Toys R Us, Part 2: Micronautica - Mania.com



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Toys R Us, Part 2: Micronautica

CINESCAPE continues its look at some of the most successful comic tie-ins of the '80s, the comics so nice we're reading them twice

By Tony Whitt     May 04, 2002


He's no Darth Vader, but Baron Karza came back to cause more mischief in MICRONAUTS Vol. 2 #16.
© Marvel Characters Inc.
While the Rom action figure couldn't generate much more buzz than his comic series, the Micronauts were another story. Not only did they spawn a successful comic series that got reprinted twice in the '80s, they also almost had their own syndicated animated series in the '90s, at a time when TRANSFORMERS was also getting a new lease on life. It should come as no surprise, then, that Devil's Due's latest project is a redo of the popular comic series, featuring characters from the toy line but not characters from the Marvel series. With all these returns to the '80s, it's no wonder we've all suddenly got a hankering for Pepsi Free and a John Hughes movie marathon.

MICRONAUTS #59 brought their first comic book sojourn to an end.

Produced by Mego between 1976 and 1980, Micronauts were some of the coolest toys around, mainly because of their interchangeability - parts from one toy could be attached to a completely different toy. Mego's Micronauts line was a licensed subset of the Japanese company Takara's Microman Zone line created in 1974, which was itself a smaller version of their popular, fully articulated Henshin Cyborg action figures created in 1972. (To make things even more complicated: Henshin Cyborg - translated as "transforming cyborg" - was created as an offspring of Hasbro's original G.I. Joe line when Takara licensed Joe in Japan under the name "Combat Joe" in 1971! And don't even ask yet about the link between G.I. Joe and the Transformers. Somehow it all comes back to Joe and the Transformers in the end...)

Not all the Micronauts were boxy robots. Rowf. Cover to MICRONAUTS #44.

Still with me? Anyway, Mego had a bonafide hit on its hands to take over from its languishing line of Marvel and DC-based action figures, and the toys themselves were far more affordable than later, more complicated figures like Rom. Figures like Acroyear and Galactic Warrior, for instance, tended to run around $5 in 1978. It probably didn't hurt that there was also such a huge amount of them, as well as the obligatory vehicles and playsets that came with them. With such a wide-spanning popularity, it was only a matter of time until the Micronauts had their own series, produced yet again by Marvel and written yet again by the ever-popular (and no doubt ever-busy) Bill Mantlo. Michael Golden provided the initial artwork and for the most part followed the toy line's design to create some of the most striking characters the Marvel Universe had ever seen up to that point.

Setting the stage for a Fantastic Four anniversary story to come, the Micronauts threw down with Doc Doom in MICRONAUTS #41.

The MICRONAUTS comic series debuted in January 1979, a full year before ROM #1 hit the stands, but the series would fall a bit short of ROM's seventy-five issue run, clocking in at 59 issues and two annuals. Unlike ROM, however, MICRONAUTS #s 1-12 would be reprinted as a five issue special edition Baxter series from December 1983 to April 1984. The Micronauts would also get a second series (MICRONAUTS: THE NEW VOYAGES), which ran for twenty issues from October 1984 to May 1986. And while Rom could boast an appearance with the X-Men, he couldn't boast an actual miniseries with them like the Micronauts could: the four issue X-MEN AND THE MICRONAUTS miniseries ran from January to April of 1984. Counting these series, the annuals, and the BUG one-shot appearance in March 1997, the Micronauts just edge out Rom for the amount of comic appearances with their names in the title of the book. Not bad for characters who only stand six inches high.

For a tiny group, the Micronauts made a big splash in their Marvel Comics debut.

The other divergence between Rom and his contemporaries, the Micronauts, is that while Rom remained an active part of the Marvel Universe only up until his final defeat of the Dire Wraiths and his subsequent return to Galador, once the Micronauts entered that universe they seemed to be here to stay. They also had an equally complex continuity. The Micronauts originally come from the Microverse (naturally) after Commander Rann (the Space Glider character) and his companion Biotron return to Homeworld on their ship the Endeavor following a thousand year tour of the Microverse. But the evil Baron Karza, a dictator with the nasty habit of harvesting human parts for recycling in the Body Banks, has taken over the planet in his absence. Rann and his friends Marionette, Bug, Acroyear, and Microtron all escape through the Spacewall to Earth. There, they find they are only six inches tall. They would soon be befriended by human Steve Coffin, and over the next five years they would do double-duty in both universes as they fought to free Homeworld from Baron Karza's clutches and fought in the Marvel Universe against such villains as Doctor Doom, the Toymaster, the Molecule Man, and Hydra. The characters who formed the Micronauts were as divergent as the action figures themselves, including Force Commander, who could bond with his horse Oberon to become a centaur (just like the figure of the same name); Prince Acroyear, leader of the warlike Acroyear peoples; the mysterious Time Travellers; and Bug, the Galactic Warrior, who was one of the few who looked nothing like his action figure counterpart and who would go on to become one of the series' most popular characters.

Small? Yes. But the return of MICRONAUTS is a big deal.

While it's been nearly sixteen years since their last series was cancelled, the legacy of the Micronauts can still be felt in the Marvel Universe. Anyone still reading CAPTAIN MARVEL, for instance, knows full well that Rick Jones enters the Microverse whenever Genis takes over his form here on Earth. The Micronauts also managed to go one better than their contemporary Rom when Abrams-Gentile Entertainment Group made plans to create a syndicated animated series based loosely on the Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden character designs from the Marvel series in 1999. Despite this news and some rumors that the show would be done in CGI, nothing appears to have come of those plans. Palisades Toys will be producing a new line based on the originals, however, for release later this year, presumably to tie in with Devil's Due's new series.

Despite all this, the two toy lines that would have the biggest success crossing over to television and comics would be G.I. JOE and THE TRANSFORMERS, both of which have been brought back to comics by Devil's Due and Dreamwave, respectively. Coincidence? I think not...

TO BE CONTINUED

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