Micronauts # 4: Death Duel at Daytona Beach Part 2 / A Hunting We Will Go
Micronauts # 5: The Prometheus Pit
OK, so that means that our whole solar system could be like one tiny atom in the fingernail of some other giant being. This is nuts! That means that one tiny atom in my fingernail could be could be one tiny little universe!.... Can I buy some pot from you?National Lampoon's Animal House
The Marvel Canon Keepers seem to take the view that the Microverse is not literally an itsy bitsy teeny weeny universe; but simply an alien dimension that humans access by shrinking. If you mutter "quantum realm" authoritatively, it may make more sense.
Once you have invoked the idea of a Microverse and a Macroverse, it is hard to avoid thinking in terms of microcosm and macrocosm in the Platonic sense: "as above, so below". Whether this would have occurred to Bill Mantlo I couldn't say. Unlike Jim Starlin or Steve Engelhart, he doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who would have been into mysticism, although the aforementioned Sword in the Star has a distinct hippy vibe. But when he needs to bring his earthbound and microcosmic storylines together, what he comes up with is an earthly conspiracy that mirrors and foreshadows the politics of the Microverse.
Professor Phillip Prometheus is a scientist, and therefore, it almost goes without saying, mad. He was injured during a space mission, and his spaceship's automated repair systems rebuilt him. Better than he was before: stronger, faster, better. He's a cyborg, which given the action-figure genealogy of the Micronauts is quite ironic in itself.
Prof Prometheus is obsessed with prolonging human life. He has robot minions ("humanoids") who call him The Master and obey his every whim. And he has created a kind of boom-tube or star-gate which connects his laboratory to the Microverse. He calls it, portentously, the Prometheus Pit. When we first meet him in issue #4, he talks like a perfectly sensible scientist ("Welcome, old friend") but when his back story is revealed in issue #5, he shifts to Villain Voice: "I can transcend the small portion of humanity left in me! I can become like unto a god!"
Prometheus is a former colleague of Ray Coffin, Steve's Dad. Ray Coffin was an astronaut; he and Prometheus served together. Before long, Ray will be having an extremely close encounter with the Enigma Force, just like Rann did on the edge of the Microverse. It's not a terribly subtle analogy: Prof Prometheus is the human equivalent of Karza and Ray Coffin is a lot like Arcturus Rann. As the storyline plays out, the two humans will become explicit avatars for their Microverse equivalents.
In one way, it all hangs together. Prometheus has become obsessed with the Microverse because he has discovered the remains of Karza's Dog Soldiers who (it appears) keep getting killed while trying to get through the Space Wall to Earth. The Dog Soldiers have been said from the beginning to be half-human and half-machine, so it makes sense that a a person with an interest in bionics would want to know more about them. We were told that the roboids of the Microverse were a synthesis of man and machine in the very first issue. This might be dense foreshadowing -- Mantlo might have put a lot of cybertech into Homeworld because he had foreseen the character of Prometheus from the beginning. But it might be a sort of retrospective mining of his own material: when he needed an earthly villain, what he had already established about the Microverse suggested an evil bionic man. Prometheus's transformation from skeptical scientist to full on ranting super-baddie in issue #5 is rather sudden: if you told me it was the result of an authorial rethink between issues I would not be entirely surprised.
DIGRESSION: When our heroes first encountered Muffin in issue #2, they didn't know what sort of a creature he was. Later, Mari explains to Rann that he is a "dog" and that "dogs" are extinct on Homeworld. Even allowing for translation, why would Karza name his stormtroopers after an obscure extinct animal? ("Because it's cool, that's why.")
But even by Marvel Comics standards, quite a lot of belief has to be suspended. When he's first mentioned, Steve's Dad is merely a NASA astronaut who served on Starlab. Starlab is obviously meant to make us think of Skylab. Skylab was real and in the news: it would crash out of orbit and into the sea in 1979. It's quite a big jump from the 1970s space programme to super intelligent computers that can rebuild human beings; and quite a big jump from being a US astronaut to creating intra-dimensional portals and secret robot armies. Marvel generally keeps the "real world" and "super science" in separate boxes: we are allowed to believe in the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, but New York Police generally don't have ray guns. But even if we can accept that Steve's Dad's friend is a Reed Richards level genius, it requires a huge leap of faith to accept that Rann just happened to crash his ship in the garden of the human being who is his exact analogy on earth.
Unless Time Traveller planned it that way.
Issue #4 is, truthfully, a bit of a muddle. It tends to confirm the theory that Micronauts is the result of a hastily executed cut and paste job, a superhero comic and a Star Wars comic glued together at short notice. For one thing, it has two different titles. The main splash page takes us back to the Microverse, showing us Karza's dog-soldiers raiding "the underground" on Homeworld. (This seems to represent a shift from the opening issue, where "the rebels" were specifically insurgents against the Royal Family.) This is entitled A Hunting We Will Go. The first two issues went with science-fiction lettering and single-word titles (Homeworld, Escape, Earth) but from 3 onwards we've reverted to standard Marvel bombast. Strangely, the splash-page is enclosed in a larger frame, with head-shots of the main characters in the margin, and a second title at the top: Death-Duel at Daytona Beach Part Two. It's very unusual for a Marvel comic of the era to call a story "part two". Although the story follows on directly from the last episode, it isn't really a duel, and it doesn't take place anywhere near the beach. It seems pretty clear that one comic (Rann and his friends lost on earth) and an entirely separate comic (Karza, Belladona and Argon) have been fairly clumsily edited together.
Baron Karza himself appears on the cover, for the first time since issue #1. Had Jim Shooter or someone come around to the idea that space opera and Darth Vader lookalikes sell even better than lawnmowers? But in fact, we only get five pages in the Microverse before cutting back to Steve Coffin's yard. Anyone who judged the comic by the cover would have been sorely disappointed.
Meanwhile, Ray takes Steve (who has put some clothes on) to his place of work, to show his old friend Prof Prometheus the wrecked space-craft which proves that they have encountered extraterrestrials. (Just to remind us that we're in the 1970s, the Prometheus initially thinks that Steve's imagination has been fired up by Close Encounters of the Third Kind.) Prometheus's institution is called the Human Engineering Life Laboratories, but otherwise there is absolutely nothing sinister about it. Rann, Acroyear and Marie limp back to Steve's house to pick up Bug, but Bug has followed the Coffins to HELL, so they fly off after him in the Astrostation (another detachable section of the Endeavour) leaving Biotron to fix the main ship in Steve's kitchen.
-- What do you think we'll find here, Mr Acroyear?
-- Battle! Glory!
-- Oh dear.
I am trying very hard to be a semi-professional writer and have taken the leap of faith of down-sizing my day job.
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