Review: Rom #1

This week IDW resurrects the clunky-looking spaceknight, ROM, from the depths of obscurity and into its new Hasbro Toy Comic Universe thing they have going…and that’s pretty exciting. For the uninitiated who only see the boxy robot man at the top of this article and are wondering what the big deal is, well, I have a story for you.

It’s the early 80's, and the Parker Brothers, yet to be consumed by the monster space-entity known only as Hasbro, took its first shot at making toys with electronics in them. This first effort was a little clunky robot man named Rom, and it was a terrible toy. It looked bad. It had no points of articulation and what kind of name is Rom when you put it against the Transformers and GI Joe?

Desperate to sell this really bad toy, the Parker Brothers went to Marvel and created one of the most unique and memorable science fiction series to ever come out of the Marvel Universe with Rom Spaceknight.

A member of a far-off alien race from the planet Galador, Rom sacrificed his humanity to be placed in a robotic body built to do battle with the galactic-wide threat from the magic-wielding, shape-shifting Dire Wraiths. He’s vowed to eternally wage war against them, never to return home until every member of the Dire Wraith race is doomed to a pocket dimension called Limbo.

Rom01_cvrARom was a literal epic about a battle between science and magic. The series was one-part super hero book, one-part space opera, one-part They Live, and one-part Doctor Who. In many ways, this story felt like the comic book equivalent of Star Wars. Rom Spaceknight made the comic world feel big just by being in it. A world with magic and science fought across the stars. That could be tense and scary in one moment and heartbreaking or romantic in the next. A series so good, you fell in love with this super awful-looking robot man.

Due to the licensed nature of Rom, no modern reprint or collections exist, and this situation has caused the remaining fans of the series to talk about it like the comic book version of a folk hero. We can never show you what we read but we can tell you what we remember and express how reading it made us feel.

So IDW has taken this mostly obscure but beloved character, taken him out of the Marvel universe and into their IDW shared universe. The real question is: how does it compare to the original?

Initial Rom #1 comes off like a greatest hits recreation from the original. Rom crashes down onto the surface of Earth and is immediately surrounded by military. Unbeknownst to us, the planet has been secretly invaded by the Dire Wraiths. Before his universal translator can work, Rom starts blasting away at the United States military, targeting only the Dire Wraiths posed as humans with his high-tech analyzer and teleporting them away to the Limbo dimension. However, as far as the military’s concerned, they’re witnessing their soldiers getting disintegrated by an invading alien menace.

The opening of the first issue plays almost beat-for-beat like the opening of the original Rom #1, and I can’t help but feel like that’s a misstep. The folk hero status of the original Rom Spaceknight series makes it come off as more derivative than inspired from a fan perspective. Even then, the use of overwritten captions and keeping Rom’s antiquated and stilted way of speaking, staples that made sense in the 80s, feel out of place and off-putting as a modern comic.

It’s when the new series diverges from its predecessor that the comic shines. In the original Rom, the Dire Wraiths were initially shown transforming from humans into these weird bird-shaped smoke clouds.  While this played up their magical nature, it made for some undeniably weak character designs. Here, the Dire Wraiths have been revamped into something wholly alien and looking very H.R. Giger inspired. Sometimes they morph into these big, lumbering Xenomorphs that are mostly teeth and with wings made from something between scales and blood. Other times they morph into their environment, creating a strange tentacle forest with a face on every tree. These guys are weird, and they are everywhere.

Dire Wraiths, rather than a beaten down and interspersed force, have full-on taken over. They’re in every branch of government; they’ve killed and replaced your family. Literally. While Rom battles it out with alien tree monsters, two humans learn the terrifying truth about their family and co-workers and just barely escape being replaced by Dire Wraiths themselves.  The Dire Wraiths pose a real and very global threat, and these changes transform Rom’s story into an underground resistance story. Rom is already overwhelmed and on the run while his soon-to-be allies are learning the truth of their world and just how on their own they really are.

Rom was never a series built over a single issue. The series took its time finding the weirdest and most interesting places to take its characters. IDW’s new series builds promise with some serious art and some interesting twists on its classic premise. I can only hope the series gets weirder from here.

[su_box title="Score: 4/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]

Rom #1
Writer: Chris Ryall
Artists: David Messina and Michele Pasta
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Price: $4.99
Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital