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Zak Penn to Bring ‘ROM’ to the Hasbro-verse

The ‘Ready Player One’ screenwriter will tackle the Spaceknight next.
Rom Spaceknight
By  · Published on March 27th, 2018

The ‘Ready Player One’ screenwriter will tackle the Spaceknight next.

Hasbro’s Allspark Pictures is determined to make their cinematic shared universe work. They’ve “successfully” brought  Transformers and G.I. Joe to the big screen, and now it’s time to concentrate on their lesser-known properties. Along with movies of Micronauts, M.A.S.K., and Dungeons & Dragons, we’re getting ROM: Spaceknight. And according to DeadlineZak Penn, fresh from scripting Ready Player One, has been tapped to write the screenplay.

Primarily known for his work on comic book properties (X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, Elektra, The Incredible HulkThe Avengers), Penn will have a lot of similar source material to mine for this project. ROM: Spaceknight actually began life as a property as a collaboration between Parker Brothers (currently a subsidiary of Hasbro) and Marvel Comics.

Published as a multimedia venture, ROM had more success as a comic book series than a hunk of plastic. Written by Bill Mantlo and illustrated by Sal Buscema, the title character is a heroic cyborg from Galador. After his planet falls victim to the tyrannical Dire Wraiths (an offshoot of the same Skrulls that will battle Captain Marvel next year), ROM fell to Earth and continued his conflict with the invaders on our soil.

Imagine Starship Troopers blended with RoboCop minus the copious amounts of gore. When the Dire Wraiths obliterated the Galadorian space fleet, the youth of the planet were called upon to join the Spaceknight program. ROM was the first to volunteer for the procedure, becoming more machine than man. Not satisfied with simply protecting his planet, he led the charge against the shapeshifting alien aggressors. His was a mission of revenge.

“ROM: Spaceknight” was a weird, goofy series, but it was a rare feat in which Bill Mantlo was given free reign over his own Star Wars-like adventure. As a kid searching for more Jedis to fetishize, the comic book hit me hard. We were a small fanbase, but an fiercely loyal one. While the toys sadly never quite sprung off into infinite designs like George Lucas’s babies, the comic books exploded into a rich creative canvas.

Since no one was really watching, Mantlo was left alone to concoct his own far away galaxy. He sent his hero piercing through the universe, chasing down his enemies until every last one was eradicated. The vengeance quest traced the same steps marked by Joseph Campbell, and was equally concerned with fostering its own mythology.

When sci-fi concepts were not enough, sorcery would come into play. The Wraiths would implore witchcraft against ROM and his fellow knights. He in turn would open up the alternate dimension of Limbo as a means of banishment. If that wasn’t enough, just when ROM believes all is right for Galador, here comes Galactus the Devourer to make a meal of his planet.

ROM was not free from sin. His obsession of pursuit often clouded his actions, and allowed Mantlo to imbue a little wisdom on the kids reading the comics. The writer was just as much a master of melodrama as Stan Lee, embracing absurd heights of angst revolving around action and romance. As is the Hasbro way, knowing is half the battle. The other half is robot smashing.

The Marvel comic outlasted the action figure line by several years. Throughout its run, ROM had encounters with various popular superheroes, including the Nova Corps, the X-Men, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. He was an integral figure in Marvel’s original “Contest of Champions” mega-event which has recently evolved into the popular app game.

Don’t expect any of that in the film adaptation, though. The license eventually reverted back to Hasbro after Marvel wrapped up the series in 1986. However, the character was rebooted on the comic book page through IDW Publishing in 2015.

No more Skrulls, no more Galactus. The current series keeps the conflict with the Dire Wraiths and that’s pretty much it, but IDW does hold the rights to several of Hasbro’s other toy properties. ROM can currently be seen on covers mingling with characters from Transformers, G.I. Joe, Back to the Future, and Star Trek. That’s more in line with the thinking Hasbro is attempting to establish with Allspark Pictures.

Refusing to let a good thing die, Marvel did keep the Spaceknights around in their current continuity, but on the down low. In Jonathan Hickman’s 2013 Avengers run, the cybernetic centurions fought off the goons of Thanos. They just had to keep mum with the names of ROM and the Dire Wraiths. Us die hards knew who they were and quietly squeed alongside Hickman.

“ROM: Spaceknight” is an oddity within the comic book industry. A quick cash-grab that held an intense grip on a tiny corner of the fan community for 75 issues. While the action figures littered the suburban garage sales of the ’80s and ’90s, fans of the comic never let the character fade into memory.

How deep into nerdity will Penn descend for his screenplay? He could mix a little from the Marvel run with a dash from the IDW title. Or he could scrap it all for something totally original. “ROM: Spaceknight” doesn’t have the furor of fandom around it like Iron Man and Batman. That being said, the smaller the fanbase the louder we can be. I’m eager to see how this character shakes out, and yeah, I’ve got my fingers crossed for that Transformers crossover.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)