The Micronauts originated as a line of action figures from Mego, actually a rebranding of Japan's Microman series of toys, which lasted from 1976 to 1980 (after that, it spawned New Microman and then Microchange; many of the Microchange toys became part of the initial Transformers range (specifically the ones that turned into objects, like Megatron (a gun) and Soundwave (a cassette player); many of the Minibots were also from this line). Microman was revived in Japan in 1999, then again in 2003 (the 2003 series has been aimed towards collectors rather than kids). The toys were popular, but the Marvel Comics comic book series based on them, written by Bill Mantlo, outlasted the toyline by many years. The original series lasted for 59 regular issues (January, 1979- August, 1984), plus 2 annuals. They had a mini-series crossover with the X-Men which lasted for 4 issues (January-April, 1984). Then their title was relaunched as Micronauts: The New Voyages, lasting for 20 issues (October, 1984-May, 1986).
The comic told the story of the Micronauts, part of a resistance force that opposed an evil empire in a Subatomic Universe. Team members included Commander Arcturus Rann, the leader; Marionnette, his lover; the insect-like warrior Bug; the hulking warrior Acroyear; and the robots Biotron and Microtron. They are later joined by the shape-shifter Huntarr.
The series begins with the Micronauts (and their enemy, Baron Karza) accidentally transported to Earth (where they are only as big as action figures) where a young boy is involved in their battle. However the characters soon returned to the Microverse and stayed there for most of the series, as the writer developed its impressive backstory. Eventually they kill Karza (twice) but suffer devastating loses in the process, and some team members died.
Marvel no longer owns the license to the Micronauts, but can still use all elements of the comic series that they invented themselves. That is, Arcturus Rann can still appear, as long as he doesn't call himself Space Glider or wear his Space Glider uniform; Bug can still appear as long as he doesn't call himself Galactic Warrior, etc. Bug is an interesting case, since he bears so little resemblance to his toy that Marvel can apparently use him with complete impunity. Marionette (Princess Mari) is a completely original character created by Bill Mantlo for the comic book series. (Hasbro might own some rights, given how their Mega Crossover comic seen at NYCC 2011, called Unit: E had them in there, as central characters; Hasbro still has a close working relationship with Takara, having Takara distribute their products like Nerf and Jenga in Japan, outside of their collaboration with Transformers)
Probably the series' most lasting impact on the wider Marvel Universe was the introduction (or at least the naming) of the Microverse, an Alternate Dimension that one enters if shrunk down past subatomic size. It was eventually established that the Microverse is a complete separate universe, and does not literally exist within some particular single atom somewhere; but shrinking down is the standard means of crossing into it. In the Marvel Universe in general, anyone who shrinks below a certain limit (apparantly somewhere between cellular size and molecular size) shifts into a "microverse" - the theory is that a shrinking person is actually displacing their mass extradimensionally, and when 99.99999999999999% is over there, the rest (and consciousness) follows. Among the notable inhabitants of microverses are Fantastic Four enemy Psycho Man, Jarella (a lover of the Hulk for a while), and the Micronauts. To be fair, Stan and Jack and even Harlan Ellison (creator of the above-mentioned Jarella) had done "subatomic world" stories years ago, but The Micronauts finally named the place, and standardized the rules for how it worked.
Additionally, the Micronauts are closely connected to Captain Universe: The Uni-Power which bonds with hosts in the Macroverse (the main Marvel universe) is actually a facet of the Enigma Force, and the Engima Force itself essentially is the Microverse. One of the primary functions of the Uni-Power is to maintain the Spacewall (the physical barrier between the Microverse and the Macroverse, and with it imprison a malevolent force of Eldritch Abominations called the Whirldemons that threaten the inhabitants of both).
The team was last seen doing cameos in a couple of Marvel comics under the new alias of "The Microns". Bug has also been a sometime member of the new Guardians of the Galaxy.
But in 2015, first IDW Publishing announced comic book reboots of this series and Rom Spaceknight (as Hasbro still owns partial rights to both of them), and in December it was announced Hasbro and Paramount Pictures would create a new Hasbro movie-verse with the GI Joe movies as the starting point, with reimagined versions of this series as well as ROM, the Visionaries and M.A.S.K.. 2016 saw IDW take a similar route with most of their Hasbro titles, with a new Shared Universe being established by an event called Revolution. For tropes relating to the IDW reboot, see Micronauts (IDW). For the anime series based on the Japanese Microman toys, see Chiisana Kyojin Microman.
The comic book series provides examples of:
- 24-Hour Armor: Acroyear, according to his people's custom, removes his armour only for reproductive purposes. Fortunately, their highly advanced armours are closer to Mini-Mecha.
- Action Girl: Marionette
- Adaptation Distillation: The toy line initially had no associated plot. When Mantlo gave his son a set as a Christmas present, he was inspired to create a story to go with them, and convinced Jim Shooter to get the license.
- Alternate Universe
- Big Bad: Baron Karza
- Body Horror: Karza's Body Banks, where innocent people's organs and limbs are stolen and stored to use as transplants for society's elites, granting them immortality. This was Mantlo's take on the toyline's interchangeable parts feature.
- When Mari was young and still living as a naïve princess, she was horrified to learn that the wonderful new legs she received after an accident were forcibly taken from one of her best friends, the court dancer, leaving the young woman maimed and unable to ever dance again.
- Brass Balls: The Micronaut once stated that it has literal brass balls.
- Captain Ersatz: Baron Zebek for Baron Karza.
- Cerebus Syndrome: As with ROM: Space Knight, the series took a much darker tone later on.
- Comic-Book Limbo: This is where the Micronauts spend 99.99% of their time.
- Constructed World: An impressive combination of Science Fiction and Fantasy; like Star Wars, only more so.
- Continuity Snarl: In relating a deed from his past that has come back to haunt him, Rann claims to have visited Jarella's world K'ai prior to his 1,000 year voyage through the Microverse. K'ai was originally in a separate microverse from the one occupied by Rann and his people. His visitation would have predated the merging of the microverses, which is a fairly recent event. Since this merging occurred in an unpublished story, one can pretend that there was always ever only one microverse and that these were simply different regions. However, the backup article in the trade paperback for Realm of Kings: Enigma Force clearly states that the different microverses were merged recently due to Thanos' battle with a certain Homeworld despot.
- Crossover: Many, but the ones with the Man-Thing and X-Men are probably the most memorable.
- Cypher Language: Invented by Michael Golden, who put a huge amount of energy into World Building this series, the Homeworld alphabet was based on Devanagari and had a mostly one-to-one English correspondence. It was considered beautiful and fascinating by many fans.
- Darth Vader Clone: Baron Karza.
- Doomed Hometown
- Empathic Weapon: The Sword in the Star (part of the Microverse's mythology involving Wayfinder)
- Emperor Scientist: Karza, who was originally Homeworld's Chief Scientist.
- Energy Beings: The Time Travelers.
- Great Offscreen War: Whatever it was that occurred to merge all of the microverses into one. Rumor has it that it's from a story that was completed but cannot be published due to licensing restrictions.
- Heroic Sacrifice: In the Grand Finale of Micronauts: The New Voyages, The Micronauts all sacrifice themselves so that their destroyed Homeworld may be reborn anew. The later cameos of Rann, Bug, and Mari contradict this or just don't bother to explain why they are still around..
- Earlier, Microtron and Nanotron sacrifice their lives, and Arcturus sacrifices part of his unnatural youth, to resurrect Biotron as Bioship.
- Human Popsicle: Arcturus on his thousand-year voyage
- Humongous Mecha: Bioship
- Incredible Shrinking Man
- Insistent Terminology: Since he becomes absolute ruler of the Microverse, Baron Karza should probably be Emperor Karza. "Baron" is actually the lowest rung on the aristocratic ladder. Mantlo probably knew this but was following the wishes of the licensor Mego.
- Interspecies Romance: Bug is very much a ladies' man, regardless of species.
- La Résistance
- Life Drinker: Of a sort, via the Body Banks. It's kept Karza alive for a thousand years.
- Living Ship: Bioship
- A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far Far Away...
- Mooks: The Psycho-Man's Antrons, among others.
- Mouse World
- Mythology Gag: Might be unintentional, but Acroyear's name was used in Microman, as the name of the enemy faction who the Micromen fought against.
- Nice Hat: Acroyear's helmet. Bug's helmet is just as iconic, if not quite as cool. Arcturus starts out with a helmet too, but he eventually stops wearing it.
- Physical God: The Time Traveller(s) are pretty much this.
- Proud Warrior Race: The Acroyears
- Pyrrhic Victory: Karza is defeated but Homeworld is destroyed.
- Remember the New Guy?: In Realm of Kings: Son of Hulk, a wacky robot named "Carl" is hanging out with Rann and Mari.
- Robot Buddy: Biotron and Microtron
- Russian Doll World: The Marvel Universe's Trope Codifier.
- Sapient Ship: Biotron was at one point rebuilt into a Living Ship-slash-Humongous Mecha called Bioship. Bioship was a cyborg, utilizing Organic Technology in his workings.
- Shout-Out: The story featuring Man-Thing is named "Adventure into Fear", after the magazine where he made most of his early appearances before getting his own book.
- Space Opera
- For issues 1-58 (Mantlo's tenure), the format was clearly inspired by Star Wars.
- In the immediate follow-up series, Micronauts: The New Voyages (written by Peter B. Gillis), the mood shifted and more closely resembled 2001: A Space Odyssey. Due to the absence of a villain character, the stories became more cerebral, focusing on introspection, metaphysics and cosmic themes.
- Split Personality: The main villain of X-Men vs. The Micronauts was the dark side of Professor Xavier.
- Superheroes in Space: The series is set in the alternate dimension, the Microverse.
- Superpowered Evil Side: The Big Bad of the X-Men vs. The Micronauts was the dark side of Professor X.
- Turbine Blender: Attracted by Steve's courage, Man-Thing's threat to the cast ends when he steps in the blades of a swamp buggy and his muck-encrusted form splatters around the swamp.
- Transhuman Aliens: The many races of Marvel Comics' Microverse are all descended from a future humanity which fled through time, space and dimensions to escape a genocidal war.
- Unexplained Recovery: The original series ended with all our heroes making a Heroic Sacrifice to revive Homeworld, no doubt written with the idea that once the license expired, Marvel would never be able to use the characters again anyway. When it became clear they could legally revisit the characters and their world, then everybody was just... back. We still don't know exactly how.
- World Shapes: The planets in the Microverse resemble molecules.
- Writing Around Trademarks: "We're the Microns."
The toy line provides examples of:
- Chrome Champion: All of the "human" figures still had shiny metal faces.
- When the toyline was briefly revived by Palisades in the mid-2000's, a special edition of the original Space Glider figure was produced, colored to match his comic book counterpart — with a blue jumpsuit and yellow stripes, and a flesh-colored head with brown hair.
- Easily Detachable Robot Parts: The toys' main selling point was their modular parts. It was "The interchangeable world of the Micronauts!"
- Mechanical Monster: Ampzilla, the Hornetroid, the Terraphant, and others.
- Palette Swap: Baron Karza is pretty blatantly Kotetsu Jeeg, except black and red and with a slightly different head. The comic design is somewhat different, but the toy is for all intents and purposes a repainted Jeeg, down to the magnetic joint-based Detachment Combat and a centaur mode.
- Spiritual Successor: In the form of Revell's Robolinks, which was an export of Japan's Blockman toyline. Like the Microman toyline that Micronauts is based off of, Blockman was also produced by Takara.
- Parts of the toyline were revived both by Mego and other companies for years. There was the Interchangeables, just a Palette Swap of the original toys. There were the Lords of Light, which included reissues of several of the Micronauts' "Aliens" subline of figures, with the gimmick that you could put a glowing lightstick in their chests. And several of the Micronauts' vehicles wound up recolored for Mego's Pocket Super Heroes line. And, as mentioned above, Palisades briefly brought the original line back in the mid 2000's. It should be noted that the original Japanese Microman toyline on which all of this (and many of the original Transformers as well) is based is still going strong in Japan.