Issue(s): ROM #40, ROM #41, ROM #42, ROM #43, ROM #44, ROM #45, ROM #46
The males complain that their sorcery hasn't been very effective, but the witches basically just say they're going to try again and this time it's sure to work.
Meanwhile, ROM is depressed...
...and he actually tries to kill himself!
Then he notices a pied piper luring children away from their homes.
ROM wonders if this could be some new Dire Wraith plot. In a world as weird as Marvel's (and in a book that has really been focusing on bringing in guest stars lately) you'd think that would be a really premature conclusion, but in this series the answer is almost always "Yes".
The Piper is summoning a mystical threat called the Dweller on the Threshold.
ROM stops the Wraiths from messing with the children but gets sucked into an inter-dimensional portal.
A mystical disturbance alerts Dr. Strange to Dweller (i love those shots of the interior of Strange's house)...
...and he transports himself there to lend a hand, but he's confronted by the Living Tribunal...
...who feels that because Dr. Strange's powers have grown, good magic is outbalancing black magic on Earth, and therefore the Dweller should be allowed to enter Earth's dimension. He summons the In-Betweener to battle Dr. Strange.
Strange and ROM are still able to win the day.
It's a depiction of the Living Tribunal that doesn't hold up very well. He's practically just a villain in this story. Not too consistent with his previous appearance, and certainly not the way he'll be depicted going forward.
Afterward, ROM informs Strange of the Dire Wraith threat, and Strange agrees it's a problem but basically has better things to do, so ROM's on his own. He does teleport ROM to the Soviet Union, which is where the next biggest Wraith threat is.
There, ROM finds what appears to be an Eden-like paradise world, but it turns out to be a set up by an alliance of the Dire Wraiths and Quasimodo, the super-intelligent computer designed by the Mad Thinker.
Quasimodo has been promised ROM's body if he'll help the Wraiths. Not aware of the Wraiths, Quasimodo easily convinces ROM to go along. Quasimodo clones ROM's remaining human cells and transfers him to the human form so that he can take the Spaceknight body.
However, Quasimodo's cloning technique is only temporary, and the other beings in his Eden are already decaying. ROM uncharacteristically seems to only care about himself (although we do know he's been depressed lately).
Quasimodo's treachery knows no bounds! He also turns on his Wraith allies.
Meanwhile, Brandy Clark has agreed to allow Doctor Dredd to turn her into a Spaceknight. Doctor Dredd is such a silly name. I know it's not substantially different than Dr. Doom but we already have one of those, and Doom got to build up his rep in the Silver Age when you could get away with a name like that.
Ineffectual hero Torpedo attempts to stop Dredd, but it's too late.
Dredd then teleports Starshine away to kill ROM. Of course, Quasimodo is occupying ROM's body.
Starshine pursues Quasi-ROM and kills him (or maybe banishes his spirit to Limbo?). The shock of doing so shakes her out of Dredd's mental control.
Meanwhile, human-and-decaying ROM strangles Doctor Dredd to death.
With his cloned body decomposing, ROM needs to get back in his Spaceknight body, but neither he nor Starshine have the expertise to do that.
Luckily, we're in Russia, so the Gremlin shows up.
As the Gremlin helps ROM, he runs through his origin story and reveals that he's now an enemy of the state in the Soviet Union (Gremlin is now aware that it was the Soviets, not the Hulk, who killed his father). When the Gremlin mentions the Hulk, ROM thinks, "Again I hear of this creature, the Hulk. If I live... will his path and mine ever cross?". Letter writers have already been clamoring for a ROM/Hulk meeting, since Mantlo writes both books. It will finally happen next year. I actually admire Mantlo's restraint in not doing it sooner.
Gremlin is being hunted by a new Devastator and his Soviet Super-Troopers.
Starshine holds them off while Gremlin puts ROM back in his body. Then together the two Spaceknights finish them off.
Oddly, after ROM is back in his armored body, his original clone body continues to talk and act independently.
That would indicate that Quasimodo didn't just duplicate ROM's body and transfer ROM's consciousness into the clone; he also duplicated ROM's consciousness, and left the original ROM sitting in a glass cube. So it really was a bum deal that ROM got. Even if Quasimodo's clone never degenerated, the original ROM would have been stuck in that little cube for the rest of his icky life.
Honestly, from Quasimodo's point of view, what was the point? Why even create the clone? He could just as easily have killed ROM off and taken his body. I guess just to prove that he could do it, or because the Wraiths' insisted on having something to torture. Cloning is tricky business and it's probably best not to think about it too hard.
We've been in the Soviet Union for three issues already without the Soviet Super-Soldiers (please do not confuse with the Soviet Super-Troopers) showing up, which shocked the hell out of me, but with Devastator defeated, the government sends them in next.
They're distrustful of their government at this point, but they're still going along with their orders for now.
The anti-government distrust that we're seeing from Gremlin and the Super-Soldiers isn't just because the Soviet Union was an Evil Empire. It turns out they've been infiltrated by Dire Wraiths.
Once he compares notes with ROM, the Gremlin leads the Spaceknights to a Forbidden Zone where he suspects the Wraiths may be developing something. The Super-Soldiers arrive too and there's a big fight, but the Gremlin moves on to the Forbidden Zone's compound while ROM and Starshine fight the Soviets.
Ursa Major breaks away and follows, and he returns in time to warn that the Wraiths have sent some Soviet-themed albino Hellhounds.
ROM and Starshine jump right into the fight...
...but Darkstar and Vanguard aren't sure what to do until Ursa Major kills one of the hound's "human" handlers and proves that they are aliens.
Then Sal Buscema gets to cut loose.
The heroes fight their way to the Forbidden Zone compound, where they learn the Dire Wraith's current plot: animate the corpses of pre-historic mammals.
I'll give them points for mind-blowing awesomeness, but i'm not sure how i'd rate the effectiveness of that particular doomsday scenario.
Anyway, the good guys put a stop to it (thanks to the Gremlin, who shuts down the machinery)...
...and then the Super-Soldiers ask Gremlin to join their group. They vow to remain in the USSR, making their base in the Dire Wraiths' Forbidden Zone complex, and ensure that neither the Wraiths nor their government get a hold of it.
The art on these books is very nice. Buscema & the inkers do a good job of depicting all of the mystical elements (why did Sal Buscema never get a run on Doctor Strange?), and make the Wraiths nice and creepy. The super-hero scenes are well done. Nice coloring as well. The writing, however, is pretty poor. Dr. Strange's appearance is frustrating. Informing Dr. Strange of the Dire Wraith's global menace only to have Strange shrug his shoulders and return home is just silly. The depiction of the cosmic characters is poor. And the arc is needlessly designed so that Dr. Strange has to appear in the first few pages of issue #42 even though the main story has nothing to do with him.
There's a lot of melodrama and sobbing throughout, especially as Brandy becomes Starshine and the whole business with ROM thinking he's finally going to get to become human.
The concepts are certainly awesome, i just don't feel like it's executed very well. The dialogue (and the sheer amount of it!) is certainly a major factor. That said, ROM is certainly improving and it's probably one of Mantlo's best books.
Chronological Placement Considerations: Altogether it's a seven issue arc even though it's really at least three independent stories (technically i could have found a break between ROM #44-45, depending on how much time you want to allow for ROM to hold a funeral for his clone body).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (11): show
These are great issues of Rom. I wonder whether Ann Nocenti, as editor or assistant editor, is responsible for the weird concepts and edginess. Decaying flesh clones, far out cosmic stuff, children in peril, there's a Nocenti-esque element here.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | July 23, 2013 11:27 PM
I always thought it was Nocenti's input, as the stories did seem to really improve with her as editor.
The Dweller on the Threshold probably came from Madame Blavatsky, although Mantlo may have picked it up from Van Morrison, who probably did more to popularize the concept.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | July 23, 2013 11:35 PM
Wow, this is Sal Buscema art? It doesn't look anything like him. It looks awesome - I don't mean that as a knock on Sal, I like his art a lot - but this seems like a completely different style than his usual, and it really works! I don't recognize the names of these inkers, maybe they're playing a big part.
Posted by: S | July 26, 2013 1:03 AM
Akin and Garvey worked a lot for Marvel in those years. They had a very distinctive style that really ate whatever the penciller did.
Posted by: Jay Gallardo | July 26, 2013 10:51 AM
Mantlo did alot of mediocre stuff as we all know. But I always felt like Rom was his 'Magnum Opus'. He wrote the entire series, and basically took nothing and made something. It was like somebody said to him 'Here is an umbrella. Write a story'. and He did. The melodrama works here for me for some reason. Maybe its way the character is set up. It just cries 'tragedy' in a literature sense.
Posted by: Martin Dent | April 18, 2014 10:02 AM
Depending on whether you subscribe to the argument that there is only one Living Tribunal throughout the multiverse, then the Tribunal has another appearance between his first and this one: What If #32.
I know all the What Ifs are basically flashbacks told by the Watcher, but I believe I read somewhere that unless the framing narration actually contains some story development, you consider the body of the story as the "present day."
That issue also makes it look like there is only one Immortus and that he makes an appearance there as well, although it's less explicit in his case and would be more easily retconned. The Tribunal's "there is only one" is made very clear, not to say that it couldn't also have been retconned away at some point.
Posted by: Dan H. | November 9, 2014 11:54 AM
Is this the first appearance of Darkstar's new costume? It is an improvement over her original one, and I always thought it had classic appeal.
Posted by: Chris | December 13, 2017 9:19 PM
No, Chris. This black costume debuted in Hulk #258.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | December 14, 2017 5:10 AM
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