ROM’D in San Diego! : OLD SCHOOL MARVEL COSMIC FANS LET DOWN AGAIN

Note to the reader: This is an opinion and editorial piece not intended as unbiased news. Beware, non zombie viewpoints lie herein. I mentioned a few ROM fan sites none of which have any affiliation with this opinion or have condoned my views.

As big Marvel “paper” comic news was in short supply, the most perplexing item to strike me from SDCC was perhaps a little buried in the shuffle. With the news from SDCC 2015 IDW has secured the rights to ROM: Space Knight and will be publishing some form of comic, as of now, its a huge coup for IDW, a comic company who has built a firm reputation on excellence through targeting some of Marvel’s neglected properties.

http://www.cosmicbooknews.com/content/rom-space-knight-micronauts-come-idw-publishing

http://www.theouthousers.com/index.php/news/132437-sdcc-idw-confirms-those-rom-and-micronauts-series.html

But perhaps, even more so, the IDW  grab of these rights to ROM is a huge fail for Marvel. With the in depth dive into Marvel lore, it’s doubtful some mutual arrangement will let IDW use the former marvel canon. This Marvel failure breaks down  on a number of levels which I’ll get into here.  Most off, it’s just another blown opportunity Marvel had to show some older cosmic fans, those in their 30s and 40s, that the company still cares about them.

What? You don’t know who ROM is?

Maybe part of the reason the IDW news passed by so many, was ROM hasn’t appeared in a comic in a LONG time. Not since 1986 , to be precise, twenty nine years ago. (though he ‘sorta’ would appear a few times later)

Personally, I have very fond early memories of the original ROM series. In between sips of “Rambling Root Beer” and with Autograph’s “Turn up the Radio” cranking on my “ghettoblaster” , I took time away from GI Joe figures and playing with my brother’s lead DnD miniatures  (don’t eat them!) just in time to savor the underrated comic ROM: Space knight from Marvel comics.

As my mom went to the local drug store, I recall perusing the stacks of Marvel books on the creaky metal rotunda of comic goodness. Maybe it was 1982 or so. Just past the glass display case of collectible smurfs, ROM was in full effect then, and my well wishing mom had no clue of the goings within ROM’s pages. While in the confines of a meager “funnybook”, small town America was plagued by murderous psychopathic shape shifting aliens, the book was wrapped discreetly inside the clunky and goofy covers featuring a beyond belief robot with silver mittens and glowing red pepperoni shaped eyes. My mom was clueless. It was all too silly to be serious sci fi-horror, right?

For most comic fans, ROM was certainly off the wall.  Nevertheless, at the time, the book had a firm and solid place within the Marvel line, a book that made Marvel’s whole experience richer and more varied. Perhaps you could call it a cult book, but for seven years the book “made the cut” and had its vocal fans.

In the 1980s, Marvel was more than just Daredevil , X-men, Avengers and Spider Man. In those times, ROM was something that made Marvel a better product and brand. Diversity. Yeah, I mean real diversity of product, not the empty word used today. For a company that needed an outlet for readers outside the norm, for seven years ROM delivered just that. (BTW it wrapped up the unfinished Marv Wolfman Nova Vol. 1 story line as well)

When Marvel wanted to do things then like “reach out to new readers”  they went to projects like Micronauts, GI Joe. Transformers, Epic books and Alien Legion (read it folks, its awesome), and of course, ROM. Often, the guru of this kind of “off the wall stuff” was usually gun for hire extraordinaire Bill Mantlo. In terms of writers, he may have never been the top of the line, critically he was usually overshadowed by a few others of his day…but he was solid and he showed up to work. For sure , the man spilled his heart out and cared about Marvel comics.

Current marvel execs would call my smitten words “nostalgia”. Although, certainly, leaving something behind to rot and cherishing your own history is a bit more than that. Sometimes, its called pride. There are a lot of reasons to never forget things or to not leave them behind..for ROM it was because the comic made Marvel a better line and it was a damn good book…it could have been that again for the company.

If anything goes to show us by 2015, it takes a “line” to be great. Marvel has its Avengers and Spider Man. But the competition has this stuff too. The way sales seem to fluctuate these days, the comic market indicates to me fans are willing to walk from a bad product…and walk quickly.

DC’s always gone head to head with Marvel’s big guns, in fact it can probably do even better. Frankly, the competition has had some of the biggest and storied heroes known to man; Superman and Batman, Justice League, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Flash. But what always made ‘old marvel special (and better) was the stuff in between. The interstitial characters and books we all felt were just a bit more special than what DC had to offer.Thunderbolts. Richard Rider Nova. Punisher. Black Panther. Silver Surfer…and of course stuff like ROM.

Were’ Marvel…we get outflanked by IDW.

When Disney chief executive Bob Iger recently proclaimed  “We’re Marvel” and spoke of his company’s apathy about fearing DC films, maybe he should have been thinking about IDW instead? Or maybe he just should have spoke about the companies apathy to long time fans of the company’s own paper comics?

Before we get into the meat of this debate, let’s tackle a couple of myths.

Myth # 1ROM doesn’t matter.  I’m not going to pretend ROM is something it isn’t. Jim Shooter  declared the comic was never a huge seller, but made it above the cutoff for years.

But unlike someone like Tom Brevoort , I’m also going to not pretend its meaningless or a joke either.

Over the years, the viable ROM book galvanized a core group of followers and become more or less a cult hit. In its longevity, ROM was a fairly successful Marvel comic. It could be that again in a genre really untouched by current marvel stuff (IE attract new readers). Doesn’t this correspond with Marvel’s goals?

Myth # 2- ROM was a poor selling comic and has no appeal.  Evidently, IDW disagrees. ROM ran 75 issues and almost 7 years. In the end, the comic galvanized a small, but vocal fan base. (sound familiar Nova fans?) Of course the voice has always been there for these fans, who, for years, hung on and rooted for Marvel to renew the rights to bring back the character to the line.

Even though the tale of ROM was more or less neatly wrapped,  a quick internet search will show several fan sites for appreciation of the series. This one is especially cool.  The readers are still out there. But Marvel has mostly dismissed these voices, sometimes treating fans clamoring for ROM as dorks or irrelevant.

Marvel seems confident in their ability to craft sellable stories. “Were Marvel” after all right? Really, the idea of a ROM series re-born at Marvel written by Bendis with someone like Ed McGuiness drawing is not a far stretch to be a top ten seller. If Howard the Duck and Silk can do it, so could ROM. Simply put;  The book would sell. New readers would care about it, so would old guard Marvel fans. instead, we get another Venom title and Squirrel Girl. Nice job Marvel.

Further, the MCU was interested. James Gunn, director of the Mega hit, Guardians of the Galaxy,  has expressed interest in using the character, saying he “loved ” ROM. Perhaps , Gunn would use old ROM in a multi-billion dollar MCU film?  Movie money puts any intellectual property into a different league, and Disney/Marvel has never had this outlet. Maybe Hasbro could make the toys?

Myth #3-The ROM rights were unattainable.  While it appears there was good evidence the rights to ROM were perhaps, convoluted. We need no further proof of this than IDW’s announcement. They got them. It could have been done. Case closed.

ROM is a microcosm

What we have here, is like Richard Rider and NOVA fan blow off, ROM is a microcosm for what’s going on wrong at marvel.

In reality, the ROM issue incorporates a number of important matters for fans of comics, toys or comic properties. This matter is not only about comic sales or potential sales, for Marvel it should be a lesson in “what not to do”. So what are these problems and issues?

For one, It’s about securing a swath of Marvel history. Marvel doesn’t seem to care about what built there own company these days. Not everything can be solved with a timely Stan Lee cameo. Reprinting the old ROM series and reprinting comics he appeared in form the complete picture of the 1980s the company can not replicate. This same point speaks for continuity and the importance of the concept in a serial fiction shared universe. What happened before is important to what will happen again. This notion is very important to the genre. Own your past ! (literally and figuratively)

Next, it’s about honoring past core fans who loyally followed a product for years.  Core fans who supported the company and regularly bought the product are worth keeping. It’s worth going the extra mile to save rabid fans business and show them their business and dollars matter.

Suddenly, Marvel does not seem to care about 30+ year old fans. I’m not sure why either. We have money. Comics these days are exceptionally expensive. We have kids, meaning we control potential new readers. We get grouchy, meaning we rabble rouse, blog and complain if slighted.

The company has a few reasons to keep us happy more than the fact we’ve spent years shelling out bucks for the company. Since, over the years, marvel has eliminated non-direct sales, we also feasibly have to be the parent who drives these supposed “child readers” to the local comic shop. Pissing us off makes no sense whatsoever from any sort of acceptable business model.

Former, Spiderman and Nova editor Stephen Whacker was well documented with comments berating older comic  fans on internet message boards. ROM could have been an outlet to repair this relationship. Again, the company should worry less about “new” readers and more about keeping the “old” ones.

Finally,  it’s about securing the creative legacy of Bill Mantlo, Sal Buschema, Jim Shooter and those who worked so hard on ROM over that run. At marvel today, there is such a loss for honoring the past work of others. Many current Marvel creators have enthusiastically voiced their support for Bill Mantlo’s declining health (and that’s great), how about a real tangible show of support by securing , once again, what many consider his definitive Marvel work?

None of this makes any sense

For those who didn’t know, Hasbro obtained the rights to ROM and renewed the patent a few years ago.  Yes, I said right, not DC or Dark Horse, but Hasbro toys. If corporations had human relationships, this is akin to Marvel’s “best bud”.

Marvel already has a galvanized partnership with Hasbro to manufacture a plethora of Marvel toys and merchandise. Both corporations come to the table on toy deals on a regular basis to the tune of millions and millions of dollars. The notion , within all that money swirling above their heads, something could not be worked out for ROM is absurd.

But the biggest issue is the most obvious; Simply put, ROM belongs at marvel.

As far as most fans know, Marvel  creators created everything from the “space knights” , Galador, to Dire Wraiths and most of everything else. ROM crossed over a few times into 616 marvel with characters like the X-men or Nova.  Getting reprints of these issues has always been a huge problem.

Marvel, numerous creative talent and the aforementioned writer Bill Mantlo, (W/ Steve Ditko also) made ROM whatever it was. Despite the technical hoops, ROM owes everything to Marvel.  No one knows what back room dealings and negotiations or non- negotiations occurred. “Official responses” are few and far between.

Marvel could have cleared up a lot by giving us truthful and tangible answers, but they have passed on giving us clarity. Over the years, some fans have worked hard to piece to together the puzzle, and evidently IDW has finally solved it. Fans have documented some of the strange and mixed answers in this issue…and it has not been handled well, save for some words by Bill Rosemann which I will discuss in a bit.

From Marvel, like Richard Rider Nova answers, this saga is a tale filled with half answers and dodgy responses that don’t add up. Senior creative Editor Tom Brevoort has , more than often , belittled or provided contradictory  sarcastic remarks to surviving ROM enthusiasts and core Marvel fans.

Marvel’s Tom Brevoort has been his typical contradictory and condescending self on his Tumblr Formspring replies. When he is not simply scoffing at ROM fans with snarky answers like “Who?” Over the past year he’s actively giving us non nonsensical answers. A few samples of some of his ROM answers:

A fan asked:

Has Marvel ever considered bringing back Rom the Space Knight?

brevoortformspring answered:

Every day. But we don’t own the rights to Rom, so it’s not something we can do.

Compare this to another response, when , only months earlier Brevoort answered this in another post:

bringbackrichardrider asked: (for clarity sake this is my TUMBLR tag and I asked this question)

When will you guys give us a more detailed ROM answer than “Hasbro has the rights”? You guys come to the table on million dollar toy deals all the time, it makes so little practical sense something couldn’t be worked out. I’ve also heard there may be other mitigating factors such as creator rights/etc. Any truth to this?

brevoortformspring answered:

It’s very easy to spend somebody else’s money. if you want to deposit a few million dollars in marvel’s account, I’ll be happy to look into this for you.

Also, you cannot buy something that somebody doesn’t wish to sell. 

And, nobody buys something for which the asking price is far, far in excess of its possible value to you.

We don’t spend a lot of time pining for ROM. The situation is that Hasbro has the rights. That’s it.

(http://brevoortformspring.tumblr.com/)

That last response was only a few weeks before the IDW announcement. Surely, a few contradictions in those responses. First, clearly , with the IDW news, ROM has , at some point been available . Secondly, in his quest for witty snarkiness, TB surely contradicts his prior statement that the Marvel staff thinks about Rom “Every day”. Hmm, I thought you guys don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it?

What’s clear is  Marvel does  not value its own legacy, past creators and history. Especially of paper comics. This has been established by moves like this one over the years, especially in the recent Disney takeover and reign of Axel Alonso. Its clear, this Marvel would rather shell out huge money or effort to properties like Miracleman or Angela. At a minimum, they favor taking some “path of least resistance” to profits that does not include fan loyalty.

In the end, a lot of these excuses end up sounding like the Marvel excuses for Richard Rider’s mothball and the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning dust off following Thanos Imperative . Fans have seen this spin before. Marvel’s new regime is comfortable with non-transparency and fan brush offs. The methods are the same for ROM, or Rider, or Fantastic Four:  Half truth’s, answers that don’t add up, and core fans spurned and told to take it or leave it…that’s Axel Alonso’s  Marvel today, folks.

A few credits go on Marvel’s behalf here. Let’s be clear , ROM has not appeared in a comic in over 29 years. Its been a huge number of “regimes” and executives that have dodged ROM answers. The problem goes well beyond Brevoort or Alonso. During the nearly three decades time, older administrations could have gone this extra mile to fix ROM or secure Mantlo’s work as well.

Second, not all of Marvel has been about dishonesty. Once again, Bill Rosemann is our source of damming contradictory evidence of things Tom Brevoort attempts to spin on us.

Nova fans know Rosemann as our “honest breath of fresh air” and he answered a huge ROM fan’s mail in a comic a few years ago (from Avengers Academy # 27) , link found below (which has a copy of the scan), in which he detailed a “vast” number of marvel creators wanted ROM back and wanted to use the character, including, and especially, Brian Michael Bendis.

Ultimately, a final verdict cannot be rendered on the totality of what went on, time will tell. Like the Richard Rider issue, Marvel is spotty on official responses where a clear picture is nigh-impossible to determine. With men like Rosemann in the mix, however, its nice to see Marvel is not inundated with cloak and dagger secrecy and half answers.

IDW has a bright future

As I pause from attacking Marvel, really, congratulations to IDW are in order here. Yet again, the upstart company has moved to scorned Marvel fans (notably of 80s toy properties) to build a company that seems to care for building core readers, not rejecting them.  IDW’s Chris Ryall has been more candid with ROM comments,  saying a few years ago he had been spending “years” trying to unlock the ROM rights

Another non-Marvel publisher, Devil’s Due , had already taken a shot at the lost Micronauts property, which like ROM had several (marvel created) components missing from the classic run. (such as Bug, Rann and Marionette) Marvel went overboard with paranoia about cross pollinating shared/ licensed  properties after what went on with some of these 80s properties. But the recent MCU agreement with Spiderman shows that its not exactly an impossible business model.

IDW’s ROM will most likely be something a bit soulless, as the DD Micronauts attempt a few years ago was.( to the book’s credit , maybe I should re-read the DD run, I’ve largely forgotten it)  But it’s possible they could produce something interesting without the other trimmings. The notion of creating some new acceptable story is very possible. I mean really, Dire Wraiths made a great villain, but they were not that original themselves (there not even remotely Marvel’s only nefarious shape-shifting race, after all). I mean isn’t something like Baron Karza just Darth Vader wrapped in a different (equine) package? (its not even that different)  The notion the property can land right on its feet is very possible. Time will truly tell.

However, as IDW has apparently finally obtained the “unattainable” rights, it does appear Marvel has permanently  brushed off ROM fans. Marvel either decided the property was not worth it, or just fibbed to us this whole time about the matter. In the end, ROM and Marvel together is probably lost forever.

Yet, the coup is strange seeing as how Marvel went out of its way to get and grab a huge market share with Star Wars, a property it had lost and dismissed for years. Marvel was probably saying the same condescending statements about “Star Wars” years ago when they lost that license, now they are seeing the dollar signs and the property carry them to market dominance.

Now, to be sure, ROM is no Star Wars. But IDW has crafted quite a profitable line picking up on several cast off properties. I’m sure they will find a way to profit off ROM and bring in a few new readers who weren’t buying their stuff. (Like me, frankly)

As for IDW, my guess, is in the end we will end up with something a bit disappointing from the potential IDW product. (but I hoped to be proved wrong, because I like IDW ) While this may be lose lose in the end,  make no mistake, it will be nice to see a ROM comic after all this time. Yet, in the end a strange feeling hangs over this announcement that speaks more about Marvel than IDW.  Sadly, ROM’s fate seems finally sealed at the “House of Ideas”.

Books like ROM, Micronauts and NOVA have a huge part in building Marvel fans, just as much as “Avengers” or Iron Man. The lesson is simple;  Yet again, Mighty Marvel tells a group of core fans they are not important. Nope, what is more important is they high five each other over roping in properties like Angela and MiracleMan, properties that have mostly been squandered and underwhelming and had nowhere near the fan support or place in Marvel history ROM and many of Mantlo’s worked properties had. (see GI JOE, Transformers, Conan, Red Sonja and more)

So congrats to IDW for the hard work “unlocking these rights”,  Boo on Marvel for blowing it and blowing off core fans (yet again). But don’t feel so bad Marvel fans…we have another junk Sam Alexander book and Venom: Space knight to hold us over instead. (yechh!)

So that’s a wrap on this long, diatribe. Feel free to call me out and respond if you have any questions on what I wrote or where things came from. Looking forward to the day I can once again, make mine Marvel.

Long live ROM, Bring Back Richard Rider..and have a great day.

Bryan Dyke

THANOSRULES

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