Tuesday, January 1, 2013
CHARACTER CLOSE-UP : ROM: Spaceknight
Rom (also known as Rom The Space Knight or Rom: SpaceKnight) is a fictional character, a cosmic superhero in the Marvel Comics Universe. He first appears in Rom, Spaceknight #1 (Dec. 1979) and was created by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema.
"Rom The Space Knight" was a toy co-created by Bing McCoy, Scott Dankman, and Richard Levy (US Patent #4,267,551). It was sold to Parker Brothers, and was the inspiration for the comic book series. The toy was originally called COBOL (after the programming language,) which was later changed to "Rom" (after ROM, read-only memory) by Parker Brothers executives.
The toy set a precedent for the game publishing company, which up until that time had only ever produced board games. As this was a new venture for the company and given that electronic toys were still very new, a decision was made to produce the figure as cheaply as possible. As a result, the final product had very few points of articulation, and twin red LEDs served as Rom's eyes instead of the originally envisioned green, which were more expensive to produce.
Not long after its debut, Rom appeared in the corner box of the cover of Time magazine's December 10, 1979, issue. It was also featured in the interior article, "Those Beeping, Thinking Toys," which decried Rom's lack of articulation and predicted it would "end up among the dust balls under the playroom sofa."
ROM was licensed to Palitoy in the UK to extend the "Space Adventurer" line of Action Man, appearing in their 1980 catalog.
To build interest in the toy, Parker Brothers licensed the character to Marvel Comics which created a comic book featuring Rom. The comic expanded on the premise that Rom was a cyborg and gave him an origin, personality, set of supporting characters and villains, as well as interaction within the Marvel Universe. The comic was written by Bill Mantlo and initially illustrated by artist Sal Buscema.
Ultimately, the toy failed and only sold 200,000 to 300,000 units in the US, with creator McCoy blaming the failure on poor packaging and marketing. Parker Brothers subsequently abandoned the line and returned to manufacturing board games.
Regardless and with some irony, the comic book outlasted the toy which it was created to support. The series lasted for 75 issues over a seven-year period, with Rom's regular encounters with mainstream heroes and villains establishing him as part of Marvel continuity.
Fictional character biography
In the comic book, Rom is more than a simple cyborg, being originally from a utopian society on a planet called Galador. The series details Rom's defeat of an invading alien race known as Dire Wraiths, and the continuation of their battle on Earth and other planets. Unlike the technologically advanced Galadorian civilization, the Dire Wraiths rely primarily on dark magic and their power to change their appearance.
Some years before Rom's arrival on Earth, Galador is threatened by a fleet of ships manned by the Dire Wraiths. Galador's ruler, the Prime Director, calls for volunteers to be transformed into cyborg warriors called 'Spaceknights', so that they can defend the planet from the invaders. The volunteers are promised that their "humanity" (that is, the body parts that would be removed to accommodate the bionic armor) would be preserved and restored to them after the danger was over. Rom was the first to volunteer, and was transformed into a large, silver humanoid that at first glance appeared to be totally robotic. Rom was also given Galador's greatest weapon - the Neutralizer - which on one setting could banish the Wraiths into the dimension known as Limbo forever. Inspired by his example, a total of 1,000 Galadorians volunteered and were transformed into Spaceknights, each with his or her own unique armour, powers and code names.
The Spaceknights succeeded in stopping the Wraith invasion, although Rom decided to follow the remnants of the fleet back to their home planet – Wraithworld – which orbited a black sun. The Wraiths panicked, and after a futile counter-attack abandoned the planet and scattered throughout space. Unable to stop Rom, the Wraiths successfully used their sorcery to trick him into allowing their escape. Rom now felt responsible for spreading the Wraiths’ evil across the universe, and swore he would not reclaim his humanity until all Dire Wraiths had been vanquished. His fellow Spaceknights, including comrades Starshine and Terminator, swore the same oath and left Galador.
Rom arrives on Earth 200 years later, and it is at this point that the Rom series begins. Landing near the fictional town of Clairton, in West Virginia, USA, Rom encounters a young woman named Brandy Clark. After seeing Rom deal with the Wraiths firsthand, Brandy comes to understand his mission and helps to hide Rom from prying eyes. This becomes necessary once Rom uses the Neutralizer in public, as witnesses only see a "killer robot" disintegrating innocents - they do not realize that Rom is in fact banishing Wraiths in human form. In time Brandy's boyfriend, Steve Jackson, also helps Rom in his mission, although when Brandy began to fall in love with the noble Rom her relationship with Steve was strained.
During his time on Earth, Rom fights and banishes thousands of Wraiths. The increasingly desperate Wraiths also create new foes for Rom, such as the sorcerous Hellhounds, robotic Watchwraiths and Firefall - a fusion of human and Spaceknight. Two of Rom's greatest foes are the aptly named Hybrid (a hideous result of a union between Wraith and human), and Mentus (a suit of Spaceknight armor occupied by the dark side of the Prime Director's psyche). Many other opponents were more traditional and hailed from the Marvel Universe proper, such as the Mad Thinker, the Space Phantom, and the herald of Galactus, Terrax. Rom was one of the many heroes transported into an arena in space for the Contest of Champions though he was not chosen to participate.
At one stage, Rom's war against the Wraiths takes a turn for the worse - a new breed of Wraith appeared on Earth, and appeared to be far deadlier than the first variety. It is later revealed that these are female Wraiths, who rely on sorcery, as opposed to the weaker males who placed their faith in science. Unlike the males, the female Wraiths chose not to act in secrecy and openly attack Clairton while Rom is away, killing everyone (including Steve Jackson and superhero ally the Torpedo) with the exception of Brandy Clark. Furthermore, they also attack S.H.I.E.L.D.'s mobile headquarters, the Helicarrier, which gave Earth authorities clear evidence of the existence and threat of the Dire Wraiths. Rom manages to banish all Dire Wraiths on Earth to Limbo with the aid of his super-powered allies and members of the U.S. military.
Rom leaves Earth soon after the battle and returns to Galador. Unknown to Rom, however, Brandy had accidentally met the entity called the Beyonder, and asked him to transport her to Galador. The Beyonder complied and Brandy found herself on Galador, now a war-torn world occupied by a new generation of cyborg-Spaceknights. Created to defend Galador in the absence of the first Spaceknights, this next generation of cyborgs became corrupted by their power, and feeling superior to normal Galadorians, massacred the entire race. In an act of sheer spite the new Spaceknights also destroyed the frozen remains of the originals. Rom arrived too late and could only save Brandy. Enraged, Rom summoned the original Spaceknights and together they destroyed the traitors. Rom then made a surprising discovery - his original humanity persisted within the entombed body of Terminator. Reclaiming it, Rom became human again and finally admitted his love for Brandy. The two chose to remain on Galador, with the intent of repopulating the planet. The remaining Spaceknights, their humanity now lost, set out to explore the universe, except for a few others that remained on Galador to protect Rom and Brandy.
During the wedding of Rick Jones to Marlo Chandler, the now human Rom returned to Earth, together with Brandy, as guests at the ceremony, and Rom greeted the Hulk with a friendly handshake.
In the Spaceknights miniseries (Oct. 2000 - Feb. 2001) written by Jim Starlin it is revealed that Rom took the name Artour (a reference to Brandy's love of Arthurian legends, and perhaps in memory of his own encounter with King Arthur's ghost), and that he and Brandy had two sons. However, Rom himself is not actually seen in the series, nor is he mentioned by that name or shown in his spaceknight form (no doubt to skirt the fact that Marvel no longer held the license from Parker Brothers, which had retained the copyrights on Rom's name and armored likeness); his ship is attacked off panel just prior to the start of the story, with Rom himself missing and presumed dead.
Powers and abilities
Rom’s armor was composed of the Galadorian metal plandanium. It is extremely durable, even going so far as to stand up to Wolverine's adamantium claws. It was shown to be damaged from time to time, demonstrating that plandanium is not indestructible. The armor had self-repair capabilities, though it took several weeks to repair major damage. It provided him with superhuman strength, flight, and the ability to travel through space via backpack rockets. It also allowed him to breathe in any atmosphere and survive in the vacuum of space. Controls near the torso allowed Rom to lower the armor's temperature to well below zero. The armor also stored a "solar charge" that could be used as a weapon and could also drain power sources by mere contact. It also gave him the ability to summon three pieces of equipment stored in "subspace":
Rom's primary weapon, which is designed to banish Dire Wraiths to Limbo by opening a dimensional portal. Unfortunately, the process leaves considerable waste material that makes it appear that the weapon kills its target to an uninformed observer. In addition, the Dire Wraiths unsuccessfully explored the possibility of examining the gun to find some means of returning its victims to the normal dimension. This handheld weapon could fire energy beams that can be deadly at a high setting if Rom chose to select it and it can neutralize various forms of energy. This device was designed so that only Rom would be able to discharge it. The mutant Wolverine once tried to use the weapon and received a numbing blast of energy feedback. Rom's Neutralizer would inspire a similar creation by the mutant Forge when the US government tasked him with constructing a weapon against the Wraith horde. It is notable that his neutralizer for a time cost Storm her mutant abilities.
Allowed Rom to see shape-changed Dire Wraiths in their true form and could assess the energy and potential of any object/entity. It could also be used on an item which represented a world, such as a globe, and would display lights corresponding to Dire Wraith infestations at that point on the planet. Unfortunately, the device resembles a handgun, and Dire Wraith imposters have taken advantage of this fact to fool others into thinking that Rom is attacking them. Rom once arranged an ally to have the equivalent kind of vision, but the Dire Wraiths counteracted that by magically blocking his mind from recognizing that particular visual data. Regardless, Rom allowed SHIELD to examine the Analyzer in hope of creating equivalent devices among the Spaceknight's human allies.
Allowed Rom to instantly learn the language of any creature, irrespective of their origin. This device was also used to scan and store printed information from an encyclopedia in Rom's memory banks for future use.
As Marvel Comics no longer possesses the licensing rights to Rom from Parker Brothers, the character is not allowed to appear in his armored form. However, Marvel has found ways to work around this dilemma.
In 2000, Marvel published a five-issue SpaceKnights series which featured a hero named Prince Tristan (codenamed "Liberator") in a redesigned version of Rom's armor. He fought along side other SpaceKnights named after some of the more popular ones from the original series.
In the Captain Marvel series featuring Genis-Vell, Rick Jones was shown to own a toaster in the shape of Rom's helmet.
In the alternate world of Earth X, Rom had ironically been banished to Limbo and was battling against the very Dire Wraiths he had sent there. Rom was seen in human form wielding his Neutralizer and using his chest-plate as a shield. He was referred to only as "the Greatest Spaceknight."
In 2006, Marvel reprinted the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe as part of their Essentials line of trade paperbacks, including the Rom entries.
In The Avengers 12.1 (2011), the super-villain group, The Intelligencia, was seen working with a 'spaceknight' that had actually been hosting the Ultron A.I.
Rom #1-75 (Dec. 1979 - Feb. 1986), Annual #1-4 (1982–1985)
Power Man and Iron Fist #73 (Sept. 1981)
Marvel Two-in-One #99 (May 1983)
Incredible Hulk #296 (June 1984), #319 (May 1986)
New Warriors #73-75 (July 1996 - Sep. 1996)
Spaceknights #1-5 (Oct. 2000 - Feb. 2001)