Tuesday, 26 May 2009

New ROMance

I never read ROM as a kid, primarily because there weren't a whole bunch of options as regards reading comics in 1980-1990s Northern Ireland, as generally we got glimpses of the broader Marvel line (or Marvel 'universe') through back-up strips appearing as filler in localised iterations of tie-in titles like Transformers, Star Wars, Action Force or Thundercats. Usually, these filler strips were chopped down from their native American-format of 22 pages per chapter to four 5-6 page chunks and printed after the title strip/strips (that were usually written by the likes of Dan Abnett or Simon Furman) based on toys or cartoon shows.
Through these bite-sized chunks I came to know the likes of Rocket Raccoon, Power Pack, and Iron Man 2020, and got occasional hints as to what were the 'big noises' in the broader Marvel U - everyone mentioned the X-Men (though I only knew them from an appearance in an episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends), and Spidey was a given, but there were hints at stuff going on in unlikely-sounding titles like Alpha Flight, and editors' notes helpfully explained that I needed to have read something called 'Rom the Spaceknight', to understand what sequence of events unfolded to the point that the child heroes of Power Pack could visit the New York aquarium and see giant space-serpents hanging around in the tanks.
Anyway, life - by which I mean the discovery of the fibromuscular tube leading from the base of the uterus to the exterior of the female body - got in the way of comics and these things dropped out of my brain for a bit until I discovered the internet and its oddly-positive attitude to borderline illiteracy in the feline blogging community. While perusing the blogosphere surrounding comics, I came across a fondness for the adventures of Rom, whose bear-punching, hooker-frying, small-town-incinerating escapades had secured for him a place in the hearts of many, long after the death of his comic series in 1987.

Written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Sal Buscema, ROM was the tale of a cyborg spaceman battling shape-changing alien witches called the Dire Wraiths, and his adventures often involved him incinerating said extraterrestrial infiltrators while they were still in human form, giving him an in-universe reputation as an unstoppable alien serial-murderer. It was this wacky undercurrent - and the angular, anguished human faces of his victims twisted in agonised horror as he sent them from this plane with a blast from his Neutraliser - that sticks in the mind now his adventures can be enjoyed thanks to the actions of evil internet pirates who have scanned every issue and made them available to a generation otherwise unable to acquire reprints now that the rights have lapsed from Marvel's stable of licenced properties.

I'm currently reading my way through the original run, and so far it's got a lot more depth to it than a comic about a toy deserves, but then that was always a feature of Marvel's licenced titles, particularly the Transformers UK work of Simon Furman, which was deep enough that elements eventually found their way into the 2007 movie based on the toys, such as the Allspark/Creation Matrix McGuffin, an eons-spanning intergalactic war, and epileptic camerawork ruining perfectly good SFX shots with poor visual storytelling.

Rom has mittens, too - I don't know why, but this actually makes him more terrifying, as if the bear-punching, killer plant-wrestling, space-hopping, planet-busting, mutant-smashing, hooker-burning escapades weren't enough to make him super-awesome aplenty. I'm enjoying this unabashedly 1980s creation thoroughly thus far, and lament the lack of reprints of the series, however easily-acquired the scans of the book may be online. My one impression from it so far seems to be that while my memories of the 1980s were of a horrid decade, there were more than a few bright sparks in popular culture for children.

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