Rom, Spaceknight

10 Aug

I’m not usually a nostalgic person, or maybe I just don’t usually allow myself to indulge my nostalgic longings; I’m not sure there’s even a difference between those two options. But lately, I’ve been a little more forgiving of the urge to take a retrospective glance. Last year I more or less deconstructed a jacket the way I would have in high school, and I’ve tried to recreate, or at least to re-enjoy some experiences– like the movie Repo Man— that were important to a younger me.

Ebay makes this kind of thing ridiculously easy, so I went online and bought up a run of issues of the Rom, Spaceknight comic, which I’d read some of when they were first being published– we’re talking 83-84 here; the run I bought covered issue 50 to the final issue, issue 75, missing issue 61 but including annuals two, three, and four. So far, I’ve read issues 50-65, and the second and third annuals. I don’t mean to be too precious, but it’s those issues, written, btw, by Rocket Raccoon creator Bill Mantlo, that I want to talk about here.

These issues are taken up with three storylines, and the tail-end of one more– issue 50 is the conclusion of an earlier storyline about the final fate of Clairton, WV, where our heroes (Rom, Brandy Clark/ Starshine, and sadsack superhero Vortex) and their enemies (the Dire Wraiths, a group of shapechanging, magic wielding aliens) have come to fight it out. Issue fifty, as I suggested, resolves this storyline which had been building since I don’t know when because I hadn’t been reading those issues– Vortex dies, the Wraiths are routed, sort of, and the comic takes off in another direction.

First, then, the issues I read wage war on the Dire Wraiths, with actual military troops, and Rom shifts, somewhat inelegantly, into being something like a war comic, only one fought at the level of generals and war rooms– there’s a lot of talk about strategy, and the morality of letting earth people know they are under attack. These issues, to me, are kind of the weakest of the bunch, but it’s a short lived run, maybe till about issue #53.

After that, we shift to something more like a horror of the week approach– these issues see Rom and Brandy-Starshine confront the Wraiths in more direct terms, finding them out and trying to discover their plans. Here, the storylines are good– one about an attempt to poison Canadian waters that involves Canada’s finest superteam, Alpha Flight, leads naturally into a short run that included Ant Man as Rom is shrunk down to discover the threat of the Wraith’s poisons, etc.

It’s hard to describe how slightly off-genre these are for superhero comics, because they seem to hew pretty closely to the Kung Fu/ Hulk TV show mold, but when I was first reading these stories, they did feel different than, maybe, Spider-Man, who had a consistent setting and supporting cast. These comics eschew the kind of soap operatics (mostly) that the Marvel Universe thrived on, and replaced them with an appealing sense of dread– what are those Wraiths up to? And Mantlo et al didn’t reveal all quickly or easily; the big tip off even takes a while to come, issues after a young girl, who sees her family slaughtered in front of her realizes, through some complicated plot mechanics, that she shares the thoughts of the Wraiths and therefore knows what they are up to.

The third storyline I read has its own fancy name, Worldmerge, wherein it’s revealed that the Wraith plan, after being severely weakened by the previous storylines, is a last ditch attempt to win the day, by bringing their own world into our solar system where it will displace Earth. Or something. I’m missing the first issue of this storyline (#61) but it’s magic anyhow, so it doesn’t need to make a ton of sense. By the end of this storyline, issue #65, which switches back and forth between the surface of the Earth and orbiting the planet, all the Wraiths will be neutralized. The book as a whole ends ten issues later, with Rom renouncing his spaceknight powers and role; I don’t really remember why it takes ten issues to accomplish that, but I haven’t read those issues yet.

There is so much to say about the fifteen issues I have read that I wanted to lay out these basics, which is already too long, and then I’m going to drop in some additional posts, highlighting what I liked and what challenged me in subsequent posting. So, look out…

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