Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review: Rom #10

"Warrior over Washington." Rom flies through the skies of Clairton, W.V., looking for his friends, Steve Jackson and Brandy Clark.  He finds them in jail, where they have been locked up over the death of police officer Artie Packer. Rom bursts into jail, analyzes the police, sees they are human, and takes Steve and Brandy away. Leaving Brandy in Steve's care, Rom heads to Washington, D.C. to find Project Safeguard and his neutralizer. He is detected on radar, and attacked by military jets. He defeats the jets, but when he lands to check out the wreckage, a Dire Wraith ship appears and captures him.  Meanwhile, back in Clairton, Steve Jackson leaves Brandy to visit the jail, where he turns out to be a wraith, and the real one is still in prison.

Writer - Bill Mantlo
Artist - Sal Buscema
Letterer - "Friends of Danny Crespi'
Colorist - Ed Hannigan
Editor - Mary Jo Duffy
Cover Artist - Michael Golden

Story - 4/5:  This is another interesting story from writer Bill Mantlo.  Rom still has not recovered his neutralizer, but this leaves him far from powerless.  He is strong enough to easily break Brandy and Steve out of jail. However, this incident also demonstrates that Rom still does not understand the ways of Earthlings, since by breaking them out of jail, he has added one more charge to their rap sheet -- Steve and Brandy are now fugitives from the law.

While reading this story, I thought that Steve's dialogue seemed a little "off." He seems surprised when Rom takes him and Brandy flying, but he has already done this with Rom before (as Rom reminds him).  He seems to be somewhat cold and distant.  At first I thought some of the strain in the dialogue came from Steve starting to realize that Brandy has stronger feelings for Rom than for him -- having already read most of the rest of the series, I know that there will eventually be a bitter rivalry between them for Brandy's affections. However, Mantlo has a surprise for us at the end of the issue: the "Steve" who has been acting subtly "off" all issue is really a shape-shifted Dire Wraith -- the real Steve is still in prison.  This constitutes the first time that an ongoing, major supporting character is impersonated by Dire Wraiths, but it sure won't be the last.  Mantlo does a great job setting this up and paying it off by the end of the issue.

The main action of this issue is Rom's battle with the jet fighters of the U.S. military.  This action scene is very well done. Rom defeats the planes but is careful to ensure that the pilots eject to safety each time. He knows that the Earthlings do not understand who he is or why he is here, and so he tries not to harm anyone physically. The battle sequence is well paced and scripted.

The only negative thing I have to say about this story is that the "missing neutralizer" plot is starting to get old. It's been 5 issues now since Rom's signature weapon was captured -- which, since this is issue 10, constitutes half the run at this point.  During its original print run, this means that for nearly half a year, Rom was unable to do the thing he is supposed to be known for -- hunt down and dispatch Dire Wraiths. The last time we saw him do this was issue 4, in fact (since issue 5 was about a demonic house). It's high time for Rom to get his weapon back, and get the story-line back to normal.   I know Manlto loves to draw things out so we can savor them, but it's enough already.

Overall, however, besides that minor quibble, this issue's story was once again solidly plotted and well scripted. Mantlo continues to be a master of both dialogue and narration.  In each issue he uses words you rarely see in other comics, such as "limned" and "erstwhile." I fondly recall, as a kid, having to hit the dictionary almost every month while reading the Rom comic-book. Thus, Mantlo's vocabulary and writing style continue to shine in this issue.

Artwork - 5/5: Buscema's art is once again excellent. He continues to ink his own work, and he does a great job with both the pencils and the inks.  Buscema has finally settled to a permanent style for Rom's "penlight" eyes, and thus the Silver Spaceknight looks better than ever.  Buscema does an excellent job of drawing Brandy and Ray-Na similarly (but not identical!), so we can see why she reminds Rom of his lost love. And once you know that Steve is a wraith, looking back, you can see some hints, such as the nasty expression on Wraith-Steve's face when Rom leaves and he promises to "take care" of Brandy. As always, Buscema's action shots are kinetic and full of punch, and the "special effects" such as explosions and crashes, look fantastic.

Cover - 4/5: Michael Golden's cover for this issue is stylistically strong, and accurately portrays the events within. The fighter jets, and the background with the Capitol building and the clouds look really good. The Rom character is posed well, but is a little small. Given that he is the title character, I'd have given him a bit more of a close-up.

Overall Experience - 4/5: Overall, this is a very strong issue, and one of the better installments since the series began 10 months earlier.  Mantlo and Buscema are clearly working well as a team now, and you can see how closely they plot the stories. The only negative in this issue is that the "lost neutralizer" plot is starting to wear thin.

A note on the lettering: according to the first page caption, Danny Crespi took ill, and several letterers pitched in to letter the job for him.  The letterers are not credited explicitly, but clearly every few pages is done by a different hand.

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