Wed
Jul 24 2013 10:00am

One Thing that Definitely DID NOT Happen at San Diego Comic Con 2013: Rom Spaceknight

Rom Spaceknight

Stubby the Rocket has already written up a rundown of the important stuff that happened at SDCC this year, so I’m not going to rehash the cool announcements that were made. Instead I want to tell you about a thing I hoped to hear, but didn’t.

It’s quite possible that I may be alone in this wish, but the one thing I really had my fingers crossed for was the return of Rom, the greatest spaceknight of them all.

You might, at this point, have two questions on your lips: who is Rom and why should I care. I’M GLAD YOU ASKED.

Rom, for the uninitiated, started out as a really awful toy in the 1970s. It looked like someone put frog legs on the chrome grille of a 1947 Chevy Fleetmaster, gave it a few weird accessories, an art deco espresso machine for a head, and called it day. Its eyes lit up, it made sounds, and it included a universal translator device that as a child I thought actually worked, although it’s worth mentioning that the only thing it could translate to was a cheap electronic beeping.

There were no enemies for Rom to fight, no allies for Rom to fight with, just: Rom. And Rom stunk.

Marvel Comics wound up with the license rights, and in 1979 began to produce an ongoing series based on the toy, which long outlived the miserable toy itself. The comic wasn’t set in a separate Rom-universe, like Marvel did with a lot of their licensed properties (e.g. G.I. Joe, or one of my other obscuro faves, The Starriors), but was actually as a part of regular Marvel continuity, which meant Rom would occasionally hang out with the Fantastic Four or the X-Men. You know, the way superheroes do.

The comics were written by Marvel’s resident 1970s genius weirdo Bill Mantlo, and if you’ve never read a Bill Mantlo book (Cloak & Dagger, Micronauts, Jack of Hearts, that comic where Iron Man fought Frankenstein), you are in for a treat my friend. And next summer, when you’re packed into a megaplex at midnight on July 31 to see the Guardians of the Galaxy movie and you think to yourself, “Oh weird, there’s a talking raccoon with a gun in this movie?”, remember that Bill Mantlo is the writer responsible for that raccoon.

In the comic, Rom was a space cyborg who sacrificed his humanity — or, er, his Galadorian-ity — to become the first and greatest of the Spaceknights, and protect everyone from his mortal enemy, the alien Dire Wraiths, whom Rom had kindasorta unleashed on the universe. Unlike most cyborgs where I guess they just put all your guts in a Hefty bag by the curb, Rom’s former parts are being kept in a jar somewhere, and once he succeeds in ridding the universe of the Dire Wraiths, he’ll reclaim the rest of his old body, fly back home, and make out with his old girlfriend again, big time.

He was selfless, heroic, and cool. Standard hero stuff.

Now, two things. First is that the Dire Wraiths are TERRIFYING. Like, pee-your-pants scary. They are shape-shifting Cthulhu aliens with weird squid-drill tongues who will suck out your brain, turn you into a pile of goo, and just start living your life. But evilly.

The other thing is that Dire Wraiths are really good at staying hidden. Pretty much the only person who can reliably tell if someone is a Dire Wraith is Rom. And when he finds a Dire Wraith he blasts it into hot ashes with his Neutralizer ray. Job well done, Rom! It’s Miller Time.

Important: since virtually no one else can see the aliens’ true form once they’ve body-snatched you, no one ever knows what the hell Rom is doing. He might bash in the church doors on your wedding day and blast your fiancé to ashes, and while you’re changing your honeymoon-suite reservations to be under “Mr. and Mrs. Pile-of-Ashes”, he’d probably just be like, “Oh yeah, that dude was an evil alien doppelganger of your fiancé, trust me. Gotta go! ::drops microphone:: ROM OUT.”

There are so many comics in which Rom shows up and, apparently, to the casual observer, just starts straight-up murdering people right and left.

WHY, ROM, WHY.

Then people misunderstand his actions, treat him like a monster, attempt to intervene. Hijinks ensue.

So what happened? You might ask. If Rom is so cool, why isn’t he in comics any more?

Legal stuff, is the answer. Marvel doesn’t hold the license any more. But, what with the Guardians of the Galaxy getting made into a movie, I’d hoped against hope that there’d be news Rom would return. Last year Marvel published a tiny picture of Rom in the ads for their Age of Ultron storyline, and it did not escape my attention that the new Avengers movie would be called Avengers: Age of Ultron. The movie, however, will be an original story and not, confusingly, an adaptation of this very recent Marvel storyline that has the exact same name. Go figure.

So for now I’ll just cackle at jokes cracked at the expense of Rom’s legal limbo, add my “like” to the Bring Back Rom Facebook group, and cross my fingers that Guardians of the Galaxy is a hit and shows audiences just how rad Marvel’s space stories and characters are, and they’ll have no CHOICE but to bring Rom back.

Find him… before he finds you, Marvel Comics.


David Moran has nightmares about Dire Wraiths sometimes. Please Rom make it stop.

24 comments
Chrysostom
2. Chrysostom
There was a good write up of Rom and the Dire Wraiths in Dragon Magazine #112.
Chrysostom
3. LurkerWithout
People who don't eagerly await the return of ROM to Marvel comics are just the wrong kind of people...
Chrysostom
4. chaosprime
They do keep teasing us. A Galadorian spaceknight was how Ultron returned to Earth in the early run-up to Age of Ultron! Relevance? None apparent. Dammit.

And yeah, Dire Wraiths, the pink ones anyway, were badass, and freaking TERRIFYING when you're 12.

You may be interested in knowing that your line in the wedding bit appears to be inspired by Morrison's also-amazing Skrull Kill Krew, in which someone actually says "Thing is, your girlfriend was a disguised space monster from the Andromeda Galaxy. It happens. You gonna be cool?"
Chrysostom
5. KF
Unless he's joking, Bendis has occasionally said he wanted to bring ROM back but couldn't because of legal issues. More recently, he said he wanted him to come back at the end of Age of Ultron. (You can hear him saying this in his most recent Word Balloon interview.)
David Moran
7. DavidMoran
2. Chrysostom

Wait, really? I'm gonna have to track that down.

3. LurkerWithout

WORD. But also, I feel like most Kids These Days have never even heard of Rom. Most of the comics reading audience's interest and attention begins in the 1990s, and, for better or worse, today's comics are children of the 1990s, which is exactly when Rom bowed out of the Marvel Universe. Which is cool, since we didn't have to live with what a 90s Rom would have looked like (leather bolero jacket, red glowing mohawk, spiky ankle bracelets, pouches) but also means he's kind of forgotten these days.
David Moran
8. DavidMoran
4. chaosprime

Ha! I did read Skrull Kill Krew ... seven or eight years ago I think. I remember it being ... not my favorite Morrison, but I liked it well enough. To tell you the truth, what ELSE are you gonna say to someone in that situation?
David Moran
9. DavidMoran
5. KF

Yeah, a number of CREATORS have totally said, "I would love to bring back Rom." I feel like Abnett and Lanning in particular have mentioned this a couple times. But It's Marvel legal - or Hasbro, the current rights holder iirc - that's stopping them.
Mordicai Knode
10. mordicai
Did the Skrull Kill Krew re-invoke the skrull cows from FF4?
Bruce Arthurs
11. Bruce-Arthurs
fordmadoxfraud: "we didn't have to live with what a 90s Rom would have looked like (leather bolero jacket, red glowing mohawk, spiky ankle bracelets, pouches)"

Well, yeah to that, but on the other hand, Rom was pretty uninspiring in the design department. He looked like the life-sized love child of a Cylon and a Lego mini-fig.

Rom might be worth bringing up as a potential redesign project for the fine folks over at Project Rooftop.
David Moran
12. DavidMoran
11. Bruce-Arthurs

I mean, yes and no? Yeah, he's not ... elaborately designed, but I always took that as a kind of awesome minimalism, rather than poor art. There's something about Rom that I always thought was very distinctive. He's SUPPOSED to be kind of unhuman and a little uncool looking. He gave up his humanity to fill this role, and that emotional tension is kind of undercut if you make him look, I don't know, capital C cool. The boxy profile, the expressionless face with just two glowing eyes, &c. The fact that he doesn't even have fingers - just shiny metal mittens - always blew my mind.
David Moran
13. DavidMoran
11. Bruce-Arthurs

But also yeah, I would kill to see a Project Rooftop re-design regardless. Every once in a while you'll see some awesome redesign art when some good samaritan throws a benefit for Bill Mantlo:

http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2010/12/bid-on-new-rom-artwork-to-benefit-bill-mantlo/
David Moran
14. DavidMoran
Also, wow, in looking for that Mantlo benefit link, I came across this incredible (fake) Rom/Star Trek crossover cover:

http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2012/12/wish-this-was-real-mars-attacks-rom-and-star-trek/
Chrysostom
15. wizard clip
I lovd this comic! It had a real "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" vibe. As an added bonus, Rom came to earth and had most of his early adventures in West Virginia (my home state). Thumbs up to Mantlo for portraying the people of WV as, well, people, and not backwards hillbilly stereotypes. One correction: Rom's neutralizer did not reduce the Dire Wraiths to smoking piles of ash. Rather, it banished them to an extra-dimensional limbo. Rom, like most superheroes of this era, refused to kill, even villains as vile as the Dire Wraiths.
David Moran
16. DavidMoran
15. wizard clip

You are absolutely correct to point out that Rom's Neutralizer did not kill the wraiths. But their banishment did look to ... pretty much everyone like he was killing them, which is I think an important part of his character. Unlike, say, Batman, Rom is actually a SOLDIER who has been fighting a war, more or less alone, for two hundred years. So him showing up and looking for all the world like he's just killing people, because he's so weary from doing this for so long he kinda can't be bothered to explain to anyone, is kind of cornerstone of what makes Rom Rom.
David Moran
17. DavidMoran
15. wizard clip

Although, re: not killing. There was that one time where Galactus showed up to Galador with dinner time eyes, and Rom was all, "Hey, Galactus, I know you like heralds and all. Why don't I show you around and drive you to your next meal? If you skip Galador, that is." And Galactus was like, "Sure, where are we going." And Rom was like "Um, have you by any chance heard of the Dire Wraith homeworld? Let's check it out."
Chrysostom
18. Krishna Sadasivam
Disclosure: Not a lawyer and not familiar with the legalties behind ROM's license.

BUT... If the legal issue is over ROM's spaceknight armor, why couldn't Marvel side-step the whole thing and give ROM a brand new design? I seem to remember seeing a cameo of ROM in human form in an old issue of the Hulk (long after ROM's series was cancelled).
David Moran
19. DavidMoran
18. Krishna Sadasivam

They've used several such dodges to include him in cameos, yeah. He's shown up in human form - as a retired hero who used to be "the greatest spaceknight", they're referred to him euphemistically in a bunch of different ways, and they've totally had people talk about him -- just, not call him "Rom" when they did.

Because all the property was was a toy when it came to Marvel, Bill Mantlo invented pretty much everything about the character, besides his name and his physical appearance. And Marvel has continued to use that stuff - the Dire Wraiths, the Spaceknights, they all crop up from time to time. But a Rom who looks like Rom never has.
Ron Hogan
20. RonHogan
"Did the Skrull Kill Krew re-invoke the skrull cows from FF4?"

Those cows were slaughtered for meat and consumed by humans, who were infected with shape-shifting powers and really, really hated the Skrulls because of it. So they went around killing them.
Mordicai Knode
21. mordicai
20. RonHogan

Ha! Oh man. There was some other comic I read-- maybe one of those Spider-Man team-up comics that were goofy?-- that showed the skrull cows alive & well. Sad that they got hamburgered.
Kerry Engelhardt
22. geniusscientist
Is... is that a pimp at the wedding? That seems mildly inappropriate.
JOSEPH HOOPMAN
24. hoopmanjh
Just give me collections and revivals of Rom, Micronauts and Shogun Warriors and nobody gets hurt. Those were my gateway drugs into comic collecting.
Chrysostom
25. Shlomo Ben Hungstein
for the latest ROM news and fan art
http://www.romspaceknightart.blogspot.com/
Chrysostom
26. Nick Lowery
I can't remember how I discovered ROM, but I collected as many of the old issues as I could when I was a kid. Never got enough of them to really get a handle on the whole arc. But they were so bizarre and dark and mythic, unlike any other comics I had encounetered by that time, they really captivated 12 year old me. I would LOVE to see a collected version.
Chrysostom
27. Kevonic
This might be nonsense, but I think what also hurt ROM as a property was that so few people could draw him effectively. There was a fine line between him looking majestic in an alien sorta way and him looking gangly and boxy. Looking back over the covers, he must've given guys like John Byrne, Frank Miller, and Bill Sienkiewicz fits. Michael Golden made him look more aggressive and forceful than anyone (fixed the toaster head by angling the front panel – brilliant).

But Sal Buscema was able to draw ROM with so much emotion and character and majesty. Super long legs and forearms, broad shoulders and that tiny head. He never looked awkward or knock-kneed. It's hard for an actor to act with his face hidden. Bet it's really tough for an artist to draw the same.

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