Monday, January 9, 2017


Micronauts vol.1 No.1 (Jan 1979)
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: Michael Golden / Josef Rubinstein
Editor: Al Milgrom
EIC: Jim Shooter

The Micronauts team does not do a stellar job of grabbing my personal sympathies right out of the gate.

The Micronauts saga begins with open rebellion on "Homeworld," the crown jewel of the Microverse. We find Prince Argon and Princess Mari (I put the stress on the second syllable, myself, as in "Ma-RI-oh-net") fleeing for their lives from a violent armed rebellion. Who are the rabble who dare rise up against the "hereditary rulers" of Homeworld? Well -- everyone.

"The elite of Homeworld has been overthrown -- not by a small body of insurgents, but by an entire world!" Well, with that being said, I guess I'm instinctively on the rebellion's side? A small band of elite, hereditary rulers being violently unseated by the entire population which they once ruled doesn't necessarily encourage a lot of empathy on my part, sight unseen. As a matter of fact, I sort of feel like joining 'em. "DOWN WITH ARGON! DOWN WITH ALL THE OTHER DUMB ELEMENTS! UP WITH WHATEVER WE'RE DOING!"

The politics of the Micronauts' universe are laid out in quick succession. Mari and Argon are the last surviving members of the royal family of Homeworld, aided by their "roboid" servant Microtron. Meanwhile, an extremist/fundamentalist junta has become a popular movement and led the population into active rebellion, aided by the alien super-warriors The Acroyears and helmed by the black-masked, heavily armored and sometimes-a-centaur Baron Karza.

Actually, why am I bothering to describe these guys? The comic does it for me.

Karza has brought to Homeworld the technology of the Body Banks, genetic garages where old bodies are made young again, lost limbs can be regrown, and immortality is basically assured for anyone who pledges their allegiance to Karza and his alliances. Now, THAT part is bad. It's so bad, in fact, that Argon has summoned a/the Time Traveler, a hazy but powerful embodiment of a googly, all-powerful but ambiguous cosmic power, The Enigma Force.

Elsewhere, deep space explorer Arcturus Rann and his roboid pal Biotron return from a thousand-year exploratory journey aboard their space vessel, The Endeavor. Most of his time has been spent in suspended animation, telepathically communicating with the weird races discovered along the way. Also, as it will turn out later in the story, he's a former student of Karza's AND the only surviving child of Dallan and Sepsis, agents of the original resistance to Karza's encroaching domination of the Microverse and also two things you can get from sharing needles.

His lineage sees him escorted, at gunpoint, from his freshly-landed ship to the type of bread-and-circuses arena you always see in these kinds of dystopian sci-fi. There, he encounters the last two members of the band: Bug, the Ringo of the Micronauts, and Acroyear, its Billy Preston. Acroyear is the unseated Prince of the Acroyears, which is going to get confusing fast. He's so named - as opposed to his subtly-named brother Shaitan, an ally of Karza's - because his real name is so difficult to pronounce. I assume it's "Farblaublebubblegarglethunglebngleplapamuckalip."

The players come together in the arena, marked for death by way of Large Toy Convincingly Rendered As A Genuine Mechanical Threat By Michael Golden. It's a mouthful of a name, but it conveys the premise well enough.

Princess Mari has been masquerading as some sort of dancing robot lady doll, hopping around on strings operated by the roboid Microtron, a popular entertainment in Karza's degrading empire. They haven't yet gone into why everyone on Homeworld is so into watching a roboid make a lady do the mashed potato. It must be a fad, like planking.

"What else is on?"

The story ends with the heroes smashing the bejeezus out of the Large Toy Convincingly etc, beating cheeks to the Endeavor, and fucking off out of Homeworld -- and the Microverse -- and into "The Fringes," beyond which no one even knows what's out there! It's like living in Tucson, believe me.

Much hay is made of The Micronauts' plain-faced swiping of more than a few themes from Star Wars. I'm not sure you've ever heard of Star Wars, it was a little-seen science fiction movie which came out in, I don't know, 1956 or something. No one had high hopes for it and it faded into obscurity, except for it being everywhere at all times.

There's also more than a little of Jack Kirby's New Gods influence in it (which itself was allegedly an influence on Star Wars), but the first issue really had me thinking that Mantlo was crafting a rockets-and-rayguns metaphor for the impending Iranian Revolution (still a year away at the time of the book's publication, but the demonstrations against the Shah on behalf of a fundamentalist opposition had been a presence in the news). The timeline might be off and it might actually be impossible, but it's hard to parse the "it's bad that the whole planet didn't want a small band of elites to keep them from living forever" sentiment of the first issue without thinking of the global political environment of the day.

More issues will prove or disprove the point, I'm sure. In the meantime, the Micronauts are off to the wild spaces beyond their reality, and there's a promised senses-shattering second issue in the next installment ...


Bram said...

Oddly enough, Micronauts been on my mind a bit. It'll be interesting to watch this unfold — my memory is that, sure there was a lot derivative and of its time, but it made every issue compelling and seem like the biggest revelation ever (we finally see Acroyear!).

A blast, and no way they could sustain that pace for more than a year.

Unknown said...

Yeah, I loved this as a kid. The first year or so is great, then once the big goal is finished the story... drifts... like the writer hadn't figured it would run that long and never set up any future quests for the team. I quit reading by the book's late teens, I think. In the middle of a story with Psycho-Man. Years later I picked up the conclusion and was not impressed, I'm pretty sure I would have been really annoyed had I read it at the time.

I forgot about the whole planet rising up against the royal family. Funny how many old US comic stories tend to focus on heroes trying to save, or help, royalty. The founding fathers would be turning in their graves.


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