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For a lot of comic book readers, the debut of a new ROM series is met with a reaction of “who?” However, ROM was a good comic book for Marvel back in the 1980s. It is true that ROM began as a toy (from Parker Brothers), but that’s also true of Transformers and G.I. Joe, and those properties have had numerous strong runs in comic books over the past three-plus decades. IDW Editor-in-Chief/Chief Creative Officer Chris Ryall has been a very big fan of ROM and put a lot of time and effort into getting a ROM series to IDW. That work helped produce ROM #1. It’s not a stunning or groundbreaking comic, but the first issue of ROM in 30 years is a solid start.
Most ROM stories revolve around how he is an alien warrior come to Earth to fight Dire Wraiths. The Dire Wraiths are insidious aliens who kill and inhabit hosts. In ROM #1, that basic set-up is true, but there are some nice realistic touches, such as how most people seem to believe that ROM, who appears to be just outright executing humans, is the villain. Readers also get stand-ins, through war veteran Darby and police officer Camilla Byers. Byers encounters Dire Wraiths, but those in charge either don’t believe her or are actually Wraiths themselves. Meanwhile, Darby loses her family, who were killed and replaced by Wraiths. She doesn’t know what to make of ROM, but the story seems to be setting her up to be an ally of his.
There are many good metaphorical possibilities for a series about aliens who kill and inhabit human forms. Contemporary fears like spying, security, corruption, and random violence could also be portrayed effectively with a premise like the Dire Wraiths. There is some of that in ROM #1. An entire town appears to be controlled by Wraiths and some of the government. If the Wraiths are subtle and play the long game, they could be a real match for ROM. So I hope the series makes the Wraiths’ existence unknown to the story public – at least for a while. It could be interesting to see how writers Ryall and Christos Gage play the angle of a hero not trusted by the public, too.
The first issue of ROM is solid, but it’s not exactly amazing. The story is pretty basic and the characterization isn’t totally there yet. ROM, by default, has something of a robotic personality – though that can be made to work well, like how Dan Slott has made the Silver Surfer’s alien nature a charming part of his personality. The human characters have potential. It is hard to not root for Darby and Camilla. Camilla is attacked, interrogated, and marked. Darby sees her family killed only to find out they weren’t really her family. However, there isn’t much in ROM #1 that really showcases what kind of people they are (other than resilient). So Ryall and Gage will need to develop these character elements since the Wraiths could come across as a faceless horde.
The art on ROM #1 by David Messina is a mixed bag, sometimes solid and others times garish. He actually does a nice job on the human characters, showing their expressions and giving them realistic bodies. However, the Dire Wraiths look a bit too cartoonishly alien to be terrifying, and the design of ROM here makes him smooth whereas I prefer his old blocky head and body, which made his look stand out a bit more compared to similar robot characters. Additionally, there are a ridiculous amount of variant covers to ROM #1… perhaps around two dozen. Variants don’t interest me in particular, though some of them are quite good. However, that’s just a way comic books are sold these days. The art on the interior, though, could use a bit more personality.
Another element of ROM #1 that needs to be discussed is the surprise ending. In it, Scarlet and Roadblock from G.I. Joe show up to discuss the alien threat that is ROM. Shared universes are a big trend now, and IDW has pulled together a number of former toy properties from Hasbro that will share one universe. Along with ROM and G.I. Joe, Transformers, Action Man, Micronauts, and M.A.S.K. will all inhabit the same story universe. IDW is leaning into this possibility, as a crossover series, Revolution, will take place in the fall. I worry that such a large crossover so early into a ROM series could take away from the world building, but it’s possible that it could also help develop the world of ROM.