Micronauts vol.1 No.53
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: Butch Guice
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Bob Sharen
Editor: Ralph Macchio
EIC: Jim Shooter
A very controversial two-parter also introduces some noticeable changes in the book -- at least if you happen to start reading with the credit boxes. Danny Bulandi, following a lengthy and unloved run as the book's go-to inker, vanishes. Handling the crow-quill over his own pencils for right now is Butch Guice himself, and it's ... it's very interesting. There are some apparent similarities with, of all artists, Keith Giffen's work. Which makes matters a little more confusing a little later on, but before we deal with that ...
In addition to Bulandi being removed from the roster, Al Milgrom hands the reins over to Ralph Macchio with this issue, which may go on to explain the seemingly un-Mantlo-like premise: Tne Micronauts find themselves on a planet modeled after 1940's gangster movies! Like the Star Trek episode, you know! The one everyone thinks is dumb for the most part and even if they didn't there is absolutely no reason to pursue it elsewhere.
|Put a pin in this panel for about three paragraphs ...|
Excellent writing saves a dumb plot, as does the strength of Mari's character and advancement which the ongoing storylines experience as they interconnect one more time. Acroyear, for one, is bonded to a new set of armor forged in the very "Stardrive core" of the chief vessel of the Spartak diaspora. This also allows him the opportunity to explain the complicated mechanics of Spartak monarchy (Acroyear cannot be king unless he is explicitly accepted by his queen, Cilicia -- who additionally carries his future heir -- or until the birth of the child -- KINGBIRTH! -- at which time the elders of Spartak will issue their decisions on the future of the race...complicated, you see?).
It is also at this stage -- perhaps a little early, really -- that Acroyear has his symbol of banishment removed from his forehead. This involves having his forehead further scarred so as to wipe out the mark, and you better hope he doesn't ever betray the Acroyear people again, because where are they gonna put another brand? He's running out of space! Anyway, I can't imagine that the end result looks any worse than any coverup tattoos I've ever seen ...
(The scene at the Stardrive core is where I finally, and for the first time, really saw similarities in the work between Mantlo at his peak and a young Alan Moore. The scope of their imagination seems to share similar boundaries, and they're both so obviously embroiled in world-building for each individual character. There are literally whole planets providing background to Mari, A'yo, Bug and so on, and one way or another it put me in the mind of a Halo Jones-ish era Moore -- even the gangster planet plot has a bit of Tharg's Future Shock to it...)
One A'yo is back in his lead tuxedo, the Bioship is released to seek allies in the Microverse for their war against Karza. However, it's not smooth sailing as Marionette chooses to pick another confrontation with Arcturus Rann, whose meditative pursuit of supernatural help in the battle against Karza has left her frustrated and ready to lash out. She blasts a hole in the door to Rann's room -- injuring Bioship in the process -- but finds that Rann is so far gone as to be unreachable.
Huntarr tries to duke it out with Fireflyte, but finds himself insufficiently suited to the task. This is a good summary of Huntarr, who is admittedly better than Devil but not so much that I'd call him a good character.
|This is not a good look.|
But that also shouldn't matter, because Huntarr has a great motivation for battling Karza: While Argon's body still served as host for Karza's malevolent spirit-energy, he directed the Body Bank treatments which transformed the Homeworld peasant into a "living weapon." Now, he chooses to use his power against Karza.
It's great, that is more than enough to drive any one character -- but it doesn't. Partially, it's because Huntarr reacts and allows himself to be directed, rather than leading the charge. He has as much of a personal stake as any other member of the team, but he's never portrayed as much more than passively embittered.
And the rest of the problem is simply that his one motivating factor -- the loss of his humanity -- doesn't seem like that much of a problem in this universe of weirdos and mutants. We knew so little of his humanity and are treated to so little in the way of reminders that his sacrifice doesn't seem like much of one, frankly. Yes, he's a gooey monster, but Bug's a cockroach in a hat and Acroyear is a 'roided-out purple skeleton wearing a Japanese toilet for a cardigan, and the roboids are roboids. There are only two humans in the entire cast, so one orange snot-panda doesn't carry the immediate visual identifier for a loss of identity, you know?
Along those lines -- after the confrontation on Bioship, the active Micronauts descend to Prisonworld looking for allies. A planet-sized gulag for political prisoners, Prisonworld is also the first glimpse we have of the Microverse as being widely-populated by an unpredictable and vividly diverse series of alien species. It reminds me a lot of Omega Men, actually, which came out around the same time and was equally committed to presenting the outer reaches of the universe as containing a mess of aliens. (I had considered covering Omega Men instead of Micronauts for this series, as a matter of fact, so it's neat to see some similarities)
|Here's some more of Huntarr being difficult to appreciate, as me makes curvy dicks out of his hands.|
The Micronauts spend a decent amount of time in the course of this issue fighting with the inhabitants of Prisonworld. It's one of those deals where the good guys fight each other for a while until it becomes clear that they're on the same side. This is also known as "a waste of time," but a lot is happening in this issue so I don't mind.
Once they're on the same side, the Micronauts hear the story behind Prisonworld becoming a bunch of Jimmy Cagneys with Deep Space Nine makeup. Bereft of Karza's influence following the tyrant's first defeat, the inhabitants of Prisonworld sought a new identity (?), so they based their personalities on the gangster movies they picked up on deep space feeds. Why they didn't just leave Prisonworld and go home, I dunno. Surely political prisoners don't just watch loads of TV once the regime they fought is deposed. Nelson Mandela didn't come out of prison like "You guys ever watch Firefly?"
(The entire premise that a whole heterogeneous community would form an homogeneous culture based on a passing pop cultural fancy is so goddamn weak anyway. I was going to come up with more tortured metaphors to describe it, but why)
|Well, now you have to imagine that Bug is voiced by Chevy Chase.|
The Micronauts are organized into the native political body of Prisonworld -- a gang -- and end up fighting the local authorities. These are "The G-Men," a bunch of morphy-looking bastards who possess sufficient risks of becoming a new Death Squad that I am absolutely gutted that this issue ended on a cliffhanger. I need to see the G-Men murdered before they become a problem.
|Nope, no thank you.|
A few bits of errant business: I wanted to mention that Marionette continues being the baddest ass in comics. Besides blasting a hole in Bioship just so she could argue with her boyfriend, she also murders a bunch of half-transformed Body Bank subjects rather than allow them to live as Karza's weapons. Damn. Damn damn.
The other thing is a strange amount of Keith Giffen-like moments in this issue: There are dozens of panels and entire pages which look for all the world like trademark Giffen layouts. Some of the alien designs are Giffen-esque. The leader of the mobs -- Little D ("the 'D' stands for dwarf," someone unhelpfully tells us, and also that's kind of insulting) -- enjoys multiple panels which practically bear Giffen's signature. The entirety of this page feels like Giffen layouts:
Little D, in fact, could have been cut and pasted from a Giffen book of the same period:
And then there's this:
Something Giffen-esque is happening here.
Meanwhile, here's a letter-writer presaging this issue's all-Guice art chores, followed by a Mighty Marvel Pinup -- damn, I love a good Mighty Marvel Pin-Up ...
|A warning to readers of Indiana Jones.|