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An Ode to a Licensed Character, Part 1 of 8 – Rom #69

March 31, 2010

I love Rom.  I’m not ashamed to admit it.  In the same magical summer of 1985 when I discovered the Easter Island statues as interpreted by Jack Kirby I was also introduced to the interstellar Spaceknight Squadron as drawn by a guy named Steve Ditko. 

It was love at first sight.

I arrived late in the game.  My first Rom comic was Rom #69, and I had no idea that the series would come to an end a mere six issues plus an annual later.  But if I was tardy in getting on board with this character, I couldn’t have joined up at a better time storyline-wise.  You see, Rom had finally defeated his archenemies, the Dire Wraiths, hideous evil sorcerors that had attacked his homeworld of Galador and whom he had pursued all the way to Earth.  Now he was on his way back to his native planet.  There was a sadness to the character because his humanity, which he had sacrificed to take on his cyborg body, had been destroyed long before.  His Spaceknight allies could hope to reclaim their flesh and bone selves, which had been carefully preserved.  Not Rom.  But still, the greatest Spaceknight of them all just wanted to get home.  I think every one of us can identify with that.

So that’s where I came in.

I can still remember where I bought this issue.  My parents and I were in vacation in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.  In between bouts of swimming in the frigid ocean we made a trip to a convenience store.  I can’t remember why I picked up this particular comic – it wasn’t in my usual Superman/Batman/Spider-Man wheelhouse.  Whatever the reasons, I bought it.  I’ve always been glad that I did.

What’s the plot of this first installment?  Rom detects signals on an alien world eminating from some of his Spaceknight colleagues.  Weak signals.  He decides to investigate and is quickly swallowed up by the planet itself.  It’s alive, you see.  We’re treated to watching Rom battle digestive enzymes and bipedal thug antibodies and using his Neutralizer to send to Limbo some powerless Dire Wraiths being digested slowly (Sarlacc Pit style, I guess) in the planetary stomach.  It’s then that he comes face to face with Ego, the Living Planet.

I learned two very important things about the Marvel Universe here, since this was my introduction to Ego.  One, planets can be living things.  Second, living planets have moustaches.  Who knew?

Ego is holding captive Seeker and Scanner, the two Spaceknights whose life-signs Rom detected earlier.  The bewhiskered living planet has been studying them since absorbing both Spaceknights and Dire Wraiths during a battle they were fighting on his surface.  After some back and forth, Ego threatens to absorb Rom, so our hero, ever-hesitant to harm other creatures, reluctantly pimp-slaps Ego with his Neutralizer.  Ego promptly gives in and ejects our Spaceknights from his insides and flies off.  And on we go to the next issue.

We’re just getting started here – the stories by Ditko and scribe Bill Mantlo that made me fall for the Rom mythos are coming in subsequent installments.  But this one hooked me with the art.  Ditko and his inker, the great-in-his-own-right P. Craig Russell, really did fantastic work together.  The opening page, with the patchwork quilt of Ego’s surface, kind of reminds me of the LSD-trips that Ditko would take Doctor Strange on – and not hurting that association is the use of the word “strange” twice in the first sentence:

Ego’s insides were a combination of Journey to the Center of the Earth and Fantastic Voyage:

And finally there was the rendering of our planetary villain – at least he didn’t have hands to twirl his moustache before Rom gave him a beating:

There we go.  One down.  I hope you liked reading this.  I certainly enjoyed talking about one of my favorite heroes who, unfortunately, is largely forgotten these days thanks to lapsed licenses.  I plan to go over each remaining issue of Rom in subsequent days and weeks (when I can get to them), right up until his final farewell in #75.  Like I said up above, I just love this last arc.  I’m going to savor walking through it.  See you next time, when we meet another Spaceknight in “The Hidden God.”

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