Today begins the long project of reading ROM: Spaceknight. We start with Rom #1 from December 1979. Written by Bill Mantlo with art by Sal Buscema.
ROM arrives on Earth, crashing into West Virginia. At this point we don’t know if ROM is hero or villain, all we know is that he is here. The writing is over the top, dated and spells things out a little too much. However, it is also brilliant. “To his right he senses the surge of electrical power harnessed to give heat and light! This world, then, harbors intelligence!” ROM, a stranger in a strange land, must use clues from his surroundings to discover what he can about his location. Much like a person lost in the woods would travel towards light, or follow the path of power lines.
ROM cannot understand the ways of this thing, a human, and he “summons from subspace… the Energy Analyzer”. With this device ROM discovers that this is a homo sapien woman, and not a Dire Wraith. Now that ROM has saved the woman, not harmed her, and mentioned some other group we can be sure that he is a hero. This only took 3 pages because the term “paced for the graphic novel” did not yet exist.
The Spaceknight jets off to find his enemy. He leaves behind a “terrified Brandy Clark”, who is now named and thus will probably be further involved in this story. The small town of Clairton, which looks so quaint it could be neighbors with Mayberry, is about to witness something extraordinary. ROM has appeared in town, and much like Brandy was, the town people are scared. Two random humans wonder how ROM found them. Assuming they are Dire Wraiths its surprising that something so dire looks so human. Brandy Clark arrives on the scene shortly after ROM. ROM’s top aerial straight line flight path equals that of a 1970s sedan. The Dire Wraiths wont need to travel faster than light, only faster than a 75 Gran Torino.
The towns people fear that ROM’s energy analyzer is a death ray, and panic spreads through the downtown. ROM has discovered the Wraiths, who realize they have no where to escape to and their fate is sealed. The energy analyzer disappears and is replaced by the Neutralizer. The Wraiths in disguise are disintegrated, ROM has defeated another enemy. However the residents of Clairton only see two of their citizens, Mike Collins and Perry Sykes, killed by a monster robot from outer space. Brandy Clark is scared, she doesn’t know what to think of ROM. He saved her but killed two men she’s known for years right before her eyes. The mayor of Clairton, John Bradford, is looking for help from the state but is laughed off.
At this point, knowing nothing of what is to come in the ROM series I have to wonder if this takes place in the official Marvel Universe. If not, then the mayor becoming a laughing stock is acceptable. However, if it is official then there is no reason for anyone to doubt a giant robot, alien, demon, monster or ghosts to show up at any time, anywhere.
Back to the story, where telephone switchboard operator, Clara (I realize that that profession doesn’t make sense to anyone 25 or under, and that’s pushing it, who may be reading this) is over stepping the mayor and calling in her own help. She’s is backed up by the Sheriff and two unnamed scowling figures. Clara has called General Andrews in Washington and its strongly implied that Clara, the scowlers, the General, and many more people are Dire Wraiths in disguise. ROM has a fight ahead of him.
Brandy cowers in fear from ROM, who pulls the Translator out of his hyperspace storage locker. Self storage units did not exist in the United States until the late 1960s. Even ten years later, at the time of this comic’s publishing, they were not yet wide spread. ROM is clearly from an advanced race.
ROM begins to talk and tells Brandy “The Legend of the Spaceknights!” ROM’s people, the Galadorian Armada from the planet Galador, are on a mission to bring light to the universe. Light in the form of knowledge, health and peace. They enter the Dark Nebula, the uncharted space which happens to be home of the Dire Wraiths.
We’ll come back to our regular scheduled comic in a moment. But first a few things to point out about the Armada. One, its been a while since I’ve seen such a varied collection of people on a starship. White, black, asian and a woman who looks a lot like Hepzibah from the Starjammers to me. I would swear the captain is based on Khan but this comic predates Star Trek II by 3 years. The captain’s quote, “here are monsters” is a tribute to the early map makers of earth’s exploration age who would label uncharted lands with such warnings.
The Dire Wraiths attack the Armada, and unleash the force of the Deathwing. A being created of the dark matter, so destructive and frightening that the Dire Wraiths flee from their own weapon. Word of the Dire Wraiths destruction of the Armada has reached Galador, and the Wraiths are coming to the planet as well. The Prime Director of the planet instructs his herald to ask for the people of Galador to volunteer their services in sacrifice. Rom is the first to raise his hand, but millions are chosen. A line of Spaceknights forms a barrier in space to stop the Dire Wraiths ships. An epic battle, somehow inspiringly shown in just one panel, takes places above Galador. The Wraiths, fearing defeat, unleash Deathwing. ROM defeats the Darkwing and is hailed as the greatest of all Spaceknights. Being a humble and great warrior, ROM announces that they cannot rest until all the Dire Wraiths have been found and banished to Limbo. ROM drops the bombshell that the Wraiths can appear as any living thing, and his two hundred year old quest has now led him to Earth.
The National Guard, the mayor and the Wraiths all show up to stop ROM. ROM realizes that only he can see the Wraiths true self with the analyzer, and prepares to use it. The Wraiths convince everyone that the analyzer is ROM’s death ray and open fire on ROM. The weapons of Earth have no effect on ROM and neither does fire harm one who has “flown near the stars”. One of the Dire Wraiths is disguised as a Guard soldier, and he fires a Wraith weapon at ROM. ROM sends his enemy to Limbo, but this only convinces the human soldiers that ROM is the enemy. Brandy tries to grab the Wraith weapon, but the Wraiths grab her. She managers to yell out a warning to ROM, who sends three of the four Clairton citizens to Limbo. Clara the phone operator escapes to warn the rest of the Earth based Wraiths that ROM is here.
So far ROM looks to be another of the long line of misunderstood Marvel heroes. The Wraiths have not yet revealed their true forms, which must be a difficult thing to make a toy out of (oh wait…). The art and writing is classic Marvel fast paced. Any child of the time would be more than excited for the next thrilling issue of ROM.