This past Christmas my good friend Billy (aka EG) sent me a delightful box of comics; a dizzying collection culled from the 10 cent boxes of the mid-west, it is two parts 90’s era foiled-enshrined crap and two parts bronze-aged love. Over the course of the next few months I will be dropping brief reviews of the issues as I read them and sharing them here in this series entitled “WHAT’S IN THE BOX!?!” (to be exclaimed out loud by the reader in the manner of Brad Pitt at the end of “Seven” just before learning Gwyneth Paltrow’s hat size)
INSTALMENT #1: My new favorite Galadorian cyborg!
ISSUE: ROM, Issue #34
Subtitle: “Someday my prince will come, or…Enter: The Submariner!”
(Cover date: Sept. 1982)
Written by: Bill Mantlow
Penciled by: Sal Buscema
Cover: Al Milgrom
Funnily enough, the earliest comic I can remember reading was either an issue of “G.I. Joe” or an issue of “Rom.” I’ve never been one for remembering issue numbers or early childhood in general so I couldn’t tell you which I read first, what happened in either of them, or what was on their covers.
What I do know is that after that first experience outside a Woodhaven, Michigan gas station (the beginning of a family road trip of epically miserable proportions), I never read an issue of Rom again. GI Joe definitely won the comic book battle that day as I would go on to read more of their elite terrorist-fighting exploits in the years to come. But, sadly, Rom was left in the dustbin of my memory banks only to be hinted at to me decades later in whispers and murmurings in the initial issues of the current “Annihilation: Conquest” miniseries. (However, I don’t know about a comeback as my understanding is that Marvel no longer has the rights to the character.)
So, I came to this issue of Rom knowing very little. And, I can’t say I know him much better now. But, I do know enough to be utterly confused as to why the child version of me didn’t love this book. An alien cyborg fighting to rid the Earth of Wraithkind by banishing them to Limbo with a Neutralizer gun summoned from sub-space!!! I mean, I’m a little disappointed with my young self. What else did you need from a comic you greedy little punk? Did he also have to submerge himself into the depths of the ocean and be attacked by mutant sea-creatures only to be saved by Namor, prince of Atlantis? I mean, what’s it take to please you!?!
But wait, that too happens to Rom, Spaceknight and in this very issue no less! I hate that my childhood was robbed of such awesomeness because 8-year old me decided he’d rather know what happened next to Snowjob even though he could see that every afternoon on TV.
To young me’s credit, though, Bill Mantlow’s dialogue is a little distancing for the reader. I get that he’s a knight and a cyborg and that such a conceit allows him to utter such wooden prose as “You have suffered much – LOST much to the evil of Wraithkind, child, you stand alone in your world. And, sensing their evil as you do, ‘twould not be long ere they sought to slay you…or worse.” However, as fitting as it may be for the character, it does take you out of the story a bit.
And, in fact, as stories go it’s a pretty engaging one. I don’t really know the context of it, but it begins with Rom convincing a blind girl, Sybil, to come away with him after she’s been attacked by some gnarly Wraithkind, presumably in the previous issue. She hesitates at first, but Rom figures out a way to use one of his sub-space ray guns to blast “bands of darkness” from her retinas which returns her sight. Following that, he agrees at her urging to blow up her super cool cliff-side house because it’s still covered in “Wraith stink.” (Man, wouldn’t some 409 or bleach be enough to get the Wraith stink out?) From there, Rom flies off over the Atlantic Ocean with Sybil sleeping in his metallic arms.
I’m not sure their destination at that point but it doesn’t matter because they are soon separated. Rom, thinking that Sybil has been abducted by undersea baddies goes deep down looking for a fight while Sybil is quickly saved by Namor. Rom, not knowing this, finds the fight he’s looking for and ends up having to be saved by Namor as well.
It’s a pretty good little undersea battle, rendered well by Buscema and ending with some hairy sea-beast emerging from an undersea cave ready to destroy them all.
Who knows what happens next. The very randomness of this box of comics is its primary curse. (Well, maybe not the primary curse. I do believe I saw some Liefeld covers lying in wait for me further in the stack.) Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t have a problem offering up a few more dimes to get the rest of the story so I’m going to call this issue a success! First one out of the box too!
Oh, and speaking of things that I was robbed of in childhood. Here’s the ad from the back of this issue; an ad for a film that I have no doubt would have been the mind-shattering pinnacle of my young life had I been able to see it…
Holy mackerel! I still don’t think I’m man enough for Megaforce. Would you look at that guy!!!
Rom #34 Wrap Up:
Favorite moment: Namor commands a giant fish to blow a protective bubble for Sybil to ride along in. Ah yes, a spit bubble from a carp – the only way to travel!
Favorite line: “Yes, some places once touched by Wraithkind are no longer suited to human habitation.” – Rom, prior to blowing up the Cliff House.
Genius from the letters page: “I believe that ROM is unnecessarily grieving over his “lost” humanity.” Yeah, Rom, get over it already! Humanity is totally overrated! I wish I could lose mine. Wait, what? You’re saying that just my writing in to “Space Notes” was enough to prove that I too have lost my humanity? Sweet!!!
Favorite Ad: See above.
Runner Up: MPC Model Makers and their new line of military aircraft models. I guess at the height of the cold war it wasn’t as alarming or disheartening to read ad copy such as this: “Announcing a New Military Build-Up in America!” Yikes.