Issue Date: September 1983
Story Title: Bestiary!
Staff: Bill Mantlo (writer) Sal Buscema (penciler), Ben Sean (colorist), Janice Chiang (letterer), Bob Harras (assistant editor), Ralph Macchio (editor), Jim Shooter (editor in chief)
After realizing that the “soldiers” approaching with the wolves and hellhounds are in fact Dire Wraiths, Darkstar and the other Super Soldiers join Rom and Starshine in fighting them. When they are all defeated, Ursa Major tells his story of what happened when he followed the Gremlin to the complex where the Wraithkind were mixing science and sorcery. Ursus then left the complex to ensure Gremlin, who he no longer believed to be their enemy could be safe. The five heroes race to the complex and inside they are confronted by Dire Wraiths who trap them around the pit, surrounding it with a forcefield. Inside the pit, the Spaceknights and Super Soldiers battle prehistoric animals, which the Wraith’s science and sorcery managed to resurrect. As one animal falls, another takes its place, until they all drop dead, for the Gremlin used his super intelligence to work out how to use the Wraith machinery and also shuts down the forcefield. The Wraiths are killed and the Super Soldiers decide to remain at the complex, using it as a base so they can defend Russia without the intervention of the State, and Darkstar invites Gremlin to join them, which he does, before Rom and Starshine leave to go in search of more Wraiths to destroy.
Rom, his lover Starshine and the three Soviet Super Soldiers – Darkstar, her brother Vanguard and Ursa Major – stand in horror in the middle of the Dead Zone in Russia as hell hounds approach. Vanguard asks what they are, and Darkstar wants to know why the are being whipped by Russian soldiers. Trembling in the snow, the wounded Major Ursus informs his teammates that the dog-drivers are not Russian soldiers, nor are they human, as he gathered from his confrontation with them.
The hellhounds lunge for the five heroes with one purpose – to kill them! The baying that the beasts make frightens Starshine, and she takes to the sky with Rom as he informs her that the baying is supposed to disrupt Spaceknight neurocircuitry, the subsequent experience from that is what humans call fear. Rom suggests to Starshine that the best way to deal with fear – whether one is a human or Spaceknight – is to confront it! With that he uses his neutralizer to blast the first hellhound from the sky.
Brandy follows suit and uses her Living Light to destroy one of the Hellhounds, whom as she was told by Rom were actually wolves. Brandy loves animals and is saddened by what the Dire Wraiths did to them. Rom looks over to his lover and admires her for sacrificing her humanity for him, before becoming slightly disturbed at how well she uses the powers she gained when she became a cyborg. This thought preoccupies him when he should be thinking about the battle, and the hellhounds use this moment to attack him by becoming intangible and phasing through his armor, thus disrupting his circuitry. Rom regrets that the Hellhounds may win this day just for their strength in numbers.
Laynia and Nicolai stand their ground as more approach. The twins discuss the reasons the came to Khystym – to safeguard the base from an enemy of the State – and now they learn that this enemy is not their enemy, and that the base must be destroyed! Mikhail Ursus reminds his friends that he has been to the base, and as he transforms back into his bear-form he tells them that what he saw there, was enough to freeze a mans soul. Ursus lunges towards the Wraith, whom Laynia and Nicolai still believe to be Russian soldiers. The wolves attack Ursus, biting into him, but Ursus is stronger and can rip the wolves off him, as he moves forward to the “soldier”.
Ursus leaps into the air and lands on the “soldier”, ripping into him, Ursus proves his point. The twins look on in horror, as the corpse changes shape, for in death, the Wraith’s shed its assumed shape, to return to its true alien form. The powerful twins wonder what it is doing on Russian soil, but Ursus has a more pressing question – why were they, the Soviet Super Soldiers, sent by the KGB to protect an alien form? The corpse of the slain Wraith offers no answer as it crumbles away. Darkstar is furious that they have been lied to again, tricked into serving the State for its own evil purpose, but Mikhail suggests to Laynia that the State might not even know, as these aliens are shape-shifters.
Darkstar unleashes the Darkforce on the approaching wolves, keeping them at bay, as she realizes that Ursa Major is implying that the Commissar of State may have been a Wraith in disguise. Vanguard comes to the conclusion that it is both the Super Soldiers and the State who have been deceived this time, and that starts to slaughter the wolves with his sickle as they approach him, proclaiming too, that whoever was behind this deception will answer to him!
Still being attacked by the hellhounds, Rom sees that the Super Soldiers have discovered the truth, and are now fighting alongside he and Starshine. As hope comes to him, he breaks free from the hellhounds and before they can attack again, he fires four neutralizer beams, and destroys them. Watching the forms fall to the snow, Rom feels sorry for the animals, pawns of the Wraiths, who have suffered by being transformed into weapons of war. Brandy on the other hand, wonders why she should feel sorry for the hellhounds, as they are no more of Earth than she is, as they have both become weapons of war, weapons to be used in battle!
Vanguard, Major Ursus and Darkstar rush forward to join Rom and Starshine, Vanguard somewhat in disbelief still that the Spaceknights fight for Russia, Ursus informs Nicolai that they actually fight for the whole world, while Darkstar proclaims that they too, can be global patriots. Darkstar’s Darkforce feeds on the energies of some of the wolves, thus stopping them from transforming into phantoms, while Vanguards hammer and sickle act like boomerangs as the strike on wolf after another. Major Ursus again uses his physical strength, spilling blood, which stains the pure snow.
The battle rages on, and the wolves and hellhounds eventually all fall. Major Ursus cries for more wolves to slay, while Vanguard tries to tell him that they are all defeated, though Darkstar reminds her team that the wolves masters are still to be accounted for. The five heroes stand before the “soldiers” as Brandy’s lighteyes and Rom’s energy analyzer confirm that which they already know – that those who have assumed the form of Russian soldiers, are indeed, Wraiths.
Now exposed, the Wraiths curse Rom, who replies ‘No, Wraiths…curse you!’ and uses his neutralizer beam, as Brandy uses her living light to destroy the remaining Wraiths, the Wraiths falling into the nether dimension which opens. The three Super Soldiers stand relieved that their land is pure again. Rom notices something wrong with Brandy, and almost scared, she tells him that for the first time, she actually looked into Limbo!
The silver Spaceknight embraces Brandy, telling her that nothing he can say will be able to comfort her, nothing can lessen the horrors she saw. He reminds her that they are engaged in a war for the welfare of her world, and that it is better that the Wraiths should be banished to Limbo as opposed to a mausoleum on Earth. The Russian heroes watch as Rom consoles Starshine, somewhat taken aback that they fight for Earth, despite being alien their fight is now the fight of the Super Soldiers.
Laynia Petrovna agrees with her brother, stating that they have to discover what evil is being created in the citadel within the Dead Zone. Mikhail Ursus reminds Laynia that he might already know, for he has been there and returned to tell his story, which he begins! Ursus reveals that while Laynia and Nicolai were battling the Spaceknights, he followed the Spaceknights ally, the Gremlin, to the base, where he used a laser to carve and entrance for himself. Ursa Major followed the Gremlin stealthily, still believing that the Gremlin was their enemy, and that the base was some sinister design of his own. Major was not ready for the sight which the Gremlin unknowingly led him to – an ice-walled pit, shrouded in mists of scalding steam, and men, shackled together, whipped like cattle, working the machines.
Almost saddened, Mikhail informs the others that it was the aliens who were enslaving their fellow Russians, to bring something from out of the pit. Nicolai Krylenko asks what was in the pit, but Ursus doesn’t know, for he was soon discovered and driven from the complex by a pack of hellhounds, he held them at bay, allowing the Gremlin to penetrate the base, for he had already decided Gremlin was not their enemy. Vanguard proclaims that the State has declared him as one, but his more reasonable sister reminds him that the State has been infiltrated.
Starshine whispers to Rom that she cannot understand Russian, but knows she heard the Super Soldiers mention Gremlin’s name, and as Gremlin saved Rom’s life, he is their ally. Rom points out that Gremlin only saved his life so that in return he could aid him in removing the true enemies of the State. Rom proclaims he will keep his promise to his savior and will defeat the Wraithkind in Russia, and in doing so, hopefully save Gremlins’ life. Darkstar, Rom and Starshine fly towards the citadel, while Vanguard and Ursa Major follow on foot.
The heroes cross the snow quickly, and the walls of the complex are easily broken, but when the arrive at the chamber Mikhail was at with the pit, they are shocked to see those men they came to rescue all dead, lying lifeless around the pit. A Wraith calls down to the super heroes from a platform above the pit, boasting that they are all too late to save anyone or anything, including themselves! At this time, a laser has been fired into the pit also, and a second Wraith raises the securasphere. Rom and Starshine try to fly, but are too late, as a forcefield surrounds the heroes and the pit, trapping them.
Starshine suggests that their combined powers would be enough to free them from the forcefield, Rom agrees, but only if they had time – which they don’t. Darkstar draws everyone’s attention to the pit, and startled, they all witness something rising from it. Vanguard grabs his sister as if she needs to be protected, as they look upon creatures that have not walked the Earth for eons. Prehistoric mammals, among them, a mammoth and a sabretooth tiger. Their bodies not quite whole, as their skeletons can be seen on parts of them. Trapped within the forcefield, there is nothing Rom, Darkstar or the others can do except fight the prehistoric horrors!
Rom flies towards the mammoth, he knows Wraith science and sorcery has created many monsters, but none compare to these! The sabretooth tiger leaps at Starshine, who informs Rom that these creatures are not created, but are prehistoric animals that roamed the Earth in the past. The horror, Brandy adds, is that the Wraiths have somehow thawed the creatures’ frozen remains and made them live again – more savage than ever.
Vanguard hurls his hammer at another beast, proclaiming that when he was a boy he used to read books depicting the days when these creatures roamed Earth, never thinking that one day he would be forced to fight them! Darkstar successfully ensnares a green beast in her Darkforce, as she asks how they will ever be able to rid the world of the Wraiths if they can revive the long unliving? Ursus pounds a rhino-like creature, suggesting to Laynia that as they fight for their world with such force, the Wraiths will eventually realize how unprofitable it would be to attempt enslaving any of them!
Outside the securasphere, the Wraiths cackle over what they imagine the progress of the battle to be, proud that their science created the forcefield, while their magic reanimated the prehistoric creatures, and together they will slay Rom and his allies! As the securasphere stands, the spells and incantations continue and more monsters rise from the pit. They approach the trapped heroes, and Rom gets his neutralizer beam ready – when suddenly, all the creatures stop and fall over, dead.
Brandy asks Rom what he did, and Nicolai watches astonished as the creatures decompose before his very eyes, as if their incredible age finally caught up with them. Ursus states that he saw Rom level his weapon at the creatures, but hen ever got the chance to fire. On the platform, one of the Wraiths sense that something is wrong, that their plan is failing, and as the forcefield starts to falter, they wonder what is going on.
Across the room, on another platform, the Gremlin makes his presence known, proclaiming he shut their device down, by utilizing the science he discovered in the lab, science, which his mutant mind easily mastered! The Wraiths transform into the phantom forms to use their sorcery more efficiently, but before they can start their incantations, the combined might of Darkforce, Rom’s neutralizer ray, living light, Vanguard’s hammer and machinery hurled by Ursus strike the Wraiths, sending them to Limbo. ‘Khystym is cleansed of Dire Wraiths’ proclaims Rom.
When the heroes gather themselves together and are joined by the Gremlin, Vanguard asks what is to be done about the complex and machinery. Ursus suggests they destroy it, so that if the Wraiths ever return, they will not be able to use it. Gremlin has a better idea, and suggests to the Super Soldiers that they use this complex as a base. Darkstar likes this idea, as their presence would ensure that the Wraiths or the State would never turn the base to evil.
Darkstar proclaims that from here they can defend Russia without the intervention of the State. Vanguard adds that it will be the home the Soviet mutants never possessed. Ursus reminds everyone that Gremlin is a mutant too, and the kind-hearted Laynia offers him a place on the Super Soldiers team. Gremlin reveals he has always been considered a freak, forced by his deformity to work alone, but he tells the Super Soldiers, that if they will have him, he would love to join. Gremlin thanks the Spaceknights, because of them, the Soviet Union can now safeguard its own future.
Farewells are made, and the Spaceknights take their leave, flying out into the snow, Brandy asks Rom where they will go now, and he tells her that they will go wherever the Wraithkind’s evil threatens, wherever Earth is endangered, for there soar the Spaceknights!
Starshine / Brandy Clark
Darkstar, Ursa Major, Vanguard (all Super Soldiers)
The Limbo that features throughout the Rom series, is not to be confused with the Limbo most commonly associated with Magik and Belasco and now ruled by Amanda Sefton.
Darkstar and her teammates next appear in the X-Men vs. Avengers limited series, where the three teams battle over how best to deal wit Magneto.
Issue Summary written by: Daytripper (Steven Bishop)