Monday, January 29, 2018


Micronauts vol.1 No.41 (Apr 1982)
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artists: Gil Kane and Danny Bulandi
Letterer: Novak & Albers
Colorist: Sharen & Warfield
Editor: Al Milgrom
EIC: Jim Shooter

I admit it; that cover gives me an erection. I don’t know if I realized that I harbored such a desire to see Acroyear is sword-on-sword combat with the powerhouses of the Marvel Universe amidst a flaming background of dramatic Gil Kane-drawn heads, but I do. Also, please notice that even Kane has no idea what Devil’s design is supposed to be so he just gives him a much better one and moves on with his life …

The Micronauts check in with The Endeavor, hidden in the sewers beneath the Baxter Building, only to find it imperiled by torrential rainwater! In fact, the subsequent flooding claims the Micronaut’s ship. As it takes on water, Bug and Microtron hurry to load the crew’s essential supplies into the compact Astrostation. A sudden swell floods the hatch, Microtron is drawn underwater and it’s Bug who promptly leaps to the roboid’s rescue. After tense minutes, however, Microtron surfaces, bearing the waterlogged and unconscious – but otherwise healthy -- Bug.

I described the above without any gags or exaggeration for a reason, but hold on a second …

Meanwhile, why am I delaying the good stuff? The Endeavor is swept under the waves, the final reminder of Arcturus Rann’s life as an explorer for the glory of Homeworld. This leaves the tight confines of the Astrostation to transport our heroes to Castle Doom, the place which Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four had suggested as an incredibly irresponsible solution to the Micronauts’ problem. Yes, Ben, perhaps they should seek some sort of assistance from your greatest enemy who lives in an impenetrable castle halfway around the world in the loose hope that he might be working on some sort of device to send the Micronauts home anyway? Don’t you have Hank Pym’s number?

Back on Homeworld, Duchess Belladonna wiggles her borrowed body into the throneroom of Force Commander, the now-whackadoo Prince Argon. The newly-re-minted Duchess literally proposes a cunning plan to Argon – get hitched and rule the Microverse together! Argon agrees, but boy is he a terrible jackass about it.

For the most part he’s willing to go through with it, if only because he feels that the sight of Slug (the former resistance leader whose body now houses Belladonna) wed to the tyrant of Homeworld will shatter the Resistance’s morale. The other reason he’s laffin’ about it is HE IS NOW PINK SLUSHIE. Argon is pure energy now, whose dreams of power go far beyond human comprehension. He will still take time to belittle you, though, that kind of petty managerial power never goes out of style.

While Argon screws his helmet back on, we pan down to the dungeons. There, we find Prince Pharoid and the body of Duchess Belladonna, imprisoned. But wait – that’s Slug in Belladonna’s body! Why?! I would have thought they’d just kill the body donor, or kill the old body, or whatever. It’s a clear security breach.

Getting into Castle Doom is, naturally, a bit of a plastic hassle. They get in after Acroyear proves his bona fides by headbutting a wall into not existing, definitively. From here on out, the book is mostly a sequel to an episode from John Byrne’s impressive run on Fantastic Four, specifically issue No.236. We’re in a town of tiny robot duplicates of a bunch of a people, built by Phillip “Puppet-Master” Masters, previously used by Doom to kill his foes AS HE WILL, thanks for sending the Micronauts here, Ben.

I have limited interest in the sequel elements of the story, because they really don’t belong to the Micronauts in any substantive way. This story is a battle between Puppet Master and Doctor Doom for control of Liddelville, a prize which I suppose is worth having … if you’re really into H/O scale trainsets and such, you know. God, I hope Doom is into trainsets.

The Micronauts largely serve as handy receptacles for exposition, and to draw fire whenever Doom gets fancy. Among the many instruments of warfare launched at the Micronauts by Doom, I have to admit some fondness for the “Surface-to-Air Doombots,” which is lovely phrasing. I hope Mantlo came up with that one.

It's a playset.
The cover teased a fight between my man Ayo and the baddest mother in the Marvel Universe, and it delivers – if briefly. I can’t help but imagine that a version of this same story now, in the age of uncompressed storytelling, this fight would talk more than a full issue to resolve As it is we get about four pages and, rather than gas on about it – you wanna see?

That's pretty much the end. I almost changed allegiance when Doom burned Devil, especially after he called him out for that dumb catchphrase. Doom’s got his good qualities too, you know.

Speaking of Devil, the big pink Tropican who’s been awkwardly failing to fit into the team for the last several months, ends up asking an interesting question: “What is there for a poor Devil to do among the Micronauts!”

Well, buddy, let me tell you.

The answer is nothing. Devil has been around for nine issues at this point, and it’s impossible to say what role he fills on the team. He’s a physical powerhouse, but Acroyear already fills that role. He’s mechanically inclined (for some reason), but that’s what Microtron’s here for. He’s a sexist jerk to Marionette, which is nobody’s job but it’s just gross, plus he always calls her “my lady,” so that’s another point in the “L” column. Oh, and the text refuses to refer to him as anything except a jester, despite the fact that he never says or does anything funny.

And, of course, the Micronauts already have a jester who is funny, unpredictable, physically comedic and a good and loyal fighter to boot – Bug! Some work had previously been done to create tension in the team by having Devil and Acroyear grow closer as Bug felt more shut-out. I would bet that the reason it hasn’t manifested as a full plot device at this point is that it makes no sense – particularly after a previous issue regaled the reader with the story of Bug’s and Acroyear’s battle-bred bond.

Devil’s personality has two settings: complaining and boring everyone while he rattles on about his own abilities. He is the Ignatius J.Reilly of the Microverse. Which could also work, but he’s not a comedic character – his appearance alone is so intimidating that the comedy options are limited.

Gosh, yeah, what could any guy
possibly want with her?
And let’s talk about that look: The magenta is of a whole different palette than the other Micronauts, his loincloth is absolutely nonsensical, and there’s an uncanny valley element to his face which is just never addressed.

But the absolutely galling thing about Devil is that he had a perfectly scripted exit just sitting there. When his eternal partner, Fireflyte, whose soft music could quell Devil’s raging animal nature, was reunited with the Enigma Force – that was when Devil should’ve fucked off, narratively speaking. He contained no mystery for the readers to unravel, at that point – it’s not a matter of asking “will he revert to his savage nature without the soothing influence of Fireflyte,” because we already know that the answer is “Yes, he will, we just said as much.”

That would have also been a perfect arc for Devil, whose race – when we first met him -- had devolved into a culture obsessed with play and deliberately kept in an infantile state of unearned contentment. When Fireflyte leaves, Devil and his entire race must now contend with an uncertain future and an existence in which happiness must be earned, and the darkness in one’s soul must be contended with instead of avoided.

Instead, he’s hanging out here, sleeping on the Endeavor’s couch and eating Acroyear’s leftover hoagie from the fridge while standing over the sink. Up above, I described a scene where Bug tries to save Microtron from drowning but is saved instead. That scene works because it plays around with all sorts of irony and tension; Bug is a cynical wiseass who acts unconcerned and lackadaisical. But when one of his teammates is in danger, he leaps to the rescue despite having to submerge himself in water, which his race despises. At some point, he loses consciousness and is himself rescued, tagging the conclusion to that scene not only with relief but with humor, to reassure the readership that the status quo hasn’t been changed and Bug had enough dignity stripped away so as to continue being a cynical sass-pants.

That scene wouldn’t work with Devil because there’d be nothing to build from. He already jumped into a raging torrent to save Bug, we know he’d help Microtron. If Microtron ended up saving Devil, it wouldn’t be a funny scene, because Devil wouldn’t have preceded the danger with flippancy. There wouldn’t be a satisfying symmetry in the conclusion.

You can try that out with any really good scene in this series – put Devil into one of the roles and see if it plays the same way, if the necessary elements are even conceivably there. Can you imagine Devil fighting Doom up there, complaining the whole time about how he used to just sleep all day on Tropica? Where would be the tension and the anticipation? What are his character traits and how do they shine in conflict? Man, I’m sorry, I love this book, but Devil is uniformly awful.

Also his catchphrase is so stupid.

ANYway. Puppet Master uses the confusion and fire to take control of Doom’s tiny robot body, during which time the Micronauts, quickly and without comment, fuck right off because not one whit of that was their bees-wax. Good fight, though!


Wes Carter said...

"Vincent Von Doom"?

I already didn't like Bulanadi as an inker (though I assume he's a decent human being and all that), but his treatment of Kane's pencils is even more egregious than his usually heavy handed work - yeesh!

Jonathan Morris said...

Good catch! I'm sure the repetition of "Vincent Vaughn" in the context of the story got one over on our letterer...

Yeah, having written the next few posts, we have the mixed blessing of seeing Bulandi briefly replaced with a pair of inkers better suited to Kane's dynamism. It'll be bittersweet, I promise.

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