The toy market of the 1970′s was a hotbed of whacked-out innovations. Just looking at the selection that included the ‘Thing Maker’ and an Evel Keneivel stunt cycle that also repeatedly crashed as well as Batman dolls that performed real kung fu, it was clear that the toy makers were on fire. One of the more interesting and endearing toy lines to be imported into the United States was the Micronauts. Essentially modular plastic men that fired rubber darts, these little guys were retooled into an entire mythology in the U.S., an experiment that expanded into the comic book scene.
The Micronauts toys created by Mego were very sturdy and had an almost unreal air about them. Maybe it was the way that missiles seemed capable of doing real damage or the fact that Baron Karza could magnetically be transformed into a centaur, but these toys made a real impact on kids of the era. Some Micronaut designs even returned in the mid 80′s as Transformers, including Optimus Prime.
Ofcourse, Micronauts (or Microman as he is known) is an entirely different affair in Japan, where the toys influence full on prog-rock-style psychedelic freak-outs.
The Micronauts comicbook series from Marvel took the toyline imported and developed by Mego and fleshed it out in an entirely new action series worthy of the mighty Marvel manner.
A sci-fi opera written by Bill Mantlo based simply on the toys themselves released three years prior, Micronauts is a sprawling epic galactic war affair with Commander Rann, Marionette, Bug, Biotron, Microtron and ofcourse the mighty Acroyer on one side and the evil Baron Karza and his massive army of loyal minions on the other. The battleground was ofcourse Earth, where the heroes strangely took on the proportionate size of children’s toys (fancy that!?).
The series attracted many top talent comic creators including Michael Golden, Howard Chaykin and even Gil ‘Sugar’ Kane. A cult hit, the Micronauts even crossed over with the X-Men and Rom the Space Knight (another comic book/toy character). Outlasting the toyline that inspired them, some of the Micronauts characters are still with us today, such as the simply-named Bug who stars in the pages of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
In the budding days of his popularity online, writer Warren Ellis held the Micronauts as a veritable symbol of everything that is wrong with comics, stating ‘We ask you what you want and you say bring back Micronauts.’ Ellis touted the importance of new material and more genre comics rather than a reproduction of what had come before. It’s ironic that after the success of his creator-owned and independent work, Ellis went on to write for both of the big two publishers on some its more commercial properties from JLA to Fantastic Four and even a reworking of the New Universe after making such a stance on the importance of new material. We have also seen more succesful revivals of old ideas from the 1970′s and 80′s based on toys. I’m not saying that Ellis was wrong, but he wasn’t exactly right either.
Brought out of retirement several times over and by several publishing houses from Image Comics to Devil’s Due, the Micronauts have seen their share of revivals. Just goes to show how far you can go with a magnetic horse and a few mushroom-shaped missiles.
For more info on the Micronauts mythology, please visit these sites: