Every other week, Jason Shayer will highlight an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
Prompted by his son’s latest action figures, the Micronauts (released by Mego Toys in 1976), writer Bill Mantlo lobbied Marvel Comics to chase down the rights for a comic book series based on those toys. When they did, a new problem presented itself: the toys had no existing backstory. So Mantlo went to work and not only created that backstory, but created a universe, or as he would call it, The Microverse, and a grand conflict to plunged these action figures into.
It’s easy to see the immediate similarities with Star Wars (for example, the big bad villain in black or the underdog rag-tag group of rebels with robot companions) and you can’t argue those, but it didn’t take long for Mantlo to put his unique stamp on these characters.
An interesting side note was the apparent fans outcry against artist Michael Golden’s work, criticized for being too simple and cartoonish. Marvel employed several inkers during Golden’s Micronauts run, like Joe Rubinstein and Al Milgrom, who were coached on how to help his art look less cartoony and more Kirby-ish.
Micronauts #8 was one of those comic books that I read over and over again as a kid. Re-reading it now, I felt the same way about it: Wow. They just don’t make comics like this anymore.
Let’s start with the cover. Not bad, not necessarily Michael Golden’s best, but still a great attention grabber. Moving onto the dramatic splash page: Wow. You can’t ask for anything more than that. Explosions everywhere. The story’s title “Earth Wars” is crammed into the corner because there’s so much action packed into the one panel page.
This story is introduced from the point of view of a young boy, Steve Coffin, who discovered the Micronauts as they fled from their Microverse pursued by the forces of the evil Baron Karza. Now, Baron Karza has found a way into our world and maintained his size and powers. Despite the best efforts of the military forces stationed at NASA and the Micronauts, Karza is wining.
Fortunately, the being known as the Time Traveler intercedes and empowers Steve Coffin’s dad with the Uni-Power, transforming him into Captain Universe. Now imagine that you’re reading this as a kid and have magically transported yourself into Steve’s place. You’re caught in the middle of this nightmare confrontation and then suddenly your dad is given cosmic powers! Seriously, could you ask for anything more as a reader? Writer Bill Mantlo did a wonderful job creating that bond between the reader and Steve Coffin, with its seeds going back to Micronauts #2.
A cataclysmic battle ensues between Captain Universe and Baron Karza which climaxes in Karza’s defeat and withdrawal from our world. Ray Coffin, with the Uni-Power returned to the Time Traveler, is reunited with his son while our heroes also return to the Microverse to face a new series of challenges over the next few issues.
Micronauts #8 is a unique self-contained comic book that told a great story tailor-made for its audience and served as a compelling springboard into the next story arc.
Jason Shayer has recently joined the Biff Bam Pop! writing team. He’s been trying his best not to grow up for that last 30 years and comics books are one of the best ways to keep him young at heart. He’s also known as the Marvel 1980s guy and has probably forgotten more than you’d ever want to know about that wonderfully creative era. Check out his blog at: marvel1980s.blogspot.com.