Rom #17

Issue Date: 
April 1981
Story Title: 

Bill Mantlo (writer), Sal Buscema (artist), Michael Higgins (letterer), Ben Sean (colorist), Jo Duffy (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in chief), Chris Claremont (consultant)

Brief Description: 

The Spaceknight, Rom, and his allies in the town of Clairton learn that several Dire Wraiths posed as humans in the town for decades and there might be one that he missed – a farmer called Jacob Marks, who has married a human woman and has had a child with her. Rom flies to the Marks farm to find Marjorie Marks horribly aged. Her husband, Jacob, indeed a Dire Wraith in disguise, surprises Rom with his tale. Stranded on Earth he actually threw off his Wraith heritage and learned compassion and love. However, he made a big mistake when he had a child with his human wife, fifteen years ago. While originally appearing to be human, Jimmy was eventually sought out and corrupted by other Wraiths. When they suddenly stopped visiting, he threw a tantrum, aging his mother fifty years. Rom seeks out Jimmy, finding that, beneath the human disguise, he is an unimaginable monster, calling himself Hybrid, who kills his father before Rom’s eyes. In the ensuing battle, Rom uses his Neutralizer, first in an attempt to banish him. When this fails, he tries to kill him. However, he is interrupted by a very angry group of X-Men, who were sent to Clairton to check out a strange signal by Cerebro. All they see is a murderous robot trying to kill a young boy.

Full Summary: 

Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters:

The sound of the mutant detecting computer, Cerebro, wails through the halls and the uncanny X-Men hurry towards the room that houses the device They are expected by their mentor, Charles Xavier. Kitty Pryde, the newest and youngest member, asks what Cerebro is anyway and what this all means. Professor Xavier explains that a power of incredible proportions has just manifested itself on Earth but whether it is a force for good or bad is for the X-Men to discover. The five mutants gather around their wheelchair-bound mentor, who explains that part of the X-Men’s reason for being is making contact with new mutants. Yeah, Wolverine agrees enthusiastically, unsheathing his claws and annoying the professor in the process. Xavier continues that they have no way of knowing whether the new mutant is a potential menace or ally. You can bet Magneto is already trying to turn him into the former, Wolverine interrupts.

Storm notices from the professor’s tone that there seems to be more to this particular mutant. Xavier commends her astuteness. Cerebro’s signal is strong but diffuse, perhaps owing to the fact that it comes from the vicinity of faraway Clayton, West Virginia. But, perhaps, this mutant is also different from any they have encountered, perhaps… not even human…
Determining that is up to the X-Men, Storm decides, and thrashing them is the other part Wolverine quips as the team departs. Xavier looks after them proud, but also worried, wishing he could aid his children.

At that moment, hundreds of kilometers south in the very county in question, Dr. John Stennis, an elderly old school family doctor is snow-mobiling through the snow, approaching the farm of Jacob Marks. Marks had called Stennis, urging him it was a matter of life or death; something about his wife. Having arrived, the doctor looks around to find the farm in disarray: no smoke from the chimney, barn in disrepair, the livestock dead. He hopes that Marks didn’t call him because of that. He’s a general practitioner, not a vet. Stennis enters the farmhouse, the door being wide open. He has answered house calls for 35 years, but this time, he feels, is different. He calls out for Jacob and Marjorie Marks, until finally a feeble, trembling voice calls out his name.

Stennis’ eyes adjust to the dim light and he cries out in horror. He recognizes the weak woman lying in the bed before him as Marjorie Marks, but this is a wizened crone and Marjorie shouldn’t even be 40. For the love of heaven, he cries out, horrified. Not heaven, a voice behind him bleakly announces. The creature who did that to his wife is as close to purgatory as any living being can get, Jacob Marks states. The doctor is too late and the horror has already taken her. Nobody can help her now.

Doc Stennis demands an explanation: what happened to Marjorie? The same thing as the livestock? And then why wasn’t Jacob affected? The gaunt farmer gives him a grim look. “Because the horror wanted him to suffer.” With these words, Jacob transforms. Too weak to hold onto his human form he becomes what he truly is: a male, white Dire Wraith. He points to an open door, telling Stennis that this way maybe he’ll understand the horror…

Stennis realizes that Jacob isn’t human. But what about his wife and his son, Jimmy? Stennis has seen his wife, the creature that was Jacob Marks replies. Now he can see his son. Horrified and confused, Doc Stennis forces himself to enter the room, despite the charnel stench. 15 years ago he had brought Jimmy Marks into the world in this room. A mocking voice greets him, asking him if he has come to play. The horror greeting him with the distorted child’s voice is too much even for the doctor. He turns around and flees for his life.

Jacob Marks, human once more, addresses the creature in the shadows – his son: angrily he tells him that he could have allowed the doctor to take his mother into a hospital at least. His son replies that he had to keep her here, so his father could see what he does to her. So that he knows how bad he was for ever having loved that smooth-skinned Earthling sow. In despair, Marks realizes what horror he has wrought. His son only laughs.

A short distance away, Clairton’s county coroner, Silas Lane, just back from Washington, is the last guest to arrive at the home of Jonathan and Sarah Clark. Jonathan greets him, explaining that several friends and neighbors have gathered. Lane mentions that he’s been going trough birth and death certificates of town people dating back five decades and came upon some interesting stuff. So have they, Jonathan replies. But there’s someone especially he’d like to introduce him to – Rom Spaceknight. Lane is shocked to see the “robot” that’s been killing so many town folk sitting peacefully in the living room, surrounded by his neighbors. Has he got them all in his power? Lane panics, wanting to call the state police, before more people are killed. Jonathan holds him back, pointing out that no humans have been killed. Those “men” Rom banished were never men at all. Clark explains how they all shared Lane’s ideas about Rom. He had discounted his daughter Brandy’s tales of aliens disguised as humans as nonsense, but last week at Brandy’s wedding two bridegrooms showed up. One, the real Steve Jackson, shot the other, who in death was revealed to be an alien Dire Wraith, who upon its death crumbled to ash, just like all the others Rom “killed”.

It sounds like some insane TV movie plot. But it’s true, Steve Jackson insists. The Wraiths want to conquer Earth and use it as a base to launch an attack on Rom’s world. Rom came here to stop them, Brandy adds, but the Wraiths are shapeshifters. Only Rom’s energy analyzer can reveal them to Rom’s eyes. Jonathan adds that in the last few days more than a dozen Clairton families have disappeared. They believe that they were actually Wraiths disguised as humans, infiltrating their community. Silas Lane reaches into his case and takes out several index cards. Are those the names of the vanished? Jonathan agrees, they are – except for Jacob Marks, a farmer who lives in the hills near Clairton.

Silas Lane explains that the data on some of these cards impossibly records dozens of these people born on the same day – November 9,1945. Other cards seem to have been altered or removed. Jonathan points out that he only sees Jacob Marks name on one card, but he has a family. Sarah Clark protests that Marjorie Marks cant’ be a Wraith. They’ve known her since childhood. She even helped Doc Stennis deliver her child. Rom interrupts for the first time: the Wraiths arrived here on Earth in 1945 when they’d fled from the spaceknights. They disguised themselves as human of all ages and forged birth records showing them all to have been born on a day chosen at random. In the wake of the confusion of Word War II, they managed to move in unsuspected. But when Rom arrived and began banishing them to Limbo, they realized that the deaths of some of their number would cause their records to be examined. Thus the records were altered, presumably by a Wraith in the government. Marks’ name apparently was overlooked. What concerns him more, though, is the idea of a Wraith having married a human and sired a child with her.

The blizzard is still raging as Rom flies towards the Marks’ farm, followed by Brandy Clark and Steve Jackson on snowmobiles. Rom sees two humans outside the farm, lands and asks his friends to stay back. Brandy recognizes the woman as Marjorie, but realizes that something must have happened to her. Steve holds her back, warning her of Wraith deception. There will be no deception this time, a stern Jacob tells them and admits to being a Dire Wraith. But his wife is human and needs immediate medical care. Without a word, Rom summons his energy analyzer from subspace and trains it on Marjorie Marks. The examination indeed proves her to be human. He asks Brandy to get to the woman, adding that her life-energies are dangerously low. Steve and Brandy take the woman to the snowmobile, intending to get her to a hospital. Rom stays back with Jacob who tells him not to train his analyzer on him. He is what he said he is, with those words he turns into his Wraith shape.

Turning back, Steve is disgusted. He’s seen Wraiths up close when they held him prisoner and sent his double to marry Brandy but he’ll never get used to them. If he hadn’t escaped, Brandy realizes, she might be married to one of them now, like Marjorie.

Rom angrily announces that banishment to Limbo is too good a punishment for what Marks has done to that woman. The Wraith protests, revealing that he truly loved the woman. He didn’t harm her. Does Rom disbelieve that a Wraith can know love? He asks the spaceknight to listen to his tale.

Jacob’s tale:

He had arrived on Earth in 1940, with his fighter craft too damaged to be repaired or even to communicate with the main fleet. Alone and tired of the two hundred war years with the Galadorians, the Wraith imitated the human form. Not to infiltrate or spy upon, but simply to dwell among an alien people in peace. War had just ended, soldiers were returning, displaced persons were looking for new homes. It was easy for the Wraith to walk among the humans unnoticed. Soon, he had established his identity as Jacob Marks, the farmer. He felt secure enough to follow a human custom and take a wife, first only to further his disguise, but later he found surprisingly that he actually started to love Marjorie. Their marriage was happy, though Jacob was set against having children, despite Marjorie’s wishes. Finally certain of his adopted humanity, Jacob agreed to try and, fifteen years ago, they had a son, Jimmy.

Years later, Jacob’s Wraith heritage resurfaced with a vengeance as other Wraiths found him. They were not fooled by his faking innocence. They wanted his son, the first Wraith-human hybrid. Marks should have resisted, but centuries of utter obedience took their toll. He led the “men” to his family, telling his wife only that it was their right to see his son.

Behind locked doors, Jimmy was initiated into the secrets of his arcane ancestry. He proved a receptive pupil. As his parents, Marjorie and Jacob were suffered to live, but Marjorie was unwilling to leave their son in the Wraiths’ hands. She wanted to take her son and leave with him, but the child had already changed too much. He mocked his mother’s efforts, telling her he had still too much to learn. Demonstrating already telepathic and telekinetic powers to her, he rudely ordered her to get out. Jimmy became callous, cruel, powerful beyond measure, easily killing the farm’s livestock with his thoughts on a whim.

Marjorie tried to reclaim the boy. He tolerated her as long as the Wraith elders came to teach him. One week ago, they stopped coming and Jimmy started to properly terrorize his parents. Calling him a monster, Jacob intended to attack him. His son coldly told him that he was a monster, a forbidden crossbreeding of two races diametrically opposed, but unlike his father he had no doubt where his loyalty lay. With a gesture, he levitated his father and threw him out, announcing that he wished to be alone to await the return of the elders. In the meantime, his father should take care of his wife, whom Jimmy mentally aged 50 years in seconds.

The Present:

Jacob grimly informs Rom that Jimmy still awaits the Wraiths’ return in his room. He wonders who will be the master when his tutoring is done. That time won’t come, Rom explains and tells him that he has already banished those elders to Limbo. Jacob warns him that his son will be furious at Rom and that his evil is far greater. Rom tells him it is time he met his son and steps inside the farmhouse. Hs circuitry instantly registers intense cold, as the entire interior of the building is frozen. Light emerges from a room, as does a child’s voice, which chides him for having been a very naughty Spaceknight. He’s going to have to punish him for that. Rom follows the voice and enters the room to find Jimmy Marks, a fifteen year old, sitting cross-legged in the air and glowing.

Using his analyzer, Rom realizes that, while Jimmy may sound and look human, he is actually something else altogether. Even he is unprepared for the horror that reveals itself to him, though. A strangely emaciated, twisted, entirely unnatural creature that tells Rom that soon the entire world will know… Hybrid.

The monster informs Rom that he hates maintaining his human disguise ever since his Wraith tutors had made him aware of who and what he truly was. They opened his eyes to his power, which he is perhaps the most powerful being on Earth. Rom will pay for driving them away. With just a gesture the creature tears apart the room and has the wood shards attack Rom.

Suddenly, Jacob enters, trying to appeal to his son. He tells him that the Wraiths appealed to his immaturity to turn him into a creature like them – but they are gone and he is now free to control his destiny. He shouldn’t disavow his human heritage. Pretty funny, his son shoots back, considering his father spent the last decades fervently denying his own heritage. He is neither Wraith nor human, he continues. He is beyond both. His father tried to hide his power and for that—with a gesture he telekinetically levitates the pitchfork and aims it through his father’s stomach. Skewered Marks dies instantly and crumbles to dust, as dead Wraiths do.

Rom, still fighting against the localized whirlwind around him, curses the monster. Though born a Wraith, Jacob Marks had learned to become human and loved his son. He is a child of the Dark Nebula, Hybrid spits back – he cannot love. A lie which until now even Rom believed, the Spaceknight replies. He had never suspected that Wraiths were made, not born. Isolated from the Wraiths, Marks learned love and compassion. Had not the Wraiths interfered, Hybrid could have lived as a human child, unaware of his birthright.. But he is aware, Hybrid shoots back, and being aware he finds he prefers Wraith evil to simpering human goodness.

Fending off Rom’s attack, Hybrid gloats that he is quite unique, but once Rom has been disposed of, he can seek out other Wraith Elders, force them to mate with humans and thus create a cross-breed he’ll rule. Hybrid hurls Rom back towards the wall with superhuman strength, while at the same time telekinetically strangling him with the curtains.

Rom had held back, though. Convinced that Hybrid is irredeemable, Rom summons his Neutralizer and trains it on the creature to banish him to Limbo. However, the monster still stands. Rom realizes that the Neutralizer was set to banish a Wraith bio-structure. Perhaps a higher setting will accomplish the task. Hybrid gloats that all Rom’s power will not be enough, laughing in the face of Rom’s attack. The Neutralizer’s assault tears apart the farmhouse around them, but Hybrid remains standing. Rom finds he has no choice. Banishment isn’t an option. So, he announces that he has to slay Hybrid.

A great speech, a rough voice announces. That’ll look swell carved on his tombstone. Rom turns around to find himself face to face with a very angry group of X-Men, who believe him to be the aggressor here. Why else would he destroy a farmhouse and threaten a helpless boy? Hybrid has taken on human shape again and sits to the back, listening to Sprite’s attempt to calm him with a nasty smile.

Characters Involved: 


Colossus, Nightcrawler, Professor X, Sprite, Storm, Wolverine (all X-Men)

Brandy Clark / Rom’s confidante

Steve Jackson (Brandy’s fiancé)

Jacob Marks / Wraith

Marjorie Marks

Jonathan Clark, Sarah Clark, Silas Law, Dr. John Stennis and other citizens of Clairton

Jimmy Marks/ Hybrid

In Marks’ tale:

Jacob Marks / Wraith

Marjorie Marks

Younger Jimmy Marks/ Hybrid

Dire Wraiths

Story Notes: 

This issue and the next one presumably takes place somewhere during the 140ies of the Uncanny X-Men series.

Issue Information: 
Written By: