Monday, February 6, 2017

MICRONAUTS MONDAY : 05 - THE PROMETHEUS PIT



Micronauts vol.1 No.5 (May 1979)
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: Michael Golden / Josef Rubinstein
Letterer: Jim Novak
Colorist: D.R.Martin
Editor: Al Milgrom
EIC: Jim Shooter

Picking up from last issue, former astronaut Ray Coffin and his son Steve have arrived at Human Engineering Life Laboratory with their bounty of wreckage from the recent battle in their backyard. Their shoebox full of broken warships and dead Microverse-ian Dog Soldiers has won them access to the center of H.E.L.L.'s core project, the Prometheus Pit, eponymously named for its creator, Phil Prometheus. Of the Connecticut Prometheuses.

While Bug has tagged along with the Coffins, the remaining Micronauts -- minus Biotron, who has stayed behind to effect repairs on The Endeavor -- stage a rescue mission. This is a good opportunity to show off what is clearly the Hot Micronaut Accessory of 1978 -- The Astrostation, a symphony in cheap plastic which looks like a bathtub and contains all sorts of transparent fold-out features like an "Ejector Tube" used to launch action figures directly into the carpet of your parent's rec room.


Before they zero in on their friend Steve, their ally Bug or Steve's perpetually hangdog daddy Ray, the breakaway squad finds Muffin, and rescue her from Ray's hot car that has the window rolled up, in Florida. I am now rooting for whichever villain puts Ray in front of a cannon that shoots deadly suction darts, or whatever.

The Micronauts are getting to show off in this issue. While Biotron does neat limb-extending robot tricks and sings his own praises back at the workshop, Marionette exhibits an uncanny skill with animal handling, Acroyear shows off his tremendous strength by tearing a chain-link fence into ribbons -- keeping in mind that he's the size of an action figure, so this is the equivalent of ripping pylons in half. I suddenly wish we'd seen Acroyear, full size, facing off against characters like Thor or The Thing. Or maybe he will! I dunno! I've only read five issues!

You're never too old to watch a tiny lady open a car door.
It's good that they've all showed up, though, because the ominous similarity between the allegedly technical appellation "Human Engineering Life Laboratory" and Baron Karza's "Body Banks" is effectively explained: Dr.Prometheus already knows about the Microverse! He's been collecting dead soldiers and wrecked artifacts for years! And he's trying to steal its secrets via the Prometheus Pit, so that he can make himself a GAW-AW-AW-AWWDDDD!

More to the point, an accident aboard a space station has basically wrecked Phil's human shell, requiring him to have replaced almost his entire physical form with advanced cybernetics, and to surround himself with unquestioningly loyal robot guard/slaves. The obvious parallels between Prometheus and Karza -- scholars whose fascination with immortality and power led them to create a personal army and seek to conquer worlds with it -- are undoubtedly intentional. Absolute micro-power corrupts and everything.

Speaking of Karza, he entertains the ancient Duchess Belladonna with an explanation of the Body Banks which relies on economic models, and so we can finally get a grasp on the nature of what kind of banal, typical evil it represents: The rich get immortality, the middle class slave away or gamble their way towards immortality, and the poor get turned into dog food. And yet we keep electing these people.

The Duchess' wait for a new body -- she had planned on having Prince Argon's, but he'll be a horse soon -- is almost over, as Karza has picked for her the rebel leader Slug! She almost appears to be saved by the sudden appearance of Prince Argon, now a centaur thanks to Karza's weird sense of humor. Dog Soldiers manning a weapon which looks like a cake of soap with Truck Nutz on the front manage to knock out both rebel leaders, returning us to the finale at HELL.

Half coffee machine, half man.


Phil has been trying to strangle additional information about the Microverse out of Steve, to which perpetually sluggish former astronaut Ray Coffin objects to in reasoned but firm tones. It's Bug who saves the boy, but reveals himself to Prometheus -- the first living Micronaut Phil has ever laid his robot eyes on! It's enough of a distraction that ol' Ray takes the opportunity to tackle Prometheus into his own pit, where they begin to fall towards the deadly wall of astral energies which separate the universes! A cliff-hanger!

Letters start coming in, from this issue on, and the first two are worth mentioning. Dennis Beiting of Farmington, MI, notices that Prince Argon's horse, Oberon, shares a name with the steed of the superheroic "Force Commander." He mentions this like it was a mistake, though -- "Uh, Oberon is the name of Force Commander's horse/centaur legs, not Prince Argon, you dumb idiots, you stupid stupid dumb stupid moron idiots, that's not Argon's horse, you dumb dumb moron stupid dumb morons!" I paraphrase.

The reply "No mistake, Dennis, Prince Argon will become Force Commander" is a pretty good burn but also kind of a spoiler? I mean, I know we say that he's a man-horse now, but still.

Meanwhile, Rogue Conn of Eugene, OR, straight-up asks why the hero of the comic couldn't be a woman or a person of color. Not even asks, actually, just confronts them on it. And then just destroys their own authority by being super-snide about the similarities between Micronauts and some famous movies. Motivated by larger principle but undermined by trivia, Rogue would've been a comfortable addition to political Twitter...

Next week, more of the same shit, but louder!

3 comments:

karinations said...

This feature is a reason to hold on to life.

David Burrow said...

I think this was the first issue of the comic I actually read, back in the day when it actually came out. I didn't buy them (unfortunately) but read a friend's copy. I was a big fan of the Micronauts for awhile. Had some of the action figures, and somewhere in a closet I still have the board game.

Really enjoying this feature, Jon. Thanks.

Calamity Jon said...

Thanks folks, I'm enjoying writing them. This and the Swamp Thing recaps have been two of my favorite features to write in some time ...

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