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Tales of Syzpense #9
What, another excuse to talk about Rom? Don't mind if I do.
Last week, Marvel Comics announced they were finally going to offer deluxe omnibus reprints of their ROM, Spaceknight series, a series that ended over 35 years ago and has been bereft of nice collections — any collections — since then.
ROM is one of those childhood favorite series that I’ve talked about incessantly over the years—really, every chance I get, most recently on stage alongside former Marvel EiC Jim Shooter and artist Guy Dorian Sr at the Big Lick comic con in Virginia. And an hour-long podcast all about how Rom comics have basically kept the real world from descending into even more madness. It’s maybe the first podcast ever to draw any sort of line between Rom and the deposed Shah of Iran.
So even after all of that, Marvel’s announcement last week has basically enabled me to continue talking about the character.
My own history with ROM could fill, well, a Marvel Romnibus, so rather than bog everyone down with too much history, I figured I’d instead throw out various bits of random Rom history and visuals.
Pretty close to the day after we signed the partnership with Hasbro for the Transformers comic license, I started asking them about the rights to ROM. This was mid-2005 or so, and ROM was about the furthest thing from a going concern that Hasbro had. They acquired the property long ago, when they purchased Parker Brothers Toys, but with no demand for any toy revival and legal issues preventing the reprinting of the Marvel series, there was no reason they’d be familiar with the character. And they weren’t.
So I did what I could to educate them about his potential, and did de facto legal work to really parse the rights of who owned which parts of the comic series. (Which is complicated but essentially could be boiled down to Hasbro owning the character and the parts of his backstory that was printed on the original toy box; and Marvel owning all the characters and situations that the comic’s creators — namely writer Bill Mantlo and artist Sal Buscema — created for the comic series).
I chased the comic rights far longer than was reasonable — it was like a 12-year hunt for this particular white (well, silver) whale. It got close a couple times. First in 2013, during a big “Mars Attacks IDW” crossover event that featured variant covers involving Mars Attacks and assorted other characters not appearing in the story. ROM was intended to be one of those characters.
I tapped original Rom artist Sal Buscema to emulate a classic ROM cover, only featuring Martians, but the idea got shut down before it could happen. (It eventually got reprinted as a pinup).
A year or so later, ROM was considered for inclusion in Hasbro’s then-burgeoning Hasbro Cinematic Universe, so he was then cleared for relaunch within the pages of the Transformers comic series. Artist Nick Roche even did some character-designs that were very toy-based. Lawyers kiboshed this idea, too. I’m not sure these sketches ever got circulated before but they’re very fun.
And then in 2017, we were given the official green light to do a new comic series. I couldn’t let anyone else harpoon this long-pursued whale but I did bring in fellow ROM nerd Christos Gage as co-writer, along with artist David Messina, and off we went. We made what we thought were the mildest of cosmetic updates to the outfit—driven in part by licensing restrictions—but also gave the character fingers (the original toy had these notoriously clunky mitten-hands, and so did the original version of the comic character). I don’t know. It just seemed practical for him to have actual separate fingers, but like anything from peoples’ childhoods that gets updated, people responded, uh, firmly. Fortunately, ROM now had fingers of his own to reply to them in kind…
The series didn’t last as long as the original, but we did 14 issues, an annual, a number of crossovers, and a couple miniseries. Plus, Hasbro made the first ROM figure in decades based on our comic designs. And, an unexpected surprise: after we announced the new ROM series, Marvel’s president sent me a pretty amazing package out of the blue: the original helmet from Marvel’s 1980s ROM costume that they used for promotional appearances. It was in decades-old disrepair but luckily, I have a good helmet guy who made it fully operational once again, and now it sits within reach on my desk. (You’d think since it’s so close, I’d dust it more often…)
Reprint Rights and Wrongs
Chasing the rights as long as I did, I reached a point where it seemed like official reprints were never going to be able to happen, so I decided that if I wanted Rom on my bookshelf, I’d have to do it myself. I sent my entire series, plus the related tie-in issues, to a custom book-binder and they made me these four bound volumes:
Which make up just a small part of the small ROM shrine I’ve constructed over time…
There’s a lot more I can—and no doubt will—say about ROM, and endless amounts of good artwork, both published and unpublished, to share. But those are stories for another day. Seems reasonable to assume that anyone willing to take the below picture is likely to tell ‘em at some point though…
Spinner Rack Theme of the Week
Because I put together this list of my 13 favorite ROM covers at 13th Dimension last week, I figured rather than just repeat that here, I’d instead use this space to offer up a spinner-worthy theme of other covers featuring ROM and/or characters and storylines from his series. As well as this one non-comic bonus cover from 1979, too:
*Marvel ended last week announcing a similar collection for The Micronauts, the other beloved, toy-based, Bill Mantlo-written, Marvel comic from this same period, and like I did with ROM, I put together this “13 Great Micronauts Covers” piece for 13th Dimension, too. Here’s just one of the 13 to end this week’s newsletter in style: