot to lock the door behind him while he goes and checks. This is very good advice.

Lawala is attacked by one of the raptors (one? I thought the hunted in packs like wolves?) but is able to perform a perfect “Captain Kirk”.

The “Captain Kirk” is a term for a very specific move that William Shatner would perform in the original Star Trek series. It occurred with stunning regularity in most normal fights between Kirk and a larger sized, stronger opponent. The “Captain Kirk” maneuver involves running back a pace or two and then executing a flying kick toward your opponent. Except you totally expose your back while doing this so that you could land shoulder first on to the stunt bags provided for the actors. On TV or comics it looks great, but in real life you’ve just left your back and side open to the enemy while simultaneously managing to lay down on the floor in front of them. Luckily Lawala has a shotgun handy. One raptor down and four to go.

Lawala decides to let Grant and Slatter out to help him. Oddly he seems to have run out of that special aerosol sleep aid that was so handy on the boat. He gives them shotguns and they decide to split up so they make better targets, er… so they can cover more ground. Since the cargo plane is immense and all. 

Lawala bags another one and we are down to three-on-three odds. Pretty good going, until Brennan the pilot decides that there is just too much shifting around going on back there. He picks up a rifle and heads back to help out. Before he goes, Brennan clicks on the autopilot while uttering an ominous warning that it should handle things okay BARRING MASSIVE WEIGHT SHIFTS. Yet that’s what is already occurring. Brennan is a big dummy who deserves to be raptor chow.

And next page he is. After almost being shot by Lawala, Brennan is torn to shreds by a raptor right in front of the game hunter. Lawala gets one shot off before he goes down as well. So that’s raptors two, humans three. Or almost three. The raptor is only mortally wounded in the neck. Suddenly Ellie appears on the scene.

Two injured, possibly dead humans and one injured, possibly dead razor fanged killing machine with lethal claws. Which one should I help out. Oh screw the humans, it’s not like they were my type or anything.

Yes, Ellie. You could just let it die. If the roles were reversed, it would bite you in two like a Pringles chip. Instead she plays “Prehistoric Vet” while Grant lures the remaining two raptors away from her and locks them in a crate. He then swings that crate over the open cargo bay doors. Why, you may ask? I don’t know why. I guess he didn’t feel like he could shoot them without Ellie then trying to tourniquet their gunshot wounds immediately afterwards. 

Suddenly all the shifting weight in the cargo hold knocks out the autopilot. While Alan struggles to crash land the plane into the relative safety of the jungle, our issue ends. I can hardly wait for issue three of this two part series. Or should I say issue one of the next four part series: Raptors Attack.