Rom Annual #3

Issue Date: 
May 1984
Story Title: 
The Prodigial Son!

Bill Mantlo (writer), WM Johnson (art), Akin & Gavey (inks), Phil Felix (letterer), Ben Sean (colorist), Mike Carlin (editors), Jim Shooter (editor-in chief)

Brief Description: 

Rom and Starshine save some children in a daycare center from the threat of young Wraiths and Rom realizes how brutal and cold a warrior his partner, whom he secretly loves, has become. As he sends one Wraith to Limbo, another old foe uses that opportunity to slip out. He emerges in Cameron County, where, appearing as a young boy, the half-Wraith horror named Hybrid is soon adopted by the local preacher and quickly becomes a preacher himself, as he drains the life out of his foster father. Rom and Starshine notice something peculiar about a church. Inside, Hybrid attacks them, banishes Rom to Limbo and takes Starshine captive. He frees the human, Brandy Clarke, from her armor and intends to make her his bride to spite Rom. Nearby, Professor Xavier and several of his New Mutants want to visit Cannonball’s family. After having taken care of a forest fire, they visit with the Guthries. Sam learns from his younger brother, Josh, that the younger siblings all know that he is a mutant and want to be mutants as well, as this might be their ticket out of there. Later, the mutants, along with the Guthries, go to the old preacher’s funeral. Xavier, Magik and Wolfsbane sense that the new preacher is evil. Reading their thoughts, Hybrid decides that he wants the female mutants as brides as well, as he wants his children to inherit their powers. He has the church disappear under the ground. When the mutants investigate, he causes a cave-in, trapping them with him. He incapacitates Xavier and takes the mutants prisoner, save for Magik, who flees to Limbo. However, this is Rom’s Limbo, where he is set upon by all the Dire Wraiths he’s banished there. Illyana helps him fight them off and teleports both of them back to the church, where Hybrid and Brandy’s wedding ceremony is already underway. Rom finds himself helpless against Hybrid’s magic, but Illyana manages to hurt the evil creature somewhat with her Soulsword. Brandy manages to snap out of her stupor and grabs Rom’s Neutralizer, intent on destroying Hybrid, even at the cost of her own life, as the Neutralizer cannot be wielded by humans. A recovered Xavier manages to shield her from part of the pain, and so Brandy manages to destroy Hybrid and survive the ordeal. However, she no longer has any powers to help Rom in his war against the Wraiths, a fact he is grateful for.

Full Summary: 

A daycare-center in a small, Appalachian town, surrounded by cops and agents, as the alien Dire Wraiths are holding the children inside hostage.

Roma and his ally, Starshine, formerly the human Brandy Clark, set down beside General Merriwether Locklin, commander of the Wraith-Hunter Rangers, and ask what is going on. Locklin relays that SHIELD’s ESPer-unit detected sudden telepathic fearsurge emanating from this city. It fit the pattern established with prior Wraith appearances. The Rangers showed up before the Wraiths could get away. They are still in the daycare center.

Starshine is furious at the news. The Wraiths killed her friends and her family and now they are threatening children? One of the ESPers informs them that the terror in the daycare center is escalating. The Wraiths are about to do something horrible! Starshine has heard enough and flies into the building. Somewhat more cautious, Rom follows.

Inside the daycare center, several Wraiths are holding a classroom hostage. The terrified children are helpless before their unconscious teacher, who was struck down, trying to defend the children. The Wraiths are actually young ones, unsure what to do without the guidance of their elders. They dimly remember their parents leaving them, going off to defend the nest from Rom and Starshine. They recall cowering in the darkness and listening to the elders’ screams … and then hearing only silence. But there were some things the elders did teach them before they disappeared. As the teacher stirs, one Wraith reaches out with its barbed tongue, dives it into the woman’s brain and absorbs her memories and shape, as the woman dies and crumbles to dust.

Now human-shaped, the Wraith announces to the others that it now understands more. It understands why their elders hated humanity, and why humanity hates them. They are races apart, irreconcilable, yet humanity can serve Wraithkind. It turns to the children, announcing that they are going to play a little game of Trick or Treat. They are going to be treated to the privilege of becoming Dire Wraiths and their parents will be tricked into taking the Wraiths into their homes.

The Wraiths prepare to slay the children when Starshine and Rom bust into the room.
Instinctively, the Wraiths use sorcery and Starshine finds her light-eyes blinded by eldritch energy. She lashes out with her living light and burns the Wraith in the teacher’s form to ashes, scaring the children even more. Starshine’s callousness is not lost on Rom, as he sees the traumatized children. He addresses his partner, asking her to restrain her bloodlust and aid him in driving the Wraiths from the classroom. Starshine complies, stating, as long as the Wraiths get killed eventually. The two spaceknights combine their energies to drive the aliens from the room to the playground outside.

With the Wraiths cleared from the room, the Wraith-Hunters swiftly move in to save the children, who are then brought to their parents. Still, the Wraiths are resisting. Directing Starshine’s beams towards Rom, they cause him to drop his Neutralizer.

As one Wraith reaches for the weapon General Locklin shoots it. Rom thanks him but points out that the Wraith couldn’t have wielded the weapon thanks to its safeguards.

The Wraith-Hunters take care of some Wraiths, while one final creature shifts to the shape of a flying Deathwing and takes off. Starshine follows, while Rom warns her that she has never fought a Deathwing before. Starshine angrily tells him to cater to his customary caution, while she finds herself a Wraith to slay. Rom is concerned about the woman he loves and her growing brutality, but says nothing. They follow the Deathwing until it sinks down, exhausted, and asks the spaceknights to kill it.

Does he need an engraved invitation, Starshine asks Rom impatiently. Rom asks her if she doesn’t hear how it sobs and mewls. Like an infant taken too soon from its cradle. And it blames them for its parents’ deaths. He uses his Analyzer on the creature and finds it is indeed no more than a child. A child that has already murdered! Starshine shouts.

While the two spaceknights argue, the Deathwing strikes with fire breath. Starshine has had it and sears the creature with her light eyes. But before she can bring about the Wraith’s demise Rom’s Neutralizer banishes it into Limbo. Starshine calls him mad to show mercy. Rom points out that perhaps it could have been raised to goodness. He once knew a Wraith that turned away from hate and found love. Wanting to hear none of it, Brandy flies away and Rom worries that his beloved Brandy has turned from love to all-consuming hatred.

Rom leaves and, behind him, unnoticed, the doorway opened by his Neutralizer remains open a scant fraction of a second longer than realized or anticipated. In that microsecond, something slips from that other plane of reality to ours. That something is swept southward in the river until it comes to a fervent congregation kneeling in prayer in the river’s sunwashed shoreline.

The reverend is baptizing a young girl in the river, when suddenly his parishioners stare past him into the waters: The reverend turns around seeing a hole opening and the naked figure of a boy appearing in the waters. The preacher helps the boy up and announces that this is a miracle. They take the boy in and the reverend states that he will raise him as a father. At the word ‘father,’ the boy flashes a smile the warmth of which is belied by the cold iciness deep within his eyes.

Several weeks later, on a winding Appalachian highway, there’s a road block, due to a forest fire, and Professor Xavier and several of his pupils – Sam Guthrie, Roberto DaCosta, Rahne Sinclair, Illyana Rasputin and Amara Aquilla, find that they cannot go on. Sam rushes to one of the firemen, full of worry that his hometown is cut off by the fire. The worker tells him that there’s no way anyone can reach Cumberland right now.

Hearing that, Illyana fervently wishes Storm were with them. She could call down rain to extinguish the fire. If Storm still possessed her powers, Xavier thinks sorrowfully. Roberto announces they can wish the X-Men were there or actually do something themselves. He intends to do the latter. Shedding his outer garb to reveal his New Mutants uniform, Sunspot slips into the night to find the firefighters laboring to clear the forest and create a firebreak. Their work goes painfully slow. Turning into his super-powered Sunspot-form he begins to help by slamming trees down without the fire touching him. Sam Guthrie ignites as Cannonball to clear away the dead trees – a job that would have taken hundreds of firefighters hours.

Meanwhile, back at the limousine, Professor X monitors his students’ progress and is satisfied with their results. However, his telepathy has detected a group of firefighters… cut off inside the inferno. Rahne Sinclair offers to find them. She turns into her wolfen form following the fire fighters’ scent of fear. Once having found them, she howls out loud for Xavier and the others to hear.

Xavier tells Illyana Rasputin that the fire has closed in behind Rahne, cutting off her escape route. Only Illyana can save them now. Magik swallows hard. She reminds Xavier that she has little control over her powers. Even if she reaches the men, they might never get back. Xavier assures her he understands her fear, but she is their only hope.

Illyana’s teleport circle whisks her away, just as Wolfsbane reaches the surprised firefighter. Illyana appears out of nowhere, assuring the men the wolf won’t attack. She orders the men to join her in the circle. Moments later, they pass the hellish landscape of Limbo and then the men emerge among the other firefighters, while Rahne and Illyana return to Xavier’s side. Nervously, Illyana asks Xavier where and when she is and he assures her she is back in the same reality from which she teleported, which indicates she is gaining far more control over her powers than she believed.

Rahne reminds him that the fire is still spreading. Xavier turns to Amara. Magma doesn’t know what to do. She cannot put out fire she hasn’t created. Xavier explains that sometimes firefighters use explosives to extinguish fires that are burning out of control. The concussive force of those explosives deprives the fire of oxygen and what is more explosive in nature …

…Than a volcano, Amara finishes his sentence. Magma joins Cannonball and Sunspot at the edge of the firebreak, creating a volcanic explosion that indeed extinguishes the fire. With the fire out, nothing bars their way anymore and they are back on their journey. Rahne, however, takes a last look at a church on the mountainside. It stood right in the center of the fire but it doesn’t look even singed.

The car drives on and none of the mutants see the doors to the church open or the frail old man, who comes stumbling out – the old priest. He mumbles to his non-present flock that the one who comes after him will baptize them with fire. Behind him, the young foundling appears, now also wearing a preacher’s cassock and remarking that the old man taught him well. But not even he can imagine the miracles he is capable of…

On an Appalachian mountaintop, not far off, Rom knees as if in prayer. 200 years he has served his gods well, smiting their enemies – the Dire Wraiths. But his soul is weary from fighting inside this cold, cyborg shell. He would gladly return to Galador and regain his humanity and, as a man again, offer himself to the woman he loves. Said woman, now a spaceknight as well, impatiently asks if he is praying. It will take more than prayer to drive the Dire Wraiths from Earth. Hesitatingly, he follows his gung-ho love.

Later, at the Wraith Hunter Ranger command camp, the two spaceknights discuss recent events with Commander Locklin. They know from the child they saved from the Wraith passenger train massacre that the Wraiths are planning some ultimate monstrosity. But not even her mindlink with the Wraiths can predict where they will strike next.

One of the SHIELD ESPers introduces herself. Donning a helmet to heighten her powers, she starts scanning the countryside to find the Wraiths. Suddenly, her eyes roll back in shock and she is only capable of mouthing “the horror! The horror!”

Starshine wonders how this could happen, as Dr. Strange had imparted sorcerous shielding to the ESPer agents. Rom recalls where he has heard the words before. He realizes it was no Wraith that struck the psychic, but an even deadlier danger.

In Cumberland, Kentucky, a family reunion is taking place, as Sam Guthrie is finally reunited with his mother and his flock of siblings. Sam introduces the Professor and his fellow students and Lucinda Guthrie insists that all of the guests stay at her home or with the neighbors instead of a motel.

During supper Xavier wonders if any of Sam’s younger siblings will also prove to be mutants. Young Jed Guthrie asks his mother what kind of school Sam is attending, while Josh Guthrie is making goo goo eyes at Illyana and Amara. The young New Roman girl remarks that she is surprised at the calm there in face of the forest fire. Mrs. Guthrie explains that the folks who live in coal country have to learn to go on about their business despite their disaster. And such disasters are plentiful, Amara realizes, marveling at the harshness of life here. One of Sam´s younger sisters remarks that it was a miracle that the fire was stopped like that. Nudging Illyana, Roberto whispers that they were the miracle workers and she tells him to shush.

Lucinda points out that the new preacher will probably have a sermon or two to deliver on the subject of the fire and miracles. What happened to Reverend Joad, Sam inquires. He’s been ailing lately, Lucinda explains. He got himself an apprentice to help at the church. The young man is quite a miracle himself. He walked out of a river, stark naked, couldn’t even talk. And now he is spouts scripture like he knew it all his life… All eyes turn towards the church on the hill, but the need to find lodgings for Sam’s friends brings everyone’s attention back to more mundane matters.

Nobody notices how, hours later, Rom and Starshine fly towards the church, curious as the entire mountainside is blackened but the building is unharmed. They scan but find no trace of the foe they are looking for. Using the quiet moment, Rom wants to have a talk with the woman he loves. He reminds her that they are human, too, and that he loves her. When he calls her “Brandy,” she angrily turns aside and orders him to never call her that again. She is Starshine now, not Brandy Clark. The woman he loved no longer lives and why should she? What good was Brandy when the Wraiths came? She reminds him how she was unable to save her family, her fiancé and her friends. She was human and weak and this war they are engaged in will only be won by the strong. She flies ahead and Rom muses that she may be right, but then he cannot help but love a ghost.

He enters the church and hears a moan in the darkness: ‘the horror… the horror’. Looking into the terror-filled eyes of the old priest, Rom knows that the man has seen his foe. He shouts that the fiend need not hide in darkness for he will find him. Why should he hide? Hybrid asks. He has waited long for them to meet again. The slightest touch from the hellish horror and Rom’s mind is frozen. He cannot move but he can unleash the might of his Neutralizer. Hearing the sound outside, Starshine soars to his side. But the first sight she registers is that of the dying preacher. Hybrid freezes her as well, as he informs her that he has turned Rom’s weapon against himself and banished the spaceknight to Limbo. Shall he slay her as well, he wonders, but then thinks of a crueler torment for his most hated enemy. … namely making the woman Rom loves his mate. From Limbo, Rom watches helplessly

The next morning, Sam Guthrie and his younger brother, Josh, head out hunting for squirrels. Sam reminisces that he and their father used to hunt like this. Josh admits that he doesn’t remember too much about their father. He got too sick to do this with the younger kids and then he died. Fact is, he misses having Sam around more. Sam feels guilty about being away but explains that if he’d gone to college, as he originally wanted to the family wouldn’t have seen much of him either. Luckily, he was smart enough to win a scholarship at Xavier’s.

Josh tells him he knows that Sam’s school is actually a school for mutants. The whole family knows. The little ones even play at being different so that they too can once escape from Cameron County. He wants to get out. But will he ever? Is he “different” like Sam. He has never done anything strange. He’s normal. A dirt-poor hillbilly.

Bitter, Josh aims at a squirrel, when Sam spies something else in his brother’s line of fire. He wrestles the rifle from Josh’s grasp. But the figure, Hybrid in his human form, carrying another continues on his path as if no shots were fired. Sam wonders if his eyes deceive him. He could swear the figure is walking on air.

Soon, all Cameron County knows that Reverend Joad has passed away from a strange and sudden illness and they gather around his open casket, wondering why the corpse looks so old. He was around 40. The new preacher, Joad’s foundling, appears to preside over the funeral and both Xavier and Illyana react startled sensing both power and evil. Xavier is aware that the evil senses his mutant abilities and mocks them. Rahne too is disturbed by an odd scent but.

Later on, they inform the others and Illyana explains that he isn’t a mutant but something else. And he knows about heir powers? Roberto asks. Yes, and he is determined to command them, Xavier fears. Out of earshot, the young preacher monitors every thought that gives rise to the young mutants’ words, while hiding his own thoughts. He smiles.

A short while later, he returns to the church and the paralyzed Starshine. He mocks Rom, who is caught in Limbo and watching. Hybrid reminds Rom of how they first met when he slew his parents, as he changes back to his true form. Rom couldn’t stop him then and he won’t prevent him now from making Rom’s lady his bride.

In the meantime, Rom is attacked by all the Dire Wraiths he had banished to this place.

Wraith magic turned Brandy Clark into Starshine but Hybrid reverses those spells and restores Brandy Clark, dressing her in a red mockery of a wedding dress. He decides to deal with the mutants next, as at his commands the earth opens and swallows the church from sight.

Within the hour, word of the disappearance of the old church stuns a town already grieving over their preacher’s death. They believe that the mine has caused faults. Using his psi-powers to hide his students from the miners, Xavier leads them into the mines. Alongside their mentor, the teenagers delve into the dark tunnels, each alone with their thoughts. Sam is reminded that these mines killed his dad and would have killed him had he not been different. Illyana is reminded of Limbo, Rahne feels like an animal trapped in a cage. Only Amara feels embraced by the earth that give her her powers. Roberto, on the other hand, wonders how long he will survive there, cut off from the source of his power, the sun. And Xavier recalls that he battled the alien Lucifer underground in a battle that lost him his legs. He has recovered, but old fears die hard.

Behind the New Mutants arrives Hybrid, in his guise as a young preacher, telling himself that his wedding entourage has arrived. His best men and the rest of his brides. And with but a thought, Hybrid triggers a cave-in above the mutants, sealing them off from the other minders. Sam panics, remembering all the people he’s known who have died down here. Illyana tries to calm him, while Amara gives them light and Xavier holds the frightened Rahne. Dying in the darkness of a coalmine is the thing Cannonball fears most and he uses this power to launch upwards trying to break through solid rock. He manages several hundred feet. But they had descended too far and Sam falls exhausted.

Amara chides him, reminding him that, with her power, she can burn them a path to the surface easily. Berto tells Amara to dim the lights. She retorts that this isn’t her light. Another is announcing his presence, Xavier states. When their eyes grow used to the brilliance, they see that the cave they are trapped in has become a cavern and that the missing church stands before them. Are they supposed to attend Sunday School, Sunspot asks mockingly. “No whelp, a wedding,” the psychic voice of Hybrid replies, as he attacks Xavier with a brain-blast. Xavier moans that the blast stripped him of his mental power and he had a vision, accompanied with the blast: humanity destroyed, mutantkind enslaved into breeders for…

“Hybrid,” announces the young preacher, who steps out of the church, moments before turning into his mind-numbing true form. He has encountered Xavier’s kind before and he wants his children to possess their powers. The mutants realize that he wants the girls among them. Following Cannonball, the mutants bravely attack and the incapacitated Xavier cannot tell them that they are facing an enemy who once nearly destroyed the X-Men.

Sam finds that his flight ceases in mid-thrust, even as Hybrid boasts about how he killed the reverend who adopted him. Sunspot is encased in rock and Wolfsbane, who leaps at him, is transformed into a girl again. Hybrid turns back into his human form, accusing the pious girl of attacking a preacher. The illusion goes beyond appearances, striking Rahne’s soul and leaving her immobilized by her inner doubts. Hybrid turns to Magma, mocking that she has no doubts, does she? Hybrid seizes control of Magma’s power, threatening to use it to burn through the stone coffin that is encasing Sunspot.

Illyana realizes this and wonders how to stop him. Reading her thoughts, Hybrid mocks that she could asks him nicely… or she could woo his favors with a kiss. Sweeping her off her feet, he suggests that they would make a great match. Evil to evil! Illyana’s revulsion summons a teleportation circle and she disappears. Hybrid turns to the other mutants, whom he now all controls, and orders them to follow him into the church to witness his taking of his bride.

Illyana rematerializes in Limbo, she has no doubt of that, but she never saw the monsters she is seeing now who are attacking that shining silver warrior. Using her magical powers she drives the Dire Wraiths off and hurries to Rom’s side. He thanks her and mentions that he recognizes the costume. He once saved another girl who wore it – Kitty Pryde – from Hybrid. He explains who the Dire Wraiths are and how, while usually he banishes them to Limbo, this time Hybrid banished him there. Illyana muses that this cannot be the Limbo she knows. Rom corrects her that Limbo is less a place than a concept, a timeless stasis field where those within are unable to affect reality. Illyana sadly states that the Limbo she gained her powers in could certainly affect reality. But her friends are in trouble. They’d better get back.

She teleports them back outside the unholy church, which is changing its shape into something horrific and demonic, even as they are watching. Illyana teleports them inside, where they are witness to an unholy ceremony already under way. Illyana recognizes Hybrid as the groom but wonders who the bride is. Seeing Starshine’s abandoned armor on the ground, Rom explains that Brandy, his beloved, was once his sister spaceknight but is now restored to human form.

Brandy comprehends nothing, as Hybrid draws her closer. He mockingly tells Rom that, while he did not invite him, he might as well watch as he kisses the bride. Repulsed, Rom lunges at him. Hybrid mocks that Rom’s weapons won’t do any good as his powers are growing. He doubts that even Rom’s Neutralizer could banish him now. Eldritch flame, summoned from unholy altars, encircle and burn the silver spaceknight, the flames slowly beginning to sear him. Hybrid mocks that he will name his and Brany’s first child after Rom.

All but forgotten, Illyana Rasputin summons her Soulsword, the manifestation of her magic, capable of disrupting any kind of spell or magical entity. She stabs Hybrid in the back. As the monster shrieks in pain, Rom shouts at Brandy to awake. His voice reaches through the mists that cloud her mind. With warrior instincts, she intends to help him but then sees her inert armor on the ground, beholds her own human hands and realizes she no longer possesses the power to deal with the horror that would have her as a wife.

While Illyana keeps on fighting him with her sword, Brandy refuses to meekly go to her fate. She catches sight of Rom’s fallen Neutralizer and grabs it. Rom, still bound by the flames implores her not to use it. No human can wield his Neutralizer without incurring grave harm. Brandy ignores him as she trains the weapon on Hybrid and begins to fire.

Hybrid’s ensuing agony allows Xavier to regain his power and he uses it to try and shield Brandy from the pain the Neutralizer causes her. Brandy’s screams echo Hybrid’s but, aided by Professor X, she keeps firing until the hellspawn is no more.

Only then does she collapse into Rom’s arms. He believes her dead and by all rights she should be, but Xavier shared her pain and thus she lives. Muttering that now she no longer can fight by his side, Brandy falls unconscious and Rom thanks the gods for her no longer being a hardened warrior.

Later, on the surface, the mutants find that the town is safe. Sam states that they won’t be able to tell anyone what happened. His little brother, Josh, was right. Sam is different. And being different means you can never go home again. Putting a hand on Sam’s shoulder, Rom tells him that all Earth is his home. He should fight for it and be happy. For you never know how good your home is… until you lose it. With that he takes off and Rahne wonders aloud where he is going. Not home, Xavier replies, but away, to lay claim to a little happiness of his own.

Soon, the silver spaceknight soars over Cameron County hospital, where his lady-love lies drawn and exhausted from her transformation.

Characters Involved: 


Starshine / Brandy Clark

Cannonball, Magik, Magma, Sunspot, Wolfsbane (all New Mutants)

Professor Xavier

Lucinda Guthrie (Cannonball’s mother)

Jeb, Josh and other Guthrie siblings

Reverend Joad

Citizens of Cameron County

General Merriwether Locklin (Commander of the Wraith-Hunter Rangers)

Other Rangers




Dire Wraiths

Story Notes: 

The Wraith who, as Rom recalls, turned from hate and found goodness and love was Hybrid’s father, as told in Rom #17.

Hybrid was believed to be destroyed in Rom #35. He murdered his father with a pitchfork in issue #17.

For the New Mutants, this story presumably takes place between New Mutants (1st series) #20 and 21, which would explain Dani Moonstar’s absence, as she is still recovering from the injuries received by the Demon Bear. However, the artist here doesn’t seem to be aware of certain changes made to characters looks during the Demon Bear storyline. Wolfsbane still has her old transitional form, Illyana still has her old “lightsaber” Soulsword and doesn’t have that pesky, mysterious armor appearing.

Storm lost her powers to Forge’s Neutralizer gun in Uncanny X-Men #185.

It is interesting to note that it is this issue that marks the first appearance of the Guthrie clan.

Rom and Starshine saved a child named Cindy Adams from being absorbed by a Wraith in Rom #60. As the absorption process had already started, Cindy retained some memories of what the Wraiths planned though.

Dr Strange gave the ESPer unit magical shielding in Rom #54.

The X-Men fought Hybrid alongside Rom in Rom #17-18.

A small continuity mistake: The story clearly takes place after the story arc where Storm lost her powers (as evidenced by Illyana’s and Xavier’s remarks), yet in that same story arc Illyana, along with some X-Men, fought Dire Wraiths. [Uncanny X-Men #188] Here, she remarks that she has never seen monsters like the Wraiths before.

Rom’s story continues in Rom #61 which is the prelude to the end of the war against the Dire Wraiths.

Issue Information: 
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