Rom #17, “Hybrid!”

Rom has returned! In case you missed the news, the classic Rom comics (as well as Micronauts) published by Marvel back in the 80s are finally being packaged in reprint editions, scheduled for release beginning early next year, 2024.  In honor of this, I thought I’d write about a popular Rom story (or stories) and landed on his meetings with Marvel’s merry mutants, beginning with his first encounter with the X-Men in Rom #17 , “Hybrid!”

Hybrid debuts in Rom 17-18 (Apr.-May 1981), guest-starring the X-Men and featuring two classic covers by Frank Miller.

Rom #17, “Hybrid!”

As Rom #17 (Apr. 1981) opens, Cerebro’s alarm is going off at Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, as it detects that a powerful mutant has just “manifested itself” in Clairton, West Virginia, which happens to be the earthly base of operations for Rom the spaceknight. Naturally, the X-Men—Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Sprite (Kitty Pryde)—are dispatched to investigate.

Readers quickly learn that the mutant in question was produced from the coupling of a Dire Wraith (one of a race of shape-shifting aliens that are sworn enemies of Rom) and a human woman. And their mutant child is not going to be inclined to join the X-Men in their quest to forge peace between mutant and non-mutant. No, he’s more inclined to enslave everyone in the world—mutant, non-mutant, or otherwise.

Meanwhile, Rom is enjoying some quiet time with Brandy Clark and her family in the Clark home, having only recently found success in revealing the existence of the Dire Wraiths on Earth to the residents of the small town. This peace is interrupted when Silas Lane, county coroner, arrives. He’s noticed irregularities in some of the birth and death records, and Rom confirms that this is likely due to Dire Wraith activity. Further digging reveals the possibility that one Dire Wraith, posing as a human man named Jacob Marks, may have fathered a child with his human wife.

Brandy Clark and her boyfriend Steve Jackson lead Rom to the Marks farm through a blizzard via snowmobiles. When they arrive, they find Marjorie Marks in a state of advanced age and very sickly, due to the tortures her son has visited upon her. Brandy and Steve take her away on their snowmobiles for medical help while Rom converses with Jacob Marks, the Dire Wraith.

Rom’s first instinct is to assume the Wraith is evil, but he quickly discovers this is not the case. True, his relationship with Marjorie was originally only meant to further his human disguise, but he soon came to truly love her. Though he was uncertain about trying to conceive a child with her, he eventually did, as knew he how much this meant to her. The child appeared perfectly healthy and normal at first. Then some of Jacob’s Wraith kin arrived, demanding to see his Wraith-human hybrid offspring. “Behind locked doors, my son Jimmy was initiated into the secrets of his arcane ancestry. He proved a receptive pupil.”

Marjorie grew terrified of what her son was becoming. But when she tried to run off with him, the boy resisted—with the display of his newfound telekinetic power only terrifying her further. Then Jimmy started slaughtering the farm’s livestock with his powers. Finally, he used his powers directly against his parents, throwing his father through a door and aging his mother fifty years in mere seconds.

After hearing this, Rom decides it’s time to confront this creature himself. When he does, he sees a regular-looking kid who just so happen to be glowing and floating in the air. Once he turns his analyzer on him, the creature’s true form is revealed . . . and it for sure ain’t pretty.

The battle begins and the creature once known as Jimmy, now and forevermore known only as Hybrid, begins tearing the house down, literally. And amidst the violence, Hybrid uses his telekinesis to run his father through with a pitchfork. Aghast to see the only noble Wraith he’s ever known be killed in so callous a manner (and by his own offspring, no less), Rom begins to take the fight to Hybrid. But when he tries to use his neutralizer to banish Hybrid to limbo, it has no effect. Apparently his partially human nature renders him immune to banishment.

When Rom announces he is activating the neutralizer’s kill setting, that’s the precise moment the X-Men show up (on the very last page), with Hybrid having used his inborn shape-shifting power to appear once again as a little boy.

Rom #18, “And a Child Shall Deceive Them!”

What follows in Rom #18 (May 1981) is the classic-formula superhero battle, with one side of the fight having been utterly duped into violence, as the X-Men arrived to find Rom threatening this seemingly sweet and innocent child, Jimmy Marks. The kid even clings to Kitty, begging, “Please don’t let him kill me like he killed my mom and dad!”

So naturally our X-Men assume Rom is some kind of evil, armor-clad mutant, the one that Cerebro detected, and the fight is on. Nightcrawler and Wolverine attack in tandem first, with Colossus bring up the rear, Kitty guarding and comforting Hybrid in his child guise, and Storm trying to take control of the blizzard and meeting resistance (because Hybrid is powering it).

Then, under the cover of the blizzard, Hybrid reassumes his true form and tries to attack Kitty. She enters her phase state to protect herself and passes through Rom, disrupting his armor’s mechanisms. Rom is still able to summon his neutralizer however, now with the setting to slay, and is able to keep Hybrid at bay. Colossus finally attacks, but Hybrid is able to force him to change back from steel to flesh. Kitty tries to run a snowmobile at him, but Hybrid stops it telekinetically, takes it apart and uses the disassembled pieces as weapons. At this point, Hybrid knocks the neutralizer from Rom’s hand. Wolverine tries to use it and fails; but due to the nature of her mutant powers somehow, Kitty is able to wield it. (Parenthetical sidebar: Kitty is such a Mary Sue.)

As Kitty turns the neutralizer on Hybrid, it appears to be doing its work, but slowly. Rom tackles Hybrid from behind in an effort to help. The first and greatest of the spaceknights tells Kitty to change the setting on the weapon via her mutant powers so that it’s set to both banish and slay. This finishes Hybrid, but it also sends Rom to Limbo.

And that’s the cliffhanger we end things on. Don’t lose too much sleep over Rom, folks, he’ll find his way back to Earth soon enough.

Rom #31, “West Virginia Reel”

Hybrid happens to return just as Rom is about to have his next mutant encounter, this one with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in Rom #31-32 (Jun.-Jul. 1982). As issue #31 opens, Hybrid has finished putting his molecules back together just as Clairton’s newest defender, the Torpedo, is passing by. Hybrid wipes out the Torpedo with chilling ease.

Elsewhere, two-thirds of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants is locked up in a prison transport being taken to a facility near Clairton as the snow is coming down hard. The transport nearly crashes because of the snow and a falling convict workman, but Rom is there to save them. Rom not having the sunniest of reputations however, causes security to immediately detach the high-tech car holding the Brotherhood and jet it off to Windust Maximum Security Prison. The remaining prisoners convince the naïve Rom that they’re all “slaves” and he frees them. Then Rom’s off in pursuit of the jet-prison car to free the Brotherhood as well. Little does he know that Mystique and Rogue are already at Windust about to liberate their teammates, Destiny, Avalanche, Pyro, and the Blob.

Rom arrives at Windust just as the Brotherhood is reunited. Battle ensues, and while Rom is able to stop the men, the female members of the team, Mystique, Rogue, and Destiny, escape. (As she flies off with her lady teammates in tow, Rogue comments, “Ah’m beginnin’ ta wonder if maybe we shouldn’t just rename ourselves the Sisterhood!”)

After the warden comes out to set Rom straight, he decides to pursue the ladies to right his wrong. But the three women have just encountered Hybrid, so if and when Rom finds them, he’s going to have a lot more on his hands than he bargained for.

Rom #32, “Choosing Sides”

At the start of Rom #32, the women’s half of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and Hybrid have a scuffle before ultimately deciding to join forces. Lucky for Rom, he decides to check in with his human allies and Brock Jones, the Torpedo, is able to warn him of Hybrid’s return.

Back at the dilapidated, old mansion where Hybrid is holed up with his new allies, the gang of cons Rom mistakenly freed last issue show up. Hybrid strips them of their flesh, reducing them to skeletons, causing the women to question their alliance with this monster. But then Rom arrives, forcing them all back together again.

The ladies attack first, leaving Hybrid to lurk in the background for a surprise attack. Then something happens.

Of all the things that happened in the pages of Rom that Marvel was later forced to ignore due to losing the license, this may be the most important—it’s the moment that turned Rogue from villain to hero. Prior to this, she was one of the nastiest and most vile of villains; now see her transformed.

Amidst the confusion, Hybrid strikes. As he’s distracted by fighting Rom, Destiny is able to read the true plans Hybrid has for them in his mind: He’s going to enslave them and use them for breeding. Horrified, their alliance is over— but what does this mean they should do? Mystique wants to retreat while Rom and Hybrid are occupied with each other, but Rogue has other ideas.

Rogue is instantly flying off to Rom’s aid in true superhero fashion. Mystique and Destiny soon join her, and together with Rom, they are able to slay Hybrid. (Okay, so not permanently, but for a while, at least.) In the issue’s final panel, Rogue thinks to herself, “Ah wonder if my path an’ Rom’s will ever cross again?” The caption then reveals that this “is Rom’s most fervent hope as well.”

Rom and the Marvel Universe

Of all the licensed properties Marvel published back in the 1970s and 80s, none of them were more actively involved in the larger Marvel Universe than Rom. He had Marvel regulars as guest stars and antagonists almost constantly, especially as time went on. This is why gaining access to these old stories is such a big deal. Now in most cases, the appearances of these characters in Rom didn’t carry much in the way of consequences for said characters, but there were a few occasions when something big would happen to them there—and this development with Rogue was the biggest of all by far. But was this accidental or by design?

Did Bill Mantlo write the story completely on his own? And then Chris Claremont saw it and was inspired to turn Rogue into one of the good guys? Or did Mantlo discuss it with Claremont beforehand and Claremont revealed he was already planning to turn Rogue babyface and this, in turn, is what inspired Mantlo to put it in his story? Or perhaps it was even Claremont’s suggestion to put it in there? It’s an interesting question.

Rom was a beautiful character, one that never failed to live up to the honor and nobility of the “knight” portion of his title, “spaceknight.” A nobility so great it could turn the heart of an evil woman to good. For those who missed Rom the first time around, you’ll finally get the chance to purchase these adventures for yourself in 2024. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did when I was buying them off the spinner racks all those years ago.

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