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Flashback Friday: The Micronauts

Thanks for your warm reception to my Flashback Friday project, where I revise and refresh older Longbox Graveyard posts and present them anew. My republication of the very first Longbox Graveyard post — The Golden Age — was met with a nice little bump in viewership. Your support is much appreciated!

This week I’ve done some spring cleaning on my post about The Micronauts!

The lightly-revised post is now available. I found my original review too harsh, and softened things a bit. Either I am mellowing in my old age, or I did Micronauts a disservice when I first went back to it in 2011. Give my post a read and let me know what you think in the comments section over there!

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Micronauts Gallery

Visit my Micronauts Gallery on Pinterest.

Micronauts #1

Read my column about The Micronauts!

(View all Longbox Graveyard Pinterest Galleries HERE).

Ellis Island

Longbox Graveyard #8

Transforming the Accumulation into a Collection involves hand work. A lot of hand work.

The first step was to triage the twenty-four longboxes in the garage. This was simple meatball surgery … quickly review what I’ve got, and sort into three types of boxes, which collectively comprise my Ellis Island for rediscovered comics:

The Dross Box: Do NOT give me your huddled masses yearning to be free! What the hell was I thinking when I bought these? Here’s where about 2/3rds of my books ended up. Stuff like The New Defenders, Batman and The Outsiders, and other titles best left forgotten. I’ll try to sell or give these away later.

the best Google image search could do for “superheroes & Ellis Island”

The Save Box: Books that I’m keeping, pretty much no matter what. First into this box were things like Judge Dredd, Conan the Barbarian, Master of Kung Fu, and Tomb of Dracula … which probably says something about me. Hmm. Anti-heroes, bad dads, rebellious sons. Sounds about right.

Also going here are books I probably won’t keep, but will try to sell at some point: 300, Dark Knight Returns, Batman: The Killing Joke.

Finally there are a pile of superhero favorites here that I need to look at more closely, as I wish to keep only the best runs of each book (which will probably amount to nothing at all for poor old Hulk, but hope springs eternal). I’ll get ’em sorted eventually, but in the meantime, I can find things a little better than before, and I was able to set aside the Walt Simonson run on Thor for my little guy, Jack. Mission accomplished — finding those books is what set off this whole project.

The Bubble Box: Books where I don’t trust my memory … books I know I liked, but am not sure I still want to keep. Here we’re talking stuff like The Badger (on life support after re-reading the first few issues), Warlock (saved and reviewed HERE), John Carter Warlord of Mars (since reviewed and then happily unloaded on eBay), Elementals, some older Defenders (which also earned a review HERE). and Micronauts (since added to the Save Box, a choice I failed to defend in an earlier post).

The Dross Box I intend to keep closed for awhile. The Bubble Box and the Save Box are where books are parked while awaiting transport off Ellis Island to  … The Collection!

Entering books into The Collection involves a kind of sanctification.

Books are sorted into number order. Old greening bags are thrown away and the books are snugged into new bags and boards. Just handling the books and putting them in new bags is satisfying — in a bag and on a board, the book looks crisp and shiny. Tucking and creasing the bag flap is like a benediction. This book has been Blessed. It will be Kept. It may never be opened again … but it will be kept.

Along the way, some books get read. I’ve already read chunks of Tomb of Dracula and Master of Kung Fu and found ’em pretty good. Bubble Books definitely get read before they are bagged and boarded.

Books are recorded, and a want list is created for issues I need to fill out a run. While I like the online resource and price guide at ComicsPriceGuide.com, I don’t want to be on the hook for a monthly subscription fee to access my data. The free database at Stash My Comics was also very attractive. After some hemming and hawing I settled on the new Mac version of the dedicated comics collecting software from Collectorz.com. It’s overkill for what I need but pretty cool, and it has a slick-if-expensive reader I can use on my iPhone, too.

Books are placed into a clean box, all nicely bagged, boarded, recorded, ordered, (sometimes read), and with their location noted in my database.

It’s been a meandering process but I’m under no deadline and so far I’m enjoying it. That I’ve lost time reading Barry Smith-era Conan is a happy problem to have.

But those Conan books have made me think about this whole project. Do I want to collect original books when better quality trade paperback versions are available?

I want to collect Roy Thomas’ first run on Conan, from issue #1 up through #115. I’ve only got about a third of that run, and rather than fill it out with original issues, I’m picking up the Dark Horse reprints (and you should too!). I already had The Chronicles of Conan volumes 1-4, and filling in volumes 5-14 had the triple advantage of offering the material in an easier-to-read form, with better print quality, and at a lower cost in cash and hassle than filling out the original collection.

These reprints are recolored editions, which will bother some (but not me, I think they look great). More important — does buying trade paperbacks miss the point of collecting?

Original comics have an intrinsic value, regardless of condition, the completeness of the run, or print quality. Just liking the old books is reason enough to keep them. For Conan the Barbarian, I will likely keep what I already have, but make little effort to fill in the gaps (unless I find a discount box treasure trove). In the meantime, I’ll happily enjoy the Dark Horse trades, eventually swapping over to digital when that transition sorts itself out.

Recognizing that original books and trade paperbacks are not an either/or proposition is comforting, and allays some of the angst I felt over buying that Watchmen trade. But the original form of the books are where I want to concentrate. Trade collections are a transitional form and eventually a shelf-full of trade paperbacks is going to look as out-of-date as an 8-Track tape collection. Trades are convenient and something I’ll occasionally buy, but I consider them disposable, outside of some high-end volumes like the very nice Marvel Omnibus series.

dross box trash

Original books will always be precious because of their singular nature.

Unless they’re Dross Box trash. Oy.

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #9 Nemedian Chronicles

The Micronauts

A long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away, there was a space opera adventure full of thrilling daring-do, with larger-than life villains and swashbuckling heroes battling across the cosmos to determine the fate of a stellar empire. In the bad old days of 1979, I went mad tracking down every film, book, and comic I could find about that fantastic new universe.

Micronauts … was not that universe, but it did help feed the hungry wolf of my under-served Star Wars obsession. Now, decades later, Star Wars is thoroughly over-served, and it is Micronauts that intrigues me. Micronauts was the Little Space Opera That Could, a licensed book that punched far above its weight and was a much better read that it had any reason to be.

Micronauts is the kind of book that’s right in my wheelhouse for Longbox Graveyard. I have fond memories of the book, I own a pile of issues, and they’re of no particular worth to anyone but me. But unlike many books in my Accumulation, something about this series fired my imagination — when I found them in the Longbox Graveyard, it was, “Oh, cool!” and not, “Oh, no!”

That nostalgia was amply rewarded, for the first dozen issues or so.

I admire Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden for bringing their A-game to what could have been a desultory, marketing-driven comic adaptation of an obscure Japanese toy series. The book had no shortage of enthusiasm, and while Micronauts wasn’t quite the minor space opera classic I remembered, it was still a fun read.

Micronauts followed the adventures of a rag-tag group of rebels fighting to free their homeworld from the villainous Baron Karza, who ruled through terror and evil science. The series had robots, aliens, spaceships, mysticism, a little romance, and a surprising amount of violence. The big reveal was when these heroes escaped to our world from the “microverse” and turned out to be the size of toys …

… and that’s where the series struggled. When Micronauts was two-fisted sci-fi pulp with Body Banks and Dog Soldiers, I was all in. But when our heroes were menaced, Land of the Giants-style, by giant puppies, well …

In 1979, though, I thought the book was awesome, dude! I was seventeen and buying comics with my own money. I had a job and would soon be dropping out of school. (Yeah, comics taught me well.) My mind was open and hungry for adventure. Star Wars was still cool and I was young enough to embrace space opera tropes.

I fell in love with Micronauts from the very first page.

I still love that page.

Pretty much everything I wanted was here. Ray guns, princesses, aliens, spaceships. And that juxtaposition of horses and science fiction! Micronauts promised a sword & planet adventure in the tradition of John Carter of Mars. Everything here had been done better by George Lucas (and Jack Kirby did it better than all of them), but starved as I was for space opera in those pre-home video days, this book didn’t have to be Mr. Right. It was enough to be Mr. Right Now.

And it got many things right.

That first issue, especially, was magic stuff, sweeping us up in a world of familiar surprises, peopled by unabashed Star Wars archetypes mixed up in a galactic rebellion tinged with undertones of eugenics and religious fundamentalism. The villains sneered, the heroes acted heroic, and everything moved at a breakneck pace. It was a breathless thrill ride that also marked the high point of the series.

(And you can read issue #1 in it’s entirety over at Mars Will Send No More!)

Marvel had a long tradition of mixing cosmic superheroes with mundane, earth-based adventure, but I thought Micronauts lost it’s mojo when hammered into the same world as the X-Men. It was the Microverse I wanted to explore — not Florida! But I gather “pure” science-fiction books were the kiss of death, sales-wise, in those pre-direct market days, and so Micronauts saw its sometimes-compelling space opera derailed, time and again, by weak “toys in peril” stories that only served to diminish the book.

Michael Golden’s career was just getting started with this book, but his unique style still set him apart from most everything else Marvel was publishing in 1979. His work was fresh, clean, and imaginative. Golden’s pencils could be primitive in places but were so full of joy and motion that they were impossible to resist, particularly when inked by pro’s pro Joe Rubinstein.

The writing was no better or worse than most Marvel comics of the era, and Bill Mantlo got extra points for godfathering the series — without him, we wouldn’t have Micronauts at all. But the series was very much a product of its age. Mantlo’s scripts were enthusiastic and his plots were imaginative, but his dialogue was expository and his grim-toned captions got tiresome. A few bravura flourishes stood out — like when our characters (and their word balloons) went tumbling and had to be be read upside-down — but for the most part, this was straight-forward Marvel-style storytelling.

The characters were a mixed bag. What at the time seemed inspired by Star Wars today reads as third-rate Star Wars (which by my math makes it twice as good as Phantom Menace).

Commander Rann was a stiff, make no mistake, a knock-off of Vance Astro from the original Guardians of the Galaxy (!), and Princess Mari and the robots were little better. All these years later I did still like Bug and Acroyear — they’re one-note characters, but it’s a good note. (Pretty much alone of this crew, Bug would escape the series to a continuing role in the Marvel Universe). Among the bad guys, Baron Karza was properly operatic, seeking to rule an entire universe (microverse!) through the promise of eternal life. Sure, Karza was a bargain basement Darth Vader … but it was weird and wonderful beyond measure when Karza changed shape and stomped around as black armored centaur. (Try to answer that, Anakin!)

In 1979, this book was my monthly ticket to a space opera world that excited my sensibilities. Reading Micronauts in 1979 felt like you were part of secret club. It was easy to imagine that regular comics readers were dismissive of Micronauts because of it’s toy license premise, and to feel like you had discovered some unique little jewel.

Maybe no one was watching closely. Maybe no one had any expectations at all. And maybe because of that, Micronauts felt like a book where anything could happen. That’s the paradox of Micronauts — with its stock characters and space opera cliches it managed to feel like one of the freshest books of its time. Imaginative, adventurous, and fun, it was the first book I took off my reading stack, and with every glimpse of the world and characters I wanted to know more, go there, be a part of this crazy thing (at least until those damn toys came to Earth). Micronauts may have been a joke … but no one told Micronauts. It pushed past parody, past pastiche. This book just went out and had fun each month and didn’t worry what might happen next.

Decades later, I can’t mount much defense for this book. From the imaginative explosion of that first issue, things spiraled down quickly. Our heroes came to Earth, discovered they were toy-sized, fought dogs and cats and Man-Thing (Man-Thing??). The series picked up a bit when it returned to the Microverse and the rebellion against Baron Karza got rolling, and the first year of the series did come to an appropriately apocalyptic conclusion, with space fleet battles, living planets, fratricide, and wholesale slaughter of prisoners. But really, this was a pretty ridiculous book, and if it wasn’t freighted with nostalgia I wouldn’t have made it through re-reading the first dozen issues.

It’s too bad I didn’t like these books more, but not every Longbox pulled from the Graveyard is filled with rubies. I doubt I’ll read Micronauts again, but I still rescued, bagged, and boarded the first dozen issues. That’s as far as Michael Golden went with the book, and that seemed a good place to step off.

Those issues are probably in their bags to stay.

But I’d regret selling off my Micronauts. So stay they will.

  • Title: The Micronauts
  • Published By: Marvel Comics, 1979-1986
  • Issues Rescued From The Longbox Graveyard: #1-12, January-December 1979
  • LBG Letter Grade For This Run: C

NEXT WEEK: #3 The Accumulation

Longbox Graveyard #2: The Micronauts

Originally Published June 29, 2011

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