Toys R Us, Part 1: Greatest of the Spaceknights -

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Toys R Us, Part 1: Greatest of the Spaceknights

CINESCAPE takes a look at some of the most successful comic tie-ins of the '80s, and ponders the future of their 21st century incarnations

By Tony Whitt     May 01, 2002

In 2000, Marvel launched a short-lived revival of the Rom continuity in SPACEKNIGHTS.
© Marvel Characters Inc.
Anyone who's looked at the lists of upcoming "must read" titles lately has probably experienced a curious sense of déja vu, especially if they're over the age of twenty-five. First Devil's Due came out with an incredibly complex update of the 1980s incarnation of G.I. JOE, and now Dreamwave Productions has done a similar update of that series' cousin in animation, THE TRANSFORMERS. With a new MICRONAUTS series soon on its way from Devil's Due as well, and reprints of the original Marvel G.I. JOE and TRANSFORMERS series just around the corner, it feels a lot like 1984 all over again, and not just because of BIG BROTHER.

...or this final issue of the original ROM run, #75, illustrated by living legends Steve Ditko and P. Craig Russell.

It's no surprise that these particular properties have been chosen for "reimagining," though, as they were some of the most successful toy/TV/comic tie-ins the '80s had ever seen, and Marvel seemed to have them all. Granted, there were some toy tie-ins that even Marvel couldn't work its magic on (remember SHOGUN WARRIORS, which lasted for twenty issues and which was based on the Mattel toy line, or the twelve-issue TEAM AMERICA series based on the Ideal toy line of the same name? For that matter, remember Ideal?). But series like G.I. JOE, TRANSFORMERS, MICRONAUTS, and ROM THE SPACEKNIGHT all seemed to lead charmed lives, lasting far longer than most other series that originated in the same time period.

ROM featured work by some of the best in the business, like this cover to ROM #52 by Bill Sienkiewicz...

In at least one case, the series stuck around longer than the original toy that spawned it. "Rom The Spaceknight" was an action figure produced in 1979 by Parker Brothers, a surprising attempt to branch out on the part of the company, whose main stock in trade was board games. Parker Brothers, a subsidiary of Tonka, would eventually be bought out by Hasbro in 1991, a company slightly better at doing action figures. But that was far too late for Rom, sadly, who was a bit of a dud. He stood about thirteen inches high and was articulated only in the hips, shoulders, and knees (in other words, not much more articulation than the typical Barbie doll). He came with three accessories - the Energy Analyzer, Neutralizer, and Translator, all of which plugged into the Rocket Pack on his back (which in turn housed the batteries). The Rocket Pack powered his LED eyes and allowed Rom to make all manner of exciting beeping noises. (Ooh, aah.) But if the overly complicated instructions are any indication, Rom wasn't exactly plug-and-play, and you had to be careful not to drop him nor get him wet lest you damage the "delicate parts" of his "electronic brain." Hardly a rough-and-ready toy for active '80s kids, then. And at $20, Rom was hardly one of the cheapest toys on the market. By the following year his price had dropped to about $10, but that was still a lot of spending money for the average kid in 1980. Parker Brothers planned a Dire Wraiths line, but the Rom toy sold so poorly that he was the only one produced.

ROM #26 further integrated Rom into the Marvel Universe when he ran into Galactus himself.

The ROM comic series, on the other hand, had more success. After the launch of the series in December 1979, ROM lasted for a total of 75 issues over five years, along with four annuals produced between 1982 and 1985. The entire run of the series was written by Bill Mantlo (who was also writing MICRONAUTS at the time), and artists included Sal Buscema and Steve Ditko. It was this series that set up the elaborate continuity of the Spaceknights of Galador, a group of cyborg warriors (of which Rom was the first) created to fight off the Dire Wraiths who had attacked their planet. When the Dire Wraiths were defeated, Rom tracked them back to their own world only to find that they had escaped across the universe. For the next 200 years he would track the Wraiths, a task which eventually led him to Earth. There the Wraiths took on human form, making it harder for Rom to banish them to Limbo (with that trusty Neutralizer) in front of other humans. Rom managed to convince a human woman named Brandy Clark that he was not killing human beings, and with her help (and eventual love) he was able to gain allies among the Earth's superpowered population. As with most Marvel tie-ins, Rom was fit into Marvel continuity from the start, eventually having encounters with the X-Men, Nova, Sub-Mariner, Dr. Strange, and Alpha Flight. His greatest claim to fame in the Marvel Universe, however, was his very brief tenure as the herald of Galactus, who had moved Galador in space for his own purposes. Eventually Rom defeated all the Dire Wraiths, and with the help of the being known as the Beyonder, Rom became fully human again and took Brandy with him to Galador.

ROM blasted on the scene as little more than a toy tie-in, but the series would soon blossom.

Since then, Rom's never quite passed out of the Marvel Universe's consciousness. Apart from dozens of small cameo appearances in various titles over the years, he made an unnamed appearance in issue three of UNIVERSE X in November of 2000 - no doubt since Marvel no longer held the license to the character at that time - leading Captain America to identify him simply (and stupidly) as "greatest of the Spaceknights!" For that same reason, the SPACEKNIGHTS miniseries beginning in May of that same year and written by Jim Starlin never mentioned the character by name, but it did follow the adventures of Rom's son with Brandy Clark, who has now become the ruler of Galador after the disappearance of her husband. Sadly, SPACEKNIGHTS was not a critical success - much of the driving force behind the original series was Rom himself, and with Marvel unable to even mention the character's name lest they incur lawsuits, the miniseries could only have so much impact. There are rumors of an upcoming ROM series, but until we hear something definite along the lines of the current G.I. JOE and TRANSFORMERS series and the upcoming MICRONAUTS revamp, it appears that Rom the comic character has finally followed his action figure counterpart into Limbo.

And speaking of MICRONAUTS: Rom also never got his own TV series, even though the other series that Bill Mantlo was writing came awfully close...



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