Sunday, October 30, 2005

Mystery Box: Rom Annual #4

Ah, Rom. Years ago, my brother bought a stack of Rom for about a dollar, believing, I suppose, in quantity over quality. He's since stopped reading comics (I wonder why?), and I now have a pile of back-issues of Rom: Spaceknight.

Rom, if you didn't know, was a particularly doofy-looking toy produced by Parker Brothers at the tail end of the seventies. Parker Brothers is best known as a board game manufacturer and, accordingly, their foray into action figures didn't go too terribly well, sales-wise. However, they pitched the character to Marvel who started a tie-in comic that ended up running for seventy-five issues and involved damn near every Marvel character at some point or another.

In fact, remember when Storm lost her powers? It's because of Rom. Rom's enemies, the Dire Wraiths, evidently an off-shoot of the Skrulls, waged a crazy little war on earth. Rom carried a weapon capable of banishing the Wraiths to Limbo (which popped up in Universe X, oddly enough), but few other things seemed capable of stopping the damned aliens. To that end, Henry Peter Gyrich talked Forge into building copies of Rom's Neutralizer. And that weapon is what stripped Storm of her powers for a while.

Oddly enough.

Plus, Rick Jones hung around Rom for a while. And Steve Ditko was on the book forever.

Anyway, Rom Annual #4. We open on one of those bug-shaped Shi'ar ships flying through space (well, "space" is sort of a misnomer. We're dealing with one of those backgrounds Steve Ditko would draw in Dr Strange stories, really. There's a big purple swirly thing an a whole bunch of big yellow dots). There's a figure floating in an orb in front of the ship, causing an overdramatic Shi'ar radar operator to call out

"COMMANDER DAKARI! Instruments detect a FORCE-SPHERE floating in the vacuum of space!"

I'm sure Commander Dakari was accustomed to such flights of drama. The Shi'ar Empire was, at this point, positively mired in the stuff. The head of the empire was the dramatically-named Deathbird and they exist almost solely as X-Men supporting characters/living plot points, so they know nothing other than overblown dialogue and manufactured suspense. You never see a submarine radarman yelling to his captain about "MYSTERIOUS BLIPS outside in THE MURKY DEPTHS OF THE SEA," after all.

Having never seen any of the Aliens movies, the commander orders the mysterious figure pulled aboard, where it promptly comes to life and kills a squad of Imperial Guardsmen to death before dropping himself. The ship's doctor, a cat-man who either ripped off or was ripped off by Tiggorr (Tigor? Tigggorrr? Tigorr? Tiggor? I don't care enough to look it up. You know who I mean), pronounces the new arrival dead and then takes its body to his lab for analysis.

Turns out it's the shell of a Spaceknight, the cyborg military force of Galador, Rom's home planet. A flashback tells us that his name was "Pulsar" and that he was mortally wounded by Wraiths prior to encasing himself in a force-sphere and setting himself adrift in space for... some reason.

Now that he's dead, the doctor decides that since he hates the Shi'ar so much, he ought to put himself in Pulsar's armor and beat the Hell out of some sorry-ass bird-based aliens. And so he does.

Which leads the Imperial Guard to capture Rom and some of his extraordinarily lame buddies. The Imperial Guard is really incredibly crappy, when you get right down to it. Aside from Gladiator, an absurdly powerful Superman knock-off with a mohawk, they're some of the dumbest characters ever created.

Case in point:
Rom's buddy Scanner is the blue... thing of indeterminate gender in the middle. You'll note it is telling the two Guardsmen (in this case Tempest and Electron, not that it matters. They're the made-in-Hong-Kong version of Legion of Super-Heroes) exactly what is about to happen. And it still works.

Rom fights the Gladiator for a while and performs admirably for a guy whose head looks like a toaster. As is the norm for stories of this ilk, the two groups resolve their differences long enough to beat the shit out the the crazy doctor in the Pulsar suit and Gladiator defies his empire long enough to give the Spaceknights a way home.

That's not the point, though. Not to turn in to X-E, or anything, but the ads in this issue are amazing.
MASK! MASK was one of the single dumbest concepts of all time. You know that scene in Big where Tom Hanks tells that toy designer than no kid would play with a robot that turned into a building because buildings don't do anything? Same kind of thing applies here.

The gimmick of MASK was vehicles that turned into other vehicles. Like that car there that could fly by opening up its gullwing doors. The plane in back there could turn into a helicopter. On what level does that make any sense? Wouldn't it be easier to make a VTOL airplane?

Anyway, the best part of the whole line is that their base of operations was a gas station. That says... something. I don't know what, but it's something, sure as ten dimes makes a dollar.

Cartoons! There were a couple of ads for Saturday morning cartoon schedules for the upcoming season. This is back when Saturday mornings were laden with weird crap and this schedule was what you planned your weekend around. Not like today, no. I left the NBC schedule out because it was two page spread, but rest assured that it was equally as awesome as this one. Spider-Man, Mr T and Punky Brewster in the same ad. My God.

Yeah, most of the stuff on CBS's plate was utter garbage, but Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling is one of the finest half-hours ever conceived. And look at that illustration! You can positively smell the Hulkamania runnin' wild!

Crappy toys! Finally, we have this, found on the back cover. This annual's from the summer of '85, the heyday of the Transformers, when every company thought that transforming toys were some kind of magical genie sent to give them piles of money. Vector Intercontinental threw their hat into the ring with Morphodroids, a line of crappy remote-controlled cars that could... stand up on little feet at the push of a button.

A veritable license to print money, I tell you.


kelvingreen said...

What I don't get is why Parker held on so tightly to the Rom licence a couple of years ago when Marvel published that Rom-that-isn't-Rom series. I mean, as you say, it was hardly a lucrative property in the first place (except for Marvel, who did well out of it), and I don't remember seeing any Rom 2000 toys, so I'm not sure what they gained by witholding the rights.

Then again, it could have been Marvel being tight and not wanting to pay the $40 the licence would have cost.

Jon said...

Also, when Rom popped up in Universe X, Captain America had to call him "the greatest of the Spaceknights."

Which was silly. Cap never yells "THE SON OF ODIN!" when he sees Thor or "THE GOLDEN AVENGER!" when Tony Stark rolls into Avengers Mansion after a bender.

I just like knowing the Rom is still, hilariously, in continuity. So many random things were spun out of it (Storm losing her powers, Rick Jones being some other weird hero's sidekick, the suit that Turbo wears over in Runaways) that there's no neat way to excise it. Plus, it really isn't a bad comic.

kelvingreen said...

Yeah, there's a fair bit of Godzilla-related continuity floating about too, although nowhere near as much as Rom. I think Red Ronin was created for the sole purpose of fighting Godzilla, for example. But can't mention that any more, no siree.

Although I hear that Marvel are publishing an Essential Godzilla...