ROM’s been in the news lately; Hasbro filed once again for the trademark on the property, prompting speculation that we may be in for a revival of the character. Personally, I don’t care so much about seeing future adventures as I do about getting reprints; if Marvel does get the rights back, the smart thing to do would be to pump out ‘Essential ROM’ Volumes 1 through However Many It Takes to Reprint His Every Appearance as fast as they can get the ink on the paper. Because ROM…ROM was freaking epic.
And I mean that literally. In a lot of ways, ROM foreshadowed episodic series whose individual stories built up into a single, large epic. Which is not to say that Bill Mantlo actually influenced people like J. Michael Straczynski or J.J. Abrams or Joss Whedon…but he was doing the same thing a long time before they did it. The 75-issue series starts with ROM’s arrival on Earth in pursuit of the Dire Wraiths, a species of evil shapeshifters that ROM and his fellow Spaceknights repelled from Galador and now hunt through the galaxy; and it doesn’t end until the epic conclusion of the Dire Wraith war (which crossed over into Marvel comics from ‘X-Men’ to ‘Fantastic Four’ to ‘Power Man and Iron Fist’) and ROM’s triumphant return to his home planet. There’s a lot of twists and turns in between, of course, but the whole series feels like it’s got a coherent beginning, middle and end. That’s very unusual in an era where you either had a twelve-issue miniseries, or you went for broke and tried to extend your run as long as you could. (To some extent, it’s a happy accident…I’m sure if ROM had sold better, he’d still be fighting the Dire Wraiths to this day.)
The character of ROM has a strong emotional arc through the series; he starts out consumed with guilt over allowing the Dire Wraiths to escape their Waterloo on Wraithworld, and slowly grows to regain his humanity (literally and figuratively) through his feelings for Brandy Clark. Brandy, meanwhile, has her own great arc; she goes from merely admiring ROM for his courage and nobility to becoming a hero in her own right, suffering loss and seeking vengeance. Bill Mantlo did a great job of making his characters accessible and sympathetic, especially when the series takes a turn for the horrific around issue #47. (I think this was actually the first issue of the series I read. The opening sequence, in which a member of the new, ruthless sorceress class of Wraith murders someone by drilling a hole in his forehead with her tongue and sucking out his brains like a Slurpee, is high on my list of Good Old Fashioned Nightmare Fuel.)
There’ve been appearances of ROM and the Spaceknights since the end of the series, which is good…but it’s that initial epic that I love, and that I want to see collected. Hopefully Hasbro and Marvel can make it happen, because with the rights to the Wraiths solidly held by Marvel, the rights to ROM don’t do anybody any good unless they can make an agreement.