Once upon a time, a man on another planet offered himself up to become a cyborg warrior in a bid to defeat a race of alien invaders, bent on destroying his home world. That decision launched not just a silver hero and a toy line, but also a beloved comic book series which is ready to relaunch on Free Comic Book Day from IDW Publishing -- much to the delight of the company's Chief Creative Officer and Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall, one of the biggest "Rom" fans you're likely to find.
For the uninitiated, "Rom" was a popular '70s toy, sold by Parker Brothers and now owned by Hasbro. From 1979 to 1986, he was also the star of an immensely popular comic published by Marvel Comics. Over the course of his 75-issue run, many people including Ryall and new series co-writer Christos Gage, fell in love with the character. However, due to rights issues, reprints of the title were unmanageable, especially given the fact that Marvel characters often appeared in the book as important players in the comic's ongoing storyline.
Now, with the very first IDW-produced "ROM" issue ready to debut as one of the publisher's Free Comic Book Day 2016 offerings, Ryall and Gage spoke exclusively with CBR News about introducing the character to the modern audience, whether it may finally be possible for the original Marvel series to return to print, and their personal histories with the book and characters.
CBR News: Chris, you're a huge fan of Rom, as anyone who follows you on social media knows. Was bringing him into the IDW fold something you've been working on for a while?
Chris Ryall: Oh, only about from the minute we signed the deal with Hasbro for Transformers comics in 2005. I always assume that my constant talking about of Rom on social media leads to followers jumping ship, but then again, there does seem to be a constant groundswell of people who've been wanting to see ROM return to comics. So I'm pretty sure it's not just Christos and I.
How excited were you when it finally all came together, and how long did you have to wait before announcing it?
Ryall: We literally got word that we could announce it the week of Comic-Con [International] this past summer. So my excitement at this finally coming to pass was tempered by pre-con exhaustion and stress. Luckily, that meant the actual wait from when we got the green light and us making the announcement was shorter than any other project we've ever done.
Christos, what lead to your "Rom" involvement?
Christos Gage: I'm an O.G. Rom fan since I bought the first issue back in the late '70s. When I brought back the Rom villain Hybrid in "Avengers Academy" a few years back, Chris reached out on social media to express his appreciation, and we discovered a common interest. This past San Diego Comic-Con, he emailed me to ask if I had time for a meeting. I said, "It better be about Rom" -- which had pretty much become my standard response to him. This time, it was!
While Rom certainly has loyal fans, you're also dealing with a character who many comic readers are unfamiliar with, thanks in large part to the lack of reprints over the years. How do you plan on introducing him to modern readers?
Ryall: That's very true -- I'd say way more current comic fans have heard about Rom from those of us who constantly talk about that old comic than have actually read it now. To give people a good first look, we wanted to do something special -- and free. Which is why "Rom the Space Knight" #0 is our Gold-level Free Comic Book Day release next year. That way, anyone interested in the series, consumer or retailer, will get a free story before the book makes its actual monthly debut in July.
It's the story that brings Rom to Earth and heralds an all-new era for the Space Knight. I'm also planning to have concept art, an interview with Christos and I, and other such things as back-up material in the issue to really kick things off in a big way and tease some of the stories to come.
Gage: You don't have to have read a single issue of the original series, or even know who Rom is, to follow our story. Putting aside the question of what Marvel owns and what Hasbro owns, that series was an epic, with a clear beginning, middle and end. This is a fresh start. Whether you're a longtime Rom fanatic, or have no idea what he's about at all, you're getting in on the ground floor here. There'll be something for you either way.
As you say, the rights to Rom are a tricky. Will any familiar elements from the previous comic make their way into the series, or are they off limits?
Ryall: The rights to Rom aren't tricky at all any more -- but the rights to the things Marvel created around the series, the specific space knights, backstory beyond that on the original toy's box, and all the Marvel Universe elements, those things stay with Marvel. Which is as it should be; that series had a very definitive conclusion, whereas ours has a very definitive beginning, kicking off an entirely new storyline and universe of characters, which is immensely exciting to me.
Gage: The familiar elements will be more tonal. Much as I got a kick out of the issues where, say, Jack of Hearts would show up, what really affected me about the original series was the creepy "They Live"/"Invasion of the Body Snatchers"/"The Thing" feel of some of those early issues. That'll be present with our series too, but in our own way -- and there'll be plenty of surprises, as well.
Is there any possibility for reprints at this point?
Ryall: As I have since day one of knocking on Hasbro's door about "Rom" a decade ago, I remain optimistic about all possibilities regarding the character.
What made David and Paolo the right artists for the job, and how has the creative process been with them so far?
Ryall: I've known and worked with David pretty much since my first day at IDW in '04, so I well know what he can do and how well he can do it. In fact, years ago, David, already aware of my love of Rom, gave me a great piece of original Rom art as a birthday present. I know how well David handles science-fiction comics from his work on our "Infestation" crossover, from his years on "Star Trek," and from so many other good things. And Paolo blew us all away with his work on the recent "Snake Eyes, Agent of Cobra" series. I was eyeing both guys already, and the fact that they worked together already just made it fit that much more nicely.
A character like Rom has a very clear and specific design. Will he get any visual upgrades for the new series?
Ryall: Nothing that will make you look at the character and wonder who he is. But you can see one big upgrade on Zach Howard and Nelson Daniel's amazing cover for the #0 issue: actual fingers! Those mitten hands always drove me a little nuts -- I know they were toy-derived, and the toy had a much easier time doing molded hands rather than independent figures (or whatever the reason was for those hands back when), but I wanted him to have digits, dammit. There are some other minor tweaks that hew closer to the original toy design, but like I say, just look at that cover -- it's unmistakably Rom.
Gage: I play the role of the crotchety old man who looks at any variation on the original design with a very jaundiced eye. I feel that if you're going to change something, there'd better be a good reason -- like having actual fingers. But I signed on to write Rom, not "hipster robot who vaguely resembles Rom." So, yeah, he'll look like Rom.
Ryall: There are a few other fun upgrades to come, in terms of the design of Rom, his weapons, his backstory, his villains, his supporting cast and the universe in which he exists, but those are all gonna be revealed over the issues, months and years to come. Because, if we haven't made it clear or shouted it from the rooftops often enough yet, "Rom the Space Knight" is finally here!
"Rom the Space Knight" debuts in IDW's Free Comic Book Day #0 issue by Chris Ryall, Christos Gage, David Messina and Paolo Villanelli on May 7, 2016.