Thursday, November 1, 2018

This & That: Micronauts 7; Micronauts and Man-Things...

Micronauts 7;  July 1979
Cover by Michael Golden and Neal Adams
Writer: Bill Mantlo, Pencils Michael Golden, Inks Josef Rubinstein

Redartz:  Hey folks! For many months we have planned to do a review of a Micronauts issue, and in this Halloween season, what better issue to feature than one guest starring the macabre Man-Thing? So what are we waiting for, let's get started!

To begin with, here's the capsule summary of the action (there's so much going on in here, I don't think a 100-word review will suffice). 


The main storyline opens with the Micronauts (Commander Arcturus Rann, Marionette, Prince Acroyear, Biotron, Microtron and Bug) in the company of young Steve Coffin, the son of former astronaut Ray Coffin. Long story short, they are fishing at the Coffin's Everglades retreat while hiding out after escaping from H.E.L.L.(the Human Engineering Life Laboratory) at Cape Canaveral. Steve's father worked there and fell into the Promethius Pit (a dimensional interface) and disappeared. Take my word for it.

Anyway, Steve is grieving for his missing, and feared dead, father. But recall, this is the Everglades, and therein lurks a denizen particularly sensitive to such strong emotions: the Man-Thing. Manny is attracted by Steve's grieving, and makes his way to the fishing shack. Steve, emotionally distraught, runs from the shack right into the presence of the Man-Thing. 

Of course his first reaction is terror, and as we all know, "whatever knows fear burns at the touch of the Man-Thing". The Micronauts rush to Steve's defense, but prove pretty ineffectual against the walking slime bog. 


Steve finally pulls himself together and is determined to make a stand; he fires up the swamp buggy and essentially puts the Man-Thing through a blender. Of course this doesn't harm the creature, but he feels Steve's courage and wanders off into the swamp.

Oh, and there is also a brief retelling of the Micronauts' origin...


We also follow up on Ray Coffin, who fell into the Microverse with Dr. Promethius. Promethius has gone nuts and is discovered by the villainous Baron Karza who plans to possess Promethius' body in order to invade Earth in search of the Micronauts. Also, Ray himself has been transported to the presence of the mysterious Enigma Force. Then we catch up with the rebels on Commander Rann's home world, Homeworld.  And finally, it appears Baron Karza has succeeded in reaching Earth!

Yes, all this in a  32-page comic. This would require a six issue arc, these days...
Martinex1: I could not agree more Red.  One of the things that made The Micronauts one of my favorite books was the complexity of the storytelling.  It may not be Shakespeare, but Bill Mantlo and the artistic teams sure piled a lot into every issue.  I really wish comics were still like this.  At the very least it gave me a good long read; at best it drew me into the detailed plots and intricate characterizations.   I know that the book does not carry the cache of The Avengers or The X-Men, but back in the Bronze Age this book was on par with the greats.

The Cover:

Redartz: One of the biggest attractions to this comic. This is a truly incredible cover, rich with detail and swampy moodiness. Golden's art is wonderful to begin with, and having Neal Adams inks just puts 'extra sprinkles on the frosting'. Man-Thing looks great, and that snake in the foreground could slither right off the cover.
Martinex1: I agree.  How could this not be a "must buy book?"  Golden's style has changed a bit over the years, but I really liked this era in his career.   His characters had a style that was distinct and there were always levels to the detail. Both here and on ROM Spaceknight covers, his work stood out for me.

The Story:

Redartz: First off, I love the title "Adventure into Fear." An homage to Man-Thing's first 32-page comic series. A nice touch.

As noted above, there's a lot of material in this story. Mantlo does a fine job interweaving the myriad storylines together, and there are several. Karza's pursuit of the Micronauts, Ray Coffin's disappearance, the revolt on Homeworld, and the teaming of Steve with the Micronauts themselves. 

Speaking of which, Mantlo also succeeds nicely at giving voice to each unique character. Acroyear's dignity, Bug's wit, Microtron's subtle humor. What's more, Mantlo portrays the character of teenage Steve with sensitivity and perception. 

Another feature of Mantlo's writing here is the gradual exposition of the Micronaut's back story. The origin is revealed over the course of several issues, here Princess Mari (Marionette) learns some of that background from Rann's android friend Biotron (with whom Rann shares a mental link). One interesting feature of the Micro's tale is the depiction of Homeworld as a chain molecule. 
Martinex1: I love that molecular detail.  In later chapters we find that each world has a different climate, nature, or theme.  It was a very creative touch.
Redartz::This tale has just about everything: some humorous bits. The climactic scene of Steve putting Man-Thing through the swamp buggy could have come from an old issue of "Mad", when it still had that EC edginess. Of course there's plenty of drama and character development, and a generous helping of horror. That scene (shown above) of Bug trapped beneath Man-Thing's hand, burning alive with fear, is grimly chilling. Then there's that perfectly ominous final panel of Baron Karza emerging to Earth from the Promethius Pit; much stated in that single frame.

Martinex1: For those that don't know the Micronauts' lore, part of the story took place on their molecular homewold(s) and other sections occurred on Earth as the heroes traversed through a breach in the spacewall.  On Earth, the Micronauts were always about 6 inches tall.  In an early issue when they first arrived on our planet, the team marveled at a playground swing set.   They were trying to figure out what the structure was and they supposed it was perhaps a religious monument.  It was touches like that - their bewilderment of Earth - that expanded the entertainment for me.

The Artwork: 

Redartz: What is there to say? Michael Golden is phenomenal, and Joe Rubinstein's a premier inker. They make a very attractive, effective team here. 
Golden really shines at facial expressions, as seen in the panels above with Ray and Steve Coffin. With so much going on in this issue, it would be easy for things to get muddled; but Golden keeps the story moving with clear design and intricate (but not too-detailed) rendering. And speaking of rendering, Golden's depiction of the Man-Thing strikes me as very reminiscent of Mike Ploog's. And that is definitely a good thing. 

One minor negative, artwise: the art does suffer a bit from muddy printing. It may just be my copy, but some of the linework tends to get a bit lost. I'd love to see the original artwork from this book...
Martinex1: As would I.  When Michael Golden's work appeared in the first two issues of Marvel Fanfare, it was so apparent how a better printing process benefitted his details and lines. 

The Good:
Redartz: The artwork From the Microverse to the Everglades, each scene is unique and finely rendered. 
Martinex1: Also I think Mantlo must have enjoyed working on this title, because I feel that his characterizations and plots here were among his best.

The Bad: 
Redartz: Nothing really bad, but one little note: In the scene, shown above, where Marionette emotes concern over Bug's fiery fate, Commander Rann gets pretty wordy about his parent's background. It would seem more appropriate for a simple 'Holy Mackeral' as they rush to Bug's rather urgent need.
Martinex1:  Hah!  I agree, but that is also conversely what I so loved about the Bronze Age!

The Ugly:
Redartz: Once again, that panel of a burning Bug. It got to me the first time I read this, and it still creeps me out.
Martinex1: I have nothing here. 

Redartz: To sum up, a very good, solid Bronze age tale, well told and well illustrated. I would note that it might have been somewhat tough for someone starting the book with this issue, as so much is taking place and there's not much time for rehashing. But I'd recommend this comic, and indeed this title, to anyone. One of the Bronze Age's finest 'B' series. 
Martinex1: I think you already know where I stand, but to your point I would recommend that if you read this title that you start with issue #1 and definitely take in the first twelve issues.  That first year is really spectacular and tells an epic story.  It is too bad that this series does not get collected.  Later issues are great too as Pat Broderick takes on the art chores.  All in all, it was a great read with fantastic art.  I am anxious to hear what our frequent commentators have to say.  Cheers all!


Humanbelly said...

FanTASTIC review, fellows!

I must confess that I only hung with MICRONAUTS through the first four issues-- it was a matter of not having the fluid capital to buy EVERYTHING I liked at the time. And. . . I may be one of the few fans who's never been an outright fan of Bill Mantlo's writing. Although my qualms tend to be nit-picky in nature, tbh--- I felt like he was trying maybe 5% too hard to be clever a lot of the time (examples: "Diminutive" names for some of the M-nauts, even though they wouldn't have been "little" in their home universe; acronyms like "H.E.L.L.", etc.-- these annoyed adolescent HB no end).

But man, this cover! This is an issue I've ALWAYS regretted not picking up--- for the cover alone! One of the most effective house-ads ever, I think.

And--quick question-- does anyone remember if this book was supposed to accompany a pre-arranged line of toys? That rings a bell. And man, it couldn't be more clearly conceived as such. Oddly enough, I don't remember any toys at all-- just the book. Hunh-- sorta like SECRET WARS 1. . .


Martinex1 said...

HB it is definitely a toy related book. Micronauts was a Mego toy line that ran from about 1976 to 1980 and they licensed the characters and concept to Marvel and Mantlo jumped on it. Some characters were Marvel originals and are still owned by Marvel to this day (Commander Rann, Marionette, Bug). Others are owned by the toy company (Biotron, Microtron, Acroyear, etc) and those have moved to other companies for publication under the Micronauts brand.

Originally the book was a bit of a Star Wars knockoff with a princess on a threatened Homeworld and a villain in Baron Karza that was much like Darth Vader. But after a few issues it really evolved into its own concept with a rather complex backstory.

Mego insisted that some amount of stories occur on Earth (inspiring kids to play with little action figures). I have read that Mantlo and other creators did not like that part and tried to move the story more to the Microverse. For me, the crossover of worlds helped. Issues 24 through 27 with SHIELD and HYDRA involved are some of the best books of the era in my opinion.

Killraven said...

That was a great review guys!
Micronauts was a mag I bought from issue #1 thru about 20 or so, when I stopped collecting. I liked it's seclusion from the rest of Mrveldom, I was drawn to that aspect. But the occasional glimpse of that "other world" was also a treat.

Man-Thing seems like a natural for Golden's style, as evidenced by that awesome cover and splash page.
There's also a panel in that story that has Microtron watching Star Trek on the tube. Love it!

Good job I love these story reviews!

Edo Bosnar said...

Yep, have to join everyone else in heaping on the praise for this review. You both really hit on all of the reasons why this issue was so good and why the Micronauts in general was such a great series, especially that epic first story arc.
I started reading it as of the third or fourth issue and was immediately hooked despite missing the first bit. What Red said about the amount of story packed into this issue applies across the board - every single one was like that. I remember when I finally got around to reading the first issue, I was amazed at how Mantlo was able to introduce the characters, setting and main plot points for the ongoing arc, all in an action-packed, 20-page story. Amazing.
And Golden's art here is pure magic. The series really took a hit when he left, and while Broderick, who eventually became the regular artist, did a bang-up job, nothing hit the heights of that original 12-issue arc. (And as an aside, I agree that Golden's rendering of Man-Thing is also perfect. Would've been great if he'd done the art on an extended run of the shambling swamp monster's stories).
I think another big part of what made it such a great series was the little character moments and bits of humor you mentioned; one I thought was really cute - which was in this issue, I think - is when the Micronauts are talking about Steve's pet dog, and Acroyear says something like, "I believed he said it was called it a muffin" (which is, of course, the dog's name).

HB, just to add to what Martinex said, the Micronauts were indeed a toy line; I had a few of them (of which only one, Space Glider, basically the template for Commander Rann, sticks in my memory). They were about the same size as the Star Wars figures, but much cooler because you could bend their knees, elbows and wrists. I also had a few Star Wars figures at the time, and did some great crossover stories while playing with them.

Mike Wilson said...

I was never into Micronauts or Man-Thing comics. I had a couple of Micronauts toys: I had the Acroyear figure and the Star Defender. I still have the base (the white part at the bottom with the wheels) but the zillion accessories are long gone.

dbutler16 said...

I agree that Mantlo must have enjoyed writing this (as well as Rom) because he brought his A game. Is he the king of licensed properties, or is Roy Thomas?
And Michael Golden's art is another great strength of this issue, and this series.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

This was past my comic prime, and I've only read a few of the comics and that was in the past months (thanks Red!). The concept sounds fascinating, especially with the high praise you fellows have.

I'll have to get my hands on a TBP and read it from the beginning!


Martinex1 said...

CH47 Unfortunately I don’t know of any TBPs. Because it was licensed property, and it was mixed with Marvel properties, I am not sure it was able to be reprinted ever. I would like to see that happen - unless somebody knows otherwise any collection is in limbo. Floppies are really quite reasonable though.

Redartz said...

Many thanks for the comments and kind words, folks!

HB- interesting that you mentioned the house ad for this issue. That ad was everywhere that month, and had I not already been buying Micronauts, I'd have picked it up for that cover based upon that ad...

Marti- good observation about the character progression in the book. I thought, upon first viewing the title, that Karza was uncomfortably similar to Vader. But as you noted, Mantlo fleshed things out impressively.

Killraven- yes, Microtron's viewing habits were a nice source of humor. Lots of rewarding little touches like that one in this series...

Edo- Broderick's work on the title was enjoyable, and pleasing to the eyes. But I also found the Golden run to be the high point artistically.

Charlie- like Marti said, the actual back issues are pretty inexpensive. You can often find many of them in those dollar boxes at the flea market. I'm working on assembling the series in just that manner; haven't spent more than a dollar on any issue yet...

Humanbelly said...

Even on Ebay you can get the whole run + a couple of annuals for $100 or less. . .
Tempting. . . and Christmas is coming!


Edo Bosnar said...

On the topic of collected editions, back in the '00s, I recall seeing some people mention on certain comics blogs or forums that there had been a paperback collection of the first story arc of Micronauts published in the late 1980s - but that any extant copies were really hard to find and insanely expensive to boot. However, I've never seen this book listed by any of the online comics dealers, or on eBay or anywhere else. Seems like an internet urban legend.
Another option for getting that first story arc, i.e., the first 12 issues, is the special editions from 1984. They're collected in 5 issues, printed on nicer paper with wraparound covers and no ads. That's what I have currently; I bought them from about 10 or so years ago, and paid either a $1 or $1.50 per issue.

Anthony said...

What a wonderful review guys! Terrific work, heartfelt and really digging into the method and mythos :) Sorry ImIso late to the party :(

Bill Mantlo's clearly had a talent for world building around licensed properties. His work here and in Rom, as others have mentioned, really was top notch. The characters' voices rang true, and their relationships were strong. The Man Thing is a perfect choice for a halloween review! His enigmatic silence was fertile ground. I believe a recent take on his character has him speaking, but I personally prefer the scary silent type!

Martinex you mentioned Pat Broderick's later run on this title. I definitely recommend that period, including the 'Odd John' storyline in issues #20-21. A creepy mutation plotline would make a another good Halloween choice!

I saw the house ad that others mentioned but I couldn't find Micronauts comics anywhere until issue #28. I first read their adventures as reprint material in Star Wars Weekly (UK) a treasure trove of sci-fi material.

Thanks again taking the time to review this terrific title!

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