A number of toy properties have been re-imagined in comic books. Some examples are the Shogun Warriors, The Transformers, Rom the Space Knight, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and G.I. Joe.
My own personal favorite was Marvel’s/Mego’s The Micronauts. The story of how Mego’s Micronaut toy line got turned into a comic is unexpected.
It turns out that Marvel writer Bill Mantlo’s son was opening up his Christmas presents in 1977, which included a haul of Micronauts (something that happened in my house that year too).
Mantlo was inspired by the toys and asked Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter to get his hands on the comics rights, and voila!
Mantlo is famous for a lot of his off-the-wall creativity, most famously, his creation of Rocket Raccoon, but I think that he went on a world-building binge when he created the microscopic space opera world of the Micronauts.
Inner-space (the microscopic world) is a world cut off from our by a great barrier, and it’s filled with humans, aliens, different environments, all strung on what looks like a chemistry class’ model of long-chain carbon molecules.
The main thrust of the Micronauts saga begins with Commander Acturus Rann who, along with his robot Biotron, is just returning from a 1,000-year exploration. He’s been frozen all this time, using his telepathic link with Biotron to do stuff.
Unknown to everyone, his own sleeping journey has touched something called the Enigma Force which personifies itself as the Time Traveler, or many Time Travelers at once, which are all based on the templates of the dreaming Rann.
When Rann returns to Homeworld for a welcome parade, he finds instead a dystopian hell controlled by Baron Karza and his dog soldiers.
Mantlo paints with a surprisingly dark brush on Homeworld. Karza and his scientists rejuvenate the powers loyal to him by giving them the youthful bodies of political dissidents and rebels.
Rann escapes Homeworld with an odd-ball collection of heroes, including Prince Acroyear (an alien, Klingon-esque powerhouse), Princess Mari (the last survivor of the royal family of Homeworld), Bug (a swashbuckling tree-dwelling alien) and Microtron (a smart-talking R2D2 figure).
Despite making it away from Homeworld, they’re going to be toasted by the pursuing ships, until a Time Traveler appears and tells them to go through the Great Barrier. They do, leaving most of their pursuers to smash into the Great Wall.
The Micronauts emerge into a strange new world… called Florida, as people the size of action figures.
Part of the charm of the Micronaut comics is their adventures and misadventures on Earth. They run into giant barking dogs, lawnmowers, fly-swatters, etc with ironic, understated humor, as they fight off the last of Baron Karza’s pursuers who managed to follow them.
They also run into likely and unlikely friends and enemies. They fight molecule man, a weird bug collector (and mutator) called Odd John, and Andrew Lang the Ant-Man.
The other part of the charm of the Micronauts is the giant plot brewing back on Homeworld. Baron Karza isn’t done with Rann, who holds the secret to the enigma force, and Rann isn’t done with Karza, who holds Homeworld in a cruel first.
In the first year, the Micronauts manage to make their way back home and Rann has his spectacular showdown with Karza when Rann learns how to use the Enigma Force.
But, like the best comic book heavies, Karza is able to come back for a more spectacular battle twice more in the next six years.
Mantlo wrote a bunch of Micronauts adventures, with the occasional guest-appearances to help sales, but the real highwater marks of the series were hit whenever the Micronauts were on Earth experiencing it as miniature people, or when they were in the Microverse getting into the incredible detail of the world-building.
The best of these was a sprawling, year-long saga where the Micronauts had to explore the different worlds of the Microverse, like a snow-world, a water-world, Bug’s world, and so on, to recover new secrets of the Enigma Force that was written into a prophecy a thousand years ago.
It runs deep and creates a much larger mythos of the Time Travelers and Rann’s role.
I can’t say that reading the Micronauts comics made me any more likely to buy Micronaut toys, and in fact, the toys had a very short shelf-life.
After a while it was difficult to find them anywhere, while the comic series went on strong, until the mid-1980s, when it was replaced by a second Micronaut series.
However, I can see why this set of toys inspired Mantlo. He’s done space opera really well, and he’s consistently been a writer who avoided clichés, and in both those respects, he created something enduring and compelling for Marvel and for fans.
Derek Künsken writes science fiction and fantasy in Gatineau, Québec. He tweets from @derekkunsken.