Monday, April 3, 2017


Micronauts vol.1 King-Size Annual No.1 (Dec 1979)
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: Steve Ditko
Letterer: Costanza
Colorist: Yanchus
Editor: Allen Milgrom
EIC: Jim Shooter

With the first full twelve-issue arc -- season one, as it were -- of Micronauts comes to a close, it's the perfect time to cover the book's first Annual. Which leads me to my first non-chronological confession, in that the Annual was actually released all the way back in the Summer of '79. That puts its release around issue 7 of the main series. The thing is, however, I felt that it would have disrupted the first coherent arc of the series to drop in this, what you might consider the Christmas Special to the main series full-season order. So, here we are, twelve issues under our belt and the Annual all lined up.

Annuals were a pretty big deal for Marvel in the 1970s, and I feel like it was an anticipated event among most of their catalog. I barely notice when they come out any more, and it almost always seems unimportant to the main title (the use of inventory stories is responsible in no small part).

"But first we have to fuck up this isolated culture real quick ..."

I have to imagine it was when the tradition of the single-storyline inter-title Annuals -- "Atlantis Attacks" comes to mind, but there may have been something ahead of that from the House of Ideas -- first begins that the Annuals start to dip in popularity and relevance. It's always seemed a mistake to me to connect a single story in assorted titles which all depend on a character or event which is native to a different title, but I guess me and the sales figures will have to agree to disagree.

In any case, Micronauts Annual No.1 is part of that earlier tradition, and gives Bill Mantlo a thing he adores; a chance to work alongside Steve Ditko. The transition between the high-relief realism of Golden and Ditko's heavily stylized design work which so often places the figure into abstract subordinance to the backgrounds, it is jarring. But not unpleasant. And also a portent of things to come, but more on that later.

"Yeah, but he's got a gun."
The three stories in this issue fill in backstory for most of the main characters (Sorry Microtron, you can sit this one out), beginning with one of the most intriguing parts of Micronuats, to my mind: Biotron and Rann's 1,000-year mission to the farthest reaches of the Microverse. The mechanics of Rann's telepathic survey of other worlds was never defined in any sort of satisfying manner, so the audience is rewarded by seeing it play out in relative real time.

As their vessel, The Endeavor, is drawn through a tumultuous storm in the middle of the Force Nexus (you'll remember that as the barrier between Earth and the Microverse), Rann and Biotron prepare for planetfall. How this works is that (A) Biotron does all the piloting and reconnaissance, (B) Rann fucks around as a telepathic ghost while his body remains in hibernation between worlds and then (C) Rann wakes up, gets on his cool helmet, and then the two of them leave the ship to mess up fragile cultural biomes on strange worlds.

Lacking a Prime Directive, Biotron and Rann badly unsettle Galactic Defender, "Sworn guardian of Paradise III" for the last million years. Defender wants no part of these aliens stepping foot on his world of sleeping figures, an entire population which placed itself in suspended animation to avoid the impurities of aging and infection (they were also heavily into eugenics, so I didn't exactly cry when it was revealed that the whole population died in its sleep).

Rann's response to this backstory is to shoot Defender right in the face, cracking his helmet and starting a whole, unnecessary conflict. Hooray for the good guys! It ends with the Galactic Defender, the hero of eugenics, snuffing it along with his people. Hooray again!  PS to Rann stop landing on planets if you're just going to shoot the first native you see.

This is pretty badass.
The second story, "Coup," focuses on Princess Mari. This is good, because she's gotten the least amount of character development and story arc out of all the Micronauts ... including Microtron, frankly. I'm not even saying that sarcastically, I really mean it, Microtron has gotten more valuable character development that the one female member of the Micronauts.

The timeline puts this story right in the final days of the Homeworld monarchy, wherein Mari spends most of her time doing horse acrobatics and dance routines with her pet robot. It's a good job if you can get it.

The timeline also shines some light on the state of the monarchy just before Karza's revolution. A thousand years old and decked out in his signature armor, Karza possesses enough power in this system that he can invite himself into the company of the royal family, if just for some light threats and display of authoritarian power. He's like a really adamant Girl Scout, minus the cookies.

The Royal Family is more or less helpless to defy Karza, and it raises the question of what use they were to the people of Homeworld. Karza obviously centralizes power from a movement that is religious, capitalist and material, while the Royal Family is ... what, merely regulatory? Even if they represent the better path in the face of Karza's grotesque body banks, y'know, who cares? If they will not officially oppose Karza and haven't the power to effect change anyway, then I think the rebellion which deposed them was probably the first necessary step into correcting the fucked-up system which allowed them to persist for a thousand years of encroaching tyranny. The Royal Family, complicit to Karza by their inaction, deserved to be violently deposed. Hi, guess my politics.

This is foreshadowing, too, I'm sad to say.
Anyway, the whole shmear ends with the start of the revolution, as depicted in Micronauts No.1, with Mari and Argon rushing off to find and join the resistance. We know how that mostly ends in tears...

Lastly, Bug and Acroyear star in "Arena of Death" which traces the origin of their friendship to the gladiatorial arena in which they were cast by Karza's troops. I think I mentioned before how every comic book tyranny has to have a gladiator thing, right? Right, okay, I think they overdo it but it's good for a fight scene, anyway.

During the run of Micronauts, there were also ads for the toy line, comprised almost entirely of characters who'd yet to appear in the comics and had no context by which the audience could anticipate their roles. Well, much thanks to this story wherein our heroes are depicted fighting some earlier-advertised monsters, the Repto and Hornetroid, plus the lumbering Terraphant which I believe had previously gone unadvertised.

The good guys win but, mostly, it's interesting to see how Ditko renders these action figures. While Golden gave them tremendous gravitas, Ditko chooses to represent them as quite large toys -- stiff and pose-able.  It's a whole other aesthetic for the book, which readers had better get ready for in Season Two ...

Now, some pin-up beauties!

Click to check it out in all its glory.


Unknown said...

Huh? I don't remember ever seeing or hearing about this annual at the time. I'm sure I would have looked for it had I known and bought it if I had seen it.

Unknown said...

As a kid reading both ROM and Micronauts in the early 80s, I was horrified by Ditko's retro-Silver Age style in comparison to the more detailed work of Sal Buscema and Michael Golden (respectively) when he came on board those two books. I didn't mind Ditko when I later read old Spider-Man or Dr. Strange, but even now, looking at these few panels from Micronauts Annual #1, Ditko's style seems cartoony and totally out of place for the melodramatic Star Wars stand-in that Micronauts aspired to be. Thankfully, Chaykin and Broderick were up next, and they hewed more closely to the tone Golden had set.

P.S. Good call mentioning how the Acroyear hordes look an awful lot like Spaceknights; I assume both were an homage to Kirby's crowds of Celestials etc. They all look pretty cool.

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