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An Ode to a Licensed Character, Part 2 of 8 – Rom #70

April 2, 2010

Back to my childhood favorite, Rom.  Previously, in issue #69, Rom rescued two of his Spaceknight comrades from the gooey insides of Ego – Scanner, a blue female Spaceknight without offensive weaponry but with highly developed, you guessed it, scanning abilities, and  Seeker, a red Spaceknight that can sprout metallic wings, fly around (though he can fly around without the wings, so…) and can fire deadly missiles.

This issue opens with out trio arriving on an alien world after Scanner detects a signal from another Spaceknight.  This particular planet is sort of a Dagobah-lite, and I really dug the way that Ditko depitcted it in this two-page spread:

I especially like the two dinosaur thingies squaring off in the upper right corner and the mean looking wolf/unicorn (wolficorn?) in the lower left.  (And please note the distinctive water-splashing effects, as highlighted back here.)  Our heroes tangle with one of the beasties – another chance for Rom to display his distaste for taking life – and soon are back on the Spaceknight scent.

They soon find an improbable sight – enslaved Dire Wraiths laboring in constructing a fortress for the titular “Hidden God.”  As Rom asks them what’s going on, lightning bolts strike out from the sky and cut down the powerless Wraiths.  The “Hidden God” speaks to the Spaceknights and tells them to enter the temple at the center of the under-construction fortress.  There they discover the Wraith master – Unam the Unseen, the Spaceknight that they were looking for.

Unam tells his tale.  During the war against the Wraiths he pursued some to this world and then, when the Wraith homeworld was destroyed and they were rendered powerless, Unam reveled in his new-found capability to utterly terrorize his enemies.  He bent them to his will, always using his one unique Spaceknight power, his invisibility, to remain hidden from view.  He’s really quite pleased with himself for all this – how he, the meekest of his comrades, became so powerful.

Rom is, shall we say, not so pleased.  He’s revolted that a Spaceknight has taken up the evil ways of the Wraiths, becoming no better than they enemies they all swore to defeat.  This rebuke sends Unam over the edge, and he summons his Wraith minions to come and attack his fellow Spaceknights.  The Wraiths surround them, but instead of attacking they beg Rom for release from their bondage.  Rom agrees to use his Neutralizer to exile them to Limbo.  At this Unam goes totally Cookoo for Cocoa Puffs and attacks Rom himself, but our hero easily dispatches him and banishes the Wraiths.  Unam is left emotionally broken, pounding the ground as Rom and his companions, saddened and disgusted by what the war has done to him, walk away:

So the issue ends, but Unam’s story is not yet finished.  For that stay tuned for next time. 

I can remember this story having quite an impact on me as a kid.  The thought of a hero descending into evil because of a sudden change in the power equation between himself and his foes was novel for me and struck home, and Ditko’s always elegant artwork (with inker Kim DeMulder) gave a dark, grey oppression to the swamp setting.  The images of the villainous Wraiths reduced to a pitiable condition and dying in the muck were memorable:

I also really need to say a word about the writer, Bill Mantlo.  He spent a long time working on the Rom character and it shows – like Larry Hama with G.I. Joe, another licensed property, he brings depth and pathos to material that in other hands might be all too shallow.  I’ll have more kind words to say about his work in the future, but until I began writing these Rom posts I never knew about the tragic fate that befell him almost two decades ago.  It makes me very sad to know that someone who touched my young heart so wonderfully was cut down at a relatively young age.  Very sad indeed, but I’m pleased that I’m at least able to celebrate some of the man’s work.

On we go.  In the next issue we’re introduced to yet another of Rom’s old comrades, and this guy has one of the toughest sounding names of all time – Raak.  Raak the Breaker.  Until then.

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