In Creating a new series for Marvel Comics: The Micronauts, Comics Journal #40 (June 1978) Mantlo writes:
“The world would be, I decided, inhabitants of a “world within worlds,” as their name suggested. Homeworld, a whirling molecule on a spiralling DNA chain, became the first world in the Microverse that I blessed with life. It was a once-Earthlike world now dominated by a madman and an idea… the idea of immortality. Bearing a gift of eternal life. Baron Karza —Chief Scientist and Overseer of the Body Banks— offered^ for the price of submission, reoonstruction of damaged organs and limbs… immortality, if not in one’s original guise. The Homeworldians acquiesced and, death eradicated for the well-to-do, began to develop their world, razing all the green areas, covering all the seas, until Horoeworld resembled nothing so much as a huge, all-encompassing housing project… with the body banks at its center. Food, air, water — all could be produced synthetically. Lifey if only one obeyed Baron Karza (and why not? He made no unreasonable demands ), was self-perpetuating. The cries of the Scum —the lower-levellers— never reached the fashionable pleasure palaces of the rich… and besides , what good were the lower-levellers save as raw naterial for the Body Banks, organs for use in regeneration? All of Karza’s military exercises were carried out by the subjugated races of other worlds… tht Acroyears, for instance, and the Insectivorids.”
Mantlo goes on to discuss the villainous Karza’s motivation: the royal family (“the conscience off their world”), the shadow priests and the unknown presence that manifests itself “as the Time Traveller”.
Mantlo points out that “In tone it will be more Space Fantasy than Science Fiction”.
Micronauts vol 1 #1
by Bill Mantlo, Michael Golden (layouts) and Joe Rubinstein (finished art and inks)
Explosive cover by Dave Cockrum and Al Milgrom cover showing the Micronauts team escaping the clutches of a gigantic Baron Karza. It’s difficult not to notice the similarities with Star Wars posters and comic covers (cover to Star Wars #4 for instance or cover for Star Wars Weekly #42; Dave Cockrum’s cover for Star Wars Weekly #33 has Luke Skywalker shooting a blaster in a similar pose as Arcturus Rann).
Pages 1-3 (1, 2, 4): Princess Mari and Prince Argon escape through the streets of Homeworld on pursuit by Acroyear air patrol and dog soldiers.
- Chapter 1: Homeworld
- The opening is dramatic: PRINCE ARGON and PRINCESS MARI are on horseback and the dialogue Shakesperian. ACROYEARS are in the sky chasing them. Homeworld has turned on its rulers. Some of the fleeing royals are herded into a DESTRUCT ZONE and are killed by PULS-RAYS at close range but their bodies able to be recycled. We see a hovering STRATA STATION performing a BIO-SCAN.
- “For the love of Dallan” – we get a number of these exclamations. Dallan is Dallan Rann, former ruler of Homeworld 1000 years ago and father of Arcturus Rann.
- Prince Argon’s horse is Oberon who uses his TELEPATH-TRAINING to find shelter for the royals.
Page 4 (6): Argon and Mari hide briefly. A time traveller appears.
- The building in which Argon and Mari hide is low-tech: large round doors and windows, a primitive-looking small table.
- “Sepsis have mercy” this exclamation refers to Sepsis Rann, former queen and mother of Arcturus Rann.
- MICROTRON, a small robot, appears for the first time. He is always right, according to Argon.
- We find out that the people of Homeworld have chosen to follow Baron Karza and overthrow the ruling monarchy. Karza has offered them immortality.
- The king and queen have been killed.
- It appears that Argon has been in communication with a TIME TRAVELLER who appears in the room (an “ethereal figure”). Mari realises that Argon has summoned the ENIGMA FORCE. We don’t know why he has done this because the royals have been discovered by dog soldiers.
Page 5 (7): Karza’s soldiers attack.
- Dog soldiers blast the building where the royals hide with the main gun of a CRUISER. Argon and his soldiers fight back but are blasted by some sort of energy weapon. Argon is wounded but not killed. SHAITAN, the leader of the Acroyears stands with BARON KARZA. Karza is in his centaur form. Karza has ordered his troops not to kill Argon and instructs them to take the Prince to the body banks.
- There’s no explanation about what happens to Mari. Presumably, Time Traveller uses the Enigma Force to transport her to safety. We see Time Traveller in a panel when Karza’s troops use artillery.
Pages 4-5 (10-11): Arcturus Rann and Biotron return to Homeworld after a 1000-year expedition. Rann is attacked by Karza’s soldiers and imprisoned.
- Chapter 2: Homecoming
- It’s strange that Rann’s ship, ENDEAVOUR, has the title HMS, a ship’s prefix given only to British (and possibly Swedish) naval vessels. Rann’s journey has been deliberately planned so that he returns to Homeworld at this time in ancient mission charts. I wonder whether this is influenced by the revival Buck Rogers TV series which was in production at the time and aired later in 1979. In both the original Buck Rogers pulps and comic strips and the TV show, Rogers is placed into suspended animation for 500 years. Rann has spent the entire journey in suspended animation, presumably using a telepathic link to Biotron to explore other worlds.
- From below, the Endeavour looks similar to the Millennium Falcon.
- ARCTURUS RANN and the human-sized robot, BIOTRON are pleased that there appear to be crowds waiting to greet their return to Homeworld. Rann is eager to inform them about intelligent life elsewhere in the universe (little knowing they were already aware of this).
- One of Karza’s soldiers refers to Rann as “Commander”.
- Karza orders an attack off-panel, saying that Rann is an X-Factor. This uncertainty is one of Karza’s fears (also that Rann is royalty, too).
- Rann wakes up muttering about his contact with alien races to be confronted by a group of hideous aliens. None of these, to my knowledge, are drawn from the Micronauts toys.
Pages 6-8 (14-16): Rann is rescued from a group of aliens by Bug and Acroyear. Outside the cells they see Marionette and Microtron.
- One of the aliens tells Rann that the cells are known “jokingly” as the PLEASURE PITS.
- Rann identifies BUG as an Insectivorid and ACROYEAR as… well, an Acroyear. It’s odd that Karza has allowed both to continue to wear their armour. Later we learn that their captors didn’t search Bug.
- Bug explains that shortly after Rann departed on his journey, a warp drive was discovered which led to a war of subjugation by Karza.
- Rann realises that Karza was his professor at the Science Academy and that his 1000-year expedition was a pointless.
- Outside the cells Microtron and MARIONETTE (the disguised Princess Mari) perform for crowds waiting for the arena games to begin. Bug is prevented revealing Marionatte’s identity by Acroyear. Rann is captivated by Marionette’s beauty.
Pages 8-15 (16-17, 22-23, 26-27, 30-31): Rann, Bug and Acroyear fight for their lives in gladiatorial games against a deathtank before escaping in the Endeavour through the Spacewalk at the fringes of the Microverse.
- Chapter 3: Homecoming
- The GREAT GAMES take place. Shaitan and Karza sit in the IMPERIAL GALLERY with a SHADOW PRIEST.
- Shaitan uses “Xats” as a measurement of time. It’s been 24 Xats since Karza led the overthrow of Homeworld’s royal family.
- Karza again expresses that his aim has been in removing “uncertainty” from the lives of people on Homeworld. He believes that his provision of immortality through the body banks ensures the people’s loyalty. The Shadow Priest agrees and explains: Immortality! Perfect Health! A religion that answers any worrisome questions! And an endless program of entertainments!”
- Marionette is herded into the arena along with the others – including Bug, Acroyear and Rann – to fight. Bug explains who Marionette is and that she has joined the UNDERGROUND who are working to free the prisoners. Rann is to be protected because he is the “X-Factor”.
- The DEATHTANK is used in the arena. It is, like all ROBOIDS, a man/machine synthesis. It fires PULS- CANNONS and screams when hurt.
- Bug uses a hidden PACKET BOMB to mortally wound the death tank.
- Shaitan’s brother is revealed to be the Acroyear helping Rann. Acroyear says that there is a blood-feud between them.
- Rann worries that his comrades might get killed and considers trying to speak with Karza. He is stopped by a Time Traveller.
- The Underground use explosives on the crowds in the arena.
- Shaitan notes that Karza does not regenerate killed Acroyears.
- Rann refers to Microtron as a Roboid.
- The Time Traveller informs Rann that his parents defied Karza 1000 years ago and ended up in the body banks. They have subsequently been deified and become symbols of the resistance.
- Karza wants Rann and the others to escape because he wants to discover the unknown element (the Enigma Force).
- The Endeavour is docked on the AIR TERMINAL.
- A patrol of three THORIUM ORBITORS chase the Endeavour as it leaves the Air Terminal. The orbitors fire PHOTON TORPEDOS.
- Rann and Biotron have modified the Endeavour over their 1000-year voyage. They’ve navigated the FRINGES (of the Microverse?) and travel through the SPACEWALL, breaching “the fabric of space” which looks like molecule bonds.
Next issue: “Earth!”
- It’s unclear if the title of this issue is “Homeworld” or whether that simply refers to Chapter One. It’s good to see the old Marvel use of chapters in a story.
- Rann gets his name from Adam Strange’s planet. (BEM #24, 1979)
- Mantlo claimed that he was not inspired by Star Wars though was “surprised at how closely the two meshed“. Instead, he cites inspiration from Kirby’s Fourth World and Thor (BEM #24, 1979).
- Unless a reader concentrates on the dialogue and captions, it’s hard to follow the plot. A good example of this is on the last page when an obscure panel requires a caption explaining that the thorium orbitors have crashed into the Spacewall. An earlier version of the issue was supposedly more complex. No wonder that Mantlo’s editors demanded rewrites, as Mantlo recounted in BEM #24 (1979): “We got to work and produced the most convoluted first issue in the history of comics. Jim and Stan were appalled. “What did you do? We can’t understand this!” they yelled. “And if we can’t understand it, how do you expect the kids to understand it?!” they continued.” There are only 15 pages of story and one info-page about the characters so it’s possible to imagine that the originally drawn issue was cut-up to rearrange the panels into a more straightforward sequence. That might also account for the division of the issue into chapters and that Chapter 3 starts almost half-way down page 8.
- The timeline isn’t too clear: 1000 years ago, Karza created the body banks and killed the king and queen of Homeworld. Why is it only now – within the last 25 Xats – that the current royal family have been overthrown and Karza taken control of homeworld? Has Karza been off-world conquering other races?