Rom The Space Knight was an action figure sold in 1979 by the toy company Parker Brothers. While the toy itself soon faded into obscurity, its comic book tie-in series, put out by Marvel Comics, lasted until 1986. It had a small but loyal following, mostly due to the writing of Bill Mantlo, who excelled in creating epic science fiction and fantasy sagas, and used his comics to expand the corners of the Marvel Universe (Another example of this can be seen in Mantlo's Micronauts series, also a toy adaptation.)
Not to be confused with Tekkaman the Space Knight (which in turn should not be confused with Tekkaman Blade), or with Read-Only Memory. Neither should it be confused with Rom Stol, the main character from the anime series, Machine Robo which in itself was based on a toyline. Or the singular form of Roma.
The events in the comics began 200 years ago on Galador, a planet in the "Golden Galaxy" whose population was (apparently) perfectly human (no explanation was given for this.) When the Galadorians find out that they are about to be invaded by the evil, shapeshifting "Dire Wraiths", they worry because they have no space fleet to defend themselves with. The Galadorian scientists instead invent cyborg "armors" that could be used to give a person the powers to fight in space on their own. Galador's "Prime Director" asks for volunteers to be transformed, promising that their "humanities" (the parts of their bodies removed to fit in the armors) would be preserved and restored to them after the Wraiths' defeat. The first to volunteer was a young man named Rom; his example inspired a total of 2000 other Galadorians into becoming Spaceknights. Rom was given Galador's greatest weapon, The Neutralizer, which had the power to banish Dire Wraiths to the dimension of Limbo without killing them (the other knights had other weapons.) He also possessed The Analyzer, a device that could make a Wraith's true form visible.
The Spaceknights repelled the Wraith fleet, but Rom pursued it to their home planet, "Wraithworld", causing them to scatter across the cosmos and infiltrate other planets. Feeling responsible, Rom swore he would not reclaim his humanity until all Wraiths in the universe had been defeated. The rest of the Spaceknights again vowed the same.
200 years later, following the Wraiths' trail, Rom arrived on Earth, in the tiny town of Clairton, West Virginia. The town had been infiltrated years before by the Wraiths. Unfortunately, Rom's banishing of the disguised Wraiths caused it to look like he was disintegrating innocent people; his robot appearance didn't help things. He was however befriended by a local girl called Brandy, who helped him hide himself and find the Wraiths. Eventually her boyfriend Steve also got into the act, though a triangle started forming when Brandy began to develop feelings for the noble hero.
Eventually all the Wraiths in Clairton were banished, and the rest of the townsfolk were let in on the secret; Clairton became Rom's base now, from which he hunted Wraiths elsewhere. A female Spaceknight, Starshine, arrived later (it turns out she, too, was in love with Rom) but soon got killed. A Wraith sorcerer then magically transplanted Starshine's armor on Brandy, to grant her secret wish of fighting beside Rom (for the Wraith's own purposes of course.) When a minor superhero named The Torpedo (whose power-giving costume, it turned out, had been created by Wraiths) moved into Clairton, Rom felt it was safe to leave the town in his hands, and started traveling around Earth alongside Brandy (the new Starshine), looking for more Wraiths.
In Rom #50, in what may be a case of Creator Breakdown (something similar happened on Micronauts) the series took a darker turn. The female Dire Wraiths, blaming the males for their failures, killed them and took over the operation to conquer Earth (don't ask how they intended to reproduce later.) These new Wraiths were hideous, and had the ability to literally suck the brains out of people, allowing them to gain their memories. They decided to go public with their invasion, beginning by massacring everyone in Clairton, including Steve and the Torpedo. On the plus side, when these Wraiths decided to openly attack SHIELD on their helicarrier base itself, the various Earth governments finally realized the threat and threw all their support behind Rom as field leader to defeat the menace.
Soon after, Brandy was once again turned human, and the Wraiths magically summoned Wraithworld into Earth's solar system, to power up their evil magics. This proved a mistake when Rom, using a device built by Forge of the X-Men that boosted the Neutralizer, was able to banish Wraithworld itself into Limbo, thus robbing all Wraiths in the universe of their powers. His enemies finally defeated, Rom decided to return to Galador, leaving Brandy behind (since he believed his "humanity" had been destroyed in an earlier story). However, Brandy ran into the cosmically-powerful Beyonder during the events of the second Secret Wars Crisis Crossover, and asked him to send her to Galador. He did- but she arrived before Rom did, only to find out that a second Generation of Spaceknights, created to protect the planet in the originals' absence, believed themselves superior to normal humans and had killed nearly the planet's entire population! Brandy managed to avoid them long enough to be saved by Rom and the first Spaceknights, but all normal Galadorians were killed, and all the Spaceknights' humanities were destroyed as well. Only Rom's, which it turns out had been hidden, not destroyed, had survived. Rom returned to human form, and stayed with Brandy on Galador to repopulate the planet, protected from space by the good Spaceknights.
Marvel no longer has the rights to Rom himself, but they do own everything else from the series including the Spaceknights (Mantlo pretty much invented everything for the comic) and they occasionally make cameos; for example the (human) Rom, unnamed, and Brandy were at Rick Jones' wedding, and a 2000 miniseries set in the near future featured Rom's sons as Spaceknights. All-New, All-Different Marvel will see Venom join the Spaceknights. Rom himself eventually adopted the name Artour, after King Arthur.
The Wraiths have returned as well, mainly in a New Warriors story arc involving Turbo, The Torpedo's successor and in the first Annihilators mini-series by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.
2015 saw the announcement of a comic reboot of ROM: The Space Knight from Hasbronote partner IDW Publishing, and in December, it was announced that Hasbro and Paramount Pictures are collaborating on a Hasbro movie-verse with the G.I. Joe flicks as the starting point, and will include reimaginations of Rom, as well as the Micronauts, the Visionaries, and M.A.S.K..
2016 saw IDW also take the Shared Universe route, with a new crossover event called Revolution linking many of the Hasbro-based titles into the Hasbro Comic Universe. A Free Comic Book Day issue sets the stage for ROM and Revolution, with the back half being an origin of Action Man. Tropes for the IDW version go here.
This series provides examples of:
- Adam and Eve Plot: The series concludes with Rom and Brandy set to begin to repopulate Galador.
- Anyone Can Die: A good chunk of the side characters die through the series run.
- Always Chaotic Evil: The Wraiths, with one or two exceptions. They self-identify as evil and revel in it.
- Art Evolution: Both played straight and inverted; the quality of the artwork and coloring increased steadily over most of the comic's run, then decreased dramatically near its end.
- Badass Boast: When soldiers use a flamethrower on Rom.Rom: I have flown past the stars human, your pale, pitiful fire cannot harm me!
- Battle Couple: Rom and Starshine◊
- Big Damn Heroes: In issue 65, Rom is saved by every hero on Earth.
- Black Blood
- Body Horror: Although many (certainly Brandy) thought Rom's silver armor looked extremely attractive, Rom himself hated being a cyborg and desperately longed for his humanity. At one point, sick of his endless war against the Dire Wraiths, Rom trades his cyborg body for a clone of his old body. He's happy with the results until he looks into a nearby lake and sees the flesh peeling from his bones.
- Boss Tease: In-Universe, ROM was often compared to the Hulk, at which point ROM would inevitably look off pensively and think to himself that one day, he would have to encounter this creature that men call...The Hulk." This went on for quite a while, until the Hulk was just about to be sent off to the Crossroads (in Incredible Hulk #300) so they had to get to the ROM/Hulk fight quickly, squeezed into half an issue of Hulk. Read more here.
- Canon Foreigner: Every character except Rom was created for the comic book, as the original Rom toy was the only specific character that existed prior to the comic's conception.
- Card Carrying Evil: The Dire Wraiths are not that complex in this regard: they are evil, they know what they do is evil, and they simply don't care. When two of them decided to stop because they fell in love with humans, the Wraiths decide to kill them. They are so evil, Galactus can't consume their planet.
- Cerebus Syndrome: The comic's tone became much darker later on, with the Dire Wraiths being able to kill humans before Rom could save them becoming more common, Brandy becoming ruthless in her obsession with defeating the Dire Wraiths after becoming Starshine II and more attention being drawn to how Rom is tortured by the fact that he's given up his humanity to fight the Dire Wraiths and has seen no end to his mission for over 200 years.
- Covers Always Lie: Issue 34 cover presents Rom being attacked by sea monster under the command of Namor. In reality, those sea monsters were Dire Wraiths and Namor and Rom allied themselves to fight them without any confrontation.
- Cruel Mercy: Rom addressed on several occasions that banishing the Dire Wraiths to Limbo is a more effective punishment for their cruelty than simply executing them, as that way they have to spend eternity being unable to cause further destruction and death.
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Averted, Rom's nobility was apparent even in cyborg form. But he feared it was true.
- Dead-Hand Shot: A lifeless hand is shown amidst the ruins Rom and his fellow Space Knights investigate in the eighth issue during the flashback of Rom recounting how the Dire Wraiths destroyed planet Angelica.
- Death World: The sorcery-based Dark Nebula, described by Rom as a "seething system of negative suns, shadowed planets, and cold, forbidding ice-worlds", but the kicker is the Dire Wraith homeworld of Wraithworld. Orbiting a black sun of sorcerous energies, which can actually split portions of itself off as soul-devouring shadowy dragon-forms called "Deathwings", Wraithworld itself is a barren world of ash-thick skies, rivers of molten metal, and pouring hypercorrosive acid rain. The Dark Nebula is so deadly that when Galactus tried to eat it in issue #27, the Dark Nebula tried to eat Galactus back. It ultimately ended up in a draw.
- Deus ex Machina:
- After Rom gets the help of the various Earth governments, when SHIELD's psychics are starting to be killed by the Dire Wraith's magic cast to stop them, Doctor Strange appears out of the blue to cast a protective spell on them. Though Doctor Strange had become aware of the Wraiths much earlier, so this wasn't entirely out of nowhere, the timing was still extremely convenient.
- The revelation of Rom's humanity being hidden rather than destroyed.
- Doomed Hometown: Clairton, and later, Galador itself.
- Eat Brain for Memories: Female Dire Wraiths can do this by stabbing the victims with their spike-tipped tongues and sucking out their brains.
- Emergency Presidential Address: The "Prime Director" of the Galadorians made a public speech announcing the coming invasion by the DireWraiths and asking for volunteers to be transformed into Spaceknights to counter it. Rom is the first to volunteer, inspiring a total of 2000 people to do so.
- Years later Rom would met the actual President of the United States (Ronald Reagan at the time) and expressly compare him to the Prime Director.
- Emergency Transformation: In the 35th issue, Namor saves Sybil from drowning by using technology to convert her into an Atlantean.
- Empathy Doll Shot: When Rom recounts how the Dire Wraiths razed planet Angelica in the eighth issue, a doll can be seen among the ruins in the accompanying flashback.
- Even Evil Has Standards: How bad are the Dire Wraiths? The Skrulls consider these beings the scum of the universe, hate them even more than the Kree and even aid Earth in attacking a Wraith base. It certainly helps that the Dire Wraiths are, in fact, an offshoot of their own, so there's bad blood between them helping said animosity.
- When Galactus tries to eat the Dark Nebula, the source of Dire Wraith powers, it makes him sick and nearly kills him. That's right, even a cosmic-level being who devours worlds and who survived the Big Bang can't stand the Dire Wraiths.
- Everything in Space Is a Galaxy: Galador is (well, was until Galactus moved it) in a place called the Golden Galaxy, which never seemed to have much of note in it except Galador itself. It is apparently not very far from the Dire Wraiths' home the Dark Nebula, which is itself identified as a "galaxy," despite only being a nebula with a single star in it.
- Face Stealer: The female Dire Wraiths.
- Fantastic Racism:
- The second generation of Spaceknights against normal Galadorians
- Also appears in an issue where the Skrulls, of all the people in the universe, show up to attack the Dire Wraiths because they REALLY don't like them. (They explain that the Dire Wraiths are an offshoot of the Skrulls, who were exiled for practicing magic. Since Skrulls have very precise requirements for their breeding places, they were expected to quickly die out. Instead, they found a way to breed on the Wraith World, but were hideously warped as a result, making this an example of Gone Horribly Wrong as well, on BOTH sides.)
- Fleeting Demographic Rule: Secret Invasion is awfully similar to the Dire Wraiths storyline... (since Dire Wraiths are a deviant offshoot of the Skrulls. However the latter isn't too keen on sharing spoils of war with their distant relatives).
- Flying Brick: All Spaceknights had these powers.
- Fully Absorbed Finale: Serves as one for Nova's first run, as one issue concludes his final arc which started in his own cancelled title and then continued in Fantastic Four.
- Gendercide: The female Wraiths killing off their males.
- Half-Human Hybrid: The appropriately named Hybrid was the son of a reformed Wraith and a human woman.
- He Knows Too Much: Reporter "A.C" Ace connors managed to found evidence of the Dire Wraits in ROM's fight with hero Jack of Hearts. Sadly, her boss was a Dire Wraith, and she is quickly killed off. (Issue 14) Double Subverted, however, when is revealed she was just trapped along Steve Jackson, and did a Heroic Sacrifice to set him free. (Issue 15).
- HeelFace Turn: Not anyone from ROM's cast specifically, but rather a major Marvel character who eventually turned good at least partly because of ROM - Rogue (who was with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants at the time), who kissed ROM to try and steal his powers, and instead absorbed part of his kindness and decency. She was surprised to find that she liked it. By the end of the issue she was questioning which side she was on, and as a result (and her inability to control her powers), she eventually quit the Brotherhood and joined the X-Men. This is one major example of how ROM's presence in the Marvel Universe permanently affected it in a major way. Unfortunately, since Marvel no longer owns the rights to the character, said HFT has since been retconned in various ways to not include the Spaceknight, but her very first one was as a result of him.
- Though their "heel" status was debatable, the Soviet Super-Soldiers, upon learning how the Wraiths had infiltrated and subverted their government, decided their duty and loyalty belonged (to quote Darkstar) "not to the State, but to Russia, and to the Russian people."
- Heroic Sacrifice: In the eleventh issue, Archie Stryker gives his life to disable the force field preventing Rom from reclaiming his neutralizer.
- Honor Before Reason: Rom found himself in such a situation when he had captured a disguised Dire Wraith disguised as a human scientist, but her security staff, unaware of her true nature, had arrived to help her. The Dire Wraith dared him to banish her at the cost that it will appear he killed her and he would likely never be able to convince humanity of the truth. Rom considers this, but since a friend had sacrificed his life to free his main weapon, he cannot have that sacrifice be for nothing. So, he banishes her and prepares to deal with the consequences.
- Happily, her threat turned out to be wrong: Rom is eventually able to convince Humanity's leaders of the truth and they help him.
- Hope Spot: In the eighth issue, Rom is able to detect faint traces of a heartbeat and a pulse in Artie Packer when he appeared to die in the previous issue and informs Steve and Brandy that Artie may live if he is given medical attention quickly enough. The very next issue has it revealed that Artie didn't make it.
- Human Aliens: Galadorians are indistinguishable from humans.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The final fate of Serpentyne, one of Rom's early non-Wraith adversaries.
- Kill and Replace: Later in the comics' run, the Dire Wraiths start killing humans and taking on their forms to take their place.
- Knight in Shining Armor: The Spaceknights epitomized honor, bravery, and selflessness, especially Rom.
- Last of His Kind: Serpentyne is the last surviving member of the Saurians, a race of lizards mutated into humanoid form by atomic testing who dwelt underground before the Dire Wraiths wiped them out. Serpentyne then made it his mission to exterminate all Dire Wraiths, but ended up dying after clashing with Rom.
- Legacy Character: After the death of Starshine, Brandy Clark becomes her successor after gaining her powers and being mystically bonded to Starshine's Space Knight armor by a Dire Wraith warlock named Dr. Dredd. A third Starshine subsequently appeared in the 2000 Spaceknights miniseries.
- Love Dodecahedron: Rom, Starshine, Brandy, Steve and a few others.
- Magic Versus Science: Both between the Dire Wraiths and the Galadorians, and between male and female Wraiths. There are a handful of Wraith warlocks, but otherwise male Wraiths are scientifically oriented and females are magically oriented. Happily, there was never a chance of the two disciplines being combined; the two sexes hated each other to the point of Gendercide.
- Merchandise-Driven: The toy flopped, but Mantlo's comic continued for years. However, the licensing issues from that toyetic origin have dogged the character ever since.
- My Species Doth Protest Too Much: The Dire Wraith who went by the name Jacob Marks just wanted to live a quiet life with his wife and son.
- Phantom Zone: Limbo is an alternate dimension that Rom uses his Neutralizer to banish Dire Wraiths to.
- Robot War: The 68th issue is a standalone story where Rom encounters a civilization in a civil war with its own machinery. Being part man and part machine himself, Rom tries to broker a peace, but neither side will see reason and they end up destroying each other.
- Science Fantasy: The series is both Science Fiction and Fantasy.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: Rom's neutralizer gun was captured by the Dire Wraiths in hopes of finding some means of using it to free all of their fellows that were banished to Limbo with it.
- Spanner in the Works: Henry Peter Gyrich, a noted jackass who's been a thorn in the sides of many superheroes and mutants, briefly attempted to hijack the giant Neutralizer in issue 65 to try and eliminate all superpowered beings. Thankfully, Forge (the mutant inventor who was also manning the device) stopped him before he screwed everyone over.
- Spin-Offspring: The 2000 Spaceknights miniseries stars Rom and Brandy's two sons.
- Stripped to the Bone: The 32nd issue has Hybrid reduce a bunch of convicts who recently tricked Rom into helping them escape to skeletons.
- Subspace or Hyperspace: Rom kept his equipment stored in "subspace".
- Super Breeding Program: Hybrid's plan was to create a new race of Human-Dire Wraith hybrids by forcing the two to breed. He preferred finding superhumans to breed with to create powerful offspring.
- Superheroes in Space: Well, he was initially from space, but spent some time on Earth before going back out again.
- Super Soldier: The Spaceknights and the Galadorian Angel Corps
- That Man Is Dead: After becoming the second Starshine, Brandy Clark declares her original self to be dead several times, especially after seeing her loved ones slain by the Dire Wraiths.
- Time Stands Still: According to the original Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Book of Weapons, Hardware, and Paraphenalia, Rom's armor contains countless little "micro-stasis field generators" and its surface is a "malleable stasis field armor 'skin'," implying that a lot of his armor's indestructibility derives from sections of it being frozen in time.
- Transhuman Treachery: The second generation of Spaceknights came to see them selves as superior beings and massacred Galador's un-enhanced population.
- Translator Microbes: Rom's Translator device enables him to understand any language no matter where he is in the universe.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: The 2000 Spaceknights miniseries.
- Two Girls to a Team: Trapper and Scanner are the only two female members of the Spaceknight Squadron.
- Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: The Dire Wraiths are so evil, their home, the Dark Nebula, proved too horrible for Galactus stomach.
- The Unmasqued World: After the female Dire Wraiths are dumb enough to openly attack SHIELD on their Helicarrier, any doubt from Earth Governments of the alien threat Rom has been claiming is gone. With that in mind, all the resources Rom needs to help stop the menace are placed at his disposal.
- Villainous Breakdown: In the 30th issue, the Metal Master looks on in shock and stammers at his defeat after Rom tells him that his powers couldn't affect a Space Knight due to Space Knights being metal fused with flesh.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: The Wraiths could take on human form for subterfuge and deception. In fact, this was one of the reasons Rom wasn't looked at kindly at first- his analyzer could detect which people were actually Wraiths, but no one else could tell, so when he sent them into Limbo, they didn't see a hero taking out vile monsters from space, they saw him vaporizing normal humans seemingly at random.
- We Come in Peace Shoot to Kill: The Dire Wraiths take maximum advantage of this trope to keep the Terrans hostile to Rom, but it is dramatically abandoned when the Earth governments eventually get all the proof they need that Rom has been telling the truth about the true threat they faced.
- Wham Episode: The 49th and 50th issues are definitely the ones with the most shocking and long-term twists, as the former has Brandy's parents and Steve Jackson killed and impersonated by Dire Wraiths and the latter has the same fate befall Brock Jones/The Torpedo.
- Wizards from Outer Space: The Dire Wraiths are aliens who use magic. Well, the female ones (and a very small number of males), as the majority of the male Wraiths are focused more on science.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit:
- Hybrid's debut had him use his human form to trick the X-Men into thinking that he was an innocent victim and that Rom was a monster about to destroy him.
- The 32nd issue has Mystique pretend to be wounded to lure Rom into a trap.