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An Ode to a Licensed Character, Part 3 of 8 – Rom #71

April 5, 2010

Welcome back to our trip through the final issues of the Rom as written by Bill Mantlo and pencilled by the great Steve Ditko (with inks this time from P. Craig Russell, whose work melds nicely with Ditko’s).  In issue #71, we pick up right where we left off, and I mean right where we left off.  Our Spaceknights, Rom, Seeker, and Scanner, are walking away from their disgraced and broken former comrade, Unam the Unseen.

Unam pleads with his former friends not to leave him, to not despise him.  Rom tells him that they do not hate him, that they are merely shamed and disappointed in his actions.  Then Unam relates to Rom his reasons for doing what he did – how his deeds were rooted in fear and his inability to dispatch Wraiths to Limbo like Rom so easily does.  I thought that Ditko did his usual elegant and emotive work with the following sequence, as Unam’s plight touches Rom’s cold cyborg soul:

It’s no surprise that Ditko, who was so masterful in conveying emotions in a faceless, fully masked character like Spider-Man, is able to work similar magic with expressionless characters like the Spaceknights.  Indeed, the bottom three panels, laid out in the regular even dimensions that he used so often on that classic Spider-Man run, are extremely effective.

So Unam is back in.  While not condoning what Unam has done, Rom understands what drove him to it, and off our heroes go, flying away side by side.  (Which begs the question – why did Unam feel that he was trapped with the Wraiths if he could fly away at any time?  I missed that plot hole when I was a kid, but let’s not let a quibble get in the way of the story.)

We’re diverted to Earth, where we encounter a sort of hodgepodge family of characters touched by Rom and the Wraith’s time on Earth: Rick Jones (yes, that Rick Jones), who was an ally of Rom and is suffering from cancer, Brandy Clark, Rom’s human love who spent time as a Spaceknight named Starshine, and Cindy Adams, a young girl whose parents were apparently killed by the Wraiths.  More on them next time, when they encounter a certain jheri curled omnipotent guy.

Back to our Spaceknights.  Once again Scanner detects – you guessed it – Spaceknight signals from a nearby world, and they go to investigate.  They fend off a half-ass ambush by simple humanoids, and it’s revealed that those humanoids are led by a Spaceknight, Vola the Trapper:

But Vola isn’t a villain, and she explains the situation to Rom.  The planet, Clavius, had been besieged by Dire Wraiths, but when the Wraith homeworld was destroyed another Spaceknight arrived and teamed up with the now powerless Wraiths – Raak the Breaker.  Raak, like Unam, is corrupted by contact with his former enemies, though Raak’s reasons are not born of timidity but of his lust for power.  He wants to use the Wraiths and conquer Clavius for his own ends, but the similarities between their respective downfalls are not lost on Unam:

Vola has been aiding the Clavians in their fight for freedom.  All this gets Rom worked up into a righteous anger, and the Spaceknights along with Vola and her Clavian allies attack Raak and his minions.  They open the proverbial can of whoop-ass, including Unam, who’s bucked up when Scanner tells him “there is still something of the hero inside you.”  Finally it comes down to a mano a mano tangle between Raak and Rom.  Raak gains the upper hand, mainly because of Rom’s reluctance to harm another Spaceknight, though Raak’s powerful “microwaves” play a part – I guess that “The Breaker” isn’t an honorary title.  It seems that Rom might actually get himself fried, but in steps our Unam ex Machina:

Ah, redemption.  It’s a sweet nectar, isn’t it?

Rom, moved by Unam’s final noble act, uses his Neutralizer to banish Raak to Limbo – there he can rot for eternity with his fiendish partners.  Rom and his comrades are left to contemplate Unam’s sacrifice:

There we go.  I can’t tell you how much this story affected me as an impressionable seven-year old.  From the dynamic and rhyming “Raak is Back!” cover to the story bookended by Unam shattered first in mind and then in body, this one had it all.  And the best part is, the story only gets better from here on home.  In the next installment, we make a little diversion back to Earth and visit with some non-Spaceknight characters, one of whom makes a decision that will impact Rom’s final fate.

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