Rom Annual


Release: 1985

Cover: 1985


WriterBill Mantlo
ScripterBill Mantlo
PencillerAl Milgrom | Steve Ditko
InkerAl Milgrom
ColoristPetra Goldberg-Scotese
LettererJanice Chiang
Cover ArtistBob Layton
EditorMike Carlin
Editor in ChiefJim Shooter

And yet you have hurt me! My electrocircuits transmit impulses of pain to my cyborg brain!

Recently, Comics Twitter – or at least segments of it that are of a certain age – waxed euphoric over an announcement from The House of Ideas. Namely, that ROM: Spaceknight was returning to Marvel.

It wasn’t really a secret.

Specifically, the news was that Marvel will be releasing omnibus volumes collecting the original Marvel appearances of the Spaceknight, which have been out of print for decades due to licensing issues.

For those who don’t know, ROM was a short-lived toy originally released by Parker Brothers in 1979.

Marvel produced a licensed comic, written by the great Bill Mantlo – perhaps most notable these days as the co-creator of Rocket Racoon – that went on to achieve much greater success than the toy, which sold poorly and was soon discontinued, ever did.

(I never owned the toy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in real life.)

However, the series ended in 1986 after 75 issues, and ROM himself – who had been very tightly integrated into the Marvel Universe – basically disappeared due to Marvel’s loss of the licensing rights.

There were some references to him here and there – some of them rather veiled so as to not run afoul of legal issues – but for the most part, he was just gone. For the most part, Marvel couldn’t reprint anything in which he appeared, and anyone else who held the license couldn’t reprint his Marvel adventures either, due to the appearances of characters and concepts that Marvel owned outright.

Years later, Hasbro – the parent company of Parker Brothers – sold licensing rights to IDW, who published a ROM series from 2016 to 2020. It never quite caught in the same way that the original Marvel series did, and of course lacked any Marvel characters.

IDW also licensed the rights to the Micronauts, another old, failed toyline that had a reasonably successful licensed series at Marvel. Like ROM, those original Marvel Micronauts comics have long been out of print, but also like ROM will be getting the omnibus treatment at long last.

Following on the back of Marvel’s announcement earlier this week that it had reached a deal with Hasbro to release an ominibus edition of Rom the Spaceknight, Marvel is now announcing that it has struck another deal with Hasbro to release an omnibus edition of the classic 1970s/80s series, The Micronauts! – Marvel Resurrects the Micronauts With a Massive Omnibus

(One has to wonder if there is anything else in the works when it comes to Hasbro properties that were once licensed to Marvel.)

In any case, ROM is on my mind thanks to the recent news. The Micronauts are, too, but I decided to do a post about ROM because a tweet I saw today reminded me of something.

I picked up ROM: Spaceknight as regularly as I picked up any comic as a kid – which is to say, not very regularly, but at least a few issues here and there in a given year – but thanks to things like our house fire in 1986, poor storage and handling, the fact that many of them arrived in my possession already trashed, and having sold a bunch in a yard sale, a lot of the comics I once had have been lost to the ages.

This is true in the case of ROM to the extent that I have only one (1) comic still in my collection, and that’s the one we’re here to talk about.

(Note: I have other comics in which ROM appears, since, as noted, he was very tightly integrated into the Marvel Universe, just no other issues of his own series.)

I keep mentioning his integration into the Marvel Universe. That’s not unique to ROM, as Marvel often – though not always – made its licensed characters part of their universe. But what was unique about ROM was the extent to which he was integrated. The guy was everywhere, and plot points from his series – particularly the ongoing *ahem* secret invasion of ROM’s enemies, the evil Dire Wraiths – made their way into other books even if ROM himself never showed up.

Take, for example, the storyline in which Storm of the X-Men had her powers taken away from her. The weapon that did the deed was an attempt at creating a weapon based on ROM’s neutralizer and was being developed not only to deal with the mutant menace, but also the alien menace of the Dire Wraiths.

What was always cool for me about reading ROM: Spaceknight was that it was like getting a guided tour of the Marvel Univers, as somewhere along the line he was bound to go everywhere and interact with pretty much everybody.

Such is the case with this annual in which the Shining Spaceknight finds himself in the Shi’ar Empire and interacting with the Imperial Guard.

Our story opens with a Shi’ar dreadnought stumbling upon an unidentified object in space.

After some debate – and summoning the ship’s surgeon, as they’ve detected signs of life from the object – the Commander of the ship beams the object aboard.

Said object turns out to be a Spaceknight, one that seems to have gone mad and proceeds to attack. Though it costs him his life, the Praetor of the Imperial Guard aboard the dreadnought is able to defeat the crazed cyborg.

The surgeon, a catlike being named Tyreseus, requests the opportunity to perform an autopsy on the fallen Spaceknight to learn what manner of being could cause so much damagage to the super-powered Imperial Guard.

However, Tyreseus lied – it’s too soon to perform an autopsy, as the Spaceknight still lives. While studying the cbyorg, Tyreseus wonders at the type of being that would sacrifice its humanity to achieve the kind of power the armored form possesses and thinks that maybe his own people – enslaved as they are by the Shi’ar – would be better off if some of them were willing to make that sacrifice.

He also thinks about the opportunity that is before him, though he feels guilty, as his first priority should be to care for the patient on his table.

Said patient – whom Tyreseus notes was already dying when brought aboard – begins to speak, identifying himself as the Spaceknight Pulsar. Before he dies, Pulsar explains that he was in battle with a Dire Wraith who summoned a deadly Deathwing to kill the Spaceknight.

To escape, the mortally-wounded Pulsar encased himself in a force sphere, which is the condition in which the Shi’ar found him. And with his tale told, Pulsar dies, leaving Tyreseus wondering what he should do with the power before him.

Surely, he should find a way to put that power into the service of the Empire?

No, he should take the power for himself, merging his own body with the Spaceknight armor, to stand in defiance of the Empire.

And don’t call him Shirley.

Pulsar tells Deathbird – the Majestrix of the Shi’ar Empire – to get bent and that he plans to burn her Empire down around her. He then starts to make good on that promise by destorying the ship and all aboard before flying off into the vast reaches of space to continue his newfound mission.

From there, we cut to somewhere else sometime later, as ROM and three of his fellow Spaceknights, fresh from having ended their long war with the Dire Wraiths, head to the Golden Galaxy, the location of their homeworld, Galador.

Now would probably be a good time to get you a bit caught up if you’re not familiar with ROM and the history of the Spaceknights.

To summarize, the people of Galador were at war with the Dire Wraiths, a race of evil shapeshifters. A portion of the citizenry volunteered to become Spaceknights, cybernetic warriors with great power that could be used to defend Galador. While part of them was grafted with the armor, the remainder of their humanity was put into storage so that when the war ended, they could be restored to their former lives.

In time, the Dire Wraiths were defeated and sent packing. However, while Galador was safe from their perniciousness, the rest of the universe was now endangered by the Dire Wraiths. And so, ROM, greatest of the Spaceknights, decreed that he his fellow Spaceknights should hold off on returning to their old lives and should instead depart Galador to defend other worlds that might fall victim to the Dire Wraiths, vowing that they would not restore their humanity until the threat of the Dire Wraiths was eliminated entirely.

The homeward bound Spaceknight Squadron – a group consisting of ROM, Skera the Scanner, Tarm the Seeker, and Vola…Trapper – encounter a Shi’ar ship and soon find themselves beamed aboard and confronted by the Imperial Guard led by Gladiator, a character who is in some ways the Marvel version of Superman.

Because the Imperial Guard believes these Spaceknights to be the perpetrators of Tyreseus/Pulsar’s actions, and because this is a Marvel comic, a fight soon breaks out.

However, it ends when Skera reveals that she has “scanned recent timelines” and discovered that, inconceivable as it seems, the Imperial Guard is telling the truth about a Spaceknight killing their people. Because it was true, ROM orders the Squadron to surrender, and the Spaceknights are placed in a holding area.

Seeing the nobility of the Spaceknights leads the Imperial Guard to wonder if perhaps they’ve made a mistake, and while they are committed to following the law, they all suspect – though it’s treason to speak such thoughts – that the Shi’ar “justice” system will deliver nothing of the sort.

Gladiator, mulling over these treasonous thoughts, contacts Deathbird to let her know they’ve captured the Spaceknights who destroyed the dreadnought, only to find that he’s an idiot, because Pulsar is out there destroying more ships even as they speak.

Deathbird commands him to torture the Spaceknights to get them to reveal what they know, and then destroy them. Gladiator reluctantly agrees.

However, in their cell, Skera detects Pulsar’s approach, and soon the ship is under attack. No longer content to merely wait for justice, ROM summons his neutralizer – though it was taken away from him, he can always teleport it back into his hand – and uses it to set himself and the Squadron free.

The Imperial Guard is annoyed, but their telepathic member, Oracle, assures them that the Spaceknights really do want to help. Gladiator, however, doesn’t need any telepathic assurances.

The assembled team heads out into space to confront Pulsar. ROM tries to reason with him, believing him to be his brother-in-arms, but to no avail, and so, a fight ensues.

Surely, the assembled might of the Spaceknight Squadron and the Imperial Guard will be enough to quickly overcome the crazed cyborg?


And stop calling him Shirley.

However, despite the fact that it could endanger the life of the being encased within the cybernetic armor, ROM ultimately hits Tyreseus Pulsar Shirley Liberator with a full-force blast of his neutralizer, which, y’know, neutralizes, and the weakened wannabe Spaceknight retreats to a nearby asteroid.

Despite the fact that his foe has been rendered powerless, Gladiator swoops in for the kill, as he has no interest in waiting for a court to deliver justice.

The Spaceknights intervene, as they want to know the truth behind this imposter Spaceknight and his mad quest for vengeance against the Shi’ar.

ROM manages to convince Gladiator to listen, and it turns out that in stopping Gladiator from delivering the killing blow they only delayed the inevitable, as the broken, dented husk that once was a Spaceknight is not likely to live long enough to appear before any court, though he does wish to testify.

He explains that his people were conquered and enslaved by the Shi’ar, and that he was forced into a life of servitude as a surgeon. Though by most measures, life in the Shi’ar Empire is better than it had been before – especially for his brutal, warlike people – there is one advantage the citizens of the Empire, regardless of whether they joined it by choice or by force, do not have: freedom.

After putting himself in Pulsar’s body, Tyreseus returned to his homeworld to drum up support for his revolution, only to find disappointment, as no one had any interest in trading in everything else they’d gained for something as silly as freedom.

Further, having forsaken his biological body, he was no longer one of his people in their eyes.

And so, without a people whose freedom he could fight for, he chose to fight for his own, even if that freedom took the form of death.

Tyreseus dies, and the Spaceknights and Gladiator have vastly different interpretations of his story.

The Spaceknight set to burying the armor that once contained the essence of one of their own and now contains what remains of Tyreseus, leaving Gladiator with much to think about.

He acknowledges that there is truth in what Tyreseus said, that though in most ways life is superior under the Empire, there is no freedom.

Still, in his mind, freedom is a price that’s worth paying,

However, he is willing to hold on to a bit of freedom and uses his power – in defiance of the rules of the Empire – to open a stargate through which the Spaceknights can make their way home, leaving Gladiator alone to face the consequences of his actions.

I can’t say why, exactly, but I wasn’t picking ROM by this point close to the end of the series, so I’ve never actually known how it ended. I think I had grabbed this annual just because I liked Gladiator and the Imperial Guard. But presumably the end came not long after this, as the Spaceknights returned to Galador.

The annual is a perfect example of the tight integration I keep talking about. The Imperial
Guard – and the Shi’ar generally – were mainly featured in the adventures of the X-Men, so this was another example of kind of getting a guided tour of the Marvel Universe and meeting some of the lesser-known characters.

(“Lesser-known” in this case if you’d never read The Dark Phoenix Saga.)

But beyond that, this little interlude in a specific corner of the Marvel Universe ended up being pivotal to ROM’s larger story, as it was the path that led him home at the end of the long war.

Looking back on this issue, I’m struck by the fact that while there is a lot of action – the Spaceknight Squadron vs. Imperial Guard fight goes on for several pages – it’s also incredibly talky. So much talking. And being a double-sized book in the days of compressed storytelling, the whole thing is just dense, though ultimately, not all that much happens in it.

But it also covers a lot of very heavy topics, meditating on topics like honor, the value of freedom, the nature of power and of empire, and what we’re willing to sacrifice for comfort and safety.

In short, it’s a classic Bill Mantlo-style story. Marvel had a tendency to go a lot harder with their licensed books than they really needed to, and Mantlo had a tendency to go even harder than that.

On July 17, 1992, Mantlo was struck by a car while rollerblading. The driver of the car fled the scene and was never identified. Mantlo suffered severe head trauma. According to his biographer, cartoonist David Yurkovich, in 2006, “For a while Bill was comatose. Although no longer in a coma, the brain damage he suffered in the accident is irreparable. His activities of daily living are severely curtailed and he resides in a healthcare facility where he receives full-time care.”

Bill Mantlo – Wikipedia

In terms of the art, I’m going to expose myself as a heretic and say that I’ve never really been that much of a fan of Ditko in general. I think there are certain things he did over the years that were great, but how well I respond to his style very much depends on how well it suits the story, and I’m just not overly enamored with his body of work, despite recognizing how significant it is within the history of comics.

Here, it works a little better than with other stories, thanks to Milgrom’s contribution, but even so…it’s not great.

The issue would have looked a lot better, I think, if the interiors were more like the Bob Layton cover.

At the very least, the cover got Gladiator’s skin color right….

(I know that’s not on Ditko, but it is my biggest pet peeve about the art in this issue.)

But that’s a look at the one and only ROM comic that remains in my collection, though you can be assured that when the time comes the omnibuses will be found on my overflowing shelves.

Hopefully, this look at a single issue from near the end of the run gives you some idea why so many nerds in my age cohort were so excited about reprint announcement, and maybe it will generate some excitement in you.

Born and raised in the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Jon Maki developed an enduring love for comics at an early age.

2 thoughts on “Unbagging ROM Annual #4

  1. I’ve always been a ROM fan. But that doesn’t amount to much. I read some of my brothers’ issues, never got to play with their toy, remember the X-Men crossover with Storm and Forge very fondly. I love that they’re doing this.

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