1979 · The 70s

September 1979: Rom 1- In which we learn the first rule of Rom is, we DO NOT TALK ABOUT ROM!

 

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Rom 1 was written by Bill Mantlo with art by Sal Buscema and opens with the arrival on  Earth by Rom, greatest of the spaceknights of Galador.

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He stands and walks onto a road, causing a car carrying Brandy Clark to swerve and nearly crash. Rom prevents the crash and uses his analyser to scan her. He then flies off and lands in nearby Clairton, West Virgina and uses his analyser on terrified populace. Two people there seem to recognise Rom and are worried about what his appearance means. The analyser vanishes and the neutraliser appears and Rom blasts the two who recognised him into ashes. Then recognising Brandy, he abducts here, flying out of town.

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The Mayor of Clairton calls for help and gets nowhere, some others, who also know who Rom is, call the Pentagon and arrange for a detachment of National  Guard to come and assist in this robot rampage. Outside of town, Rom explains things to Brandy after using his analyser again to translate his words into english. His is from Galador, who were attacked by the shapeshifting Dire Wraiths, being peaceful, Galador had no fighters, so the call went out to anyone willing to give up their humanity to become the weapons needed to defeat this new threat. Rom volunteered first, then hundreds more to become cyborg knights who would battle for Galador. They won, the Dire Wraiths spread out into the galaxy, hiding on hundreds of worlds and for two centuries Rom and his brethren have hunted them down to banish them to Limbo. As Rom learns to his horror, it looks like he is burning to ash people who are known to those they hide with. In Rom’s eyes he is a hero, banishing evil shape shifters to Limbo, protecting worlds and their inhabitants. To anyone else, he’s an alien invader, indiscriminately murdering innocent people and then leaving. As this is explained to an incredulous Brandy, the guard arrive and start attacking Rom, under the watch of several Dire Wraiths, who have hidden amongst humanity for years.

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One of the guard (a Dire Wraith) zaps Rom with an alien looking weapon and Rom retaliates by banishing him. The army retreats and Brandy tries to prove the weapon’s existence, only to be stopped by more Wraiths, who are quickly banished as well as the ray gun. With no Dire Wraiths nearby, Rom leaves and another Dire Wraith leaves Clairton to warn her people of the arrival of Rom.

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Notes: I said Rom a lot there, didn’t I? I’d love to say that Rom is interesting mostly because it is a well written comic with an inventive story, it is, but that’s not it. I’d also prefer to say that the interesting thing is the great art by Sal Buscema, the art is a great piece of story telling, but also no. The reason is that despite how good this comic is, how engaging a story and how critics and fans love it, you’ll never see a Rom trade paperback. And that’s because of Rom’s legal history.

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Rom was a Parker Bros toy co created by Scott Dankman, Richard Levy and Bryan McCoy. Parker Brothers were keen to get in on the action figures market and bought it. They licensed the character to Marvel to produce a comic about it, much as Lucasfilm did with Star Wars and Mego did with Micronauts, to draw attention to the property. As with Micronauts, Bill Mantlo created backstory, expanded universe and supporting characters creating a rich and popular story that in Rom’s case, sadly didn’t extend to the toy sales. As a toy, Rom failed, selling between 200,000 and 300,000 units. There were many reasons for this including a lack of articulation, a lack of other toys in the line and poor marketing and the rights were pulled from Marvel and a line drawn under the whole thing. Since Marvel came up with Spaceknights and Galador, Limbo and Dire Wraiths, all of these things remain as part of their continuity as well as all the characters in this comic. The only thing Marvel do not own is the appearance of the armoured Rom. That means Marvel comics can’t reprint any issue with Rom in it. Rom became the elephant in the room, very much a part of Marvel’s 1980’s continuity, but completely apart from it. Hence the title, the first rule of Rom is you can’t really talk about Rom. It’s hard to find, some issues will be expensive, but this is a truly entertaining series that used the shapeshifting alien threat thing, in a way Marvel never used the Skrulls before Secret Invasion.

 

Next Time: A teenage girl, a teacher dressed like a stripper and awkward conversations.

 

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