Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Micronauts, Part 4

By the end of the 6th issue of The Micronauts, there was a ton of stuff going on. Good guy human Ray Coffin & bad guy human Phil Prometheus has fallen into the Prometheus Pit, transporting them to the microverse. But Ray had been grabbed by the enigmatic Time Traveler, while Phil goes nuts from the experience and is found by Baron Karza's forces.

The other major event in the Microverse happens when Prince Argon, who has been turned into a centaur as a part of Karza's genetic experiments, is rescued by the resistance.

And that's just in the Microverse. Back on Earth, Ray's son Steve and the Micronauts are hiding out in a cabin in the Everglades, trying to figure out their next move and make repairs on their ship.

That brings us to Micronauts #7 (July 1979), which places the series firmly in the mainstream Marvel Universe and continues to throw more back story and exposition at us.

I continue to be impressed with writer Bill Mantlo's skill at weaving in all this information amidst the action, keeping the necessary exposition interesting and never allowing it to slow the story down. I am tending to repeat myself with each installment of my Micronauts reviews, but it must be said again: Of  the various merchandise-based comic series that Marvel produced in the 1970s and 1980s, this series arguably gives us the most sophisticated and well-constructed world-building.

Also, my summary will not attempt to jump back and forth between the various plot lines, as the actual comic expertly does. Instead, I'll once again talk about each separately.

We get more back story about Rann and Biotron's 1000-year space journey. Events during that journey left them telepathically linked and gave Biotron human emotions. (Though Microbot also seems to have emotions, so go figure.)

Argon and the lady resistance leader named Slug contact a resistance cell and discover that Karza's Shadow Priests have been secretly working against the dictator. By the time we get to Micronauts #8, Argon is equipped with armor and ready to lead the resistance against Karza. That the Resistance had centaur-compatible armor available seems a bit odd, but artist Michael Golden makes it look cool.

Back on Earth, Steve and the Micronauts are attacked by Man-Thing, who reacts to the despair Steve is feeling over the supposed death of his dad. Steve, though, pulls himself together and shreds Man-Thing apart with the fan of a swamp buggy. Man-Thing can't be permanently killed this way, of course, but it at least gets the good guys out of a bad situation.

Jumping back in the Microverse, Karza realized he can get to Earth via the Prometheus Pit. By swapping his molecular structure with the insane Phil Prometheus, he'll be regular human-sized when he gets to our world. In the meantime, the Time Traveller gives Ray Coffin power and turns him into Captain Universe, giving him the task of saving the Earth from Karza.

Ray has a neat little character arc built into his transformation. He thinks of himself as an over-the-hill ex-astronaut and doesn't want to be a hero at all. But his world and (more importantly to him) his son are in danger, so he'll do what he has to do.

Karza arrives on Earth as a full-sized human and starts blasting stuff, delighted to have another world to conquer. Karza, by the way, was briefly seen a few issues ago with a centaur body. Now he has a completely human body again. I may have missed a reference to this, but his body-swapping doesn't seem to be explained. This might be a detail that Mantlo simply failed to explain properly--a minor point when compared to his otherwise meticulous plot construction.  His original toy could be combined with his steed Andromeda to form a centaur, so I suppose that (unlike the altered Argon), the centaur body is armor of some sort. There's a Micronauts wiki (because of course there is), but that only gives us one short paragraph about comic book Karza.

Karza curb-stomps the army. When the Micronauts show up, he begins curb-stomping them as well. Then Captain Universe appears and goes mano-a-mano with Karza. The dialogue during the fight makes a point of letting us know that Karza's power comes from usurping it from others, while Captain Universe is using powers freely given to him--this gives the hero a bit of an edge.

Rann, in the meantime, is sick of fighting defensively and comes up with a more proactive plan. The Micronauts will use the Prometheus Pit to return to their own universe. If Karza follows, he'll have to return to his regular size. If he stays on Earth, the Micronauts will seal the Pit behind them and trap him there.  I guess they are counting on Captain Universe winning the fight--otherwise, they are leaving Earth with a bit of a mess to clean up.

Karza guesses their plans and does indeed swap his molecular structure back with Phil Prometheus. That leaves an unconscious Prometheus back on Earth and all the main characters back in the Microverse. Ray loses his Captain Universe powers when they are no longer needed and he and Steve reconnect as father and son.

I'm still loving my first visit to this very first Micronauts story arc. Marvel had a lot of success of taking merchandise-driven titles and building strong characters and stories within them. G.I. Joe and Transformers (though both excellent titles) were often hurt a little by the necessity of adding more and more characters as the toy lines grew. Micronauts, ironically, probably benefited from the fact that the toy line never caught on to the same degree. It meant that Mantlo could concentrate on developing his original characters and perhaps have more freedom in building an interesting back story for them.

Next week: Turok and Andar usually hunt dinosaurs, but they suddenly have a chance to once again hunt buffalo.

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