ROMTROSPECTIVE: ROM Spaceknight #1-40
February 16, 2015
A retrospective on the first 40 issues of the far-reaching licensed comic about a cyborg who fights evil space wizards.
(Linkara is seen pushing some buttons on a remote device. He looks up to see that he's on camera)
Pollo: I am not jealous of that overgrown Speak & Spell.
Linkara: (sarcastically) Right... (normal) So, anyway, Pollo has been asking me to install a new voice module inside of him, so here we are.
Pollo: I am hoping I have some choices here.
Linkara: Of course. (pushes some buttons) I'm setting up a randomizer first so that when you find a voice that you like, you can adjust it as you see fit. (pushes one more button) And... go!
Pollo: (now sounding like ThatGuyWithTheGlasses) Ah! There we go. (beat) Hmm... It's an okay voice, but something about it sounds a little Daffy Duck-ish. Have another go.
Linkara: (shrugs) All righty. (pushes another button)
Pollo: (now speaking in a deep voice) There we are– Whoa! Damn! A bit more than I really anticipated. A little too... Barry White for my taste, but not bad. Try again?
Linkara: (resignedly) We are never gonna get to the review at this rate. Still... (pushes another button)
Pollo: (now speaking in a female voice) Okay, here we go. Hmm, a woman's voice? Could work, though I admit I don't really see myself as a woman.
Linkara: Pollo, you are whoever you want to be, so do whatever you want.
Pollo: I think we've been accused of ripping off "Shortpacked". Give it one more try.
Linkara: Okay. (pushes some more buttons) Let's do this... (pushes another button)
Pollo: (now speaking in a refined British accent) Hello? Hello? (realizes how he sounds) Hello...! Yes. Yes, I like this! British! Superior, snarky... Yes, I think this will do nicely. Very me. Let's go with it.
Linkara: Indeedy. (turns back to camera) And on that note, let's talk about... "ROM"!
(Footage of a commercial for a ROM toy)
Linkara (v/o): In 1978, Parker Brothers, hoping to capitalize on the success of Star Wars, introduced their own sci-fi toy: a single lone robot warrior, one of the first action figures to include electronic components, a toy that would revolutionize how we think of action figures, a toy unlike any other that would–
Linkara: (holding up a ROM toy of his own) Yeah, okay, the toy is not very good. It has very limited articulation, it makes some annoying sounds, and it lights up. Even at the time, it wasn't very impressive. But we're not here to evaluate the toy; we're here to talk about what the toy spawned. (plays with toy, causing it to make beeping sounds)
(Cut to a shot of the cover of an issue of "ROM: Spaceknight")
Linkara (v/o): Marvel, for one reason or another, decided to license "ROM" from Parker Brothers and make a comic book about it. But the thing about ROM is that, well, he had no backstory. Seriously, there was only a vague idea of what ROM was supposed to be doing: some explanation of his accessories; stating that he had a respirator, even though he was a robot; and there were no other toys in the line. He was it. So an original backstory for the character had to be created...
(Cut to the cover of a Rocket Raccoon comic)
Linkara (v/o): ...and the job of doing so was handed over to Bill Mantlo, whom some might know as the co-creator of Rocket Raccoon. Before this, he had been known as the fill-in king at Marvel, having written multiple fill-in stories ready for various Marvel titles, should a deadline be approaching and the intended story not be ready.
(Cut to the cover of a comic called "The Micronauts")
Linkara (v/o): He was instrumental in launching a book based on another toy line, Micronauts, which, like ROM, lasted far longer than the toys were actually on the shelves. And that brings us back to ROM.
(Cut to a shot of a cover of a ROM comic)
Linkara (v/o): Licensed stuff tends to take place in its own little world, but as I've discussed before, Marvel has had a very strange and interesting relationship with its properties, and you probably have no better example of that than with "ROM", whose impact on the Marvel Universe is still being seen today.
Linkara: So let's dig into (holds up a whole stack of "ROM" comics in his hands) "ROM: Spaceknight (flips through comics) #1-40" and behold the saga of the greatest of the Spaceknights, (holds up fist) "ROM"!
(AT4W title sequence plays, and the title card has audio from an ad for ROM playing in the background)
Commercial Announcer: ...slayer: ROM, the Spaceknight, the microelectronic creation from Parker Brothers.
(Cut to a closeup of the first issue's cover)
Linkara (v/o): Obviously, when I'm looking at forty comics, I can't look over all the covers, but take a look at the first issue's cover: ROM, tall as life, shiny metal all over the place, aiming his weapon, tons of terrified people. This is beautiful and captures the book awesomely.
(The comic opens to the first page)
Linkara (v/o): As with so many works of science fiction, naturally, it begins with ROM landing on Earth in a fiery explosion. A woman, Brandy Clark, almost runs him over, not that ROM was in any danger, since he just effortlessly picks up her car and puts it back down again. When she gets out of the car to talk to him, he does something... a bit unusual.
Linkara: (as the Terminator, wearing shades like him) Your clothes... Your vehicle... Give them to me.
Linkara (v/o): He pulls out a device from... "Subspace"...
Linkara: AKA his ass...
Linkara (v/o): ...which is some kind of energy analyzer. He shoots it at her, and while at first you would think that this means she's the opening kill of a horror movie, all it does is reveal that she is in fact human. He flies off to continue his quest, with Brandy following after him in confusion about what the hell just happened. When ROM reaches the town of Clairton, he naturally is greeted with a lot of surprise by the citizens.
Man: It-It's some kind of robot monster!
(Cut to a clip of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang watching Robot Monster)
Ro-Man: To be like the human. To laugh, feel, want. Why are these not in the plan?
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): He quickly uses the energy analyzer on a group of people, identifying that two of them are not what they appear to be. He then takes out his neutralizer and shoots the two, seemingly disintegrating them. Everyone flees in terror except for Brandy again, who's confused why he would kill two people at random but not her. While a bunch of suspicious people call Washington, D.C., to inform them of ROM's arrival, ROM takes Brandy to the outskirts of the city. His translator unit is finally functioning and he explains that the people he killed were not humans, but his enemy, the Dire Wraiths.
ROM: Listen, woman of Earth, and perhaps you will understand after I tell... THE LEGEND OF THE SPACEKNIGHTS!
Linkara: (as ROM) Now, this is the story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside-down...
Linkara (v/o): ROM comes from the planet Galador, a peaceful, spacefaring race with an armada of ships. They had never known war, and since they had always been met with friendship, they never suspected anyone would wish them harm. Then again, I'm not sure why they wouldn't expect some worry, considering they're all dressed like pirates. The armada arrives in "the Dark Nebula", home of the Dire Wraiths. We don't see what they look like in the first issue, owing to the dark nature of them, but what we do learn is that they have a combination of science and magic at their disposal, with military sorcerers able to unleash powerful spells in combination with their ships' enormous firepower. A few ships managed to escape the attack only because it seems the Dire Wraiths were scared of even one of their own creations: the Death Wing.
Linkara: Oh! So that's where Deathwing from the Teen Titans came from! (sotto voce) See? I'm connecting the dots to my last massive retrospective. I can do that! And people scoff at my theory that all bad comics can be traced back to "Countdown".
Linkara (v/o): However, the Dire Wraiths weren't done yet. They had plans of conquest for Galador, whose citizens realize that they need to do something to combat this threat. Unfortunately, since they don't have a formal military, they're kind of screwed on possibilities – except one really kind of stupid idea. Volunteers can sacrifice most of their biological components and become cybernetic soldiers with unique weapons to combat the Dire Wraiths: the Spaceknights!
Linkara: And simply equipping these weapons to your ships wasn't an option because...? (makes a waving motion with his hand as though trying to get an answer out)
Linkara (v/o): All the Spaceknights were equipped with different weapons and abilities. ROM in particular had superior strength and power. He was one of the few who survived the initial battle and dealt the killing blow to the Deathwing. And thus, he was heralded as the greatest of the Spaceknights. For a peaceful people, though, the Galadorians apparently have a bit of a vengeful streak, since ROM declares that their mission isn't over until they destroy the Dire Wraiths within the galaxy. Thus, the Spaceknights are sent out to hunt down the Wraiths. ROM has traveled for 200 years in search of them, until he arrived on Earth.
Linkara: Which is why he didn't try to use his translator as soon as he landed. He's probably pretty groggy after 200 years of listening to static-y AM radio across the universe.
Linkara (v/o): So, what's the deal with the shooting? Well, the Dire Wraiths, being powerful magicians and all, have the ability to disguise themselves as any living creature. Thus, the energy analyzer, which can detect them through their disguises. However, one of the reasons why the Galadorians felt so bad about making friggin' space cyborgs is because they value life above all else. As such, ROM's neutralizer does not actually kill the Dire Wraiths; it banishes them to a "phantom dimension".
Linkara: It's like the Phantom Zone, except... (pauses awkwardly as he tries to come up an explanation) Shut up.
Linkara (v/o): Brandy is naturally a little hesitant to believe all this, especially since all she could see was two people she had known all die horribly in fire. Only ROM was able to see them reverting to Dire Wraiths when shot.
Linkara: Which would make this whole thing really awkward if it turned out someone had just been trying to install an update patch to ROM's cyborg eyes and they accidentally screwed them up.
Linkara (v/o): The military arrives to confront ROM, but naturally, he's made of space metal or something that's immune to tank fire. And since he fell from outer space, naturally, they also try to use the Thing approach...
(Cut to a clip of the original version of The Thing)
George Bennings (Peter Maloney): (to Childs (Keith David)) Mac wants the flamethrower!
Childs: Mac wants the what?!
Bennings: That's what he said! Now move!
(Back to the comic again)
ROM: I have flown near the stars, humans! Your pale, pitiful fire cannot harm me!
Linkara: (as ROM) I stay crunchy even in milk!
Linkara (v/o): ROM is able to dispatch his attackers and fly off, having convinced Brandy at least of the truth. Unfortunately, the Wraiths are now aware of his presence on Earth and thus begin spreading the word to all their agents. If there's one real problem with the first issue of "ROM", it's the writing style of the time, which pretty much reveals that ROM is a good guy in the narration captions. Instead of letting us be drawn into the mystery of "ROM" and learn it the same time as the other characters, it's spelled out for us that he's the good guy. Naturally, ROM's quest to fight the Dire Wraiths is the storytelling engine for the series, utilized right away in the next issue, where he interrupts a robbery at the Laserium Corporation to banish a Dire Wraith, who naturally spills the entire plan of the Wraiths: bringing as many of them still wandering in space to Earth, where they can regroup, infiltrate powerful institutions, and use the resources of Earth to build new weapons that they'll use to try to conquer Galador again. Not a bad plan, of course, especially since with as many times as Earth is invaded by aliens, who would notice?
Linkara: A pity they suck at marketing, though. You'd think evil space wizards would come up with a better name than (makes "air quotes") "Laserium".
Linkara (v/o): And since ROM refuses to kill anyone and tries desperately to avoid any casualties or the like, the Dire Wraiths decide to recruit a human to act as their agent. Enter Archie Stryker, one of the robbers at Laserium who became obsessed with stopping ROM due to believing he's an inhuman monster. They begin training him and getting him back into shape – he's a Korean War vet on top of everything else – but of course, the Wraiths have another weapon up their sleeve: fight one cyborg with another. They place him inside a special battle armor, naming him Firefall. However, it seems the Dire Wraiths are really kind of assholes, since the armor is actually the one used by a former Spaceknight, Karas, who wielded the "Living Fire of Galador". You're probably wondering at this point why ROM doesn't just approach a news service or some other official to get his story out. Well, remember, he's been traveling for 200 years, and his socialization skills are pretty crap. In addition, he's already been branded as a murderer, and this is the same world whose civilian population just loves to turn on its heroes at any opportunity. Plus, how likely is it that anyone is gonna believe his story when he says, (as ROM) "A race of evil space wizards have infiltrated every corner of your society by pretending to be normal people that you've known for years and only I can tell the difference, and even though my ray gun looks like it's disintegrating them, I'm actually sending them into another dimension"?
Linkara: Let's also not forget J. Jonah Jameson's daily (makes "air quotes") "Spider-Man Is a Menace" articles. You think he's shying away from talking about the evil killer space robot?
Linkara (v/o): After a lengthy battle, ROM is able to defeat Firefall without killing him, who sadly is completely merged with the armor, due to its nature. Brandy's boyfriend Steve is also convinced of ROM's sincerity after Dire Wraiths try to kidnap Brandy to use her against him. We also learn that ROM left a girlfriend behind on Galador named Ray-Na and that the Dire Wraiths themselves have some different ideas how to approach matters on Earth and that–
Linkara: (slightly annoyed) Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, this is a lot of info to take in, I know. "ROM" is actually fairly serialized, with each issue leading into the next in some way. It makes for a massive 75-issue epic. Seventy-nine, if you count the annuals.
Linkara (v/o): The Dire Wraiths manage their activities through their own secret organization: Project Safeguard.
Linkara: Which I suppose is a better name than ("air quotes") "Laserium". It's just so weird hearing an evil organization's name in comics that isn't like (dramatically) "Shadow Us" or "Dark Bad" or "Opaque Evil" or something.
Linkara (v/o): It seems that ROM isn't the only one after the Dire Wraiths on Earth. When ROM loses his neutralizer for several issues, stolen by the Dire Wraiths, we learn of Serpentyne.
(Cut to a clip of a clip of The In-Laws)
Vince Ricardo (Peter Falk): Serpentine, Shell! Serpentine!
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Serpentyne is the last survivor of a race of lizard people who lived under the Earth, mutations caused by atomic bomb testing.
Linkara: Oh, radiation in superhero comics, is there nothing you can't do?
Linkara (v/o): As Serpentyne recounts, it turns out this civilization actually was previously encountered by Ms. Marvel. Yep, as I've stated before, ROM was considered fully integrated into the Marvel Universe. In fact, early on, one of the Dire Wraiths' members was disguised as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. As for Serpentyne, the lizard people had had clashes with the military and taken a lot of prisoners in an attempt to keep themselves from being discovered, but Ms. Marvel convinced them to just let the humans be hypnotized into not knowing the lizards were there. Unfortunately, among them was a Dire Wraith who was immune to the hypnosis and brought the Wraiths back to take the caverns of the base. They killed all the lizard people, save for Serpentyne, who now goes out in the night to stalk and kill them via scent. Unfortunately, Serpentyne is a bit crazy and wants to be the one to take down the Wraiths, so he attacks ROM to prevent him from getting his neutralizer. In the ensuing brawl, Serpentyne is killed and he apologizes for his asshole behavior. It may seem like an odd diversion from the main action, but really, it's meant to be a parallel to ROM himself. He had commented in a previous issue his fears about killing, about forgoing everything he believed in about the sanctity of life in his pursuit of vengeance and justice against the Dire Wraiths. Serpentyne, obsessed with his revenge, tossed away his life in his own mad quest when he could have instead had a powerful ally.
Linkara: Plus, imagine the sitcom possibilities. He's an alien cyborg, he's a lizard man born of atomic weapons. Can they get along in the big city?
Linkara (v/o): ROM heads to Washington, D.C., to try to retrieve the neutralizer, but of course is captured by the Dire Wraiths. It seems there's a bit of a schism with the Wraiths, particularly when it comes to generations. The elder Wraiths believe more strongly in magic and sorcery, while newer generations believe more in science as their greatest weapon to use in conquest. They're all still evil; it's just that they have their own internal struggles in the power dynamics as a culture. It helps to flesh them out a bit. The Council of the First Born orders ROM killed and his neutralizer destroyed, fearing what could happen if they escape. But the lead scientist, Sister Sweet, wants to study them so as to free the Dire Wraiths trapped in the Phantom Park or whatever, as well as develop new weapons against them. However, it's a moot point anyway, since Firefall is also being held in the base and manages to distract the scientists long enough for ROM to free himself. Firefall is still pretty sad about being trapped in the Spaceknight body, but ROM says that scientists on Galador do have a method of separating the armor from the human host, something he'll do himself when the mission is over.
Linkara: (holding up index finger in confusion) Wait, if this whole thing is so easily undone, why was it considered some (exaggeratedly) supreme sacrifice to become a Spaceknight? Is this just a thing you guys normally do on Galador? One weekend a month or something?
Linkara (v/o): Firefall sacrifices himself to free ROM's neutralizer, but things don't exactly go well from there. To further the ties to the Marvel Universe, ROM's departure from Project Safeguard is impeded by the superhero Jack of Hearts. Jack is not exactly an A-list hero, but he was a member of the Avengers for a bit. He manages to overload ROM's circuitry in space, causing him to go into a kind of stasis lock to protect his body before crashing back to Earth again... though with amnesia, as you usually do.
Linkara: ROM keeps crashing onto Earth and reenacting science fiction tropes. What's next? He's gonna crash onto Earth and fight some shapeshifting monster? (beat, then looks away as he realizes...) Oh, wait...
Linkara (v/o): Meanwhile, a reporter who had been following ROM's activity and taking photographs, named Ace O'Connor, discovers that one of her photographs shows a Dire Wraith as the neutralizer is used on it. Unfortunately for her, her boss turns out to be a Dire Wraith, so she's quickly taken by them. However, it seems she left the negatives in the darkroom, where another reporter, named Mack Killburn, finds them immediately afterwards and asks the boss if he can follow up on it.
Editor: (thinking) Oh, no!
Linkara: (as editor, holding a cigar) Oh, no! I can easily summon the other Wraiths and deal with this guy, too, but I won't for some reason!
Linkara (v/o): ROM, in his amnesiac state, helps free a bunch of people taken prisoner by a pirate supervillain... because comic books... and he regains his memory during the battle. However, this part, issue 13, begins a backup story to expand on the mythology a bit.
Text: THE SAGA OF THE SPACEKNIGHTS!
Linkara (v/o): It tells of how ROM first left Galador in search of the Wraiths, alongside all the other remaining Spaceknights, and how Ray-Na was killed in an attack by the Wraiths in front of him. ROM was accompanied by two other Spaceknights on his journey: Starshine and Terminator.
(Cut to a clip of The Terminator)
Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger): (holds up hand) Talk to the hand.
Linkara: (confused) So, I was under the impression that ROM was his birth name. Did two parents actually name their kid "Terminator"?
Linkara (v/o): Terminator's backstory is that he comes from a world where the Dire Wraiths attacked with a disease: the Wraith Plague... The Wraiths really need a creative consultant... that almost killed him. He was transported back to Galador and turned into a Spaceknight to save his life. Unfortunately, that means he can't return to normal when the mission is complete, since there's not enough left of him to do so. In a brief fit of madness, Terminator murders the king of a peaceful civilization that had unknowingly harbored the Wraiths. He was to be sentenced to death, even wanting it himself, but was instead spirited away by another being, Mentus, as part of the beginning of a scheme to destroy ROM and bring victory to the Dire Wraiths.
Linkara: (as the Terminator) Hasta la vista, Terminator.
Linkara (v/o): Issue 15 acts as a kind of jumping-on story. The main plot is supposed to be about Brandy and Steve getting married as characters recount their history with each other and ROM from the previous stories. However, Steve by this point has been replaced by a Dire Wraith. He and Ace O'Connor are placed inside a kind of white void... with invisible chairs, it would seem, and they compare notes. The Dire Wraiths then emerge from the "walls" of the place to kill Steve since he's no longer needed. But fortunately, Ace has her camera on hand... that she didn't have with her when she was taken.
(Cut to Phelous)
Phelous: Great continuity! (gives a double thumbs-up)
Linkara: I joke about that, but actually, there's been nothing but continuity from issue to issue. And considering this kind of episode is nothing but a recapping the entire series, you can see why I don't use the Continuity Alarm anymore.
Linkara (v/o): Hey, I just realized: the Dire Wraiths look like the Soggies! My God, Soggies may actually rule! Ace is killed in the escape attempt, but Steve is able to get out of the place, arriving just outside Clairton. ROM crashes the wedding and quickly discovers that Steve is a Dire Wraith, but Brandy just assumes he's jealous. Fortunately, Steve arrives and kills the Dire Wraith, proving to all the assembled townspeople that ROM is the good guy. In the following issue, some time has passed, and Mack Killburn comes to Clairton to continue the investigation. However, by now, the whole town knows ROM is on their side, or they've been convinced of the hoax... which doesn't explain the dead people, but whatever. So, they've put together a cover-up to protect him, claiming that the newspaper articles about him from the town were all made up as a joke. ROM decides to leave to continue his quest, but some kids nearby accidentally activate a Dire Wraith sentry, which goes on a rampage in the town. ROM confronts it, and Killburn quickly realizes the town has been covering for him. The great thing about the fight, though, is, after so many issues of them hating and fearing him, the townspeople rally to help ROM in various ways, shooting at the sentry to distract it or spraying ROM with water when it tries to shoot "plasmifire" at him.
Linkara: Gotta love it when we make up words by combining two words together. I call it "literasynthesis".
Linkara (v/o): Killburn is convinced that ROM is a menace – I'm guessing his maiden name is "Jameson"; even has kind of a similar look, just a bigger mustache – because of the damage done to the town. But even then, the town rallies behind him, knocking away Killburn's notebook, claiming he doesn't know what he's talking about, and planting a truck into a spot where ROM crashed to make Killburn look crazy. ROM still needs to leave to continue his quest, but Brandy makes it clear he'll always have friends, and he can use Clairton as a base of operations. From there, we head into a two-part crossover with the X-Men. In this case, it concerns a Dire Wraith who had crashed in 1940, several years before the rest of his race. Tired of the two centuries of war with the Spaceknights, he decided to settle on Earth, take human form, and married a woman he fell in love with. So, what's the problem?
Linkara: Well... let me put it this way: you ever see the movie ("air quotes") It's Alive?
Linkara (v/o): The child appears human, but we later see that the Dire Wraiths caught up with this guy and demanded to see the hybrid child, teaching him power and sorcery beyond compare. Naturally, handing that kind of power to a little kid resulted in less It's Alive and more "It's a Good Life". And thus is revealed Hybrid, this twisted, half-melted, Lovecraftian horror with psychokinetic powers that make him a match for ROM. It also makes him a mutant, which is where the X-Men come into play, protecting what they think is a helpless child from ROM. They manage to sort things out, but unfortunately, the neutralizer doesn't work on Hybrid. But we learn that the neturalizer does have a setting for killing things.
Linkara: So I guess that whole ("air quotes") "sanctity of life" thing is more a guideline on Galador than an outright rule.
Linkara (v/o): Even more, there's apparently a setting that lets you kill and banish at the same time. I don't even know what the hell that means: rip something to shreds and send the dispersed atoms into another dimension? But whatever. In the fight, ROM himself is set into the phantom dimension. However, it seems ROM isn't alone here. Remember Karas, the former wielder of the Firefall suit? Well, it seems he's been in this limbo dimension the whole time. But then Marvel supervillain Space Phantom...
Linkara: He's called that because he's a phantom from space. I know that explanation is very difficult to follow, but please try to keep up.
Linkara (v/o): ...tried to trick ROM into thinking he was Karas in a bid for his freedom. Fortunately, Karas was able to use the living fire to send ROM back to Earth, but not without a warning. Karas briefly tried to leave limbo and return the majority of human components that were stored on Galador in cryogenic suspension, but Karas tells ROM that something is wrong on Galador. Mentus, the guy from earlier, joins up with the Dire Wraiths and continues his own plan: trying to convince ROM that he needs to abandon Earth and return home to Galador, leaving Earth wide open for assault. Fortunately, ROM has a new ally: a D-list Marvel superhero called The Torpedo, who moves to Clairton, and we learn that his backstory has been altered a bit to match up with the Dire Wraiths.
Linkara: Like I keep saying, Marvel was truly dedicated to integrating ROM, a licensed comic, and his mythology into their universe. A few bits of retconning, supervillains and characters from other series making their way into his book... Can you even imagine that happening today? Like, if Marvel got the license to My Little Pony or Steven Universe and fully them integrating them into their continuity?
Linkara (v/o): Plus, consider the fact that I'm really more of a DC guy than Marvel, so half these characters I'm only vaguely aware of, but it's written in a way that gives you all the backstory you need on the previously-established characters while advancing the main one at the same time. But anyway, we're only just on issue 20; still a lot to go through. Back in "The Saga of the Spaceknights", ROM had left in the wake of the apparent execution of Terminator, beginning his 200-year journey. But in his absence, Terminator had been sent by Mentus to Galador once more. He breaks into the cryogenic crypt that keeps all the mortal remains of the Spaceknights so he can destroy them, ensuring that nobody can ever return to their bodies after the mission is over. Also, it seems Galador was doing more modifications to some of its citizens than just the cyborg stuff. They actually modified a group of people into the "Angel Elite", guys with wings on their backs, who look suspiciously like Hawkman from DC.
Linkara: (sarcastically) Oh, what? Like, next you'll say that DC has an android character who wields awesome power that possibly sacrificed his humanity in order to achieve–
(There is indeed such a character, as a shot of Red Tornado is superimposed briefly)
Linkara: (nonplussed) Huh.
Linkara (v/o): However, Terminator is able to resist the mind control over him just enough to not destroy the cryogenic chambers. However, he does steal the casket containing ROM's human bits and brings it back to Mentis. ROM heads to New York to contact the Fantastic Four, hoping they can help him get back to Galador, since otherwise it'll take him another 200 years to return on his own power, but in the process encounters Luke Cage and Iron Fist in a crossover with their comic. Naturally, the words "Sweet Christmas" are indeed uttered, but no smoking-themed supervillains are fought. After finally meeting up with the Fantastic Four, ROM explains the whole story. Since they already have experience with the shapeshifting Skrulls, the Four are inclined to believe the story and thus lend ROM a spaceship programmed to take him home. Speaking of, ROM has a brief encounter with the Skrulls in the next issue. In an actual nod to realism, we acknowledge the fact that ROM is neither a scientist nor a pilot, so he has no friggin' clue how to fly the ship.
Linkara: And of course, Reed Richards, being the most worthless scientist ever, didn't bother to give ROM a quick lesson of (makes pushing motion with finger) "push this button to go".
Linkara (v/o): In issue 25, ROM finally makes it back home to Galador... but the homecoming is not what he or anyone else expected. Not only is Galador in the wrong place, but upon arrival, the citizens of the planet bow down to him as their lord and master. He's quickly attacked by another ROM, one that the energy analyzer clearly identifies as himself. And indeed, it's quickly revealed what happened. Mentus grafted the lost half of ROM's humanity onto Terminator and transformed him into another ROM. So, who is Mentus? Well, the leader of the Galadorians, who we've seen multiple times during the series, is called the Prime Director. After the director began the Spaceknight program, he felt kind of bad about the fact that so many of Galador's youths sacrificed their humanity, while all he did was sit in a big chair all day.
Linkara: You know it's science fiction because it's a politician who actually gives a crap.
Linkara (v/o): He decided to create a new suit of Spaceknight armor, but instead of bringing it to life through his body, he tried to animate it with his own willpower. Thus, no Galadorian would ever have to give up their humanity again. Unfortunately, it turns out that he accidentally created it using the evil side of his personality.
Linkara: (confused) So, willpower is evil? I mean, I know the Green Lantern Corps can be asshole sometimes, but wow!
Linkara (v/o): And thus Mentus was born. He faked the Prime Director's death and had Terminator, as ROM, come to Galador and declare the Wraith war was over. Naturally, the line of succession on this planet goes to... uh, a Spaceknight.
Linkara: Much like how, in America, if the President dies, the job is given away to any soldier who happens to be around. (beat) Or maybe it was an election year and no one wanted to try to oppose ROM on the ticket, I don't know.
Linkara (v/o): Other Spaceknights have returned since then... and been quietly eliminated before they could tell anyone the war was still happening. Mentus' ultimate plan is to surrender Galador to the Dire Wraiths if they will serve him.
Mentus: --For anyone evil enough to deliver unto them their most hated enemies deserves to rule them as well!
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Doctor Who)
Cyber Leader: There is... logic in what he says.
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): Things have gotten pretty crappy back on Earth, too. For the last several issues, a strange fog has been rolling into Clairton.
Linkara: Of course! Silent Hill is controlled by the Dire Wraiths! It all makes sense!
Linkara (v/o): The fog has been taking over people in the town, making them subservient to its will. We later discover that it's Dire Wraith sorcery, and eventually even Brandy and Steve succumb to it, everyone being herded into a mineshaft as hostages while the Dire Wraiths take on the form of the entire town to await ROM's return. Also, Torpedo gets his costume in between issues, even though the Dire Wraiths have been trying to steal it from him for several issues, and the fog would have allowed them to finally grab it.
Linkara: But hey, who could remember all the little details like that? It's just the reason why he moved to Clairton in the first place! (shrugs) What's the big deal?
Linkara (v/o): ROM frees himself and the Prime Director, and we learn that the other Spaceknights who returned weren't killed, but rather frozen, thus allowing ROM to free them and resist Mentus. The battle begins, Mentus trying to bring Galador into the Dark Nebula, while ROM and Terminator face off. Fortunately, Starshine is able to convince Terminator that Mentus made him even less than human with his betrayal, so he rejoins our heroes.
ROM: Welcome back to the ranks of the Spaceknights, Terminator.
Terminator: You accept me, ROM, though for 200 years I have misled our people--though I stand before you in possession of the humanity which you desire above all else?!
(Cut to a clip of Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
Terminator: I know now why you cry...
(Cut back to the comic)
ROM: Not above all else, Terminator. Half-human we both may be, but I would be unworthy of my humanity if I could not forgive you and call you... friend!
Linkara: (holding out fist) BROM fist!
Linkara (v/o): Unfortunately, the final battle with Mentus does not occur. The Prime Director sacrificed himself offscreen to stop him and he becomes a Force Ghost or whatever. He warns them, however, of an approaching danger to Galador: GALACTUS, DEVOURER OF WORLDS!
Linkara: (snaps fingers) Dammit! I knew Galactus wouldn't be sated by the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man's Twinkies!
Linkara (v/o): Terminator sacrifices himself in the ensuing fight with Galactus and his herald, but ROM soon hits upon an even better idea to save Galador.
ROM: Indeed, an entire galaxy on which Galactus might feast until he is tired of feasting! Spare Galador and I will lead you to it!
Galactus: And this galaxy-- it has a name?
ROM: It is called the Dark Nebula... former home-system of the dreaded DIRE WRAITHS!
Linkara: Gotta love that Galadorian morality about (gives a thumbs-up) the preservation of all life!
Linkara (v/o): I joke, but it is kind of a stroke of genius when you think about it: the Dire Wraiths threaten everyone in existence, and frankly, their numbers are so great that ROM's task of trying to send them to the Twilight Zone or whatever is pretty hopeless. But this would be such a major blow that it might force the Dire Wraiths into peace or surrender. The Dire Wraiths get all their power from the Dark Nebula, so eliminating it would be ideal. However, ROM's plan is even better. It turns out that the Dark Nebula doesn't work under the same physical properties as the regular universe. Wraithworld, the planet ROM directed Galactus to, is just as corrupting and hungry as Galactus himself, its own power attacking and eating away at him and his devices. ROM figured this might be the case, which meant only four possible outcomes. One, Galactus would devour the Dark Nebula and leave Galador alone and end the Wraith threat. Two, the Dark Nebula would destroy Galactus, ending the immediate threat to Galador and give them time to plan their next move. Three, Galactus and the Dark Nebula would destroy each other, ending two threats at once. Four, Galactus would turn back, but be so weakened by this excursion that they'd be able to defeat him. This idea is ingenious! Naturally, things do not go well, but probably better than they could hope for, given these crap-tastic circumstances. Galactus is indeed forced to flee the Dark Nebula, since he simply cannot consume something so bad for him.
Linkara: So, the Dark Nebula is like the fast food joint of the universe?
Linkara (v/o): However, while Galactus is pissed about this whole thing, he also is actually quite amused by the plan and honors his agreement to spare Galador, even moving it away from the Dark Nebula. Unfortunately, in his own way of getting revenge for the trickery, he strands the Spaceknights outside of the Nebula, with no knowledge where Galador was sent. So, ROM returns home and learns his friend was corrupted to evil, he can never return to his human form with Terminator's death, his world almost got destroyed twice, and now he and his fellow Spaceknights have no idea how to find their home again.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Red Dwarf)
Kryten (Robert Llewellyn): (to Lister) All in all, today's been a bit of a bummer, hasn't it, sir?
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): Starshine has the power to teleport things near instantaneously, so she sends the Spaceknights across the universe to continue their hunt for the Dire Wraiths. She decides to accompany ROM back to Earth, since the world she had been fighting on has already been freed, and she figures they did a better job dealing with the Wraiths on Earth together than apart. Also because she's in love with the big doofus, but he's got his eyes on Brandy, who's also got a thing for him, but she's with Steve, who of course wants her.
Linkara: When love triangles become boring, try love rectangles! Clearly, the only solution to this is some kind of foursome.
Linkara (v/o): Of course, if you had been reading the previous issue, you should know the entire town has been replaced by now... which I think narratively was a big mistake for the book. Have the fog, have the mystery, yes, but don't reveal the source of it until after ROM finds out. Let the reader be just as much in the dark as ROM. That being said, Mantlo still pulled a fast one, since of course people would assume the danger would be from the Dire Wraiths impersonating the townspeople, but we quickly learn some kind of new disaster befalling the town that's not of the Wraiths' doing. Something is dragging them down into the ground.
(Cut to a clip of Dune)
Stilgar (Everett McGill): We have wormsign the likes of which even God has never seen.
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): So, what's actually going on? Well, apparently, the captured townspeople were rescued by, believe it or not, the Moleman.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of The Simpsons)
Hans Moleman: (holding up skateboard) Cowabunga, dudes!
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): Yeah, and the townspeople alerted the Moleman of the Dire Wraith threat, who happily started using his forces to snatch Dire Wraiths from up above – and then the two groups beat the crap out of them until they're dead!! Wow!
Linkara: Truly, ROM has brought nothing but peace and goodwill on his mission.
Linkara (v/o): Unfortunately, in the ensuing battle with two Dire Wraiths, Starshine is killed, confessing her love for ROM as she dies and alerting Brandy and Steve to ROM's love for Brandy. Hybrid returns a few issues later, having reconstituted himself through sheer power of will. Yep, willpower is evil, apparently. He fights and defeats Torpedo, leaving him for dead, but Torpedo is rescued by a returning Mack Killburn. He had been absent from the book for a while, but the Dire Wraiths were after him, trying to kill him for continually trying to get his story published. He's here now to enlist in the fight against the Wraiths. Hybrid teams up with the Brotherhood of Evil mutants... or rather, Sisterhood, since all the guys on the team were left behind after a battle with ROM. But there's another part of the encounter that's unexpected. As I've said before, Rogue used to be a member of the Brotherhood before she joined the X-Men. Knowing that ROM had organic components, she tried to kiss him and absorb his power, but instead absorbed part of his kindness and decency. It was part of a turning point for her character, that and some of the psychological effects of her powers, that would eventually lead her to join the X-Men.
Linkara: Last year, Image Comics publisher Eric Stevenson made a speech where he mentioned that licensed comics will never be (makes "finger quotes") "the real thing" or are inferior products to the ones they spawned from. "ROM Spaceknight" is the counterargument: a licensed book that not only produced an epic serialized story, but one that had repercussions felt even in the Marvel Universe today.
Linkara (v/o): ROM and the Brotherhood decide to team up and destroy Hybrid once more, but ROM's troubles are far from over. Following that as a three-issue storyline that sees him team up with Namor the submariner, as Dire Wraiths try to use dark sorcery to summon hellish sea creatures to destroy Atlantis. The two seem to have this wonderful dynamic of being completely over-the-top and overdramatic in everything they say. ROM has a massive bromance with him, with how he admires Namor for being so noble and self-sacrificing. A girl that ROM had saved in the first part of the story is almost murdered by the Dire Wraiths, drowning her, but Namor is able to save her using his advanced Atlantean science to transform her into an Atlantean and give her a new life.
Linkara: I would just like to point out that it is far easier for Namor to radically alter the genetic structure of a human girl to turn her into an Atlantean, while also RAISING HER FROM THE DEAD, than it is to save Aunt May from a bullet in "One More Day". (punches fist into his hand and shakes head) Of course.
Linkara (v/o): Brandy, still lamenting how she can't be with ROM due to his own sense of morality, plus the fact that he doesn't have the... um, accessories, visits Starshine's grave to wonder if it wouldn't have been better if she had died in place of Starshine. However, Starshine's essence – her soul, for lack of a better word – appears before Brandy and grants her a gift of her light powers. Aaand then Brandy digs up Starshine's grave and takes her armored husk into the trunk of her own car.
Linkara: Because nothing says true love more than (holds arms out) digging up a corpse! (grins)
Linkara (v/o): And what's ROM up to? Trying to help a village that's being terrorized by Dire Wraiths, who appear to them as evil spirits and demand child sacrifices. The Wraiths are trying to transform humans, particularly children, into monstrous creatures, much like how they transformed animals in previous stories. In the process, ROM suddenly starts being willing to kill living beings, partially due to his sense of lost humanity. The Wraith witches he fights against keep saying that the time is coming soon when Earth and Wraithworld will be in alignment.
Linkara: Technically, since it's just two planets, wouldn't that mean they're always in alignment with each other? It's just a straight line.
Linkara (v/o): Erm, anyway, when the two worlds are in alignment, and because of that alignment, their magics will be at their most powerful.
(Cut to a shot of the Hitler Clones from "Superman At Earth's End")
Hitler Clone: Of course. Don't you know anything about science?
(Cut back to the ROM comic)
Linkara (v/o): ROM has yet another encounter with a lesser-known Marvel hero and another born of a licensed story: Shang-Chi, master of kung fu. In the Marvel Universe, Shang-Chi is the son of, I kid you not, Fu Manchu!
Linkara: And yes, this character was invented in the '70s, so it is entirely likely that drugs were involved with comic book writers at the time.
Linkara (v/o): After Shang-Chi interrupted a Dire Wraith ceremony to resurrect the spirit of a dead girl inside of her skeleton...
Linkara: I expect at least one ROM story is going to end up on Longbox of the Damned this year.
Linkara (v/o): ...he travels to a London museum on a hunch, regarding an Egyptian mummy named Kaaris'a. According to legend, a star fell from the sky, revealed as a chariot containing a bizarre creature that changed its shaped into the little girl Kaaris'a. The Pharaoh interpreted this as a gift of the gods to grant him a daughter he never had. The Pharaoh's priests resented and feared her because of her mastery of dark and arcane arts that was superior to their own.
Linkara: And who here is shocked to hear about people practicing demonic, dark sorcery from the most evil force that threatens us even today... (raises fist) ANCIENT EGYPT!
(Cut to the obligatory shot of the Egyptian pyramids while John Williams' "Imperial March" from the Star Wars series plays. Then back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): Really, though, the priests had other reasons to fear Kaaris'a, frankly, because of the other things she clearly did to them.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series)
Kaiba: Why are they white?
Kaiba: I mean, they're Egyptian, right? Why are they white?
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): After the Pharaoh died, Kaaris'a took over, and despite her own powers, the people rebelled and forced her mummification. According to legend, she's supposed to rise again. This kind of story is actually kind of common in science fiction. The alien who landed in Ancient Egypt, so I'm not surprised "ROM" did their own spin on it, given all the other tropes they did their take on in the book. Interesting to see the Dire Wraiths landing even that far back. Both Shang-Chi and ROM tail a group of Wraiths into the museum who hope to resurrect Kaaris'a, who was apparently an infamous Dire Wraith of much power. Naturally, this leads to our heroes fighting mummies, statues and other fun things during this night at the museum. Eventually, Kaaris'a is decapitated by Shang-Chi, since the growing cosmic alignment and her connection to several children under Dire Wraith control made her immune to ROM's neutralizer. Issue 40 brings us to the night of the alignment itself, where the Dire Wraiths continue their sorcerous plotting with children by using a literal Pied Piper to grab hold of several children for their plans. Meanwhile, some new supervillain named Doctor Dredd...
(Cut to a clip of Judge Dredd)
Judge Dredd (Sylvester Stallone): I am... the law!
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): ...approaches Brandy and offers her the magics she needs to merge with the Starshine armor. Steve tries to intervene, but he's no match for the guy. Instead, we have the torpedo arrive to try to halt matters. He quickly identifies Dredd as a Dire Wraith, but in particular a Wraith warlock. Rather unique, he claims, since Wraith women are usually the ones who hoard the most powerful magics for themselves and become Wraith high witches, whom ROM has encountered several times over the last few issues. Torpedo manages to knock Dredd down, but unfortunately, the ritual is complete, and Brandy has become Starshine. Naturally, this was a Wraith scheme that allowed them to gain control over a Spaceknight of their own.
Linkara: (holds up arms, sarcastically) Geez, who thought making a bargain with a guy named "Doctor Dredd" would end badly? (shrugs)
Linkara (v/o): Back over to ROM, he's delayed by the Piper long enough to learn the true purpose for the cosmic alignment: to bring to Earth a being called "The Dweller on the Threshold", a hellish creature said to be the mystic embodiment of the Dark Nebula's black sun.
Linkara: (holds up index finger) And this, my friends, is why solar power will eventually bite us in the ass. Literally, actually, (a shot of the Dweller, which has sharp teeth, is shown in the corner) given that thing's teeth.
Linkara (v/o): ROM manages to defeat the Piper, but Issue 40 ends with ROM tackling the Dweller into some other dimension. (dramatic music plays as Linkara speaks dramatically) Will ROM escape? Will he ever reclaim his lost humanity? Are Steve and the Torpedo about to die at the hands of Brandy? Will ROM team up with any other minor Marvel characters?
Linkara: Well, come back next week and we'll explore (holds up index finger) the last 35 issues of "ROM", the annual issues, and discover whatever happened to the greatest of the Spaceknights!
(End credits roll)
Commercial Announcer: ...and his respirator allows him to breathe in any atmosphere. ROM, lord of the Solar Star Order. ROM, the Wraith slayer. ROM, the Spaceknight. A microelectronic creation from Parker Brothers.
(Stinger: A panel is shown of ROM encountering some whales)
Linkara (v/o): At one point, ROM encounters whales and listens to their whale songs. I'm guessing he's the one who sent out the message that the whale probe in Star Trek IV was looking for.