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For years comic-book and toy fans have been clamoring for the resurrection of ROM: The Space Knight, cyborg enemy of the Dire Wraiths, star of his own Marvel series, and poor-selling action figure. Now it appears his return may be imminent.
Toy Ark catches that Hasbro has filed to trademark ROM for “toy action figures and toy robots convertible into other visual toy forms,” signaling the manufacturer’s plans to rescue the clunky, and noisy, silver doll from late-1970s obscurity.
Released in the United States in 1979 by Parker Brothers (now a Hasbro subsidiary) amid a wave of science fiction popularity that followed the success of Star Wars, ROM was a commercial failure, fulfilling Time magazine’s prediction that the cheaply made figure would “end up among the dust balls under the playroom sofa.”
“Rom is a spaceman doll whose computer memory gives it a disappointingly narrow range of behavior,” the magazine wrote. “It breathes heavily (one of its better effects), buzzes, twitters and flashes its lighted eyes, and sounds ominous gongs, one for good and two for evil. The trouble with this Parker Bros. homunculus is that it looks as if it should be able to use its arms and legs like a true robot, and it can’t.”
However, ROM’s future in comics was brighter and more enduring. Launched in December 1979, Marvel’s ROM: Spaceknight permitted writer Bill Mantlo and artist Sal Buscema have free rein with the character’s universe. After all, there was nothing to the Parker Brothers toy beyond what you saw on the box; no backstory, no enemies, just noise-making accessories and flashing lights. ROM now was a cyborg from the utopian planet Galador who, after fending off an invasion by the Dire Wraiths, traveled to Earth to continue the fight. (Chris Sims recently provided a solid rundown of the character’s comic-book history.)
The series ran for 75 issues, with our cyborg hero interacting with many characters of the Marvel Universe, before it came to an end in 1986, long outlasting the ROM figure’s life on store shelves. Despite that respectable seven-year run, former Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter wrote last year that, “Sales of ROM were never great. For years it hung in there, in the lowest tier, but above the cut-line.”
With the loss of the license, ROM has all but faded from Marvel history, and because of rights issues, archival collections have always been a pipe dream. But with Hasbro’s apparent renewed interest, is it too much for fans to hope that Marvel might revisit the greatest of the Spaceknights?