Find out why IDW Publishing’s ROM made our “Worst of 2016” list.Read More
It was a comic that was weird, inspiring and human and one that when I first read it, compelled me to hide it behind a bookshelf in disgust. Rom came down from outer space to save us all, and in 1979 this strange silver cyborg transformed what could have been a cheap, forgettable marketing ploy into an enduring folk hero within comic’s history. It told a story about war and what it meant to serve in a way only possible through the pathos of superhero storytelling. Rom’s story begins as one of desperation—both on the page and in the real world. The Parker Brothers, known for their board games like Monopoly and Clue, wanted to break into the toy industry but they wanted to do this as cheaply as they possibly could.
They started by buying a patent for a toy named COBOL—a robot with new and inventive internal electronics that caused its eyes to glow an eerie green. They renamed this robot ROM, downgraded those green eyes to red and gave it only three points of articulation. ROM was an ugly, clunky gray monstrosity—a toy that was a preordained to fail and be forgotten within a year of its release by degrees of sheer mediocrity.
This prophecy would have gone to self-fulfilling if not one for one writer who saw something no one else did.
Bill Mantlo was no reader’s favorite writer at Marvel Comics, but that was okay. Mantlo was a workman’s writer, someone who flourished under deadlines and became known internally as “the Fill-in King.” He was the guy relied on to quickly create stories for series when their own writers fell behind schedule. He would deliver despite being given short notice, little development time, and even less recognition. In spite of all that work and success, Mantlo was never given a full series of his own.
That is until one Christmas morning. He was spending the day with his family. They had just opened presents and Mantlo watched his son play with these new action figures—these strange and colorful robots—it was in that moment he experienced something akin to that primal imagination we tap into as children playing with our toys. He looked at these plastic figures and suddenly he knew. He saw their histories, characters and saw a story in them needing to be told.
He rushed down to Jim Shooter, Marvel’s editor-in-chief, and convinced him that Marvel needed to license these products—they had to turn these into comics.
When Bill Mantlo started writing Rom Spaceknight, the original product had no backstory. There were no other characters in the line, not even any villains. Alone, Mantlo created a story about a man from the far-off utopian planet of Galador who sacrificed his life and humanity in order to combat the invading, tyrannical and shapeshifting force known as the Dire Wraiths. He created a story about a war between magic and science—about a war experience that encompassed two hundred years of an artificially extended life with that conflict now brought to Earth.
The comic series Rom Spaceknight was a fantastical, bombastic experience with stories that in part was driven by its pulp adventure elements—this was a world that might introduce an underground army of lizard guerilla soldiers, living houses and other dimensions. They pushed the boundaries of reality and reworked Marvel’s forgotten characters in new and more human ways. This cracked open the comic universe making it feel more expansive than people with accidental powers punching other people with accidental powers.
Mantlo accomplished this at least in part by tapping into this malleable sense of imagination that touches that experience we all have as kids coming up with stories in our crayon drawing and Lego buildings. Rom talks like a child’s idea of a hero through this grandiose and archaic speechifying. The Spaceknights, the Galadorian band of cybernetic warriors, look like they came from a drawing on the fridge. They each have designs based on basic shapes—some have square heads and bodies, others more hexagonal—with each defined with a primary color and a unique power that sounds something coming off a playground. Rom is really strong, another Spaceknight has fire powers, while another with light or dark powers. They’re vague but still simple. There are no proposed pseudoscience or outline limitations with these characters and they’re presented without a hint of self-awareness or pretentiousness.
These designs are driven by a type of visual purity and simplicity that, I think, invoke a mental space for us to enter: these stories were weird, the characters fantastical but at its core was why we came to superhero stories in the first place.
When I first encountered Rom it was forty years after his debut in 2009. I was a teenager still getting into comics but I’d never been to a comic book store. I’d read the hardcover and trades of Watchmen and Sandman but I’d never flipped through the leaf-thin pages of a single issue. This might sound insignificant but comics are nothing if built on tradition—characters have a legacy, writers and artists have legacies, and if the comics we love become our Bibles for understanding morals and empathy, then the comic book store is the church.
So one summer day my older cousin took us the forty minute drive to the nearest mall and into this small little boutique comic shop with barely enough space to walk. They didn’t carry trades; they didn’t even carry anything current—what they had instead were rows and rows of long boxes. These unmarked cardboard crates stacked on folding tables and filled with hundreds and hundreds of individual comics. Where, almost like a pew, you bent over and performed that sacred act of divination of finding the one issue you were meant to find. I went in looking for something by Alan Moore or maybe Grant Morrison but what I found instead was Rom Spaceknight #5.
I bought it as a joke—one of those teenage irony jokes. The cover said this was a Marvel comic but with a character I’d never seen before: this goofy silver robot with metal mitten hands spread apart by orange tentacles of smoke while household furniture smashed against his body and a couple cowered in the corner. There was a war of confusing aesthetics taking place. Was this science fiction? Was this a horror story? Was this Marvel's version of SummerSlam?
What was unknown to me at the time was how close my first impression captured a big part of what made Rom Spaceknight work—a thing appeared to be a goofy and a bad idea used this specific visual expectation to sneak in weighty realities.
A superhero comic isn’t bound by the visual limitations of a movie’s special effects budget and neither are they bound by the reader’s suspension of disbelief as with a book. What happens in here is limited only by what’s on the page and what’s on that page can be anything. They are a unique opportunity where the stories can mix genres, mix subject matters, tones, character archetypes and settings. A story can have an alien invasion battled off by a magical sorcerer living in Greenwich Village, men can fly, women can turn invisible and people came come back from the dead all within the same set of pages. The stories are fantastical, surreal and present a type of consistent, exciting strangeness that other mediums can never risk matching. Our brains buy into these stories because we can see it for ourselves across the page.
As much as this is a strength for the superhero story, it’s also their greatest weakness. The stories often stray too far from common sense logic and lean too heavily into a spectacle. They ultimately risk becoming inhuman but when they work, it’s almost always because they balance this flimsy unreality with very real-feeling characters and situations.
In that issue #5 of Rom Spaceknight I bought seven years ago, begins with Rom and his two human sidekicks hiding from the local police and military. These groups have been infiltrated by the Dire Wraiths and they lead these efforts using magic hounds without eyes to find them out. Rom and his friends take shelter in an abandoned home, only to discover the home itself is a living entity that has grown stronger by feasting on the Dire Wraiths and their magic.
The story is convoluted and frankly overwritten. Dialogue and caption boxes overcrowd on every page and the colors have already run together and faded. Yet there’s a moment between the strange, pulp movements of the superhero story that gives way to an absolute humanity. We get a flashback of Rom before the war and before he gave up his human body. He’s in an argument with his girlfriend, she just learned he’s volunteered to go to war, to enlist in the Spaceknight program and she’s afraid. She pleads with him not to go—that with so many people already volunteered why does he still have to do it? Why leave her? Rom is a man of values but he admits he’s scared too and that fear is exactly why he has to leave. He assures her, however, that he’ll return and that their love will outlast the war they’ve been drawn into.
Only that memory was two hundred years and staring at the couple he’s befriended (awkward wording), seeing them hold each other for comfort, he knows what he told her was a lie. War has guaranteed that their love could only have ever died.
For superhero stories, the baseline reality is a type of hyper-reality so when the writer taps into real human moments, human realities and situations, these pieces of writing stand out and stick with us. The unreality almost elevates the impact for when real and relatable things happen. This is the reason a kid from Queens is so many people’s favorite character despite constantly swinging between skyscrapers and dating super models. There’s a spark wherein we see ourselves and through that lens believe we ourselves can be so much better. It’s the dance of the relatable nestled inside the un-relatable—the idea that there’s something very real inside this insane situation and this is a big part of why Rom Spaceknight works.
After I first finished reading that issue, I was embarrassed at my own joke. I hid the comic somewhere in my bedroom bookshelf and for a long time pushed that story further away in my memory. I wasn’t an immediate fan of Rom and I wouldn’t even see him again until years later when I was in college. By then I’d gotten deep into retro comic book art—all the masterworks of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko—and following as many of these dedicated blogs I could find on Tumblr. That’s when they started posting covers of Rom Spaceknight.
There was a moment of instant recognition, that unearthing of old memories about a clunky robot that fought shapeshifting wizards from another world. When I started scrolling through them my roommate came in and immediately sounded off: “Holy shit is that Rom?”
When he was a kid his dad had a mountain of a comic collection. Stacks and stacks of single issues that spanned decades and companies and out of all of them he remembered this one issue of Rom Spaceknight in a sea of infinitely more survivable titles. His dad didn’t even remember the series, remember the character or even buying the issue but despite all that, the art and characters of Rom stuck with him.
We talked about what we remembered from the issues we’d read and how it was strange retro art and the contradictions in the character that stuck out most. Rom was a character, he described to me, who was very alien while having the personality of an orthodox superhero. A character whose internal monologs had all the emotions and motivations of a stand-up guy with powers but wasn’t a guy at all but a cybernetic war machine designed solely for xenocide.
That conversation launched me into seeking out and reading the entirety of Rom Spaceknight. It was here that I discovered Rom was a series built and succeeded by its contradictions.
Rom was a series licensed to sell a product but had little to do with that actual product. A series owned by a toy company but one Marvel fully incorporated into their world. Rom interacted with the X-Men, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. Marvel heroes became retconned into making more sense with Rom’s world and where Rom had meaningful interactions with Marvel’s superheroes (Rom is even responsible for Rogue becoming a good guy).
These stories are meant to go forever—to constantly be reinvented and rebooted with new #1s—but Rom Spaceknight ran for seventy-five issues and ended. A series that made the world feel big with limitless possibilities yet for so many issues was restrained to a small town in West Virginia.
What should have been a fluke, a cheap piece of merchandising became a story filled with imaginative situations balanced with intricately written characters and themes.
My roommate was right. Rom had the personality of a typical superhero. He believes in empathy, he believes in never killing even though his mission is to effectively snuff out an entire race. In theory, he was that contradictory image of Full Metal Jacket—the soldier helmet with a peace sign next to the words “Born to Kill.” Yet the further the series expands, the more the story grows and details are given a purpose. Rom sticks with his morals and compassion because they’re the only things that keep him human. It’s revealed that he’s seen other Spaceknights lose themselves in death and in turn lose whatever sense of humanity they had left. Rom lives with that fear and that reality where the longer he stays inside this body of a war machine, the closer he inches toward becoming solely that juggernaut of death.
The more I read the series, the more I’d tell my former roommate about the stories inside—about the Dire Wraith who deserted the war and started a human family, about when Rom tricked Galactus into eating the Dire Wraith home planets and how the final villain turned out not to be the Dire Wraiths but Spaceknights corrupted by their power of war.
There was never an issue that didn’t have an interesting story beat or fantastical turn inside yet while that makes every issue something to look at, Rom Spaceknight only works as a story taken by its whole—the development of character, the enrichment of themes and a finality for the series.
Rom was only ever a licensed product and when that license ran out, Marvel lost all rights to the character. Rom would never appear in another story. Marvel could never reprint the issues and sell a collection. The survival of Rom Spaceknight lives on only by the ability of those that remember and talk about Rom.
Over the past few years, especially since the relaunch of Rom at IDW Publishing, more and more writers have come out and talked the praises of Rom—praises for the character, setting and the series—and that’s brought questions of why? Rom was a clunky, dumb looking, generic science fiction story from the 80s, why should anyone care about him?
I think what it comes down to is that when a story gets told—that is the story. Yet when someone retells that story it becomes something different, something elevated by our opinions and our experience of first reading and engaging with that story.
We tweak the details we liked, represent the parts we found most interesting sometimes in spite of how they were originally laid out. Through that, I think the readers and fans of Rom Spaceknight have turned him into a comic book folk hero.
You can’t easily access these issues I’ve talked about and neither can you easily experience the totality of this series, but you can listen to me talk about it. I’ll tell you about the story of a man who sacrificed himself to protect his country and fought every day of his life to retain that humanity he could have so easily lost. A story about the often cyclic nature of violence but most important a story about a lone knight from a faraway land who came to save everyone.
The third issue of a comic book sometimes feels like the hardest issue to write about—maybe even worse to review. The average comic reader knows by the end of issue two whether they’re going to keep up with something and, in a market driven by five-issue story arcs, the third issue typically has the least going on. There’s no excitement of a new premise as in issue one. There’s no familiarization with characters as in a second issue. We’re a stone throw’s away from any dramatic plot twists of a fourth issue and even further from a satisfying conclusion of a fifth. The third issue then becomes a type of storytelling buffer—this repetition of character and story beats intended to build towards the actually exciting chapter. Yet despite these issues' stagnant nature, without these narrative safety nets, you get a glimpse of the true quality of the story being told.
This has been a long way to simply say: I’m worried about the future of IDW’s Rom series.
We pick up a couple seconds from where the last issue left off—Rom’s been momentarily captured by the Dire Wraiths but this time with a new ally—Camilla Beyers, a human now half-corrupted into a Dire Wraith. Camilla’s pretty new to the whole Dire Wraith-Spaceknight conflict so as the Wraiths have them captured they propose a new narrative to this story.
See, the Dire Wraiths are really the victims here—they’re refugees of a galactic war and who came to Earth when they had nowhere else to go. They’ve lived here in peace for centuries alongside the humans and these casualties and deaths have only happened because Rom’s brought the war back to them.
Elsewhere, the former soldier Darby is found and taken back to civilization by who she believes are humans. Only Darby learns she can never go back again—not with this new knowledge, not with this constant paranoia in whether people are who they say they are.
This alternate narrative proposed by who are traditionally the series villains is an attractive one. There’s a straightforward morality to the nature of the past Rom canon. He was a character driven by his morality—this unconquerable rightness in his patriotism. After all, in that iteration his people were pacifists before the Dire Wraiths and the Spaceknights were a reaction to the attacks they suffered.
But maybe here Rom’s people were the not utopian society of Mantlo’s story. Maybe here, we as readers are missing something fundamentally important to understanding the nature of this war. As Rom recruits Camilla and Darby to his effort against the Dire Wraiths he openly acknowledges it as enlisting. He openly tells Camilla that he wants to turn her into a spy for him instead of curing her of a fatal disease. The Rom here is more alien than ever before and that makes it more questionable whether he’s really the good guy here.
These aspects are interesting, even exciting on a conceptual level in how you adapt and reinvent the story of Rom for modern day but there’s something lost in the presentation.
Rom #3 carries on primarily two different modes of storytelling—an action panel and a dialog panel. While two pages in the issue break this mold and succeed, the majority is dominated by fight scenes and exposition. When the Dire Wraith explains their side it is nearly impossible to believe in part because we're being told this by a terrifying lizard wizard but also because it’s largely done through speechifying.
The original run of Rom Spaceknight featured a very similar story albeit on a smaller scale. One Dire Wraith, grown so tired and fearful of the drawn-out war, decided to desert it and hide on Earth. You could feel the genuineness of his character as you watched him try to seek acceptance from locals, fall in love, and experience the worried fear of raising a child. Mantlo drew upon the imagery of draft dodging during the Vietnam War and created a parallel with someone finding a new life in a foreign country out of fear.
There’s moment of humanity like this in Rom #3. A quick two-page scene where Darby, boarding a bus, imagines everyone on it secretly a Dire Wraith and, as the bus pulls away, she tries to determine the moment her family was killed. The scene here plays out like a subtle processing of the character’s own post-dramatic stress disorder and dealing with a delayed sense of loss. This moment is convincing and human but lost between the intergalactic stakes of the story.
An issue like this one makes me wonder if why I liked the original Rom Spaceknight is ultimately different from why others did. As it stands, I’m getting worried about IDW’s new version of Rom. The story here almost feels lost within its inter-connected world and its intergalactic conflict—more interested in big set-pieces and big stakes than thematic and character elements.
Rom barely feels like a character in his own story—there is little personality and history to him outside of talking funny and not knowing stuff. And that problem feels endemic to this comic as a whole.
Once we dive into Rom #3, there’s a distinct lack of something at its narrative center—a human heart to balance out its strange and elaborate exterior.
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Rom #3 Writer: Chris Ryall Artists: David Messina and Michele Pasta Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $4.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital[/su_box]
Rom: Revolution chronicles the Space Knight's contribution to IDW's hero-on-hero crossover event. Like most superhero events, this one is predicated on supposedly adult protagonists refusing to be mature or reasonable. There's a lot of fighting and very little discussion. Even within that framework, one can tell a rollicking story. This issue doesn't manage it, though. The story here, apparently set before the events of Revolution #1, operates on the premise that technology is magic. A mysterious ore just works with completely unrelated in-development power armor. A special mental interface that doesn't work suddenly does after a week of unspecified tinkering. It's something I could forgive if the rest of the book would carry its weight. It doesn't really. Rom's spoken lines read like an inner monologue. He comes across as a bit dense at times. But that's somewhat endearing. It works for the noble, other-worldly throwback. It works less well in the mouths of contemporary humans. Two people working on the same project probably shouldn't have to explain said project to each other. And it's probably a bad idea to, as a third party, introduce yourself to members of said party by subverting their security. And it's definitely a bad idea for the heads of the project to immediately capitulate to the supposed military reps who simply ooze false trustworthiness. Things progress through the graces of convenience. Further, the writing suffers from frequent and needless flashbacks. They may give you a better understanding of the issue's antagonists, but they don't fit neatly into the flow of the story's battle. These flashbacks interrupt the centerpiece of this issue with very little impact outside of interruption. The scrambled, nonlinear storytelling really hurts the issue. That's not to say this would be a good read if told in a more straightforward manner. A straight line from beginning to end would probably benefit the story, creating a more stable presentation.
The comics medium allows for scenes of action that actually earn the “epic” description. Unfortunately, Rom: Revolution #1 doesn't fare well in that regard. The action feels strangely muted, confined by mundane settings and tepid banter. The art is fine if more than a little messy. Every panel is a little too heavily inked for my taste. The fights are certainly illustrated decently and with enough clarity that they are never confusing. Rom: Revolution's main problem comes from its structure. Rom tries to avoid a Wraith fight; Wraith eggs him on; Rom reluctantly fights Wraith while struggling to understand his opponent. It's repetitive to a maddening degree. Coupled with the non-linear structure of the plot, the repetition is difficult to settle into. Or care about. Or recommend.
[su_box title="Score: 2/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
Rom: Revolution #1 Writer: Chris Ryall, Christos Gage Artist: Ron Joseph Colorist: Jay Fotos Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $3.99 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital
In truth, this review doesn’t matter. The sales for this series were decided three months ago, and they were dictated by the fact that there’s nineteen covers in all. That is how you make a successful crossover event. Nineteen covers. The content at that point doesn’t matter because the shows are invested in selling the variants and sure the $3.99 priced regular cover to fans of these Hasbro franchises that continue to buy and support everything IDW does with them. Which is why this story is so weird. Why take Transformers, arguably one of their biggest titles with the most offshoots, and slam it together with G.I. Joe? Something that has failed recently and has sat on the sidelines waiting for this event. In reality, I’m sure that was just the excuse not to relaunch the title yet again after soft sales on the last two volumes. Then there’s unproven titles like Action Man which just made it to its fourth issue and ROM, which has two issues shipping at the same time. The question becomes, will a shared universe help these brands or hurt them?
I point to Transformers vs. G.I. Joe which has had I believe five or six volumes and yet I bet if I pressed the biggest fan of the crossover they couldn’t tell me anything that happens in the story other than “Transformers vs. G.I. Joes.” Even the first series done by Dreamwave was average at best and relied on variant covers that were little more than fan art.
Why all this excess in a review? Why am I breaking the most obvious review rule in that I’m talking about anything other than the issue? Because I’m genuinely interested in how the fans will receive this book and if the brands will be damaged due to the shared universe. That and I want to give the haters an easy reason to write off my review when they rush to the bottom to see the score.
Spoiler, it’s not good.
This book is only slightly better than the zero issue prelude that they released. If you missed that issue, don’t worry, it’s at the back of this issue to pad the page count and “justify” the price tag. In it, we learn that some bad people are in charge and that they have the head of a Transformer hanging from their wall talking like a light-censored toy bass.
This issue establishes, through a lot of exposition, that the Transformers may or may not be taking over the world, and that energon (which is given a different name for some reason, probably a legal one) is exploding which is jacking up the earth and leaving the Transformers hungry. The issue and series make the mistake of starting off with Action Man. It’s a mistake because it’s terribly boring, but then at the same time shows just how out of place the character is. It’s hard to imagine anyone “popping” for Action Man in this series.
The rest of the issue is just the classic misunderstanding storyline. ROM’s villains are the villains of the series and all of the time is spent with the good guys fighting each other and coming across as unlikable dicks. I am supposed to like the Transformers, G.I. Joe’s and ROM right? The only person that isn’t a dick is Action Man, and I have no reason to like him because he just shows up and watches a man die. I did like General Colton because he was clearly evil as fuck, but then ROM shows up and just blasts him into oblivion. If ROM’s actions weren’t so out of place and lacking explanation, I would probably have cheered for him killing people. Unfortunately, you have to read his one-shot tie-in issue to understand his actions as they’re never explained in the main crossover, and he leaves after seemingly killing innocent people just trying to fight against our robot overlords. I did laugh when the G.I. Joes mistook ROM as a “little Transformer” which is kind of what he looks like.
Speaking of the G.I. Joes… I hope you like Scarlett because she’s the only Joe outside of Colton that you’re going to see. Is the state of the Joes that bad that there’s no one else that’s worth a damn? There are a few others during the battle, but their appearance was strictly for a nameplate saying their name. Outside of that, they don’t contribute to the story in any way. The Joe’s, in general, are a far cry from their former selves and make me long for the days that Devil’s Due had the licenses and made me like and care about someone other than Snake Eyes. Oh and Cobra? Not even a mention or an appearance. Same with the Decepticons. Nothing.
The art is good but wasted on a story that’s all exposition. The Joe’s pointlessly fire their guns at the Transformers that are in the middle of helping sandbag a flood. Again, it’s really good art, excellent coloring and none of it stands out because of how poor the story is. That and after Dreamwave and Devil’s Due set the bar so high for the Hasbro titles it’s hard to truly impress with the art for these franchises. You have to come in at par or don’t even bother. It makes par, but no birdies.
As I said, this review is mostly pointless. The sales have been decided. Comic fans have long ago decided to support anything IDW does with these franchises. I will not be continuing with the series. I have it one and a half, and that’s all I can muster. It’s more of the same from a publisher that has excelled at selling variants for these brands. While they’ve managed to do some interesting things with Transformers, the rest of the properties they touch feel more like a slap in the face for anyone expecting more than just nostalgia to be dulled out to them.
Now if you’re still reading this and very angry with me for bashing your beloved IDW crossover event you’re probably wondering “Then why did this asshole even write the review?” Well as a friend recently pointed out to me, to be the dissenting voice. Because I know that others out there are reading this event and wondering why they didn’t enjoy it. It’s not the “you’re killing my childhood” argument because I’m a fucking adult, and no amount of retooling and rebooting will spoil my enjoyment felt as a child because it’s protected by the untouchable wall of the past. If this is something you enjoy, congrats. You like average crossovers and variant covers. If you didn’t, at least you know you weren’t alone. I’ll be watching this from afar. Watching the sales, waiting to see the effects this will have on IDW because if it does fail, I won’t be the only wondering why they took all these individually successful brands and mashed them together so that they could be like other publishers when IDW has thrived by not being like other publishers. Why else would people continue to pay those prices?
[su_box title="Score: 1/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
Revolution #1 Writers: John Barber, Cullen Bunn Artist: Fico Ossio Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $3.99 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital
Well kids, it's another week and another week of audio problems. Thank Google fucking Hangouts for this mess, the messy turds. But hey, if you ever wanted a podcast episode basically without Dustin, here you go! At any rate, we have a special guest on this week as we welcome Patrick Larose to the show! He's brought a dozy of a question for us to answer, but first we start off with news because that's how we roll. Bryan Singer says that Legion is connected to the X-Men movie's timeline and that's weird stuff. Rob Liefeld is bringing Youngblood back again and hey... the title should tell you everything. Doctor Strange underwent some comedic rewrites and we'll talk about what the possibly means for the movie along with some more comic movie related news.Books reviewed on this episode:
- Rom: Space Knight
- Seven to Eternity #1
- Hadrian's Wall #1
Previously on the CBMFP...
Rom now has an ally, and they’re on the run. The Dire Wraiths are everywhere, and they are relentless. Rom can only resist for so long, and as he desperately flees, the elements set up in the first issue finally converge. Looking back on my review of the first issue of IDW’s Rom relaunch, I don’t want to say that I was too kind but rather I want to be more up-front about what interests me with this new series. Bill Mantlo’s original run of Rom Spaceknight from the 1980's is partly defined by it's interesting and intrinsic relationship to the Marvel universe and the finality that existed for the series.
To see Rom brought back forty years later and in a different comic book, the universe has caused me to lean in close and see how it justifies its existence. This isn’t a sequel series. This is a reimagining and in some way feels like if in forty years someone remade Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga with the same lead characters but in a different setting.
This book will almost be a lesson in what happens when you remake something that feels like such a unique and finished property. This happens with movies all the time but for comics is relatively new.
As a story in a vacuum, I can't help feel that Rom #2 is on uneasy ground this time.
This issue felt like a retread of the same beats the first issue ended on. Rom now has a new ally in Darby Mason, and she readjusts to her new strange reality with her family dead and replaced by Dire Wraiths. However, little do they have time to rest and process this information when the Dire Wraiths strike again.
The original Rom Spaceknight was never a series that slowed down. Rom was on a rampage, but that type of story only worked because of the hyper-condensed style of the comic writing indicative of the 80's.
This time around that I want for Rom and Darby hide out in her home and stay there for a little longer, and so I could more clearly see the type of story intended on being told here and trajectory of these characters.
Still, as a longtime fan of the character, I can't help notice all the subtle little twists to the original formula. This team behind IDW’s Rom comic has such a clear passion for the original story and have thought critically about the tiny aspects of the original that when changed shift the potential of that story dramatically.
These twists reveal themselves in the last few pages of the issue so I won’t spoil them here, but as someone who read the previous series, they made sit up. Gage and Ryall have managed to preserve and respect the character of Rom while revamping his story for a new century.
Mantlo’s original Rom Spaceknight was far from a series built on a few issues, and it’s easy to see the ways this new series can come into its own and tell a story as weird and engaging as Rom ever was.
[su_box title="Score: 3/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
Rom #2 Writer: Chris Ryall Artists: David Messina and Michele Pasta Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $4.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital