Spaceknight Blues

Rom, Spaceknight was a comic published by Marvel Comics from December 1979 to February 1986, that lasted for 75 issues and four annuals, written by Bill Mantlo, with art by Sal Buscema, later taken over later by Steve Ditko. 

The character began as a toy co-created by Scott Dankman, Richard C. Levy, and Bryan L. McCoy that was sold to Parker Brothers, a board game publishing company.  It is a space opera that spans a centuries-long war that infiltrated the galaxy, eventually reaching a mudball planet in the Milky Way galaxy, named Earth. In this fight against the forces of darkness, a Spaceknight and his comrades have given up their humanity, becoming cyborgs, to protect their loved ones and their planet, with the promise of being able to return to their previous state at the war’s end.  Tragically, although they have sacrificed much to liberate their own planet, they cannot rest until the enemy, the shape-shifting Dire Wraiths, have been hunted and stopped for good, with the series beginning as the conflict reaches Earth.  Throughout the run of the series many issues had back features and flashbacks that fleshed out the events leading up to the beginning of Rom issue #1.

At the series onset, we are introduced to a noble, duty-bound, but weary warrior hoping to someday return home to the love of his life who was left behind. He also had the promise of regaining his humanity,  though standing in his way was a seemingly impossible mission that has spanned the centuries of his life. From the first few issues, it is evident that this is not another of your typical Marvel superhero and as the series progresses, we get stories that touch upon the emotions that permeate the human psyche while one is at war. Rom’s own journey through the series is the existential crisis of a peace wanting man who leaves his love behind to defend first their home, then the universe. 

While each Spaceknight is provided a weapon (fire, beams of light, javelins, etc.) that is particular to them, Rom’s is one of the only ones that is non-lethal, being a firearm like device that banishes the enemy to another dimension.  There are multiple issues that feature Rom choosing to swiftly banish his enemies to Limbo just before one of his allies can provide a capital punishment. We are privy to the admonishment of Rom by his allies after, while he argues in favor of mercy as a way to stay connected to his humanity, refusing to gaze too far into the allegorical abyss and becoming that what he hunts (although it has been argued that since the dimension Rom banished enemies to was named Limbo, a hell like dimension in the Marvel Universe, death may have been the more merciful choice).

Many issues show Rom’s gradually fading devotion to duty and weariness of unending war, desire to be human (of alien origin) again with those he loves, including earthlings that have become beloved comrades.  The cost of war is a heavy presence in the storyline.  While Rom laments the path he is on, some of his fellow Spaceknights react more significantly, having broken under the horrors of what they have witnessed and been part of, becoming a threat not only to Rom but to the other Spaceknights and citizens of the planets they are fighting for.  The storylines revealed indigenous enemy sympathizers, conscientious objectors on both sides, and betrayals where it is least expected. 

Ultimately, Rom is also a love story with star-crossed lovers who face tragedy while holding hope to be together and a study of a warrior’s powerlessness to be able to protect all whom he loves.  Rom’s heart is devastated by loss on multiple occasions as we as readers learn that no one may be safe in the fight against and enemy that can mask themselves as your closest loved ones.

While on the surface a science fiction series, the writers were not afraid to dip into horror, especially in those darkest of moments that can be seen in war.  As the series evolves the Wraiths take on more Lovecraftian features and body horror, more suitable for Ridley Scott’s film Alien than a standard science fiction film.  Other creatures that appear seem as if they had stepped out of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian series, born of Wraith science and sorcery, bearing the infectious touch of an alien species that began to become threats in other Marvel series, most noticeably the Uncanny X-men.

Fans that desire trade paperback reprints may never see them.  Due to legal issues, reprinting of Rom guest appearances in other comics have also led to the removal of entire issues from the trades.  Back issues are still available, and some interesting work has been done by comic book binding companies.  While the appearance and name can no longer be featured in Marvel Comics due to the expiration of the license (and years later licensing now belongs to IDW Publishing), some of the concepts and back story still appeared over the years. The Spaceknights miniseries published in 2000, written by Jim Starlin, focusses on Rom’s heirs, legacy and the legacy of the Spaceknights. In the 2011 Annihilators miniseries, the Wraiths and Spaceknight feature in the story. The Spaceknights also appear in Jonathan Hickman’ Infinity story with the Avengers in 2013 and as recent as the Spaceknights return in Cable #1, a new Dawn of X series written by Gerry Dugan and drawn by Phil Noto in the new X-men line lead by Jonathan Hickman.

For more information on the character and the story behind the character, there are multiple fan sites that can be found with a Google search.   Two of my personal favorites are BLOG FOR ROM FANS WHO AREN’T DICKS at http://romspaceknightart.blogspot.com/ and ROM, SPACEKNIGHT REVISITED at http://home.hiwaay.net/~lkseitz/comics/Rom/

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