On July 17th 1992, a lawyer by the name of Bill Mantlo was rollerblading through New York City. Out of nowhere he was hit by a car and suffered severe injuries. The car (and driver) sped off and was never identified. Bill Mantlo spent two weeks in a coma but eventually fully recovered.......well physically anyway. To this day Bill suffers from debilitating permanent brain damage.
Why should you care? Well maybe you shouldn't. Why do I care? I care because barely a month before this tragic accident, a greasy long haired twelve year old kid was raiding his brother's old comic book collection. That kid was me, and as I gleefully flipped through old issues of "The Amazing Spider-Man", "X-Men", "and "The Avengers", I stumbled on a comic book with a simple yet powerful title.
Written by Bill Mantlo
As I thumbed through that one issue I was struck by the dynamic artwork of Sal Buschema, an artist I was familiar with in the pages of The Spectacular Spider-Man. I wanted to know more about Rom. What his story was, where he came from, and why hadn't I ever heard of him before. I logically started with issue one cover date December 1979.
I learned of Rom's origin, an alien from the planet Galador turned into a cyborg warrior with the mission of hunting down his people's enemies, the Dire Wraiths, and banishing them to limbo.A task that had lasted two hundred years and led him to the planet Earth.
As I read issue after issue, I marveled (no pun intended) in the rich artwork of Sal Buschema
and the intricate story elements of past and present events in Rom's life, as Bill Mantlo wove a web as great as any comic writer I had ever experienced.
I became obsessed. Surly this was the greatest comic saga I had ever read. Rom traveled around the Earth hunting down his enemies who had infiltrated every aspect of Earth's infrastructure. Seen first as an enemy to humanity, Rom was hunted down and constantly attacked by Earths armed forces urged on by the shape shifting Dire Wraiths.
Much like Star Wars, Rom was a product of many things Bill Mantlo had loved. From the fabled Knights of the Round Table, to 1950's sci-fi alien invasion films. Even the look of Rom in the comics seemed influenced by Gort from "The Day the Earth Stood Still".
Sal Buschema's artwork definitely created the mood of darkness, despair, and desperation felt in Mantlo's writing.
I cheered at every victory. I felt Rom's pain as his love grew for Earth woman Brandy Clark. A woman he could never love as a man due to being trapped in an unfeeling cold cyborg shell. I experienced the beauty of his home planet of Galador, with it's golden buildings and Edenesque landscapes.
Felt his sorrow as that planet was lost to him, moved to an unknown place in the universe by Galactus. I witnessed the horror as his adopted home of Clairton West Virginia was attacked by the Dire Wraiths, who killed every man woman and child in the town. Then to see the town itself burned to the ground by the Skrulls who, like Rom, were hunting down the Dire Wraiths (as it turned out the Wraiths are a cousin race to the shape shifting Skrulls).
I witnessed Rom's impact on the Marvel universe proper, first by interacting with other D-list characters like Jack of Hearts to his influence on one of Marvel's A-list titles, The Uncanny X-Men.
The Dire Wraiths were featured in Chris Clairmont's X-Men. Not to mention the story arch of a powerless Storm was a direct product of Rom's presence on Earth. The newly introduced character of Forge had duplicated Rom's primary weapon, the Neutralizer, and his neutralizer was used by Peter Gyrich to take away Storm's powers.
Then I witnessed Rom's eventual acceptance as a savior as the presence of the Dire Wraiths was exposed.
I saw the nations of the world and Earth's super heroes unite with Rom to end the Wraith threat once and for all.
I cheered as Rom banished the Wraiths entire home world to limbo, leaving the Wraiths powerless and defenseless throughout the galaxy.
And did I mention that Sal Buschma was replaced by none other than STEVE FRIGGIN' DITKO as artist? Well I should have, damnit.
Finally I would see victory turn to sorrow as Rom, victorious over his enemies, return to his home planet only to find that the entire population of Galador had been wiped out by the sinister Second Generation Spaceknights, created in the absence of the First Generation Spaceknights. However, Rom would have a happy ending. His humanity would be restored and he was allowed to walk as a man under the Galadorian twin suns with the woman he loved, Earth woman Brandy Clark.
Rom lasted seventy-five issues with four annuals and crossovers all over the Marvel Universe. It was a truly epic story with a single writer at the helm. Continuity problems were few, and the story came to a satisfying ending that still left my pre-teen mind wanting more.
How this comic and it's title character could have been so easily forgotten remained a mystery to me. His impact on the Marvel Universe was huge, but not in todays "Civil War" style. It was subtle, powerful, and organic. A mainstay of the golden age of Marvel continuity.
There were clues, however. The legal print on the first page of every comic clearly stated that Rom was property of Parker Bros. and used with permission. Not to mention the most compelling thing I ever saw in a Rom comic.
Needless to say I wanted this toy, even though I knew that twelve years after the toy was made it wouldn't be on the shelves of my local Toys R Us. It would be another twelve years before I learned more about this mysterious electronic action figure, and finally learn the REAL story of ROM:SPACEKNIGHT!
COMING SOON! READ ONLY MEMORY: PART 2. STAY TUNED.