Summer Reading – The Micronauts

The Micronauts – They Came from Inner Space

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A couple of months ago I picked up a complete run of The Micronauts Volume 1 from Marvel comics. I decided that it might be fun to challenge myself this summer and read one issue a day for the entire summer and get through the fifty-nine issue series, plus both annuals. As of this writing I am twelve days in and have kept up with an issue a day.

The series was licensed from the Mego corporation who was producing the toy line in North America. The Mego Corp licensed the toys from the Japanese company Takara. The Japanese toy line was call Microman. The toys were produced by Mego from 1976 to 1980 while the comic was not released until 1979. It ran for five years until 1984, well after the toys could be found on the shelf. Marvel comics would have a similar phenomenon with Rom, The Space Knight. The toy was produced in 1979 and had a fairly short shelf life while the comic ran from 1979 to 1986. Coincidentally Bill Mantlo wrote both series.  

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The Micronauts were not just comic advertisements for the toy. They featured exciting full adventures that focused on the characters, several of which did not have corresponding toys. The Micronauts were part of the Marvel Universe, often having crossovers with other characters like Man-Thing and the X-men. When they did cross through the space wall between the Microverse and our universe they were on Earth 616, the “main” Marvel Universe Earth. The series featured great action and science fiction along with some wonderful character development.

The first twelve issues are one story arc where the Micronauts are trying to defeat Baron Karza who has enslaved Homeworld. Their adventures through these issues take the Micronauts from the Microverse to Earth and back again. Mantlo and Golden set out to create a real epic with multiple plot threads and some serious science fiction. With only a toy line to work with they were free to create the characters and do whatever they wanted with them. With that in mind let’s take a look at what’s happened so far.

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Creators

Writer – Bill Mantlo
Artist – Michael Golden
Both are credited as the storytellers
Embellishing – Josef Rubinstein
Editor  – Al Milgrom
Editor in Chief –  Jim Shooter

The first issue begins with Prince Argon and Princess Mari, brother and sister, and several other soldiers on horseback fleeing from flying men. Over the course of the next few pages we learn that the King and Queen have been killed and that the prince and princess are trying to escape the Dog Soldiers and acroyears. Most of their party is killed but they get away, taken in by citizens loyal to the king and queen. Shortly after they are taken in the Prince Argon summons a time traveler, a being who uses something called the enigma force, to take Mari to safety. As the hideout is attacked by the dog soldiers we meet Shaitan, an acroyear, and Baron Karza for the first time.

In the second chapter of the comic a spaceship is coming in for a landing. The pilot Commander Rann and his roboid companion Biotron discuss how it has been a long time since they have been to Homeworld. Actually it has been 1000 years a handy caption tells us. Rann and Biotron think they are coming in to a heroes welcome, but the honor guard that great them turns out be a firing squad. Rann is shot but not killed. He wakes up surrounded by aliens in a prison cell. Still disoriented they explain to him that things are not going to go so well for him. Suddenly Rann is lifted out of the circle of aliens and there is a loud SVAM! The aliens are dispersed and Rann is greeted by an acroyear and Insectivorid and now Rann is really confused.

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The Insectivorid, BUg, explains to Rann that while to him it feels like he just discovered their planets on his 1000 year journey, he was only traveling at light speed but while he was away warp drives were discovered on Homeworld and they made space exploration even easier. They also explain that almost as soon as the discoveries were made war spread throughout the Microverse with Baron Karza and the dog soldiers leading the charge.

The following day Rann, Bug, the Acroyear, and the other prisoners are put into a gladiatorial arena being watched by Karza, Shaitan, and the rich elite of Homeworld. The entertainment starts with Princess Mari disguised as a roboid and a small white roboid with a red-head. As that show comes to and end the next one gets started with a Deathtank rumbling right towards the group of prisoners. The acroyear and Bug attack the tank telling Rann to fall back, that they are there to protect him because he is the “x-factor” that Karza fears. A Time Traveler appears again, this time in front of Rann, telling him they must escape. Time Traveler explains to Rann that he is the enigma force, and that they need to escape now. As they make their getaway they find Rann’s ship, Biotron, Princess Mari (the marionette) and the small white roboid Microtron.

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This first issue really does a fantastic job of world building and setting the stage for what’s to come. Since this comic was released in 1979 a lot of comparisons to Star Wars can certainly be made. There is a rebellion led by an unlikely hero. A powerful villain in black armor, with unknown power. There are kooky aliens, talking robots, spaceships that can travel faster than the speed of light, and a galaxy at war. And while those things are all true this story is different enough that it is still fun and exciting.

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The next couple of issue take the Micronauts to Earth, to the backyard of the Coffin family in Daytona Beach Florida to be exact. As Commander Rann piloted the Endeavor away from the pursuing fleet of Baron Karza’s acroyear allies they reached the edge of the Microverse, the Space Wall and were able to pass through it thanks to the help from a Time Traveler.  This is both good and bad for the Micronauts it turns out. It works out for them because they escape from their closest attackers. The problem is that other ships can now get through the Space Wall the same way they did.

The Endeavor crashes into some plants and the Micronauts have some very “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” moments with Steve Coffin’s dog and lawnmower. The group of fugitives and rebels start working together to save each other from the new perils they encounter. Shaitan’s ship also makes it through the Space Wall and there is a small aerial dog fight in the Florida backyard. Steve Coffin comes the aid of the Micronauts and hits Shaitan’s battle cruiser with his rake forcing it to warp back to the Microverse.

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Steve’s Father, Ray, comes home to find the backyard torn up with craters from the ship’s laser fire. While the Micronauts were able to teleport away Steve’s dad finds some of the wreckage from Shaitan’s downed ships. Meanwhile Shaitan warps back to Earth tracking the Endeavor to a Florida highway and renews his attack. There are more witnesses now as the fascinated drivers are caught in the crossfire from the attacking ships. The Air Force at Cape Canaveral picks up the space ships on their radar and dispatches several jets.

The Air Force pilots don’t find anything and the Police do not believe the witnesses about the small aliens fighting that they’ve witnessed. Steve’s Dad is also making plans to bring the stuff he’s found to NASA to have them examine it. Back on Homeworld Baron Karza’s forces are making short work of the rebels. We also learn more about Baron’s body banks. These are places where the poor are brought to be used as replacements for the rich and powerful elite of Homeworld when they get old or sick. We get to meet one of the new rebel leaders, Slug, who is going to be mixed in with the prisoners headed to the body banks. She is hoping to find Prince Argon and save the prisoners already in the body banks.

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The Micronaut crew while working together are also arguing quite a bit about what they should be doing to save Homeworld. Rann needs to get the Endeavor fixed up in order to make it be able to get back to the Microverse. Acroyear (yup that’s also his name) wants to find Bug whom they were separated with in the Coffin’s backyard and finally Princess Mari thinks they are lollygagging too much and wants to go save Homeworld. While all the bickering seems very antagonistic at first it is really just the crew’s way of becoming closer and realizing they all have the same goals.

Ray, Steve, the family dog, all head to Ray’s old work place at NASA, the Human Engineering Life Laboratories (H.E.L.L) to have the aliens found in the wreckage examined. Bug also manages to tag along hidden from everyone except the dog. They will meet up with scientist Phil Prometheus, ex coworker turned mad scientist when he discovered the miniature aliens previously and used their bionic technology to combine man and machine to save himself after an accident in space. Phil has created the Prometheus pit that he hopes will allow him to travel to the Microverse. During the course of Phil revealing what he’s done to himself and manhandling Steve Coffin, questioning him about the battle and the Micronauts, Ray starts to realize that he and his son are in trouble.

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Bug has made his way into the lab and the rest of the Micronauts are not too far behind. They’ve left the Endeavor at the Coffin house for Biotron to repair and used shuttles to track Bug’s energy signature to H.E.L.L.. Phil tries to send Steve into the Prometheus pit but the rest of the Micronaut team arrives in time to save him and attack the half man, half robot, guards Phil created. In the course of the battle Ray grabs Phil and they both fall into the pit. Steve, the dog and the Micronaut team, reunited with Bug, fight their way out of the lab and try to get Steve to safety.

Back on Homeworld Baron Karza tells Shaitan that he has failed and that he has no more use for him. He removes the mind wipe that allowed Shaitan to subjugate the acroyear people to support him and Karza and deny their true leader Prince Acroyear. Prince Argon also breaks out the cell he’s been held in, now transformed into a half man half horse, similar to on of Karza’s forms. He then storms the body banks where Slug happens to be a prisoner, looking to free the people.

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Steve and the Micronauts make it back to the Coffin house only to find Biotron cornered by the family cat. Steve helps the Micronauts with the final repairs to the Endeavor and in the process of powering up the ship causes a blackout in the neighborhood. Steve is still very depressed about his father but he and the Micronauts realize that the police and Air Force are still going to be looking for him since they escaped the lab. They head down to the Everglades to hide out in the family cabin. While they are there they Micronauts gets some much-needed rest. During this time Biotron tells Mari about Rann’s adventures over the past 1000 years, about how when he left Homeworld he was considered a hero for the journey of exploration he was about to make. He explains that when they reached the edge of the Microverse the Endeavor was surrounded by glowing men (Time Travellers in case you were wondering) and they flooded Rann’s mind with “Awareness”. These glowing figures had imparted Rann with the Enigma Force.

Back in the Prometheus pit Phil and Ray continue to fall until they do indeed pass through to the Microverse. Similar to the way the Micronauts were tiny when they passed through the Space Wall to Earth and remained tiny, Ray and Phil are giants. As they are tumbling through space Ray begins to glow and disappears only to meet up with, you guessed it, The Time Traveler. He sure does come around when needed. Phil on the other hand gains the attention of Baron Karza. Slug and Prince Argon, now called Force Commander by the rebels make their escape from the body banks. They eventually meet up with another rebel group that is being led by one of Baron Karza’s Shadow Priests who explains that he is loyal to Homeworld, not Karza.

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Back on Earth Steve Coffin’s sorrow and now fear of the future have attracted the creature known only as Man-Thing! The Micronauts try to protect Steve but their weapons have little impact on the muck monster. We get a neat appearance of the MicroCopter toy, while not named it is featured in several panels. This is one of the few appearances of something that corresponds to something from the toy line other than several of the main characters in the story. Steve and the Micronauts finally get it together to try to use the big fan on the wind boat to blow the monster away. Steve’s attitude change to bravery is actually what saves the day as Man-Thing hurls himself into the engine, no longer being attracted to fear. With the ship fully repaired and the Micronauts rested up they decide to go find Ray Coffin and take the war back to Baron Karza.

Baron Karza bonding with Phil has made his way back through the Prometheus pit and decides to try to conquer Earth, seemingly more powerful than the Air Force soldiers and guards he is encountering at H.E.L.L. With Baron Karza on Earth, Force Commander, the Shadow Priest, and the rebels decide now is the time to attack the Dog Soldiers. We find out what the Time Traveler has been doing with Ray Coffin. He tells Ray that the blood of heroes runs in his veins. Time Traveler tells Ray to relax, and dream, that when he awakens he will be the Hero Earth needs. Back on Earth the super-sized Baron Karza is making short work of the Micronauts and soldiers that are trying to stop him.

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Suddenly a new player enters the fight, Captain Universe. He says he is there to defend Earth and attacks Karza. As this is happening Steve and the Micronauts realize Captain Universe is actually Ray Coffin! While Captain Universe and Baron Karza are fighting the Micronauts take the opportunity to leave Steve and head back to the Microverse through the Prometheus Pit. Karza realizing that he cannot win, ends his bond with Phil Prometheus and also heads back to the Microverse. The Time Traveler takes the power he loaned Ray back and seal the Prometheus pit. Steve and Ray Coffin are reunited and Phil is taken into custody. The Micronauts adventures on Earth have concluded for now, but they still have one more thing to do back in the Microverse.

The Endeavor enters the Microverse right in the middle of the acroyear battle fleet. They are then escorted back to the acroyear home world, Spartak. They are expected to be treated as prisoners of war but instead they are greeted as heroes, especially Prince Acroyear the rightful ruler of the acroyears. Karza renters the Microverse and resumes leadership of his battle fleet, leading them to attack Spartak. As he is bombing the acroyear home world Prince Acroyear says that they only thing that can save them is if he merges with the Worldmind, the being that embodies Spartak (think Ego the living planet). This is a very dangerous ploy and the Prince will most likely be killed but it is the only way. As he goes about this the Micronauts decide they cannot just stand by and they head out to face the Baron’s forces.

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On Homeworld the rebel attack led by Force Commander faces strong opposition from the Dog soldiers and Phobos units, fighting roboids similar in form to Biotron but are black and red. The shadow priests join the battle and start to turn the tide. Back at Spartak Rann and Mari have been captured by Karza. Bug and Microtron try to help but an exploding Phobos unit seemingly kills Bug as he is blown out to space. Prince Acroyear completes his merge with the World Mind and together they destroy Baron Karza’s fleet. The acroyears on the surface defeat the dog soldiers and accept their surrender. Baron Karza does manage to get away with his two prisoners and heads back to home world.

Force Commander and the Shadow Priests have defeated most of the Dog Soldiers as the baron shows up with Rann and Mari captive. Karza says that with Rann captured, their hero, their x-factor, cannot win the battle for them. Force Commander is not having this and attacks Karza directly. Karza defeats Argon but hope is not lost. One of the Shadow Priests reveals himself to be none other than Time Traveler.

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Time Traveler and Commander Rann bond and become the Enigma Force. The Enigma Force / Rann and Baron Karza go right at it. There is a quite a bit of back and forth between the two until Karza says that he is going to unleash the power of the great pit (coincidentally they are fighting right next to said pit) and use a massive Mindshock that will most likely destroy himself, Homeworld and maybe even the Enigma Force. In the end though the Mindshock only destroys Karza himself, leaving behind empty black armor. And for the cherry on top of the victory sunday the acroyear fleet arrives, led by Prince Acroyear, having destroyed the rest of Baron Karza’s warfleet. The Time Traveler breaks the bond between he and Rann saying that for now he is no longer needed.

The last issue in the arc serves as an epilogue. The Micronauts, with the exception of the possibly deceased Bug, Force Commander Argon, and Slug are all raised up as heroes by the citizens of Homeworld. Prince Acroyear heads back to Spartak to take his place as ruler of the acroyears. On Earth Ray and Steve Coffin are enjoying their time together. Some soldiers searching through the wreckage of H.E.L.L. find Philips Prometheus’s alien samples and turn them into a group of men that might be S.H.E.I.L.D.. The traitor Shaitan challenges Acroyear to a blood feud that ends in the death of Shaitan. The story closes out with Time Traveler showing the reader that Bug has been hurtling through space, alive, and then landing on the planet Kaliklak, home world of the Insectivorids.

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That was quiet and epic story wasn’t it? Sure, there are plenty of similarities to Star Wars, but I found it to be different enough that it was exciting and enjoyable on its own merits. There are plenty of hokey things in the story, like Prince Acroyear sharing the same name as his race of people, or Baron Karza and Force Commander having half human / half horse forms, but overall the story is just a lot of fun. There is no overt push of the toy line, partially because it was reaching the end of its sales when the comic was published.

One thing I find interesting is that the initial story is exactly 12 issues long. To my knowledge this came out when mini-series and maxi-series did not come out regularly. I think it might be more likely that Mantlo and Golden had their story idea and thought they could spread it out over twelve issues, and if the comic was successful they would go on from there. The dialog is well done and the pacing is dynamite. Each issue has an exciting ending that makes the reader want to see what happens next month. And the way the last issue closes with Bug being alive I certainly want to see what happens to him and how he gets reunited with the rest of the Micronauts.

I suspect that Baron Karza will return at some point, I just hope that there are some other adventures introducing new characters and conflicts before they go back to that well. Something else that makes this series a lot of fun is that it takes place in the Marvel universe. I thought that when Man-Thing made his appearance it worked pretty well and it made me wonder if Bill Mantlo and Steve Gerber (Man-Thing’s creator) were buddies. I mean there had to be other, more popular characters that could have made a guest appearance. Finally I thought the Phil Prometheus character was done really well. He was a mad scientist with a cool origin and a great look. Michael Golden portrayed this character’s passion really well. He was maniacal and was a great foil for Ray Coffin. Later when Ray took on the Captain Universe persona and fought Karza who was bonded with Prometheus it was a great conclusion to that sub-plot.

All in all I enjoyed these issues and think I have picked out a good summer reading project. I’ll keep going with an issue a day and will have additional updates down the road. I’ll close this post with the cover to issue 13 featuring Bug and some other Insectivorids, hopefully you’ll join me again to see what happens.

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