Under normal circumstances, I’d probably kick off a week about a particular character by writing up one of my patented (and ironically named) Brief Histories to catch everybody up, but really: It took me three days just to get through Team America, and trying to apply the same kind of process to eighty issues of Mantlotainment would probably take a Dave Campbellesque eighteen-day “week” and leave my senses irrepairably shattered.
Besides, all you really need to know about ROM can be summed up in about one paragraph:
In order to turn the tide in a long, losing war against the sinister shape-shifting Dire Wraiths (who were also Skrulls, and also had magical sorcery powers), the planet Galador called for its citizens to volunteer themselves to become cyborgs. Thus, in the flower of his youth, Rom made the decision that would leave him looking like the odd offspring of a toaster and a ’50s-era concept car to become the first and greatest of Galador’s Spaceknights. Inspired by Rom’s sacrifice (and the fact that his name would henceforth be written only in capital letters), more people joined up and the tide was turned, but instead of regaining his lost humanity, ROM decided to devote the rest of his life to… well, to pretty much traveling around the galaxy commiting genocide on the Dire Wraiths, to the point where he actually leads Galactus to their Homeworld:
“You want to know how to do it? Here’s how: They bring their space-magic, you bring the Devourer of Worlds. You give up your humanity, they’re scoured from the face of the galaxy.
That’s the Galador way.“
But don’t worry: In accordance with Drizzt’s Law¹, the entire race–with the exception of one guy ROM meets in a backup story by Steven Grant–is inherently and unrepentantly evil, and Wraithworld gives Big G heartburn anyway.
Still, the fact that ROM even spent two issues hanging out with Galactus is one of the things that’s so interesting about him. It might just have something to do with the fact that the entire ROM toy line consisted of one (1) action figure–and let’s be honest, it was not very good–but while other toy tie-ins like GI Joe and the Transformers stayed pretty firmly in their own universes, ROM was all over Marvel. When you get right down to it, the only thing Bill Mantlo had to work here was that ROM was “from space,” so why not just throw him into the Marvel Universe and make it all work?
And that’s why my favorite ROM stories are the ones where he teams up with Marvel characters to beat the crap out of space witches. Case in point: Marvel Two-In-One #99:
Marvel Team-Up might get all the press, but for my money, Two-In-One is right up there with the best Haney/Aparo Brave and the Bolds for sheer team-up excitement, owing mostly to the fact that it was an entire series based around Ben Grimm +1 beating people up for 22 pages a month. So really, a plot summary is barely even necessary here.
But I’m going through it anyway: The whole thing (a Bill Mantlo/Bob Hall joint) gets started on a dark and stormy night in Manhattan with what is, without question, the most adorable picture of Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew ever put on paper:
Awww, look at ‘im! And see, it’s funny because he’s scared, but he himself is… you know what? You can probably figure out the subtleties of Bill Mantlo’s humor without me pointing the way.
Anyway, Ben’s getting the creeps reading through a book of ghost stories when up on the roof there arises such a clatter that he springs from his chair to see what’s the matter. And what to his wondering eyes should appear, but…
…ROM the Spaceknight, and–holy crap he’s on fire.
Or at least smouldering. At this point, I feel that I should point out that the Thing and ROM actually know each other by this point in their careers, having met after that time ROM Neutralized a hooker and then borrowed a space-ship from Reed Richards. A space-ship, I hasten to add, that he never got back. But really, that’s water under the bridge, and it’s not like Reed didn’t have five or six just laying around anyway, so it’s safe to say they’re on friendly terms.
At least, they’re friendly once ROM’s taken a short nap on the FF’s Auto-Doc and regained consciousness, at which time he studiously avoids explaining where Reed’s twenty billion-dollar spacecraft went by explaining his new problem:
For future reference, almost all of ROM’s problems revolve around Space Witches. These particular ones, it seems have moved into Central Park, completely escaping the notice of New York’s largely oblivious citizenry. Specifically, they’ve set up shop in Belvedere Castle–which, surprisingly, actually exists, where they’ve set up shop using their sorcerous powers to resurrect a fallen spaceknight named Firefall.
So, to review, this issue features ROM teaming up with a cosmic-powered orange rock monster to fight…
A GHOST CYBORG MADE OF FIRE.
If you find yourself Freaking Out, do not attempt to seek medical attention: This is a perfectly normal reaction to the work of Bill Mantlo.
Clearly, this aggression will not stand, and with ROM burned half to death from his first encounter with the Cyborg Ghost of Firefall, the ever-lovin’ Blue-Eyed thing decides to lend a hand. Predictably, ROM flies off to take on his old pal (solving his problem by blowing something up, another recurring Mantlo theme), while the Thing heads into Hogwarts to deal with the Dire Wraiths, who quickly manage to put him into their thrall.
Fortunately, ROM’s got an ace up his sleeve in the form of his Neutralizer. See, in addition to looking like someone hot-glued a pudding cup to a tea tray, the Neutralizer has the ability to… well, neutralize energy, as well as being able to blast Dire Wraiths into Limbo². It’s the former power that he goes with here, putting a quick end to the fight by neutralizing the Cosmic Energy in the Thing’s body and turning him back into Ben Grimm.
Who promptly goes apeshit on the Dire Wraiths.
Thus, an entire coven of Dire Wraith witches is defeated by the power of the Yancy Street Chin-Check. Which, really, is the way it should be.
Unfortunately (and expectedly), the cosmic rays are so strong that the neutralizing effect is only temporary, and Ben Grimm’s regular rocky complexion reasserts itself by the last page. But still, everything pretty much worked out for the awesome.
But What’s NEXT For the Greatest of the Spaceknights?!
Find out TOMORROW as the ISB Brings you an ALL-NEW SHOCKER that you have to SEE to BELIEVE!
“What Will Become Of ROM, Spaceknight?” Only WE Know!
¹: First defined on ISB Classic, Nov. 9, 2006. It’s science.
²: Not to be confused with the Limbo where Belasco lives, except in that Annual guest-starring the New Mutants where… you know what? I’ll get to it later.