Thursday, May 15, 2008

A LOOK BACK: The Micronauts

Like many comic-book fans, in my teens I reached a crossroads when I wasn’t sure whether I still wanted to read comics. During the summer of 1978, right before my junior year of high school, my family moved to California from the East Coast. While I had discovered my first comic-book store, and there were still a few comics I enjoyed (most notably the Warren reprints of Will Eisner’s Spirit), there weren’t really that many new titles that excited me. (This was the ‘70s after all!)

After being uprooted from New York City where I was raised, my family settled down in Northern California. I was still adjusting to the move and had not yet found a groove or made many new friends yet. I lived close enough to the high school to walk every day and noticed that another student who was also new to the neighborhood had the same “commute” as me and lived just one block away. We eventually struck up a conversation and during one of our first chats, out of the blue he asked, “Do you read comics?”

As soon as we discovered this common interest, he invited me over to his house one day after school so that he could show me his impressive comic-book collection. One of the first comics he pulled out to show me that he said he enjoyed was Micronauts #1. That one comic-book re-ignited my enthusiasm for comics and I again became a true believer.

What drew me in was that writer Bill Mantlo and artist Michael Golden did such a terrific job of taking a toy line (one I was only familiar with through the commercials) and building an engrossing backstory and rich mythos around it.

The story took place in the Microverse, a microscopic dimension in which worlds seem to exist as molecule strands. Baron Karza (yet another Darth Vader knock-off from the era) has assassinated and murdered the royal family of Homeworld, the main planet of the Microverse. Meanwhile, the hero, Commander Arcturus Rann, a Micronaut and the last surviving member of the royal family, has been in suspended animation exploring the Microverse and is due to return from his mission. Karza awaits Rann’s return to complete his takeover of the Microverse. Of course, Rann, with the help of some freedom fighters—the Micronauts—escapes and an epic battle across the Microverse between Rann and Karza begins. The course of the war takes them into another dimensions including, of course, present-day earth.

In my view, what raised this science fantasy tale above the usual was Golden’s art and the exciting yet credible way the Micronauts were inserted into our “real” world. For this crossover, via an astral plane, the Micronauts find themselves crashlanded in Florida, with Karza’s genetically-engineered army in hot pursuit. There they come into contact with a troubled young boy and his pet dog, a cocker spaniel, who in the best Steven Spielberg tradition finds the tiny Micronauts and helps them—after, of course, thinking they are toys.

One of the most exciting sequences for me occurred in issue 3, when the Micronauts get involved in a major space battle over the Daytona 500 race track during a car race! After paying his dues for a few years, this series became artist Michael Golden’s coming out party, and Golden does a credible job of convincingly portraying the Florida environment and contrasting the mundane everyday world with the tiny Micronaut invaders who suddenly intrude into our world.

The first 12 issues of the series essentially completed the introductory story arc and the series continued until 1984. (The series periodically has resurfaced over the years in new series.) Though I continued the series for many issues beyond that initial 12-issue arc (the notoriously slow Golden left the series at that point), the series seemed to focus more on the science and space opera elements, and moved away from the elements that initially drew me in, particularly in intersecting the series with our own world—instead, the popularity of the Micronauts soon doomed them to the inevitable crossovers with other Marvel universe characters like the Fantastic Four, so I eventually lost interest. But those initial issues really grabbed me and remain close to my heart today.

Credits: Thanks to the Micronauts Wikipedia entry and the Micronauts Home Page for refreshing me on the history and background of the series.

1 comment:

benton jew said...

Agreed. Micronauts was great for that first year. Golden's work was unusual for the time, but it was clear that he could draw and tell a story. He only got better from there on.