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GONE, and not reprinted: Licensed characters leave holes in Marvel history

By Staff | Aug 28, 2019

Licensing deals and copyright law are stronger than just about any comic book afterlife.

With the exception (so far) of Thunderstrike, the original Captain Marvel and Uncle Ben, most Marvel characters have returned from the dead, or at least comic book limbo, over the years, in some cases multiple times.

But a larger-than-life character who has tangled with the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and Devil Dinosaur, among others, has been absent from the Marvel Comics universe for 40-plus years, while another who teamed up with the Hulk, X-Men and Heroes for Hire is also MIA.

However, Godzilla and Rom (Spaceknight!) are filling the pages of comics from other companies as we speak.

Godzilla headlined a 24-issue series from Marvel in the ’70s that found the titanic creature hunted by S.H.I.E.L.D., facing villains and heroes alike. Although the company lost the rights to publish comics featuring the big G himself, original characters introduced in the series – including kaiju-fighting robot Red Ronin and monster-mutating villain Doctor Demonicus – have continued to appear in Marvel publications.

A mutated beast who can be inferred from subsequent references to be the Marvel Godzilla also showed up in multiple titles before being killed by Archangel in 2009’s “Uncanny X-Men” #509.

Based on a Parker Brothers toy, Rom’s adventures were chronicled by Rocket Raccoon co-creator Bill Mantlo for 75 issues. The mythology, far broader than that of the toy itself, included noble Spaceknights from the planet of Galador, the villainous Dire Wraiths, the ficitonal West Virginia town of Clairton and a whole lot of crossover with Marvel stars.

Spaceknights and Dire Wraiths still pop up in Marvel stories, but not Rom, whose license is now held by IDW. In an era when it seems like everything is collected in trade paperbacks, Rom is conspicuously absent.

That goes for other trades like “Essential Power Man and Iron Fist” Vol. 1, which skips over issue 73 of the series, which guest-starred the Spaceknight.

Only 98 issues of “Marvel Two-in-One’s” 100-issue run are available in those black-and-white Essentials, because issue 21 featured the Thing alongside pulp hero Doc Savage, whose license has been held by multiple companies, while his tag-team partner in #99 was Rom.

Marvel could be setting itself up for a similar situation after regaining the license for Conan the Barbarian. Marvel published Conan comics from 1970 into the ’90s, but the stories were largely self-contained except for a a few instances like 1990’s “What If Wolverine Battled Conan the Barbarian?” But now Robert E. Howard’s most famous creation is back in the Marvel fold and a member of the new “Savage Avengers” to boot.

Marvel published “Transformers” comics for a while, and although they didn’t mingle as much with the rest of the superheroes, Spider-Man and Nick Fury appeared in the third issue in 1985. The character Circuit Breaker, who debuted in “Transformers,” popped up later that year in the companywide crossover “Secret Wars II,” and the Dinobots debuted in the Savage Land, the dinosaur haven that has been a frequent setting of mainline Marvel stories.

Making things even more confusing is the existence of an expanded Transformers canon under Marvel’s U.K. imprint. The character Death’s Head interacted multiple times with them (and a certain Time Lord known as The Doctor) in that line, while upcoming MCU star Shang-Chi had ties to Action Force, the British version of G.I. Joe.

Apparently both of these continuities are considered alternate Earths by Marvel, as was the 2007 crossover in which the New Avengers encountered IDW’s version of the Transformers.

And you thought the timelines in “Avengers: Endgame” were complicated.

Evan Bevins is the writer of the webcomic “Support Group.”