Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Micronauts, Part 3

At the close of The Micronauts #3, the main characters are on Earth and have chased off the bad guys who pursued them from the Microverse, but their ship was badly damaged and one of their number--Bug--was separated from them.

Micronauts #4 (April 1979) continues the saga in a fast-paced, expertly-plotted action tale. Bill Mantlo is one of my favorite writers--I think I've written before that it seems pretty much impossible for him to write something that isn't made of pure fun. Here is one of the best examples I've seen of how good he was at juggling different plot elements and characters over several locations and make sure we always understand what is going on.

The individual action sequences are sometimes drawn out over several pages, but rarely go on too long and mix in important character moments and bits of humor with the action. Often, modern comic books draw stories out far to long to make them fit into a trade paperback. Here, we have a story that could have conceivably been told in one issue, but it is stretched over three issues with good reason--allowing for character growth and action, as well as exposition regarding the complex sociopolitical issues of the Microverse. In a day when multi-issue events have become one of the worst aspects of superhero comics (and one of the things that eventually drove me away from them), it's interesting to run into a case from the "good 'ol days" when writers and editors saw that a multi-issue arc really was the right thing to do.

I won't try to jump back and forth between the various plot threads the way the story does. Instead, I'll just separate them out and discuss each individually.

Back on Homeworld in the Microverse, Baron Karza is still in control. We learn that his ability to give people new bodies (and effective immortality) when needed--the thing that convinced the populace to put him in charge--is mostly available only to the rich. There is still a resistance movement, run by a lady known as Slug, who manages to get captured on purpose and use this as an opportunity to bust out Prince Argon from the dungeons. Argon has been experimented on by Karza and is now a centaur, but the actually helps he and Slug make a getaway. Karza later on appears as a centaur himself, as do his bodyguards, so he was apparently experimenting on Argon in preparation to doing the same thing to himself.

Back on Earth, Ray Coffin has taken his son Steve and the remains of Microverse ships & aliens to NASA. Ray is a former astronaut and wants to show all this to a former colleague named Phil Prometheus. Phil works at the Human Engineering Life Laboratories (H.E.L.L.) which is a bit of foreshadowing that Ray unwisely ignores. Bug has sneaked along in hopes of figuring out a way to obtain or build a ship. The other Micronauts track him there and sneak in as well.

Unfortunately for the Coffins, Phil Prometheus now lives in Crazy Town. He is part cyborg after an accident on a space station, his security guards are robots (so the rest of NASA doesn't know what's going on in his lab), and he's built a dimensional tunnel that connects with the Microverse. He's obsessed with learning more about this other reality and he's willing to experiment on or abuse anyone to get more information.

When the Micronauts are spotted, this leads to a confused battle in which the little guys are fighting the security robot and perplexed NASA guards are fighting everyone. To save his son, Ray pulls Prometheus into the dimensional tunnel. Steve and the Micronauts make a getaway, though they have to disable a number of cop cars to do so.

Steve doesn't know if his dad is dead or trapped in the Microverse, but for the moment he and the Micronauts head for the Everglades to hide out at a fishing cabin his dad has used in the past. Ray Coffin and Prometheus, though, meet different fates after falling into the tunnel. Ray is zapped away by the Time Traveler, the mysterious figure who helped the Micronauts escape to Earth. Prometheus is captured by Karza, who senses he may have found a new co-villain.

It's all great stuff. I continue to be impressed by Bill Mantlo's world-building here--it really is very sophisticated. Michael Golden's art is fun and gives an otherworldly aspect to the story when that is needed.

We'll return to the Micronauts in a few weeks. Next week, we'll jump back to 17th Century France and see what the DC Universe version of the Three Musketeers are up to.

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