Last week we looked at the final two issues of volume one of the amazing The Micronauts comic book series. Throughout the predominantly fantastic run that MORE than stands up to the test of time, we experienced Bill Mantlo’s fascinating sci-fi world through his crazy ideas and his strong storytelling— I think I like it even more as an adult, which is saying a lot as I worshipped this series as a kid. We fell in love with each of his characters as they came to life through the gorgeous art of Michael Golden, Pat Broderick, and Butch Guice as expertly colored by Bob Sharen. We witnessed good and evil, love and loss, and a conflict so immense that it spilled into two universes, threatening to claim them both. In Young Donist and Current Donist’s minds, it is safe to say that at least 90% of the 59 issue run fell into the “heavenly” category; unfortunately issue 58 barely registered as cool, and issue 59…well, it is what it is. But there are more issues that occurred outside of the regular series, namely the annuals and The X-Men and the Micronauts four-issue mini-series. So, let’s have a look at those annuals (oh boy, you know what I think of most annuals) and in order to help us feel better about things, we’ll also look at the first issue of the crossover. In the coming weeks, I will dig into the second volume, which is called Micronauts the New Voyages, which I remember as something that befuddled the bejesus out of Young Donist’s poor, itty-bitty mind, and I honestly remember very little about it, so I’m curious how Current Donist reacts to that series. For now (again, oh boy) let’s check out some annuals…
***Possible Spoilers Below***
Young Donist - This was actually one of the last issues of volume one that I ended up buying. As a mad collector of everything Micronauts, I HAD to buy this, but given my experience with the second annual, which I bought years prior, I was in no rush to get it. Once I read this issue, my hesitancy was justified. This just wasn’t Young Donist’s cuppa. Sure, Galactic Defender was in this issue, and he was one of my favorite toys at the time, but then he ends up being like some old guy or something, and that just wasn't like cool, man. You dig? The Mari and Argon thing bored the pants off of me, and the Bug and Acroyear tale was passable, but I did fall victim to “toy fever” at the sight of Terraphant, the vehicle / monster that I never owned. I also had a negative reaction to the art, but I will get into that when I look at Annual #2. Overall, I did not like this issue at all. Young Donist would not recommend it.
Current Donist - Oh my stars and garters, denizens, the exposition! Criminy! I could use the exposition in this story to knock out the rotting fence in the backyard. Jeez Louise. The idea of this is pretty brutal, especially now that I am an adult, and I know an advertisement when I see one. This is what I imagine the powers-that-be saying to Mantlo when it came to this annual: "Y'know, Bill, you’re doing a bang up job on the Micros series; fans seem to love it. But we need to be bringing in new readers so the licensor can move more toys. Here’s what we need you to do…I know it’s short notice, but can you bang out 38 or more pages in say four days so we can get it to Ditko to draw? Y'know…the Ditko. Just be sure to put as many characters and vehicles into the story as possible, and be sure to explain all of what is happening in the series…just lighten up the mood a bit, okay? No kid wants to buy a toy if they’re miserable, y’know?" So, we end up with tons of blatant exposition all kinds of forced introductions of toy representations, and a vibe of “Face front, true believers! The perfect jumping on point for the new reader…and toy buyer,” that might as well have been stamped on the front cover. The problem, is that this issue would not make me want to do either. Most of the comic is forced, but thankfully not all of it.
Yes, I did not like Ditko’s art on this series as a kid, but I will get to that soon enough. This is not the case now. I actually really liked the first story, even if the Galactic Defender ends up being a total geezer. The story is more along the lines of Mantlo’s Warren Magazine-style writing that I love, and couple that with Ditko’s art and allowing the artist to get as bananas as he wants makes it even better. Ditko on Shade the Changing Man, and the Strange Tales issues featuring his art on Doctor Strange are some some of the craziest things I have ever seen and that is exactly what he brings to this first story. The other two stories…not so much. The Mari and Argon tale is kind of painful to read, and is where most of the exposition can be found, but it is primarily talking, more talking, and then to spice things up, some more talking. I almost fell asleep reading it, and it could not have been all that engaging to Ditko, as there was very little, other than few panels of Baron Karza, to get excited about. The third tale, with Bug and Acroyear, has more going on and is fine storywise, but at least Ditko gets to draw some craziness to spur interest.
My guess, and I’m only guessing as I have no real idea, is that Mantlo was allowed to include the first story provided he quickly spit out the other two exposition-laden tales, with the additional toy characters added, as that is what the powers-that-be deemed would bring in more readers. If this was my introduction to The Micronauts, it most likely would have been the last issue I bought. If the other two tales mirrored the greatness of the first, then my tone would be different. Only because the first story is so cool do I give this issue a RECOMMENDED!
Young Donist - Story time. I found this issue at the Quaker Square in downtown Akron, Ohio. Quaker Square was once home to 36 Quaker Oats-owned storage silos that were converted into a hotel, with restaurants and stores down below. To a nine-year-old boy, this place was magic. You could have lunch or dinner and watch the trains go by, then you could go to general store, the candy store, and most importantly The News Stand which at the time had an open-air feel with comic books everywhere. It was here in 1980 that I found The Micronauts Annual #2, where I completely lost my marbles over this find, and I could not wait to get home, eat my candy buttons, and read my favorite comic book series. Dang, was I ever disappointed.
“What the hell is this?” I did not like the art, I thought that my heroes fighting toy versions of themselves was stupid, and the reveal of the bad guy’s identity fell flat like a pancake. No way did this have anything to do with the terrible struggles Commander Rann, Princess Mari, Acroyear, Bug, Biotron, and Microtron were having to face back on Homeworld as Baron Karza subjugated sphere after sphere of the molecular planet. Where was the resurrected Prince Shaitan, or the reborn Karza? Pharoid? Slug? I had no idea what the heck was going on! I was enamored with both Golden and Broderick’s art, but this looked nothing like what I expected. I hated everything about this issue. The best thing about it to Young Donist was the memory of watching the trains go by as I ate my French dip sandwich, later buying loads of candy, and the discovery an unexpected issue of my favorite series at the magical News Stand at Quaker Square. I'll just repress the feeling of what happened once I actually read the issue.
Current Donist - <sigh> The exposition of this issue is just painful, and it is clear that Mantlo either had to rush to crank this out, or that he was under order to shoe-in as many toys as possible to either appease Marvel, Takara, or both. This is nothing like the series proper and is not really something to be sought out, except by diehard fans. Yes, the final fate of the bad guy in this issue plays a part in a later issue — one that actually is enjoyable — but you do not need to read it to understand any future storyline whatsoever.
Ditko. Okay, now that I’m older, I can appreciate his art on this issue more than I did when I was nine. Back then, I did not want anything to change from the look or style of what I was used to. But today, I can appreciate Ditko’s intense storytelling skills, his line work, and his character acting. That said, why leash the guy to story centered around a conflict with a normal(ish) bad guy at a Macy’s Department Store. Why was Ditko not brought in to get downright weird, baby? Y’know, have the guy draw the freakin’ Microverse, because that would be positively out of this world and something to behold. But, alas, no. Marvel opted to have the guy draw the interior of a department store instead, so they could essentially release a toy catalog. <ugh>
If you cut the tons of exposition, then the story is not actually all that bad, and if you buy the book, buy it for the groovy Ditko art. I will, however, always dream about what Ditko would have done on a six-issue run of this series set in the Microverse, and not a depressing store. Only because of Ditko’s art do I give this issue a RECOMMENDED!
|The X-Men and the|
Young Donist - “The very idea of this is better than anything I could have ever hoped for! The Micronauts and the X-Men together in the same mini-series?! YES!” Young Donist flipped out when he found this at the comic shop. There is no better feeling than seeing something you never even knew you wanted sitting on the racks. I distinctly remember blinking a few times and picking up the book to be sure I was not seeing things. Thankfully, I wasn't. What I was even more thankful for, was the fact that this issue beat the pants off of the annuals mentioned above. Although, once I started reading the book, I was thoroughly confused.
You see, Young Donist was unfamiliar with the whole arrive late, leave early method of storytelling, and I thought I had missed some key issues of The Micronauts, but that was not the case at all. Seeing Karza on the Bioship, and no one side trying to murderize the other nearly made my brain melt…I also thought it was pretty cool. I had no idea who this Entity character was, but I did not care; I had two of my favorite comics mixed together, and not only that, I got to see Baron Karza trash the New Mutants. There was very little from Bug, Acroyear, Huntarr, or Mari, but hot dang if I was not amped for the next issue. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Current Donist - I remembered next to nothing about this mini-series, but that honestly just made rereading this issue that much more fun. Not only that, we keep Guice as the illustrator and we are immediately thrust into the thick of the story. Once again, I totally fell for the arrive late, leave early thing and was wondering what I missed, how Karza got aboard the Bioship, and why no one was attempting to execute his armored butt. The X-Men’s appearance was brief, but there was so much happening in this story, both action and drama, that I was shocked by how quickly I reached the end; I was desperate for more.
This issue was fun, a blast actually, and although I have no idea what is coming next, I definitely know what I am reading this evening. This is how you bring in new readers while pleasing the fans who have been with you all along. You allow the newbies to catch up on who these Micronaut cats are without bludgeoning them with exposition, while maintaining consistency with the art, the current story, and melding the characters of one world with that of another. All without tying the mini / crossover to either series. You don’t have to read this mini to enjoy The Micronauts or The X-Men, which is part of the reason why I enjoyed it; it stands on its own, and it stands strong. I hope the following three issues share the strength of what I just reread. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Hot dang, denizens! After being pretty bummed by issue 58, 59, and the annuals, The X-Men and the Micronauts got me all pumped once again. Join me next week as I look at the rest of the mini and tell you what I thought, and what I think. Do your experiences mirror my own? Did you love the annuals? What was your favorite issue / toy? Let me know, I’d love to hear from my fellow Micronauts enthusiasts.
While writing this entry, I listened to Bernard Herrmann’s phenomenal score for “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.” Fantastic and driving orchestral beauty for the 1958 masterpiece featuring the effects of Ray Harryhausen. Definitely give it a listen!