In 1969, the Apollo crew is about to receive some very unfriendly visitors. This is the story of mankind’s first secret encounter with the Dire Wraiths… and Rom isn’t there to save them!
I was very excited to learn that this new series is intended to play fast and loose with modern ROM continuity. In the last few years, Rom had gotten a little difficult to keep up with. Even if you were reading the core series, his various appearances in other IDW crossovers kept the sequence of events somewhat muddy. So the idea of a Rom story that didn’t fully rely on the old “Hasbro-verse” to tell its story was rather appealing to me as a reader and fan of the character.
Let’s get that bit of business out of the way up top: while this issue is a bit lighter on references to broader Rom continuity, it’s not exactly tailor-made for new readers. If anything, it adds new layers to the Hasbro-verse that makes one wonder if this is meant to be a “backdoor pilot” of sorts for a new series.
A large chunk of the issue is devoted to introducing our new protagonists, a team of researchers and defense experts on board a secret space station. These people have been trained to defend the earth from all manner of “inhuman” threats. References abound to subterranean monsters and special agents with super powers. Anyone who isn’t familiar with the 1990 animated series and toy line Inhumanoids will likely be horribly confused. However, I personally have rather fond memories of watching that show from between my fingers as a kid, so it immediately had me excited to see where this story leads.
Still, the problem is that so much of this issue is devoted to exposition. The issue also makes the curious decision to leave a lot of the set-up for our main antagonists’ plight in the issue’s back-up story. There’s a lot of telling instead of showing, which is a bummer when it sounds like everything awesome is happening somewhere else or has already occurred for these characters. That’s why I’m hopeful that this miniseries is merely a springboard for their further adventures.
On the positive side, there is quite a lot to like about this first issue. The aforementioned involvement of Inhumanoids characters and references to obscure properties like Mike Power, Atomic Man should be a delight for fans of Hasbro history.
There are also some brief touches that enrich the story and ground the more fantastical elements in some form of reality. For instance, we are introduced to JoAnn Morgan, the only woman in the control center during the Apollo 11 mission. Morgan is a real figure from history and it’s very telling to see how her co-workers react to her concerns over the mission. It’ll be interesting to see how this pays off in future issues, but the stab at authenticity is much appreciated.
Meanwhile, the entire creative team is on point. Chris Ryall feels like he hasn’t missed a beat in writing Rom and the Dire Wraiths. There are some wonderful moments of levity mixed into the issue, with a comedic zero-gravity fight being the highlight. It’s clear that he has a lot of love and enthusiasm for these properties, which shines through in the more gleefully bonkers moments.
Luca Pizzari does a lovely job with the artwork in the first story, particularly when rendering the titular Dire Wraiths. These are some nasty-looking customers, managing to have an almost Lovecraftian sense of terror to them, even in the lighter moments. Pizzari’s panels also make wonderful use of negative space, showcasing just how lonely and isolated these people are out in the darkness of space. Jim Boswell’s colors perfectly sell the heroes’ color-coordinated outfits, as well, without it seeming like they may as well have painted targets on their bodies.
The backup story features artwork from the team of Guy Dorian Sr. and classic Rom artist Sal Buscema. Despite its light story, the backup captures much more of a space opera feel, thanks to the cosmic designs on display. The Dire Wraiths look particularly grotesque in this story, their scaly skin being much more prevalent. Also, the colors in the backup from Ross Campbell make the much more mystical side of the Wraiths come to life. There’s also a particular page of Rom flying through space that features some psychedelic tones that really stood out.
Again, it’s odd that the backup story gives the main story some much-needed context, but it’s not too terribly distracting. It just seems like a bizarre choice.
Throughout the issue, Shawn Lee’s lettering goes a long way toward setting apart the Dire Wraiths. There’s a slight bent to their dialogue that makes them feel just a little off, a little crooked. Meanwhile, the numerous boxes identifying the various characters feel reminiscent of the kinds of “character bios” you’d find on the backs of old Hasbro figures.
Overall, this is a fine first issue with a few odd narrative choices and an over-reliance on exposition. Hopefully, getting all of this table setting out of the way will allow the next few issues to really let loose.