ROM #1 (1979)

Rom #1 splash page
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that Rom #1 was a great comic. First of all, it had a solid artist who put everything he had into the book. Just look at the splash page.  The sense of movement, the detail in the flames, and Sal is inking his own pencils so he’s created a whole mood on that first page.  This may be a toy comic, but it’s got real drama.

Second of all, Bill Mantlo had already had a hit with The Micronauts, and now he had a toy with even less of a backstory.  Rom was basically a boxy-looking figure with only a few points of articulation and two giant boxy-looking weapons.  He looked like a bad Halloween costume.  Other than that, no explanation for him.  No villains that came with him.  No media tie-in.  He was a terrible toy.  Nobody wanted Rom.

And it’s not just me who says Rom was a shitty toy.  Time Magazine put him on the cover, but in the interior article, they said ROM was a shitty toy and said it was bound to “end up among the
dust balls under the playroom sofa.”  It was made by Parker Brothers.  Their attempt to break out beyond Board Games, and it looks like their production company didn’t put a lot of effort into it.
rom cover of time magazine

All this meant Mantlo got to create a whole reason for his existence, which he did with aplomb.

In the very first issue, we learn that Rom is actually a pretty good looking dude in a suit of armor–although he doesn’t take it off, because the tale of the Spaceknights is told solely via flashback.

Before the backstory, Rom lands on Earth and immediately starts killing people.

A woman, named Brandy, witnesses the event.  Rom ends up talking to her and explaining that these weren’t people at all, but evil aliens named Dire Wraiths.  We don’t see them without their humanlike form/disguise in this issue.  Now, this is a comic, so I know he’s doing that to build suspense–but if this were a TV show, it would be because he doesn’t have the budget for FX.  Usually, comics go farther than live media because they’ve got a bottomless budget.  So that’s kind of interesting.

It’s also pretty gruesome, seeing their bodies lying there on the street, burned up.  This is a kids toy comic, right? You have to wonder whether the producers of the Rom toy cared at all.  (The toy’s design seems to indicate that they’d put zero thought into it, after all.)

Anyway, it’s a good setup for the series.  Let’s see where they go from here.

Creators: Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Grade: B+
For the complete history of the MU, year by year, go here.

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