Everything You’ve Heard About ROM Is A Lie, Probably

Calm down! Not a real book!

Calm down! Not a real book!

Before the day I resign my post at iFanboy.com and finally end my reign of terror, there are just three remaining goals I need to accomplish:

  1. Get someone to teach me the secret handshake that gets me the map that leads me to the password that I need to get my hands on the Really Real Sales Numbers, even if they are really none of my business;
  2. As some political controversy echoes through the halls of power, use my meager, gossamer-thin press credentials to land a highly coveted interview with President Obama, during which the only things I ask him about are Spider-Man and the United Federation of Planets (since he no longer needs to worry about getting re-elected, I can’t figure out whether this is ludicrously out of reach or the most realistic goal on the list); and, most importantly,
  3. Find out what the flutark is going on with Rom.

Like I said, it may be easier to land the president.

Okay, you guys. Okay. We’ve had a lot of fun here over the years with our in-jokes and our fetishizing the past, but we’re all adults here, and Enough is Enough. It’s time to stop jerking me around. Somebody out there who actually knows something about something– somebody who has put his/her hands on relevant legal documents– has got to explain to me, just out of a sense of mercy and/or closure, why nailing down the rights to print stories about Rom, Garbage Toy is harder to work out than the Middle East peace crisis.

In case yours is a charmed existence and you have managed to reach the age of reason without encountering this riddle, I tried to say all there was to say about the history of Rom in a column ages ago. Briefly: In 1979, Parker Brothers came out with this hideous blinking plastic cube. It sold less than 300,000 units. Marvel got the license to tell stories about it. The stories were overwrought and gruesome and quite, quite bonkers and vastly better than a blinking cube of plastic deserved. The first issue was the best selling Marvel book on the stands. The toy flopped after several months; Bill Mantlo was the auteur of the comics for like eight years. Sal Buscema and Steve Ditko (!) drew them. The book, which was about a lone “spaceknight” trying to stop a body-snatching invasion of earth while the alien body snatchers made him look like a psychopathic murderer for years before he figured out he could just tell the authorities what he was doing, just about constantly guest starred Marvel super heroes when it wasn’t showing parents being murdered and possessed in front of their children. (Gruesome and bonkers!) At some point, Marvel’s rights to Rom expired, Parker Brothers got swallowed by Hasbro, and the fact that the hero wasn’t Marvel’s but the entire supporting cast was meant that Rom was doomed never to be captured in ink again.

Whenever Rom comes up, there is a small, vocal, small, passionate, small group of people who become delirious with excitement. These people clamor wildly for the return of Rom, Garbage Toy. Except they’re lying.

Right? No one has set eyes on Rom in 27 years, unless they’re like me and had some kind of mental breakdown that compelled them to track down every issue decades later. Rom is like one of those bands that never made it big that you reference in conversation to establish your cred. Where geek and hipster intersect on the Venn diagram, there will always be Rom. It only has a “following” because we can’t have it.

Right?

Calm down! Not a real comeback!

Calm down! Not a real comeback!

J.K. Woodward, whose house was wiped out by Hurricane Sandy, has been raising funds by selling prints. Last week, one of those prints looked like it was from an IDW Rom book, and the twelve people who lose their minds about this lost their minds. Clearing things up, IDW’s editor in chief posted, “I have never been able to unlock the rights to Rom Spaceknight, despite years of trying….”

Trying… for years? How could that possibly be true? What is “trying” in this case? Because… look: how hard could it possibly be?

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but as a toy Rom was a gray cube with two blinking lights in it. The lights were going to be green, but red was cheaper. It sort of made a futury noise. The line lasted maybe a year and had no second figure. If the rights to this lump are just sitting in a drawer and it is possible to make so much as three dollars off of them, how is Hasbro not shaking every hand at that bargaining table and finding Jesus over the miracle that anyone anywhere wants anything to do with this thing? They made a goddamn Battleship movie. Do you understand me? Adam Sandler is talking about starring in Candyland: The Motion Picture, and they’re playing hard to get with Rom? This is the premise I am being asked to accept? Somehow, Marvel’s Star Wars comics with the giant green rabbit in them sail past Axel Alonso and George Lucas to get reprinted by another company easy-peasy, but WHOA whoa whoawhoa slow down: hands off Rom.

This has all got to be some kind of gigantic put-on. Every time someone mentions Rom in one of these interview quotes, the writer is omitting the fact that the speaker is winking. Occam’s Razor.

If not, I assume the crux of the issue is that Parker Brothers came up with the toylike object and Bill Mantlo/Marvel came up with literally everything else. Rom’s friends from the series’ supporting cast have been known to pop up in Guardians of the Galaxy in recent years. Rom’s nemeses the Dire Wraiths were all over Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four run. Spaceknights have gotten their own miniseries in the last few years; one of them popped up in that prelude to Age of Ultron that came out a while back… which means that Parker Brothers did not even come up with the concept of spaceknights. They were not even involved enough in the story of Rom to come up with what Rom was. If you had put in that little work on something you owned, would it be hard to get you to agree to make money on it? Free money?

It makes no sense. Something is going on here. What is going on here? I don’t want to use iFanboy’s good name to start e-mailing industry insiders with a bunch of hard-hitting Mike Wallace questions about this, but I sort of want to use iFanboy’s good name to start e-mailing industry insiders with a bunch of hard-hitting Mike Wallace questions about this.

In November, Hasbro created a microtizzy when they renewed the trademark for Rom. Once their rights were once again secured, they swung into inaction. Not a peep has been made about the little guy since. Except for a brief reference to him in an Age of Ultron book. Which was promptly erased.

Put-on. Has to be. Right?


Jim Mroczkowski will eventually be driven insane by these sorts of shenanigans, combined with a fundamental lack of understanding about how business works.

Comments

  1. Seriously, this has to be one of the most mind boggling things ever. Why won’t Hasbro give up the rights? It just makes no sense. They have nothing to lose! There is a market for a Rom book. At the very least, let Marvel reprint the old comics! It just baffles me.

  2. dfstell says:

    I’m sure it’s just that the rights are screwed-up. There are probably a few rights in the pile that are unclear and some of them may be owned by someone who is difficult to deal with. These things happen. Companies don’t do good agreements with consultants and contractors. Consultants and contractors pass off the work of third-parties as their own. Companies may have adequate agreements in place with their consultants, but possibly fail somehow to give the creator appropriate consideration for the assignment of the IP.

    Or maybe some of the rights were individually owned and they got sucked into a divorce proceeding and how to get access to the rights, you have to deal with the cheated-upon divorcee and her nasty attorney.

    After this much time, it can be hard just to figure out who needs to be around the table for a group negotiating session. Plus, there isn’t that much money on the table. Perhaps a few million dollars? For a company like Disney, they’d rather just create new IP rather than deal with the pain and agony of negotiating with these other parties. I mean…..it isn’t like we’re talking about the rights to The Lion King or Toy Story.

  3. Heroville Heroville says:

    Maybe this all ends with Disney buying Hasbro and getting the rights to Marvel anyway

  4. JeffromOhio JeffromOhio says:

    This article pretty much encapsulates my feelings about ROM for the past decade or two. I never laid eyes on the toy until longer after the comic. I remember buying the first issue at a convenience store, walking home, and getting caught in a sudden downpour so torrential that I, and everything I was carrying, was drenched thoroughly, to the point that I turned around after drying off, went back to that convenience store, and bought another copy. I was hooked.

    Yeah, that book definitely was bonkers. That’s why it has stuck out in my memory 30-some-odd years after it ended its run. ROM remains one of my favorite comic book heroes. Spaceknights and Dire Wraiths may still lurk in the Marvel U, but the absence of ROM himself makes their presence frustratingly tantalizing.

    The rights must be as labyrinthine as mentioned by dfstell. Seems so silly to think that a relatively obscure toy, which Marvel fleshed out so thoroughly as a character, could have its rights hidden away and jealously guarded (or so it seems) like a piece of Smaug’s hoard.

    • JeffromOhio JeffromOhio says:

      Oh, by the way, Jim Mroczkowski, wouldn’t you want to ask Obama about Conan the Barbarian? That’s the book he collects, as I recall.

    • RoiVampire RoiVampire says:

      Spidey and Conan, but since Jim is more of a spidey fan I’m guessing thats why he picked it. Obama has liked both characters since he was a kid

  5. BizDaddy BizDaddy says:

    What if the “surprise” ending to Age of Ultron is not the introduction MarvelMan, but rather the reintroduction of ROM.

    Forget Vision, maybe he’s been the one behind the whole thing.

    ULTROM anyone?

  6. BC1 BC1 says:

    Then there’s also the issue that, once someone starts sniffing around, the owner realizes that what he’s got must be worth something and starts playing hardball. But you’re right, Hasbro is making nothing off their acquisition now, so what are they waiting on, unless they’ve got some plans for toys?

  7. We don’t really need ROM, since Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning gave us the perfect replacement in IKON. Its badass lady ROM, there is literally no reason to ever want ROM again.

  8. stevetwo stevetwo says:

    I was a dedicated ROM fan from the start myself, but his reason for being ROM ended with the last issue. The Dire Wraiths were defeated for good, he was changed back to human(oid) and he married his earth-sweetheart. Marvel could create a new ROM like they are doing with Nova. However, if they do that, I insist they bring back a few other titles I loved from that era (and I don’t care how cheesy they were), like Micronauts, The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones, Master of Kung Fu, Spider-Woman, Dazzler and Spidey Super Stories (for my kids of course).

  9. jmv jmv says:

    It’s never going to be as good as the original. Back then we as fans did not look at everything with a critical eye. Today as adults, I think it is safe to say the revamped Rom would be judge rather harshly. Just savor the classics.

  10. lkseitz says:

    I believe this will answer your question: http://lkseitz.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-rights-to-rom-its-not-just-parker.html. In short, Bing McCoy kept the secondary rights and he turned his back on Parker Bros./Hasbro before he was incapacitated.

  11. CharlieRock CharlieRock says:

    Some brave individual could just indepently publish ROM in a one-shot and see who comes knocking on his door as the owner.

  12. icn1983 icn1983 says:

    ROM vs. Marvelman #1 = 1 million copies sold in a week.

  13. birdseye birdseye says:

    Why does it need to be reprinted. ROM back issues are cheap, CHEAP!! $30 and a day at a con would probably net you the whole run. And then you get all the great ads as well.

    Please stop harping on ROM, it’s not worth it and a re-boot would just suck.

  14. Cornelius says:

    fools

  15. JSAkid JSAkid says:

    F@#k Rom!!!

  16. JSAkid JSAkid says:

    I’m surprised there was no mention of Ikon of the Spaceknights who appeared in Annihilators and Annihilators: Earthfall after Thanos Imperative, I hated the character as a fill in for Silver Surfers absence on a team that would’ve been able to dominate anyone together and that Ikon looks just like Rom, face anyhow, I never read Rom so I assume the Spaceknights look like him cause that’s what he was and where they were conceived? Where’s Quasar damn it?!

    • Jim Mroczkowski Jim Mroczkowski (@jimski) says:

      You know, when I wrote that other spaceknights had been in Guardians of the Galaxy, I was totally thinking of Annihilators. This is why I keep you commenters around. :)

  17. adamtohell says:

    What, no love for Josh Bayer’s ROM adaptation?

  18. kennyg kennyg says:

    The only possible explanation must be that either Todd McFarlane or Neil Gaiman must be involved at some level.

  19. Noto Noto says:

    I own every appearance of ROM, and I own the toy. He’s my favorite Marvel character of all time. This isn’t being hip, this is fact.

    I want nothing more than to see him return. NOTHING. What comic was that picture pulled from with him on the billboard?

  20. I’d be into a new Rom comic. But what I really want is The Micronauts to return to comics but, much like Rom — another rights issue.