Sunday, June 8, 2014

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #24: They Came From Whentoyswerefun!!!

They Came From Whentoyswerefun!!!
by Professor Thomas Flynn

America's Sunburn Capital
I live on the second floor of a two-story house in Ozone Park, Queens. Apparently, Noxious Gas Field, Queens, was already taken. Unlike the other homes on my block, the front door is on the left side of the structure. Well, I should actually say doors. What most people commonly refer to as the screen door feels like it was assembled with materials salvaged from a Sherman tank. And while the main door was approved for durability by Fort Knox, it was ultimately rejected for complexity. After managing to open both of these mighty portals with the use of multiple keys and considerable muscle, you face my landlord Bob’s inner door — though I prefer the terms landfriend or friendlord since I first met Bob at a Motörhead show. If you turn to the left, two short flights of stairs lead to my apartment. Now coming home is usually the happiest part of the day. It means that I’ve navigated the potholes both at work and on the dreaded Belt Parkway. And my apartment, filled with the things I love, is definitely my Fortress of Solitude. Or, since I write for MU, my Sanctum Sanctorum. So while I love arriving at the Ozone every day, there is a heightened sense of anticipation when an Amazon or eBay purchase is in play.

100% Rape Free
A few months back, Professor Pete sent out a faculty-wide email, asking if anyone was willing to take responsibility for a few unclaimed series that Marvel would debut towards the end of the 70s. Since I’m filled with Catholic guilt — and have one of the lightest class schedules — I volunteered for Kirby/Ditko’s Machine Man. Alas, the usually infallible Paste-Pot had made a mistake, and that series was already earmarked for another professor. So, considering I’m already doing a few of Marvel’s black-and-white magazines, I picked Rampaging Hulk, which stomps onto the publishing schedule in January 1977. Not sure I read those, but searching online, the impressive, painted covers sure looked familiar. I was surprised to find that the magazine picks up directly after the original The Incredible Hulk was cancelled in March 1963 after only six issues. The series would eventually change its name to simply The Hulk! with issue #10, morphing into a color magazine that attempted to capitalize on the current TV series. The infamous #23, with Jim Shooter’s icky rape story, falls outside the MU milieu so we’ll miss out on a discussion of such cringe worthy lines as “Umm! You’re soft! And all pearly white — and you’ve got the cutest little cheeks!” Probably a good thing. Another series on Pete’s orphan list also jumped out at me: Micronauts. Now those I bought back in the day, unlike most of my other curriculum. So I snapped that one up as well, unknowingly pulling the rug out from a few other professors. Sorry guys.

Chick Magnets

Micronauts made its debut in January 1979, created by Bill Mantlo after he saw his son playing with a few of the Mego Corporation’s Micronauts action figures. Mego introduced the interchangeable toys in 1976, repackaging Japanese toymaker Takara’s popular Microman line. Trust me, I know why Mantlo’s kid enjoyed them: for the next two years, Micronauts were at the top of my wishlist for Christmases, birthdays, and any other gift-giving occasion I could imagine. Through the generosity of my parents, I amassed quite a collection. I had a few of the clear Time Traveler figures with the dainty feet and hands; a metal Space Glider with the cool flapout wingpack; Acroyear, still impressive even with those dopey rollers on the bottom of his detachable feet; the big 12-inch Biotron who transformed into a multitude of vehicles; his battery-powered friend Microtron; and, of course, the evil Baron Karza, complete with magnetic socket joints so you could stick his leg where his head should be if you were so inclined. And I was, many, many times. My collection also featured a few of the large spaceships including the Battle Cruiser, which could hold four Time Travelers and turn into dozens of smaller ships. The Cruiser could also launch a battery of rockets tipped with red rubber balls — my little brother Tim was never amused. Where all these toys are now I have no idea, but I remembered the moment I lost my taste for them: an older cousin took one look at Microtron’s spinning drill and laughed that it looked like a penis. Since it was located on the robot’s crotch, I could hardly argue.

Now With More Bugs

After I agreed to take on Micronauts, I jumped on eBay to see if I could score the issues I needed, since the comics had long gone the way of my tainted toy collection. For my MU needs, I only required the first twelve, but quickly found that a seller named Whentoyswerefun was auctioning off the entire 59 issue run — believe it or not, there were zero bids and the auction was ending in just a few hours. My luck held out, and I won the whole kit and caboodle for only $35, including shipping and handling, which seems like quite a bargain. Delivery was marked for a week later, and, like Tom Petty, I settled in for the wait, the hardest part. Oh, there’s one other thing I forgot to mention about Bob: due to his odd work hours, he’s usually home when UPS or FedEx rings with a package. So when I get home, my precious purchases will be gleefully waiting at the top of the first set of stairs leading towards my door. And lo and behold, on a Wednesday, four days earlier than expected, my Micronauts haul was there, tightly packaged in an old carton originally used for Girl Scout cookies. Peanut Butter Patties, my favorites.

Today About 50¢ An Issue
Since 1979 is down the road a spell for MU, I didn’t plan on seriously digging into the comics for quite some time. But of course, I immediately opened the box, breathed in the musty newsprint, and quickly flipped through each issue. None of the comics were in pristine condition, but I didn’t care. I had bought a significant chunk of the series in my youth, and while my memory is very fond, it is also very foggy. First, I was surprised that the amazing Michael Golden only drew the first dozen issues. I thought it was much more. Geez, even the fabulous yet fickle Barry Smith lasted longer on Conan the Barbarian. Then, moving forward, I couldn’t believe that Bill Mantlo wrote every single issue … except the last one!?! For a reason that I hope to eventually uncover, Peter B. Gillis handled #59. Whentoyswerefun, the eBay seller, also kindly included a bonus of the first five issues of the next series, Micronauts: The New Voyages. Gillis did those as well and it looks like all the rest, up to #20 when the series was either cancelled or discontinued because Marvel’s license ran out. As for the artists after Golden, we have Howard Chaykin, Pat Broderick, Val Mayerik, Keith Giffen, John Garcia (?), Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Luke McDonnell (?), Mike Vosburg, Butch Guice, and Kelley Jones. It’s easy to see that Broderick and Juice had excellent runs. Kelley Jones only did the last issue and he would join Gillis on Micronauts: The New Voyages. Hmmmm. Was Mantlo’s last issue, #58, really supposed to be the finale? While serving as Editor, Al Milgrom also inked a few issues and other penmen include personal fave Bruce Patterson, Josef Rubenstein, Bob McLeod, Armando Gil, and Danny Bulanadi. I don’t remember Gil or Bulanadi at all, but they look talented. Plus, I see a bunch of crossovers: Fantastic Four, Man-Thing, Dr. Strange, SHIELD, and others. 

So there you have it. The Inner Space is now in the Inner Ozone. And ultimately, to MU. Stay tuned effendi!

Special Bonus! Michael Golden’s unused cover art for Micronauts #1

Beats the Flapout Wingpack Off of Cockrum's


  1. Hard to believe that nobody bid on this. And quite sad. For a series which premise is so stupid - lets write about toys - Mantlo did great work, and the book had such fine art. It is worth alone for the early Guice art.

    Mantlo never was one of Marvel's stars like Englehart or Gerber, but he was so much better then others, especially as next generation writers like Gillis. Mantlo's prose may have been a bit purple sometimes, but his stories were colorful and fast-moving.He created two universes, and he did it better then a lot of his collegues.

  2. Agree 100%. Total luck that the auction was just ending when I found it and that no one else bid. I still need the first annual and it looks to be had for pocket change.

  3. Andy, so glad you said that about Mantlo. He had his off days like anyone else, but he also did some solid stuff that I look forward to revisiting.