When a company who deals specifically in board games decided to step outside of their safety net often times the results are less than favourable. Parker Brothers the world-renowned games creators of such hit’s as Scrabble, Master Mind and Pay Day, decided it wanted to dip its toes in the lucrative action figure toy market.
The result was COBOL. COBOL would be a large 13 inch robot equipped with various accessories filled with numerous flashing lights and space sounds! A sure-fire hit. Well COBOL itself never made it to store shelves as prior to its release as Parker Brothers decided that COBOL (Named after the computer programming language) be replaced with the new moniker of ROM which rolled of the tongue easier but retained that computer reference in its namesake.
ROM The Space Knight toy would not be the smash hit Parker Brothers would be anticipating. Regardless the toy itself did boast a number of great features not common to toys in that time. ROM was powered by a single 9 volt battery featured several accessories including a translator, an energy analyzer, a neutralizer, and rocket pack! The figure itself was very basic in its articulation with only three points that could move. One visible flaw was that the toy itself was a standalone product, there were no extra accessories, vehicles, or even companion figures to use in conjunction with ROM. Heck ROM didn’t even have an enemy counterpart to combat.
ROM was alone but Parker Brothers felt to assist in the Toys marketing it would commission Marvel Comics to created a comic book named after the ROM action figure and create a back story for the character. It would be a great idea as Marvel took ROM higher than the Toy line could do and the comic far outlived the action figure. The TV commercial offered very little about the characters origin and revealed that ROM was from the planet Galador which had been invaded by an alien race known as the Dire Wraiths. The Wraiths were an energy based alien that constantly disguised themselves as humans. This would lead to many storyline arcs in the series as humans were in constant fear of ROM who appeared to disintegrate other innocent humans when in actuality it was a Dire Wraith in disguise!
Marvel actively incorporated ROM into the central Marvel universe and he crossed over with other Marvel Superheroes on a regular basis. Marvel retooled the concept of ROM being an alien rather than a Robot as he was originally conceived by Parker Brothers. He was from a race of human like aliens known as Galadorians. When his planet was invaded by Dire Wraiths, ROM offered himself up to be bonded by the Plandanium armor. Parker Brothers went only as far as to describe ROM armor as “Gun Silver”. Other liberties Marvel took were to give ROM a love interest. ROM is inconspicuously introduced to Brandy Clark who like everyone fears and questions ROM but stays by his side for the remainder of the book.
The title lasted 75 issues and ROM would encounter many of Marvels big guns like The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, and even the world eater Galactus! ROM would revisit his home world many times and eventually complete his mission on Earth and return home. In his final issue ROM would shed his “Gun Silver” metal armor to return to his human like Galadorian form and wed Brandy Clark.
Marvel wrote the character out of the books permanently when ROMs then changing his name to Prime Director Artour was captaining a spaceship which would be attacked by a Wraith Knight destroying the ship leaving ROM presumed dead.
There have always been rumblings of ROM returning however legal and trademark disputes have prevented that thus far. There have been a number of “ROM sightings” or creative Easter Eggs on many occasions. ROM has popped up on shows like South Park during its Imagine Land 3 part episode, he is also seen hanging out on ROBOT CHICKEN. One of the cooler sneak peaks is in the Silver Surfer Animated Series in the episode Learning Curve. Look carefully as Surfer walks down the street a familiar Space Knight is visible at 4:55 of the video!
I never owned a ROM Action Figure and as a kid I was truly never impressed with the toy itself. The head always seemed way too big for the toy plus the weird articulation was always troubling. Years later my appreciation for the toy has surfaced and my hunt for ROM has been ignited once again. I ran into a ROM action figure at a local comic shop in my home town some 25 years ago and was impressed that it was mint in box. The owner wanted only 50 bucks. Sadly however comic book sales were non-existent for this shop and before I could gather together some money the shop closed down. My one chance at getting my very own Space Knight was lost forever.
One thing we did learn from ROM the Comic book series is to trust no one as they just maybe a Dire Wraith attempting to take over our planet! Always have your Neutralizer close at hand because you never know. Looking back there was this one boss I had at work that acted kinda..nahh..
Till next time Space Knights!