Monday, June 20, 2011

Heroes I Miss: Part 1

Here's where I wax nostalgic. There are certain comic book series and heroes that I loved reading when I was a kid but you never see anymore. Some are gone for licensing reasons, while others just didn't sell well enough to warrant another series attempt. But these are the comics I scoop up happily when I see them in the back issue bin at the comic shop.


Ok, this one was created simply to get the toy of the same name some business, but who would have ever guessed the comic book would be so popular! This guy teamed up with everybody! During the 75 issue run of the series, we saw guests like the X-Men (pretty much a staple guest star to every comic of the 80's), Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, the Avengers, Alpha Flight, and even the Master of Kung Fu! Not bad for a cheap toy that couldn't bend its arms!

I owned the toy and thought it was cool for the time (it's pathetically laughable in today's age of action figures). The eyes lit up and the rocket pack made noise. As long as I had batteries, I was happy. Still, it was the comic book that made the guy memorable to me.

Over the years, ROM ended up becoming a great comic. He fought the Dire Wraiths, hunting them down and blasting folks away (the DWs could disguise themselves as normal human beings and only ROM could detect them using one of his cool tools). Naturally this didn't sit well with most heroes, though eventually they found out the truth when the DWs became more obvious in their invasion attempts.

An entire storyline was developed that allowed ROM to have a true origin. He was a normal man who became a Space Knight to save his beloved planet Galador. He began chasing the DWs across the galaxy and ended up on Earth trying to wipe them out completely. He was never a regular part of any super-team, but he interacted with a ton of major and minor heroes and villains along the way. He even fought Galactus at one point!

When the time came to end the series, fans were treated to a rarity among comics: a satisfying ending. Marvel didn't own the license to the toy so the hero was perishable at best. They finally allowed ROM to return to being a human back at his planet with his loving wife at his side. Happily ever after? Nope.

The recent miniseries Annihilators allowed us to see what happened over time to everyone but ROM (they couldn't even mention his name because of the licensing issues, just alluded to his death sometime in the past). The Dire Wraiths infiltrated Galador again, and ROM was dead. No chance now of ever seeing him back in his armor again.

The Micronauts

Yes, I know many of these guys have come back in different titles, but the original team was one of my favorite must-read comics of the time. I had the figures (most of them anyway...I was never able to buy an Acroyear figure and actually still want one today) and the adventures these guys faced were above the standard Marvel fare at the time. They gave each member of the team a true backstory and the chance to examine it in detail.

The series ran for 59 issues, ending a few years after the toys themselves were no longer available. That attests to the popularity of the title at the time. They introduced another Marvel regular in issue #8: Captain Universe. The team even made it from the Microverse to our universe to face the Fantastic Four, SHIELD, and even had a helping hand from Ant-Man. The tiny heroes always managed to create this larger-than-life world of adventure and fun for this little (at the time) reader.

Unfortunately Marvel only owned the rights to certain aspects of the title, so Commander Rann (not Space Glider), Marionette, and Bug are the only members of the team we'll ever see again in comics (and do see on a fairly regular basis lately). Acroyear, Biotron, and Microtron, along with Time Traveler, Force Commander, and Baron Karza are gone from us forever.

JJ Abrams was rumored to be helming a Micronauts movie back in 2009, but that has apparently fallen through. And Marvel's recent reintroduction of Rann and Marionette in the Enigma Force miniseries wasn't the update we'd hoped for either. Rann and Mari had marriage problems and were at odds with each other after a messy breakup. Here's hoping they find a happy future someday. 

Dial H for Hero

During the 80's there was a very simple storyline of two teenagers, Chris King and Vicky Grant, who became "The heroes created by you!" Every month I grabbed the latest issue of this short-lived series that eventually found its way into the last few pages of Superboy comics as a backup story. These were heroes that were created by kids just like me!

The premise was that you could send in your drawing and brief description of the hero and hope it ended up being printed. While I had a ton of cool hero ideas in my head at the time, I was a horrible artist and could never get anything on paper like I saw it in my head. As a result, the world is forever robbed of DreamStalker in comic form somewhere.

The "Dial H for Hero" concept actually came out two decades earlier when a kid named Robby Reed found the dial and became 3 heroes throughout the course of each issue of House of Mystery from issues 156-173. This collection was actually brought out in a "Showcase Presents" collection last year. But it's the 80's version of the title I miss.

Where else could you hope to actually see your own hero or villain in print? And for a group of amateurs, people came out with some pretty cool creations. My personal favorite villain was called Wildebeest, sort of a Kraven/Deathstroke combo that was very effective.

The only downside was Carmine Infantino's artwork. I know there are people who put him as one of the greatest comic artists of all time, but I have never understood that. Put his work next to Neal Adams or Jim Aparo from the same time period and there is absolutely no comparison.

Unfortunately, we were robbed of a happy ending to this little tale. By the time the series moved to Superboy, the heroes were created mostly by some comic writer rather than a kid. Finally, Robby Reed showed up and the kids both were supposed to be big heroes forever. Years later we found out in a Teen Titans storyline that Chris was a hero but Vicky had become evil due to some cult. In the end, both characters basically disappeared, while Robby Reed continues to show up from time to time.

In today's litigious society a series like that could never fly. If one of the heroes became popular, their creator would get greedy and want to sue for more money. It would be more trouble than it was worth. Still, it was unique for the time it came out and was the dream of many budding comic book writer-wannabes to see something like that in print.

And on my own personal happy ending, thanks to the very fun MMORPG City of Heroes, I've been able to create my own heroes decades later just like I saw them in my head (I'm still a horrible artist though). DreamStalker lives!

1 comment:

dbutler16 said...

What a great post! This really brings back memories. I collected Rom for a while, and Dial H for Hero was a great series for a kid, as we could easily picture ourselves with that dial, but The Micronauts is one of my all time favorite titles! I also had many of the action figures. The first series was a nice sci-fi adventure, and the second series was very different, but was also good in its own, thought provoking, psychadelic way.

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