Despite the fact that he was one of the most prolific writers of Marvel’s Bronze Age who took on oddball titles like The Human Fly, Bill Mantlo’s comics were always entertaining, and often a heck of a lot better than they had to be. They were not, however, anything resembling subtle.
Much like with Jack Kirby, who once created a villain named Baron von Evilstein and named the personification of Ultimate Evil “Darkseid,” you get the feeling that Mantlo just doesn’t have time for it: The longer you spend on luxuries like nuance and innuendo, the fewer pages you have where the Hulk rampages across Manhattan fighting everybody.
We know, for instance, that within ROM’s cold steel body resides a noble soul because he stops to deliver a vaguely-Shakespearean soliloquy to that effect from the time he lands on earth for the next eight years. You can almost set your watch by it. Is ROM out in a field proclaiming his love for Brandy Clark and bemoaning the loss of his humanity, light-years away upon golden Galador again? Must be four o’clock already.
Heck, he even does it while he’s fighting Collossus:
…but I’ll get to that in a second. The point is, in the world of ROM: Spaceknight, populated as it is with monstrous space-witches, it’s generally not very hard to figure out who the bad guy is. They just look bad.
And that’s how we ended up with something like Hybrid.
Making his debut in the pages of ROM #17, Hybrid is, without question, the most hideous comic book character ever created. I actually first heard about him from my friend Scott–whose love for ROM sparked my own interest in the title a few years ago–who once spent an evening describing him to me over dinner. The fact that we were devoting a solid two hours to discussing a villain from the pages of ROM was quickly overshadowed by a hasty napkin sketch and an all-too detailed description. I mean, just look at him. That guy’s not really a picture that aids in digestion.
It’s like Mantlo said he wanted the ugliest creature ever put on paper, and Sal Buscema was all too happy to oblige: The bulbous head, blotchy purple and pink skin, weird beak-thing, protruding ribs, and legs that end in oozing stumps rather than actual feet are just… just awful. Seriously, Mission Accomplished, guys.
As for who he is and how he came to be, here’s the short version. It starts, as all great stories must, with ROM kicking it in some dude’s living room.
Said living room is, of course, located in the town of Clairton, a small town that served as the beachhead for the long-simmering Dire Wraith invasion of Earth and was thus ROM’s base of operations for the first few years of the book. Oddly enough, it’s never really made clear why they picked West Virginia, although one can pretty much assume the Dire Wraiths were big John Denver fans.
Anyway, thanks to their inborn shape-shifting powers, the Wraiths were able to blend in largely unnoticed, to the point where a few of them even went so far as to take human wives to further their cover. One of them, who went by the name Jacob Marks, even fell in love, gave up his witchity soul-eating ways, and decided to raise a family.
Normally, this would be good news, but as it turns out, when a mommy and a daddy do some special hugging to make a baby, and one of the parents is actually a spellcasting deviant Skrull, their kid turns out like this in about fifteen years:
Teenagers. What a handful.
As one might expect from the mind-bogglingly ugly spawn of human and Dire Wraith, Hybrid is totally evil and possessed of profound mental powers, and therefore should probably be blasted into a fine mist at ROM’s earliest convenience. But while subtlety isn’t really the watchword, things are rarely that simple, even for ROM.
See, in accordance with the laws of the Marvel Universe, the offspring of two different species–like, say, Prince Namor–are mutants, and when it comes to a cyborg hunting down a mutant and blasting it to atoms, there’s a small, little known group that usually tries to stop that from happening: The X-Men.
Thus, Fight Scene!
So, the X-Men beat up ROM, ROM beats up the X-Men, they all realize that they should be beating up Hybrid (and that maybe mutant life isn’t so sacred when it’s quite that revolting), and Kitty Pryde’s able to grab ROM’s neutralizer and send Hybrid to Limbo, from whence he shall never return.
Or at least, not until ROM Annual #3 (guest starring the New Mutants), wherein he escapes from Limbo, becomes a small-town pastor, and does his level best to force ROM’s girlfriend to have sex with him in a scene way, way too grotesque for me to post here.
And I think we’re all better off without it.
But ROM Week Soldiers On!
Tomorrow Night on the ISB:
The All-Out Action takes a break, as I turn my attention to this week’s comics for the Week In Ink!
But will ROM show up?
You BET he will!
YOU’LL JUST HAVE TO FIND OUT TOMORROW!
ROM WEEK ON THE ISB CONTINUES IN 24!