As the 90's drew to a close, Rom became a fading memory in my teenage mind. My brother had re-claimed his comic collection, and Rom comics were hard finds in comic stores. To my surprise however, Rom hadn't been totally forgotten. In 1997 Rom would have a cameo in human form, in the Miniseries Earth X. Ironically, Rom was banished to lombo where had to constantly fight the Dire Wraiths he had banished there. He wasn't mentioned by name, just called "Greatest of the Spaceknights".
Three years later Marvel would make a bigger push to bring back Rom.......well, sort of. the New Millennium would bring about a new mini series simply called.........
Written by Chris Starlin with art by Chris Batista, Spaceknights told the story of Rom's two sons as they lead a new generation of Spaceknights against the reborn threat of the Dire Wraiths. To be as kind as possible, the series wasn't that good. It failed to capture the wonder and Wagnerian plot that made the original series so great. Though to be honest, writer Starlin's heart wasn't in the story. He would later say that he never liked the Rom story to begin with and only took the assignment to pay for parts for his boat.
Noticeably absent from both these stories was, of course, the name ROM. In fact, even though the exploits of Rom was mentioned at the beginning of the Spaceknights comic, he was never mentioned by name nor was he shown in any detail. That's because Marvel didn't own the name or likeness to the character. Rom was solely the property of the company Parker Bros. I wondered why Marvel just didn't ask for permission and pay the licensing fee to use the name and likeness again, but the reason why would take four more years for me to uncover.
Flash forward to the year 2004. Two events happened in that year. First, I finally got on the internet. Second, my wife stopped by my favorite comic store to pic up my comics. While there she saw a copy of Rom #1 sitting in the display case. After asking the owner of the store if he had any more Rom comics, she was leaving the store with EVERY issue of Rom. With my love of Rom renewed, I began searching the internet for any information on my hidden jewel of a character, and if anyone else remembered him. This is what I found.
Rom, or what would become Rom, was created in the mid 70's by a man named Lawrence "Bing" McCoy. Part time session musician and toy maker. McCoy is probably best known for inventing a game most of us have played.
Bing McCoy was heavy into "new age" disciplines like yoga and meditation during the 70's, and so he came up with an idea for a toy with a mystical twist.
The "Egyptian Mystic" toy was an electronic action figure that......meditated, or something like that. McCoy shopped it around to toy companies, but found none were interested in an electronic mystic toy. Going back to the drawing board, McCoy retooled the toy and designed it to be a cyborg called COBOL, named after the programming language.
COBOL caught the eye of Parker Bros. who were interested in branching out from just board games to action figures. COBOL, with his lights and sounds seemed like the perfect choice. Parker Bros. bought Bing's invention, did a little re-design to the figure but keeping the electronics intact. Finally, Parker Bros. would change the name from COBOL to ROM (named after Read Only Memory) and by the Christmas shopping season of 1979 this was sitting on toy store shelves.
To promote ROM, Parker Bros. premiered their new toy at the 1979 ToyFare, complete with promo video.
you can view the video via this link to YouTube
It was that video that Parker Bros. sent to newly appointed (relatively) Editor In Chief Jim Shooter, who was always looking for new properties to license as comics.
Shooter had realized that there was potential money for acquiring the license to toy properties and publishing comics based on those properties.
Marvel had already had a hit with the licensed comic Micronauts, and Shooter saw a hit with Rom as well. Parker Bros. agreed and soon Shooter was assigning Marvel journeyman/workehorse writer Bill Mantlo to develop write the Rom comic.
Rom was even featured in an article in Time Magazine dated December 10, 1979 along with other electronic toys like the Speak and Spell.
The article however, was an omen of things to come for Parker Bros. expansion into the action figure market, as the article predicted that Rom would, "collect dust under the playroom sofa".
More accurate was that Rom collected dust on toy store shelves. Sales were abysmal and the toy was discontinued early in 1980.
The comic on the other hand was a hit, with sales numbers growing with each issue. The end for Rom came with issue 75, the number of issues the comic was licensed for. Rom was sentenced to a real world legal limbo after the end of the comic's run. Parker Bros was bought out by growing toy giant Hasbro,
and Hasbro's ever changing priorities let the small failed toy fall into obscurity.
Rom, however, wouldn't remain forgotten. As the new millennium dawned the internet would bring about people who remembered this long forgotten toy and comic. Spurred on by the Spaceknights mini series and Rom's apperence in the Earth X comic, fans hit the world wide web and began to declare their love for the silver Spaceknight comic and toy.
It was at websites like stonefoundationentertainment.com, and the Rom Spaceknight Revisited website that provided a wealth of information on the real story of the character I've loved since I was twelve.
I also learned the fate of writer Bill Mantlo, his unfortunate accident, and the struggle his life has become. I was also glad to hear that others have not forgotten him as well. Writers, artists, and fans have come together over the years to lend their support for the writer behind Rom.
A book of art based on the characters Bill had written was published with all proceeds going to Bill's care. His brother has also said that he likes receiving fan mail. If any of you who may be Rom fans or have read and enjoyed Bill Mantlo's writing you can drop him a line at:
C/O The Mantlo Family
1995 Miller Place
Merrick, NY 11566
Rom was the subject of a song by performer HB3, with his song aptly titled ROM:SPACEKNIGHT. You can view the video here.
Rom has even had a model kit and bust made by fans. You can find these hidden gems on the net if you look hard enough.
And you can find the original toy on Ebay from time to time.
So if Rom is so great, and he has a devoted fanbase, why doesn't Hasbro and or Marvel bring him back? Well the answer to that is complicated. Like legally complicated. Hasbro has been trying to trademark Rom again since the rights were lost long ago, but have had no luck. Just the name Rom is to familiar with a term relatively unknown by the public back in the 70's. Read Only Memory. Hasbro has even tried to trademark the full name Rom: Spaceknight, but still have met resistance. Ironically because Marvel comics has trademarked the name Spaceknights
Add to the mix that Rom's original creator, Lawrence "Bing" McCoy has been fighting to reclaim the Rom trademark for himself, there doesn't seem to be much hope for the future of Rom. No new toy, no new comic, no cartoon series, and no big budget Hollywood movie.
How ironic, Rom spent most of his life sending evil Dire Wraiths to limbo only to find himself stuck in legal limbo with no foreseeable way out.
Well that didn't stop me from getting my
Rom action figure. No it wasn't made in 1979, no it doesn't have flashing read lights or make buzzing and wheezing sounds. It does, however, allow me to let Rom soar through the skies protecting the human race from the scourge of the Dire Wraiths forever more.
THIS IS MY CUSTOM ROM ACTION FIGURE!
It's been a strange 30 year journey for Rom, as well as one of his devoted fans. I'm glad I was given the opportunity to share my love of Rom with all of you and thank you for reading.