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September 17, 2010

The Fall of Micropolis

Filed under: collecting, comics, micronauts — fairplaythings @ 1:35 am

Can the Microverse Recover?

Guns blazing at the reader. In more ways than one.

Guns blazing at the reader. In more ways than one.

Today at the Silver Snail, I accidentally bought a comic rich with nostalgia that opened the wound that is the first part of this post. The comic was the Enigma Force and this is what it means.

Late in 2009, with much fanfare, it was announced that Hasbro was reviving the Micronauts line. And while the announcement came with much speculation about future toys and media releases, it was noted that it was made possible by an agreement between Takara-Tomy, Hasbro and Marty Abrams, the former President of Mego, the company that first brought the Micronauts to toy shelves in the late 1970s.

What was missing from the commentary (although alluded to in the above mentioned piece from Rockettubes) is the absence of a key player in the Micronaut mythos: Marvel Comics.

Back in the day, before President Reagan allowed for the introduction of cartoon’s based on toy lines in 1983, the main cross-marketing tool for toys was comics. This was of course during the time in which comics were overwhelmingly sold at grocery and convenience stores, in the days before comic book store were considered viable enterprises. It was also a time when comics were aimed at kid rather than the adults who can afford them today. Suffice to say, if you wanted a good way to get kids interested in a toy line, you put out a comic book. And Marvel Comics did just that, with a five year run of the first series, and a shorter, direct-to-market series called “New Voyages”.

It was a pretty good series and introduced a bounty of new characters directly into the Marvel Universe. While it served its need to introduce the toys to its buying audience, bringing the likes of Force Commander, Baron Karza, Biotron and the Acroyears to the printed page, it also introduced new characters that never made it into toy form. Marionnette, Bug, Commander Rann, and others, these were characters who helped to flesh out a toy line and turn a toy tie-in into a viable read for its original 57 issue run.

Mego, on the other hand, was not long for this world. Interestingly the comic’s second series wrapped up about the same time as Mego, beaten in its efforts to reclaim its former glory as the greatest of toy companies from upstart Kenner and its “accursed” Star Wars line, declare bankruptcy and slip into the mists of toy history.

Nostalgia Dies Hard

Should have known it was too good to be true.

Should have known it was too good to be true.

There have been a few efforts to reboot the Micronauts for a new audience. There was an aborted attempt at a new comic series in the late 1990s. There was the attempted launch of Micronauts: Evolution in 2005, which was reported and somehow buried for reasons unknown to me. And then there was the modest (in that the effort actually materialized in stores) and complicated efforts by Palisades and Devil’s Due to put forward a new line of reproduction toys and comics, respectively.

The Palisades effort was the more successful of the ventures. The line won praise from fan for their efforts in return fan favourites and rare overseas renderings to the shelves. There was even talk of new toys for a third series. But, owing to production problems and popularity, the line never made it past the second wave of toys and Palisades itself was soon out of business. Devil’s Due, on the other hand, was handcuffed from the start. Unable to secure the rights to broader family of characters created by Marvel, the 2002 comic book was forced to create new characters that could fill the gap and interact with the Micronauts character that originated from Mego and for which they held the rights. It was a bit of an empty shell as a result, and the first series lasted 11 issues. A second attempted in 2004 lasted just three comics.

Meanwhile, Marvel, never a company to leave its properties alone, would ever so often come to return Rann, Marionnette and Bug to the comic page. Deprived of Baron Karza to fight, the renamed Microns took the fight to Thanos and old nemesis Psycho Man in the pages of Captain Marvel, Cable and Earth X. More recently, Bug has come to join the new Guardians of the Galaxy with such oddities as Rocket Raccoon and Starlord.

Marvel Bloody Marvel

About the right size at least.

About the right size at least.

But Marvel couldn’t stop with these minor appearance. Having used Bug successfully in the Guardians (and earning him his first toy ever in the form of a Hero Click), Marvel has decided to bring the team back in grand fashion and in its own book to book, as part of its “Incredible Hulks” storyline.

Which brings me to how I ended up with a copy of issue one in my hands.

I knew this book was coming out and was quite curious about it, but I hadn’t expected it this week. I’d originally intended just to pick it up to look at, and make a decision from there. No such luck though, as I promptly forgot it in my hand, and only realized my purchase when I got to the car.

It’s one way to figure out if it would be any good, I suppose.

Now I’ve not been following any of Marvel’s galaxy tales, as I haven’t been a Marveloid for some time. But I know the Micronauts and, worse, am a fan. So this cannot end well. And it doesn’t. First, they have to contrive some weird teleport way to bring Bug back into the fold. It isn’t particularly convincing. Worse,  unable to use any of the Mego characters, Marvel creates this new character called Carl, who looks like Force Commander, acts like Biotron with a bit of Microtron’s lip and might be intended to serve the Acroyear role. I really can’t say, but I can say this - it’s bad.

But the real harm is that this story is like so many series in comics these days, suffering from the phenomenon that is really hurting the allure of the medium - too much backstory. For a book that must be designed to appeal to the older fan, does it make sense to sticks the mini-series into a side story of the Incredible Hulks, so that no one could have any idea what is going on?  No I didn’t think so either. So we’re left with a story where the villain of the story seems to be another member of the crew (also a new character and possibly a Huntarr fill-in with brain powers), and the villain of the arc has no resonance.

Oh, and the power of the Enigma Force is severed.

Can I wait to find out what happens next? Can I wait for a car crash? Probably. I will probably out of morbid curiosity check out the next two issues. But I won’t be happy about it. I just hope that Marvel and Hasbro can get together somehow and bring back what a great pairing.

And save us some good characters.

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