Monday, July 25, 2016


I've long maintained that I never would have read Dostoevsky for the fun of it if I hadn't discovered comic books as a child, in particular one comic that was based on a toy line.

​Published from 1979 to 1986 by Marvel Comics, "Micronauts" was the creation of comic book writer Bill Mantlo, and was based on a line of toys that children could take apart and put back together in new configurations. Mantlo was known primarily for writing quickly, not well; but he did produce some stuff that was magical, at least to a young reader. Every now and then I still feel the magic when I remember those stories.

The first 12 issues of the original Micronauts series was part of that magic. The first issue joined the story more than halfway through, as Commander Arcturus Rann returned to his homeworld after the thousand years he had been exploring the Microverse equivalent of deep space.

That initial story had some pretty horrific stuff, like the body banks, where Baron Karza would take his enemies and critics and genetically or surgically alter them into monsters. It had mystery, represented in the persons of the Time Travelers and the enigmatic shadow priests and their unstated purposes. And it had adventure, as the core group of Micronauts banded together in a multispecies proto-Guardians of the Galaxy mix that included a princess, a king, a space explorer and a master thief. And because it was a Marvel property, they found themselves on earth and interacting from time to time with superheroes who literally towered over them. (When they arrived on Earth, the Micronauts were about 4 inches tall, the same size as the toys they were based on.)

After that initial 12-issue story had run its course, either Mantlo's collaborators changed or he simply had no idea what to do. The stories from there on weren't nearly as inspired, and essentially involved setting up for the return of the evil Baron Karza (now allied with Hydra), defeating Baron Karza; and then setting up for the return of Baron Karza one more time so there could be a final showdown between him and the Micronauts.

Somewhere in there, Mantlo managed one of hia big cliches of killing the entire supporting cast in a battle meant to show how ruthless the bad guys were. He did the same thing in "Rom: Spaceknight," and it wouldn't surprise me if he did it in "Spectactular Spider-man" while he was writing that.

There was a second "Micronauts" series launched immediately after the first series was canceled, written by Peter Gillis, as Marvel experimented with the emerging market of direct sales and comic shops. It was deeper philosophically, breaking new ground, and eschewing interaction with the rest of the Marvel Universe.

Unfortunately, from what I understand, the licensing agreement between Marvel and the Mego Corp., which had created the Micronauts line of toys, expired, and Marvel canceled the series. I read once that a third attempt series was commissioned, and the first issue even had gone to press, but licensing fell through and they had to pulp it.

Marvel has done a few other comics featuring the characters that Marvel created for the series and owns the rights to, including a "Bug" standalone that I have never read, and appearances by a few others in different comics. I remember noticing once that Jackson Guice gave the Micronauts characters uncredited background cameos in an issue of "New Mutants" that featured the Starjammers, but I can't even remember for certain which characters were there.

All I can recall for certain is that the actual story involved Ilyana Rasputin, who had accidentally teleported herself to another galaxy and was about to be auctioned off as a slave. Professor X happened to notice her as he, Corsair and the other Starjammers just happened to be there.

Was "Micronauts" great comic book literature? It's not as essential as "Persepolis," nor as imaginative as "Kingdom Come," but speaking as someone who discovered the series in the 1980s, I stand by my original assessment: It had magic.

Thanks. Bill.

Copyright © 2016 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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