May the 4th live long and prosper … or something or other. With this Star Wars festival coming right before tomorrow’s debut of the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie I figured a look at The Micronauts would be appropriate.
The Micronauts was one of those oddly-conceived Marvel Comics titles from the late 70s and early 80s that were about forcing a continuing storyline around an already-existing toy franchise. (Rom: Spaceknight was another example of this ultimate in ass-backward storytelling.)
The above example of Six Degrees of George Lucas or whatever you want to call it was just my odd way of pointing out my reasoning for posting this item on the 4th of May.
The Micronauts (First Issue: January 1979) was mostly a strained imitation of the Star Wars universe but also had a few similarities with Marvel’s ORIGINAL Guardians of the Galaxy. Those Guardians – Vance Astro, Charley-27, Yondu and Martinex – were freedom fighters waging a guerilla war to free 30th Century Earth from the dictatorial rule of its alien conquerors, the lizardlike Badoon race.
The Micronauts was set in the Microverse, a sub-atomic universe which was being ruled by the evil, black-armored Baron Karza, one of the most blatant Darth Vader ripoffs this side of Japan’s Swords of the Space Ark movies. Karza could detach his arms and legs and could transform the lower half of his body into that of a black horse (think of Centaurs) for no better reason than the fact that THAT was the gimmick of the Baron Karza toys. Kids could move around the arms and legs or replace his regular body with the horse-like lower body. Oh what fun! (?)
Karza’s power to perform those questionably useful acts was explained in the comic books as being part of his scientific enhancements from his Body Banks labs and from his abilities as a master of the Enigma Force. No, not The Force, which was part of the Star Wars universe. The Enigma Force was what Karza controlled, so you can see how it’s a whole different thing, right?
The Micronauts themselves were freedom fighters waging a guerilla war to free the Microverse from the dictatorial rule of the thoroughly evil Baron Karza. That rule was enforced by his Dog Soldiers, his obedient … uh … troopers … who were such blatant imitations of Imperial Troopers that George Lucas probably wept tears of blood every time a child bought a Dog Soldier action figure instead of an Imperial Trooper one.
At any rate, permit me to introduce you to the rag-tag rebels trying to bring down Karza’s empire of evil.
SPACE GLIDER ARCTURUS RANN – The leader of the Micronauts. First let’s explore how Marvel Comics cannibalized their own Guardians of the Galaxy’s Vance Astro for Arcturus Rann’s backstory. Vance Astro was an American astronaut placed into suspended animation and launched toward the Alpha Centauri star system around 1999 (which was still the future when Marvel created the G of the G in the late 1960s). During the centuries when the sleeping Astro’s ship was crossing the gulf between stars the Earth people created warp-drive and wound up reaching the sole inhabited planet of the Alpha Centauri star system well in advance of good old Vance.
To Major Astro’s bitter surprise, when his slow-poke of a vessel at last reached its destination he was far from a pioneer – humanity and the Alpha Centaurans (Yondu’s race) were expecting him and were happy to welcome the would-be explorer, who forever after wallowed in the same type of “man out of his own era” self-pity that characterized Captain America for so long. The long years Astro spent in suspended animation unleashed potent psychic powers in his brain, enabling him to shoot powerful rays of psycho-kinetic force from his forehead. (Though in the usual comic book back-and-forth retconning it was sometimes claimed his powers came from a cerebral disc inserted in his brain.) Astro would lead the Guardians in the rebellion after the Badoon took over.
Now we can meet ARCTURUS RANN. Rann was the very first Micronaut (the Microverse’s version of Astronauts), who was placed in suspended animation and sent out in a spaceship called The Endeavor on a centuries-long mission of exploration throughout the Microverse. Periodically his ship’s systems would awaken him from his artificial sleep when a planet bearing intelligent life had been reached. Arcturus would share greetings from his homeworld, called … Homeworld. (Hey, the Star Wars movies hadn’t yet come up with Coruscant so the writers of The Micronauts had nothing to go on here. We’re lucky they didn’t call it “The Planet”.)
In return each planet’s inhabitants would share their knowledge, culture and history and vow a peaceful relationship. Eventually Rann and his craft were on their return trip and while he snoozed away in suspended animation Baron Karza conquered Homeworld and, when warp-drive was discovered he sent out armies of conquest to enslave every planet they came across. All the worlds that had previously been reached in peace by Arcturus Rann became just subject states in Baron Karza’s Microverse-spanning dictatorship. This made Arcturus’ mission as tragically irrelevant as Vance Astro’s.
The long years that Rann spent in suspended animation unleashed potent Enigma Force powers within him, powers that granted him the ability to do whatever the unfolding storyline required but only when it would have dramatic impact and not before. (Yes, I’m in a sarcastic mood.) His subconcious mind merged so effectively with the Enigma Force that while he slumbered he spawned countless Enigma Guardians, angel-like cosmic figures who were the Enigma Force’s “good” counterparts to Karza’s evil Enigma Force agents the Shadow Priests (no, not Sith Lords – Shadow Priests). The Enigma Guardians knew that Arcturus’ command of the Enigma Force would make him the one man who could challenge Baron Karza and lead a rebellion against him.
During the centuries of the ageless Karza’s iron rule those Enigma Guardians had communicated prophecies to the rebel leaders about the eventual return of a man who would lay Karza low. Naturally the Baron’s own agents eventually caught wind of this and, deducing that the long-absent Arcturus Rann must be the man in the prophecies the Baron ordered him to be slain the minute he showed up back on Homeworld. Members of the rebellion were on hand to save the bewildered Rann from Karza’s forces and, outfitting his ship with updated warp technology they took it on the lam to fight the evil empire as our title heroes the Micronauts.
Arcturus struggled to come to grips with all the changes during his roughly 1,000 year absence including the malevolence of his one-time colleague Baron Karza (“Karza was a good friend” anyone?) and, having no tutor, awkwardly groped his way toward mastering the Enigma Force powers that had awakened in him.
P.S. Shortly after Arcturus Rann left on his long space mission Baron Karza killed Rann’s father AND mother, going Darth Vader one better … or so it was thought at the time. Remember this comic book started BEFORE the Star Wars twist that Vader was really Luke’s father, so having Karza be responsible for killing the parents of Arcturus Rann strengthened the parallels between him and Luke Skywalker. Until The Empire Strikes Back came out.
PRINCESS MARIONETTE, also called Princess Mari or just plain Mari, was the series’ Princess Leia imitation. She was part of Homeworld’s rightful ruling family (probably named The Ruling Family) and became the love interest of Arcturus Rann, the Luke Skywalker/ Obi Wan Kenobi composite of the comic book series.
She wasn’t exactly a “you go girl” figure and I’m afraid love interest was pretty much the extent of her character development. It was 1979 remember. She didn’t even get to do any royal business either, since her brother Prince Argon was the heir apparent once Karza could be overthrown.
Still, she did get to regularly fire a raygun and serve in the rebellion, first against the Baron and later against her seemingly power-crazed but really Karza-possessed brother.
ACROYEAR was the ruling prince of the Acroyear race. Yes, I know that means his name would be like having an Earth prince named “Prince Human Being” but in a fictional setting which has a planet named Homeworld I guess it shouldn’t surprise us. Obviously the real problem was the fact that Marvel’s writers were forced to come up with characterizations for little plastic toys.
Anyway, Marvel once again cannibalized one of the Guardians of the Galaxy figures for some of Acroyear’s backstory. Just as the Guardians’ Charley-27 had incredible super-strength because he was born to function in Jupiter’s massive gravity so too did Acroyear come from an enormous planet – Spartak – which gave all of his kind super-strength compared to most other inhabitants of the Microverse. Acroyear was also highly skilled in combat with energy-swords (no, not light sabers – energy swords), a common weapon in the Micronauts’ stories.
The people of the Acroyear race were basically black people but with their facial features slightly altered in that way that always denotes alien races on the various Star Trek programs. Culturally they were semi-Arabic, with Acroyear’s evil brother even being named Shaitan. This brother was a collaborator whom Baron Karza rewarded with rule of the Acroyear homeworld, the intense gravity of which prevented most Microverse races from functioning effectively there.
GALACTIC WARRIOR – This figure was the only Micronaut to transcend his origin as a toy-cum- Star Wars ripoff and truly shine on his own. In fact he shone so much he was the only figure to become better known by his comic book series name of Bug rather than by his toy name. “Bug” was a swashbuckling thief who was a member of the Insectivorid race. His rocket-lance could be used as a traditional combat lance, as a martial arts kendo staff in close quarters battles, could fly and could shoot energy beams from the tip.
Bug’s combination of personality, cool weapon and visual appeal due to his armor and Insectivorid body made him THE sensation of The Micronauts. He became the series’ version of The Uncanny X-Men‘s Wolverine and overshadowed most of the other characters as a fan favorite. He even got to have a sexual fling with Princess Marionette during a period when her usual lover Arcturus Rann had temporarily placed himself back into suspended animation for some poutish reason. (You know comic books)
Originally Bug and Acroyear had a kind of Han Solo and Chewie vibe going (even though Acroyear was a very bright guy who could speak) but Bug came to transcend even that. It was a shame back then that there was no immediate way of disentangling the rights to the character from the Micronauts toys to make him a true and PERMANENT denizen of the Marvel Universe right then and there.
In the late 70s/ early 80s he’d have been great in the Starjammers with Corsair, Hepzibah, Chod, Raza, Waldo and Sikorski. As it was he had to wait a few decades before winding up in the new-model Guardians of the Galaxy. Ironically Marvel DID get to keep the rights to Captain Universe, a figure who first appeared in The Micronauts comic books, but that was only because he was not based on one of the existing toys.
BIOTRON and MICROTRON- Throw in a pair of robot sidekicks – one tall and gangly, the other a squat but feisty little thing. No matter how hard I research it I can’t find anything from the Star Wars movies which these characters match up with, so I guess they were original creations of the writers of The Micronauts. (I’m kidding!)
Biotron accompanied Arcturus Rann on his loooong space journey and Microtron was the personal android of Princess Marionette. They came across as less gay than C3PO and R2D2, but just barely.
Sometimes the Micronauts would emerge from the Microverse into our universe, but would conveniently be only about 8 inches tall, like their toy counterparts. They met Marvel characters like the Man-Thing, Ant-Man, the X-Men, Fantastic Four and even battled a Hydra/ Baron Karza alliance alongside Nick Fury and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It HAS to have eroded Hydra’s self-esteem to lose to a bunch of toy-sized aliens.
Story arc-wise The Micronauts fell into the same trap that many of the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels fell into (and which the movie series may soon fall into). After the rebellion against Baron Karza was successful in having him overthrown the series became aimless, so Karza repeatedly returned to reconquer the Microverse. The stories became all about stopping Baron Karza or eventually, having to overthrow him again when he returned to power in the Sometimes the Good Guys Lose storyline which also saw the slaughter of lots of supporting toy-figures.
The first Micronauts series was canceled in 1984, then was unsuccessfully relaunched a few times after that. Considering its true background The Micronauts was a much more successful title than it had any right to be, and unlike its fellow toy title Rom: Spaceknight, at least it didn’t mire countless other Marvel titles in its own affairs like in the Dire Wraith spillover stories from Rom’s book.
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