In a past edition of Galaxy Guide, we discussed director James Gunn joining the "Guardians of the Galaxy" film, and mentioned his affection for Rom, the action figure turned comic book hero of the 1980s. Rom's name has come up again in recent weeks, both for the filing of trademarks by toymaker Hasbro, the current owner of Rom, and for rumors that Disney, having already acquired Marvel (and more recently, Lucasfilm) may be in talks to acquire Hasbro as well.
This has led to speculation that a long-held fan dream might be realized: that Rom might once again return to the Marvel Universe in all his armored glory, a goal that has been obstructed by licensing issues to date.
Given these recent Rom ruminations, and the possibility, however speculative, that Rom might become available for use in Marvel's comics and movies, we thought the time was right to take a look back at the Spaceknight's history, and find out just what's behind this clamor for his return.
Rom began life in 1979 as the first action figure ever created by Parker Brothers, a company primarily known for its board games. He was also one of the first wave of electronic toys, and as such came complete with LED lights and buttons that could make him emit an array of sounds. One thing he didn't do so much was move, having very limited points of articulation, putting into question whether the Rom toy can truly be considered an action figure. Regardless, there was plenty of action to be found when Parker Brothers licensed the toy to Marvel Comics in order to create a comic series which they hoped would promote the toy. The comic would prove far more popular than the toy, which faded away fairly quickly, while his titular series endured for an impressive 75 issues.
Rom's popularity can thusly be attributed to the work of the comic book's creative team; writer Bill Mantlo wrote all 75 issues, and he was joined on the series by legendary artist Sal Buscema for issues #1-58, and then Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko for the remainder of the series. Together, these creators crafted the tale of a noble Spaceknight from the planet Galador who battled the evil Dire Wraiths, shape-changing monsters who sought to infiltrate and conquer vulnerable societies. Although Mantlo had complete freedom to make up Rom's backstory and chart his adventures, he cleverly tied Rom's story into the larger Marvel Universe, first by having the Dire Wraiths go after Earth where Rom pursued them. This enabled Rom to team up with other Marvel heroes such as Nova, and Mantlo even connected the Dire Wraiths with Marvel's other sinister shape-changing aliens, revealing them to be distant cousins of the Skrulls. Later Marvel writers would pick up the seeds that Mantlo planted, particularly in the 1990s "New Warriors" series, where the battlesuit of Rom's old ally The Torpedo was donned by a new hero, Turbo, and used to beat back the menace of the Dire Wraiths once more.
With Rom's series ended, Marvel did not opt to continue paying the licensing fees required to feature Rom in Marvel comic books, and so the Spaceknight fell out of use. However, on occasion, writers found ways to get around the restrictions, such as Rom's appearance in human form at the wedding of Rick Jones, the Hulk's longtime sidekick, and a Rom ally himself. In 2001, writer Jim Starlin created a new series called "Spaceknights", which played on the Spaceknight mythos by introducing Rom's sons, while carefully avoiding naming or portraying Rom himself. Similarly, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, creators of the modern incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy, brought the Spaceknights into the first "Annihilation" event, while they featured even more prominently in the sequel, "Annihilation Conquest", where their technology was exploited by the body-snatching alien menace known as the Phalanx to infiltrate the Kree homeworld. Subsequently, the Annihilators, a team of cosmic heavy-hitters who took over for the Guardians when they were believed dead, welcomed into their ranks Ikon, a Spaceknight who aided them in combatting yet another threat from the Dire Wraiths.
Most recently, fan hopes were raised by preview art for the upcoming "Age of Ultron" event, which showed a wall of photographs of various Marvel heroes — including Rom. It's unclear exactly what this might mean or why Marvel may have been able to do this, but according to Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, there are no plans "at the moment" for a Rom return. But that carefully worded response comes with a great deal of wiggle room, so Rom fans will just have to keep watching for their armored hero in the pages of Marvel comics… and perhaps beyond.
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