Monday, August 13, 2018


Micronauts vol.1 No.59
Writer: Peter B.Gillis
Artist: Kelley Jones / Bruce Patterson
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Bob Sharen
Editor: Ralph Macchio
EIC: Jim Shooter

Michael Golden returns with possibly his loveliest cover from a catalog of genuinely amazing contenders. What happens inside isn't his fault.

Here it is, the final issue of the first volume of The Micronauts -- a series about a bunch of cheap plastic toys which was turned into a strange and robust universe, an epic about the cost of humanity in the face of despotism, and a colorful document of war's stupid brutality. Although the book flirted with all of the standard tropes of fantasy and science fiction -- prophecies, enchanted weapons and the hero discovering a meaningful heritage -- it never surrendered to them.

Marionette hates it when Rann teases her about how she
became too callous and vengeful in the war, thus losing her
Those contrivances were too clean and smooth-edged for Mantlo, I've come to think. He preferred messiness -- he wanted his wars to be a spectacle from a distance, but only tedious cruelty from a closer vantage point. Heroism cost more than it returned to the hero, or the heroine, and there was no saving the day until the day had already been more lost than not...

I'm happy enough imagining that the Micronauts ends with this cover. Before leaving Homeworld -- victorious, but limping and broken and sad -- they take one last look at their reason for existing, for the tyrant whose evils and excesses occupied their every waking moment for the last half of a decade. Acroyear knows war, and knows to walk away from the corpse. Rann, Mari and Bug, they'd been innocents before Karza's reign -- they look back with questing eyes, and Microtron watches his former mistress with roboidal concern. Where do they go from here? To another adventure ... but one we will never know.

Well, of course they actually go on for another twenty issues under writer Peter B.Gillis, with new penciler Kelley Jones, who together will continue the adventures of the Micronauts. Here's my takeaway:

I've met my fair share of folks who hated Kelley Jones' art. I've loved it since I recall first seeing it -- in Sandman, I think, and then Deadman. Here, however, he is Not. Ready. To. Helm. A. Comic.

One of the reasons I don't read much in the way of modern mainstream comics from the big two these days is that I can see through the digital colors. The novice artists they bring  in are usually saved by a good inker and/or a top-notch colorist, until they get their feet under themselves and can produce something that doesn't plainly look like an outright amateur's self-published book.

Jones' work in this issue is so baldly amateurish that it's unreadable.

That being said, I can enjoy the sense of promise provided by things like his depiction of Acroyear as a thousand-foot mountain of muscles and steel. Okay, I'm in.

My man? Oh, yes, my man works out.

I recall enjoying Gillis' Tailgunner Jo, an out-of-universe limited series produced by DC back in the days when they had a respectable sideline of out-of-universe sci-fi stories going on. I enjoyed it tremendously, although I wonder if that had a lot to do with the absolutely inimitable artwork of the late Tom Artis, paired with Ty Templeton and a spot-on Anthony Tollin.

Somehow he draws Huntarr
worst of all ...
I only say that because, while I think the dialogue is tighter, there's nothing else really going on in the story. It has the atmosphere of made-for-tv group therapy, they kind where everyone gets to tell a story and we don't really get to the bottom of anything.

After a brief introductory segment, the story involves Microtron and Biotron trying to fill in some empty spaces in their memory banks. Specifically they go around asking each of the Micronauts what simple human emotions mean, because I guess they don't have Wikipedia in the Microverse. Micropedia. Mikipedia. Anyway.

It goes like this: They ask Acroyear about Love, he tells them a story of how he lost his first love but gained a greater one in Cilicia. They ask Marionette about Fear and she tells a weird story about how she almost killed her father once. Bug's story about Beauty involves throwing a butterfly at a blind guy, Huntarr's Hope-related tale involves watching cops do graffiti, and then Arcturus Rann has a story about Death that involves a dead planet ghost woman and honestly I think he might've been high.

At this stage, I wonder if I'm going to continue with Micronauts: The New Voyages, the series' second volume. The point of the project was to finally collect and very slowly ingest this much-acclaimed series after decades of having never read a word of it. New Voyages may fall outside of that dictum, as no one has ever told me how great it was ... or mentioned that it ever existed. It fits both the "Gone" and "Forgotten" part of the mission statement!

But then he ended his first issue with poems dedicated to each Micronaut aaaaand I think I'm done.

"Biotron, Microtron, the musical fruit / The more they die, the more they toot ..."


It is weird to be done with this.

The project that led me this far -- idly picking up individual Micronauts issues as I found them in quarter bins and garage sales, waiting to read them until I had the collection completed, then approaching them weekly rather than in a few sittings -- filled up a greater part of the background noise of my life than I had realized. A part of my brain had been buzzing constantly with ideas and questions about Acroyear and Bug, Marionette and Rann ...

I ingested about half of the New Voyages after writing the above article, and it didn't do anything for me. The Micronauts are hardly characters in their own book, and the new mission they've undertaken requires their fiery spirits to be woefully neutered. It's a real let-down after Mantlo's admittedly often-rambling arcs, and a mistake to make the Micronauts supporting characters in their own book. Took a long time for Jones to get his sea legs, too, but it's all right.

Not that the New Voyages could possibly get a fair assessment; it's always going to suffer for succeeding the source material, by comparison.

The virtues of the Micronauts are many: Tremendous artists, stupendous colors -- Francoise Mouly over Michael Golden and Joe Rubinstein in particular being worthy of a mention. The core characters were tremendously rich, each one pursuing an arc, changing dramatically over the course of the series for better and worse. The interventionary Enigma Force provided mysticism and doubt without overreliance on it as a device of deus ex machina, and Karza was increasingly a bizarre and intense villain. I enjoy him tremendously as a baddie.

The faults of Micronauts are equally abundant. Mantlo either didn't see the bigger potential arc until the series had approached the fifty-issue mark, or couldn't convince his editor of the potential until then, and subjected the readers to three rambling years of fluctuating quality. The series was hard on ladies (Slug and Belladonna were building to an interesting subplot, only to be summarily snuffed. Lady Coral literally survived two genocides and an apparent one-on-one battle with Karza -- off-screen -- only to show up halfway to death in her final appearance, Jasmine, Nanobot, Fireflyte, etc).

The series wisely nurtured only one major villain. Lesser baddies ran the gamut from the likable weirdos like Odd John to the risible attempts of Computrex or Phillip Prometheus. Or The Death Squad. Oof.

Low points of the series: The crossovers with main Marvel characters were often disappointing, particularly a Fantastic Four crossover which should have yielded major dividends. Devil, Huntarr, Nanobot -- not just unlikable, but actually distracting characters who ate up time that would have been better spent ... anywhere at all. The origin of the Microverse seemed largely irrelevant to the larger story, and the Atari-esque quest for the keys which accompanied it, bleh. Prisonworld.

Best issues: The first twelve, of course, comprising the initial conflict between the Micronauts and Karza. The alliance between SHIELD and the Micronauts in the face of a Karza-led Hydra contingent, wrapping up in a battle royale at a Florida themepark was ::chefs kiss," especially with Broderick showing his major chops on art. An oblique continuation of a John Byrne FF story shows what gold could have been mined in an earlier FF crossover. The start of the final arc, around issue 44, doubles down on the menace and threat suffered by the Micronauts, despite starring literally almost every annoying character in the series so far. Don't sleep on 44-50. And Micronauts ... Triumphant.

That seems about even. As many issues as were bland or toneless, as many were superbly executed -- maybe even a few more. For a series inspired by a kid's toys -- literally, as Mantlo's son's affection for the Micronauts was reflected in the actual storylines -- the Micronauts accomplished something great, turning in some of the grimmest and most engaging storylines of the era. A very good epic storyline could be made by carefully selecting about two dozen of these issues into one volume...

What's next after Micronauts Monday? I'm tempted to try the same procedure with ROM: Spaceknight, even though I've read quite a few of those. I managed to recently pick up a whole run of Team America from a quarter bin but I've never really heard a lot of buzz about it. I dunno, anything with a supernatural motorcyclist is always interesting on the face of things. I'd love to hear your suggestions but, for right now, I'm going to put Micronauts Monday in the Hibernation Couch for a thousand years or so...

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