Erik Larsen went on bender recently posting various covers for ROM: Spaceknight from the 1980s. There were some great covers by artists like Michael Golden, John Byrne, and Bill Sienkiewicz. There was one cover by Frank Miller that was so good, it almost ranks up there as iconic. It’s the cover for ROM: Spaceknight #3.
Technically, this isn’t a comic from the 1980s. It’s cover dated February 1980, putting it’s release in the holidays of 1979. ROM was marketed as a hi-tech toy for Christmas that year. The comic was meant to be a tie-in. Like most Marvel comic tie-ins of that era, it became something more. Look no further than Micronauts, Dazzler, Star Wars and G.I. Joe for examples of comics that created a following outside of their intentional purpose.
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: Sal Buscema
Colorist: Ben Sean
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Cover Art: Frank Miller and Terry Austin
The Coming of – FIREFALL!
SHIELD Agent Kraller is briefing two policeman, psychologist Rachel Sweet and criminal Archie Stryker on the decimation of several police officers and federal troops by ROM. Archie has been horrified by watching ROM kill a police captain. Doctor Sweet reminds the SHIELD agent that Archie is a decorated Korean War vet. Archie just wants ROM stopped.
General Sutherland and Senator Carlisle then offer Archie a chance to work for Project Safeguard. He can be the man that stops ROM. In exchange, he’ll get the charges against him dropped and have his freedom.
ROM stands elsewhere in the dark. He remembers upon his arrival that he convinced Brandy Clark that he meant no harm. ROM is on Earth to stop the villainous Dire Wraiths. He remembers how on his native Galador he answered the call to war. He was then grafted to living armor to become one of the Spaceknights. As ROM scans the nearby hills, he locates a massive gathering of Dire Wraiths.
Brandy Clark returns home. She dwells what ROM has told her about the Dire Wraiths. They take the forms of humans. When ROM uses his neutralizer on them, they go to an extra-dimensional limbo. To observers, it looks like innocent people are being horribly killed. Waiting in her apartment are two detectives that want to ask her about ROM.
Archie Stryker runs a deadly obstacle course, impressing Agent Kraller and Doctor Sweet. They take him to a lab on the Project Safeguard “farm.” They tell him that to help him stop ROM, he’ll wear a suit of living armor that glows with intense heat. Archie agrees to the mission.
ROM follows the Analyzer to a West Virginia mine. Deep inside he discovers the Dire Wraiths. It appears to be a group of scientists and engineers working on advanced machinery powered by the heat of the Earth. ROM’s Analyzer reveals all of them to be Dire Wraiths, working on a transporter to free the Wraiths banished to Limbo. ROM attacks and dispatches several with his Neutralizer. He destroys the transporter. The power surge disrupts electronics for miles around.
Brandy’s boyfriend Steve Jackson goes to her parents’ home to find she has left. Ignoring the electrical problems with his car, he speeds off, looking for her. He gets to her apartment to find it wrecked. Brandy is nowhere to be found.
As ROM finishes dispatching the Dire Wraiths, Archie Stryker enters in his gleaming, fiery armor. He attacks ROM with intense blasts of flame. ROM recognizes it as Living Fire from Galador. He knew the Spaceknight that wielded it. He looks up at the armor and asks if it is the Spaceknight Karas. Archie introduces himself with the new name Firefall.
It’s a story typical for its era. There is the long exposition that brings the reader up to speed. However, it takes a few pages to let a new reader know that ROM is not a murderer. A lot of this comes from the more natural way that Bill Mantlo writes his dialogue here. It gets a little over-dramatic at times, but it’s nice when the characters aren’t giving so much exposition to be obvious exposition. Mantlo saves that for thought balloons and captions. Of course, there’s a lot of those.
Sal Buscema is a functional artist. He almost has the quintessential Marvel style. He does tend to be a little bit less detailed than some artists, but he can get the point across. The lack of detail makes for everything being a little generic, but there are details that I like. People’s hair moves with their actions. While there are exaggerated movements and poses, there are the moments where characters give just what is needed.
ROM’s design has always bugged me, and I know it has nothing to do with the comics. Parker Brothers made the toy as cheaply as possible, which accounts for the lack of articulation, and possibly the lack of fingers. Fortunately, the ROM in the comics didn’t mirror the proportions of the toy. In a way, I almost wish that the ROM toy had been successful enough to spawn a line of Spacekinghts. Marvel gave us a wide variety of allies and foes for ROM over the 75 issues the series ran. Some fans have actually made custom action figures of some of them. Personally, I would have loved at least a Firefist or Starshine.
If you’re looking for the issue itself, then don’t pay too much for a copy. If it gets into the double digits, you’re probably overpaying. I’m sorry if you want to read it digitally. It hasn’t been collected either, which is really a shame for a character that has found a second life.
Final Rating: 6.0 (out of 10)