The iconic Marvel comic book, The Micronauts, has been rebooted by IDW Publishing, hitting the shelves this past April. Image Comics and Devil’s Due have attempted reboots of the classic series in the early 2000s – but those comics failed to catch on like that amazing book that rockedthe worlds of many a reader back in the day. A brief history: In 1974, the Japanese toy company, Takara, started up the Microman line, ranging from action figures and vehicles to playsets. The storyline had it that the “Micro” characters came from a world called Micro Earth and the tiny alien cyborgs hid on our worlds, disguised as action figures. 19 76 saw the Mego Corporation, who gave kids action figures from Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, and Space: 1999 and some cool respective playsets, releasing the Micronaut toys. Flash forward to December 1977 when prolific Marvel Comics’ scribe Bill Mantlo’s son received some Micronaut figures as Christmas presents. Mantlo was intrigued by the toys and felt there was potential for interesting characters and a fascinating Microverse that they inhabited.
Mantlo spoke with his editor-in- chief, Jim Shooter, convincing him that the Micronauts could be a hit for Marvel. The Micronauts #1 – “They came from Inner Space” – hit the comic racks and magazine shelves in October 1978, with a script by Mantlo and drawn by Michael Golden. The two spent some time creating the characters, Homeworld and its Microverse, history and an intricate mythology. Another great idea Mantlo and Golden based the Homeworld language on a variant of Sanskrit, an Indo-Aryan language that’s recognized as one of India’s 22 official languages.
There was something wondrous about that first issue: Mantlo’s story about the last members of a royal family and their retainers – think the Romanov family hunted by Bolsheviks – as they are pursued by an Acroyear air patrol and Baron Karza’s Dog Soldiers. Prince Argon is captured while his sister, Princess Mari, escapes. Meantime, the Homeworld Micro Ship Endeavor returns from a millennium-long mission exploring the Microverse. Commander Arcturus Rann, the pilot, and his roboid co-pilot, Boron, receiving a less-than- friendly welcome by Karza and the Dog Soldiers. Soon, Rann meets up with Princess Mari (Marionette), her loyal roboid, Microtron,Prince Acroyear, exiled ruler of Spartak and Bug, an insectoid thief from Kaliklak. The Micronauts flee Homeworld in the Endeavor, then smashing through the Spacewall – the barrier surrounding the Microverse – and arrive in our universe.
Along the way, the Micronaut team interacts with the Time Travelers, who are connected to the aptly named Enigma Force. And, back on Homeworld, Prince Argon is tortured and genetically engineered by Baron Karza (Karza’s design was influenced by the anime character Steel Jeeg) and later escapes the dreaded Body Banks, thanks to a beautiful rebel and royalist, Slug.
The Micronauts saga takes the readers from the Microverse to Florida, where they encounter giant humans, ranging from former astronaut Ray Coffin and his son, Steve, as well as a deranged NASA scientist named Philip Prometheus; the Micronauts’ presence in Marvel’s Earth- 616 universe was cemented when they fought the Man-Thing in the Everglades. Mantlo and Golden ere consummate storyteller throughout those first twelve issues; each issue was packed with action and humor – in one scene as Biotron is repairing the Endeavor, a matchbook can be seen, saying, Bill Crook’s Tires. With a name like Crook, I have to be honest.”
Golden’s artwork was perfect for The Micronauts and its inner space opera tone. Homeworld’s cityscape is very evocative of Alex Raymond or Al Williamson’s art and complimented Mantlo’s script. It’s been said that when Jack Kirby was asked to draw fifty spaceships, he drew fifty ships, each one completely different from the other while others drew fifty ships that all looked alike. Some Micronaut ships were modular in design and interchangeable, allowing kids to modify the vehicles. Golden took advantage of that, drawing different variants of Micronaut vehicles, characters and even the city playsets . . . again, all with that Kirbyesque flair. Another cool thing – Homeworld itself, the “planet” being a molecular chain, each sphere a unique zone, from Oceania to Polaria. It was a fascinating concept and later issues would find the Micronauts exploring those various zones.
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You have to understand that this was 1978; Star Wars was still in science fiction fans’ minds and they wanted something more. Everyone knew that a Star Wars sequel was in the works . . . but many fans were seeking new stories to enjoy. Battlestar Galactica was okay, Marvel’s Star Wars comic was moving along slowly – and everyone wanted to forget the loathsome Holiday Special. Fans wanted something more . . . and along came Mantlo, Golden and The Micronauts.
Both Mantlo and Golden took a bunch of toys and turned them into characters that you cared about; those characters and the storyline arcs were so damn compelling and that was why many fans sought out the latest Micronauts issue each month, each one featuring amazing covers drawn by Golden himself.
Epic. That’s the best damn way to describe the first twelve Micronauts by some fans. Micronauts was more than a damn fine comic – it was damn fine science fiction. Great storytelling is great storytelling, no matter the medium. That was why so many people loved the first twelve issues, because they wanted great SF. Moreover, in 1979, Mantlo and Golden’s hard work paid off when The Micronauts won the British Eagle Award for Favorite New Title. Golden left the series after #12. He did the cover art for some issues and ROM, other titles as well; eventually, he gravitated towards commercial design and advertising, which was more challenging for him.
Mantlo continued writing The Micronauts until the series ended with #58. He scripted the team- up mini-series that brought the Micronauts together with the X-Men. He also wrote 75 issues of ROM – Spaceknight and its four annuals. He co-created Rocket Raccoon and helped create Cloak and Dagger. He kept writing and entered law school in the mid-80s; He passed the bar and became a public defender sometime after i987. On July 17, 1992, Mantlo suffered severe head trauma when he was rollerblading and was struck by a hit-and- run driver. After being in a coma, Mantlo was diagnosed with severe brain, which doctors said was irreparable. His brother Mike is now acting as his caretaker.
In 2014, Mantle received the Bill Finger Award and received credit for being Rocket Raccoon’s co-creator in the film Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel and Disney even allowed him to watch the film at his home.
The Micronauts. Reading that first twelve issues today, it still holds up. It’s still a damn fine comic and science fiction. It serves as a reminder how truly talented Mantlo and Golden back in the day. If you haven’t read Mantlo and Golden Micronauts, seek out the five-issue Micronauts special edition that Marvel released in the 1980s. You won’t be disappointed. You will have that same feeling of awe and wonders that so many others had back in the late ‘70s.
Thank-you, Bill Mantlo. Thank-you, Michael Golden. Thank-you for the great adventures that you created and shared with so many people.