Backstory: For the uninitiated, let me back up and fill you in on ROM's storyline up to this point. ROM arrived on Earth crashing into the small town of Clairton, West Virginia. He is a cyborg from the planet Galador and had spent the last two centuries chasing and eliminating the threat of the Dire Wraiths. ROM was once "human" but along with other Spaceknights sacrificed that humanity (and significant body parts and organs) to be melded with the Spaceknight armor so that he could battle the Wraiths. The Dire Wraiths are evil shape-changing aliens who rely on sorcery and science to infiltrate and take over worlds. They are similar to Skrulls in their means of mimicry, but much nastier in their reliance on dark magic which makes them particularly wicked and creepy. ROM is single-mindedly focused on his mission to dispel the subversive aliens so he can return home and regain his life.. The Spaceknight is troubled as he has seen some of his comrades go mad dealing with their lost humanity, and after 200 years of battle he is feeling increasingly worn out, lonely, and reflective about his choice. ROM has two devices that he relies on: 1) his analyzer which basks all beings in its path in a pink glow so ROM can see if they are hidden Wraiths or not ( the truth is only visible to him and not to bystanders), and 2) his neutralizer which he uses to banish those Wraiths to Limbo. When struck by this ray, the evil creatures' forms disintegrate leaving a heap of dusty residue while their spirits are swept away to the shadow dimension. This of course is quite unsettling to any witnesses on Earth as they only see the destruction of their neighbors and friends. ROM can use the neutralizer to kill, but he has sworn to not take a life insisting that banishment of his enemies allows him a certain superiority over them. But ROM being rather stoic in his approach to his mission initially didn't bother to explain to the earthlings what he is up to. So he is extremely feared at first as his actions seem callous.
What the people of Clairton don't know is that the Wraiths have been on Earth since WWII and are pretty well entrenched (this was really a Secret Invasion long before that modern storyline). ROM through his adventures in Clairton has gained the trust of Brandy Clark and her fiancé Steve. Together they have gradually been able to convince some of the townfolk that there is more to ROM than meets the eye. And that is where this story starts.
Redartz: Thanks to Martinex1 for the synopsis. I'd never read any ROM stories before, and actually had been hesitant to do so. Thinking it simply 'another toy comic', it stayed off my radar in the era in which it was published. Upon reading it now, however, I was quickly struck by how meaty the story actually was. It definitely had the feel of an old alien - horror - science fiction movie. And the writing was quite good; I should have known. I loved Bill Mantlo's work on Micronauts and on Spectacular Spider-Man. This was equally good reading.
Martinex1: What were your first impressions on the art? The covers interest me, because both are by Frank Miller but the inking styles are so different. I much prefer the cover to the second issue with Austin's work. In fact, as a kid I bought that issue first but had to circle back for the previous book because the story was so intriguing. This was actually my first ROM purchase and eventually I owned the whole run.
Redartz: Right off the bat, we see that Sal Buscema is inking his own pencils in issue 17. That's a good start; the art throughout the issue is clean and sharp. It is very attractive, some of Sal's nicer work. I did prefer that to the art in 18, which was still good but the inks seemed a bit rougher. As for the covers, I fully agree- the cover to the second issue is more striking. You can't go wrong with Terry Austin, after all.
Martinex1: Reading these again, it seems like Mantlo threw everything into it. I find the storytelling reasonably complex. It is interesting to me - and I'm not sure I can draw a good comparison to anything else - that the Dire Wraiths were essentially the only villains throughout the 75 issue run. Sure there were some subplots and side-stories, but essentially it was always ROM vs the Dire Wraiths. And here it seemed incredibly dense with characters, motivations, and hints of things to come.
Redartz: Indeed, there was a lot of material in both these books for a 32 page comic (especially issue 17). This is even more evident when compared to today's 'decompressed' storytelling. This two-issue story would have taken up a full six-issue spread today, doubtlessly. And I'll have to bow to your reading experiences regarding the paucity of other villains; but that is interesting- it almost makes the whole series a kind of novel.
Martinex1: The story touches on ROM's growing trust in the community and then segues into the tale of a Wraith who had entrenched himself on Earth in the mid 1940's and took on the identity of Jacob Marks, a farmer with simple goals in life. He found himself to be happy living as a mere human and wanted to continue doing so. That led him to love and the eventual marriage to Marjorie, and unfortunately to the birth of a child - a hybrid Wraith and Human child. That doesn't turn out too well. Fifteen years later when the little cretin is exposed to witchcraft and macabre teaching at the hands of Wraith elders, he reveals himself to be something quite evil. He tortures his mother and turns on his father.
Redartz: Much of the story was pretty somber, with the dead livestock, Marjorie Mark's aging and the eventual fate of Jacob Marks. Jacob's death was grim to behold ( a brief flashback to the Green Goblin's death hit me), a striking three-panel sequence resulting with the only remains being a silhouette on the wall.
Martinex1: I liked how the X-Men were dragged into the story rather organically. Hybrid, as the malevolent offspring was called, registered as a mutant on Cerebro. So the all new, all different crowd set out to check it out. They stumbled into the melee between ROM and Hybrid and of course misidentified ROM as the threat because the baddie was using his shape-shifting abilities to appear as a young teenager. The X-Men assumed a robot was hunting muties again.