Monday, January 8, 2018


Micronauts vol.1 No.38 (Feb 1982)
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artists: John Garcia and Danny Bulandi (First-Flight) / Gil Kane (The Forge of Friendship)
Letterer: Jim Novak (First-Flight) / Diana Albers  (The Forge of Friendship)
Colorist: Bob Sharen (First-Flight) / Christie Scheele (The Forge of Friendship)
Editor: Al Milgrom
EIC: Jim Shooter

It’s issue Thirty-Eight and we are in the Direct Market now, baby! Along with Moon Knight and Ka-Zar (an underrated book I’m considering using as a follow-up to this series of articles), the Micronauts is now only available through direct market outlets and subscription. The amount of warning given to the buying public erred on the side of minimal – a banner ad in the letter column of the previous issue sent readers scrambling for the subscription form or hunting down comic shops in the Yellow Pages. 

(Good luck with that, by the way, world of 1982. I remember what it was like trying to find a comic shop in the directory. Under “Comics,” it says “See Books, Comic” and you go there and it says “See Specialty Shops, Literature,” and then you go there and it just says “See Garbage, Because Comics Are Garbage and the People Who Read Them Are Also.” Quite a burn, Yellow Pages)

With a move to the direct market comes the move to a new editor, and it’s Editori-Al Milgrom, possibly the bestest Marvel editor of the era! I also offer goodwill points to Archie Goodwin. Either way, after a Tom DeFalco run which seemed to last eons, we’ve got a whole new editorial style.

Taking advantage of the higher page count and lack of ads, Micronauts No.38 contains two stories. First-Flight is an origin story of sorts for Arcturus Rann, who has gotten three or four origin stories at this point and we could arguably skip it. Artwork for the story is courtesy John Garcia, whose name rings no bells and whose art is all right. He appears to be a young artist trying to match a house style, which strikes me as the wrong move for the first issue of a direct market exclusive book whose move to limited distribution was based on its appeal to “discerning readers.” It’s also a bit of a let-down after seeing a beautiful Michael Golden cover gracing the exterior of the book, but it’s not as though it were so bad as to be distracting. There are no jokes in this paragraph. Sorry.

The book opens with the Micronauts clusterfucking around a bird’s nest and no one knows what’s going on. Bug has crawled into a bird’s nest to examine some eggs (out of mere curiosity), while all the other Micronauts are flipping out for various reasons. Is Bug going to eat the eggs? I thought Insectivorids hated egg-thieves. Did the bird grab Bug? Here’s the bird! Do we have to fight the bird? Do we have to save Bug or is Bug okay? So many questions!

I enjoy scenes like this where no one’s sure of each other’s motives, and so they have to figure them out in this cacophony of opposing intentions. Plus, the scene appears to have outed Rann as racist against Insectivorids, but just in that super-WASPy way that some people are racist. “I’m not racist, but Mexicans – they just don’t know how to make clam chowder!” You know, just some messed up prejudice they picked up somewhere and they think is so widely acknowledged that they can just say it. “Show me a Mexican chef who makes a four-star clam chowder, I’ll wait!” 

(For clarity’s sake, I’m pretty sure Mexicans could make clam chowder, although I don’t know why they’d want to. Clam chowder is gross)

Rann’s derring-do with his glider-wings forms the focus of the story, as it lets him regale his crew with the story of how he became a registered Space Glider. This is a thing I do not really care about because Space Glider is still the dumbest of Micronaut names, not discounting Slug. 

I don’t particularly care about Rann’s Space Gliding bona fides, but it is refreshing that he’s being given a chance to explore the background of the Microverse again, instead of another pointless chase scene.

The story takes us back 1,000 years to Homeworld when Karza was still merely a pedagogue for Homeworld’s aristocratic families and Rann hadn’t yet embarked on his journey aboard the Endeavor. I don’t know if this related fact was ever really dealt with, but before being mythologized as icons of rebellion, Dallan and Sepsis were Homeworld’s regents. How all of this relates to Marionette is an interesting question. I suppose a millennium is enough time for one to feel free to fuck their cousin, as I assume that Homeworld’s ruling elite are as inbred as ours. More to the point, though … Rann is the legitimate heir to the throne of Homeworld, is he not? I wonder if it ever comes up in bed.

Karza, at this point, is instructing a group of young Microversian royalty the use of Wile E.Coyote’s bat-winged flight suit, evidently. I am positive that the resemblance was intentional. Anyway, during the lesson, Karza idly tries to get Rann killed, only to find the resourceful Space Glider Cadet capable of saving his own life just fine, thanks. Although Rann suspects Karza’s interference in this test flight, the young prince returns to his family’s castle, accessible by space-car or something. I have someday got to get to the bottom of comic writers’ fascination with mashups of Medieval and Futuristic motifs.

One of two.
Having survived the earlier assassination attempt, Rann finds himself beating off a half-dozen assassins in his bed chambers. I’m sorry. I meant to say “Rann finds himself into beating off a half-dozen assassins with both hands in his bed chamber.” Sorry folks, I’ll pay more attention.

I will tell you, Rann has never seemed so alive as a character in this book than when he was murdering assassins. As they climb the wall to his chambers, he flies around them in his Wile E.Coyote suit and just knocks them to their death and stuff. My favorite bit was that he steals a gun from one of the assassins, killing its former owner with it. When that gun is knocked out of his hand, Rann steals a second gun from a different assassin and kills him with it. I’m laffin’ just writing it.

Rann is commended by his parents and Karza is ordered to make the young man a full-fledged Space Glider immediately, and that’s the origin. Nothing amazing was revealed, but it was fun.

Second story is The Forge of Friendship, a tale told to Devil who – having only recently joined the Micronauts – wants to hear about some of their old adventures, preferably as illustrated by the legendary Gil Kane.

“Forge” fills us in on the backstory between Bug and Acroyear, who were already boon companions when they were sentenced to fight in Karza’s coliseum, way back in the first year of the series. 

Bug provides the forward motion in this story, escaping from the Kaliklak jail where the colonial governor has banished him. The jail, by the way, was formerly an Insectivorid hatchery, and it’s actually unsettling to see the shards of smashed baby Insectivorid shells lying around. I enjoy it when Mantlo goes dark with the consequences of the battles in this war. More than any other superhero writer at either company at the time, he could make actual conflict look gruesome and unlovely.

Bug escapes in a stolen ship and quickly encounters an Acroyear raiding vessel! “Dashma!” This is the Microversian profanity which Bug spits out. As a judge of spaceship profanity – that being the bullshit bowdlerization of common profanity which so many sci-fi shows employ to get around the censors while still pretending that whatever they’re writing is for adults – I declare Dashma to be good. It sounds like a genuine foreign epithet, it sounds good when muttered or exclaimed. Makes “Fark!” sound like “”Shazbot.” Five out of five stars.

This scene: Bug battles his way out of the dungeon, steals a ship, plows it through the bodies of a dozen pursuing guards, murdering them all and, not knowing what he'll find, absconds into space. His memory of that night, though? "I'd never seen the stars so *tik* close!" This is a gorgeous scene. Mantlo and Kane pulled something off here that is worth mentioning. 

Out of fuel for his own ship, Bug boards the Raider, where he finds Acroyear being tortured by his evil brother Shaitan. Sneakily freeing Acroyear, and thereby earning “the undying friendship of Acroyear, Prince of the Acroyears!” And then they kill like fifty Acroyears and escape long enough to join the resistance and then get captured by Karza. Eh, you win some …

On the way out, the lettercol tackles the issue of the move to the Direct Market, which I hope the guy who wrote the letter can read because, you know, it’s only available through the Direct Market now …


Bart Jarmusch said...

That cover is simply amazing--worth the price of purchase all on its own.

This is an interesting period for the book. I recall Mantlo having some less than complimentary words about Kane in the fanzines of the era.

Jonathan Morris said...

Hm, I should hunt some of those down. I know there's coverage in Amazing Heroes around this time, so that's probably where it would end up. But, yes, I understand Kane was considered difficult to work with by more than a few writers, although I'm going to keep considering him a master of the form until someone uncovers some truly reprehensible activity ...

Unknown said...

You wrote about the made up curse words, then you put up a panel featuring that annoying vocal tick of Bug's, when I thought, "what if *tik* is actually a curse word?"

Man, Bug curse's worse than a *tik* sailor who just dropped a *tik* anchor on his *tik* foot. ;-)


Jonathan Morris said...

The most vulgar molecule in the Microverse, mother-*tik"kin' Kaliklak

There was something in the first few issues which I neglected to mention. Some fella wrote in annoyed at the constant *tik* affectation and wondering if it was meant to be part of the dialogue, and Mantlo went on to explain that it was just a literal verbal tic, it had no meaning, it was just a product of the Kaliklakian vocal chords.

Then someone else wrote in and said "if it's just a product of their vocal chords, why do they *tik* when they think?" and that's opened a whole Chomskian bucket of worms ...

Johny Longtorso said...

I just find myself really disturbed by Bugs' thorax on that cover. I fear he may be gravid, and I don't like to think of what he'll do to unsuspecting earthlings with the ovipositor he probably shouldn't have (we know so little about insectovorid reproduction). I've always been haunted by the old wives tales about earwigs is all I'm sayin'.

Matthew Johnson said...

Of course the entire comics industry soon followed suit with direct-only sales. So much for "casual readers"...

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