"SPORES"

Classification: Extraterrestrial/extragalactic energy-devouring non-humanoid creatures (Distant Past to present)

Location/Base of Operations: Mobile throughout space
   formerly the (unspecified) galaxy within which the Therhin civilization is located

Known Members: Inapplicable (spores are not intelligent enough to have names)

Affiliations: None

Enemies: Iron Man, Therhin

First Appearance: Iron Man I#157 (April, 1982)

Powers/Abilities: The creatures known to the Therhin as "spores" are a race of beings with glowing and roughly spherical bodies that are only an inch or two in diameter. In their original form, the central bodies are dark green but dotted with multiple black spots and are surrounded by light green auras that manifest as multiple jagged spikes. In their "cleansed" form, spores are entirely light green in color and their more spherical bodies have only tiny deviations on their surfaces.

   The exact natures of these spores has never been definitively established. Based on what has been seen of them, they could be physical beings who can become intangible at will or they could be energy beings who are normally intangible but can seemingly become "solid" at will.

   All spores have to feed on external energy sources in order to survive. In their original form, spores only feed on the "mechanical" energy that exists within machines but "cleansed" spores whose metabolic modes have been altered take their nourishment directly from starlight instead.

   Exactly how these spores can "devour" energy has not been revealed. Similarly, it has not been revealed how (or if) they reproduce.

   Spores can sense the presence of the energy they require for nourishment. A massive amount of potential food, such as that of an industrialized planet, can be sensed at orbital distances. Spores can also sense their surroundings and recognize elements that threaten their survival. However, exactly what senses they possess and how they can sense things has not been revealed.

   Spores often appear to behave in a co-ordinated manner, like flying in formation or co-operating when attacking a threat. This could mean that they are able to communicate on a non-verbal (possibly telepathic) level but it could also just be instinctual behavior in which various stimuli provoke certain "programmed" responses within each spore.

   Spores can significantly alter their bodies in order to change into either a "slug" form or a vapor form. These forms have different capabilities and weaknesses that are discussed in the relevant subprofiles.

   In their base form, spores travel freely through the universe, apparently unaffected by gravity. Although lacking any observable means of propulsion, they simply fly wherever they want and can change direction at will. As they fly, they leave light green trails behind them that swiftly fade away. Spores seem to fly at a speed that is considered rapid by humans but which is far less than the speed of light.

   Spores do not need to breath gases and are unaffected by intense cold, and thus can travel through the vacuum of outer space without harm. The fact that they seemingly originated in another galaxy suggests that they are capable of traveling across intergalactic distances but this has not been confirmed and seems unlikely. It's possible that spores can travel across interstellar and intergalactic distances by using natural phenomena (like wormholes). Or maybe they do so by riding (as unsuspected stowaways) on starships (just as many species on Earth have traveled across oceans aboard human ships and airplanes).

   Spores normally pass through all physical objects in their path. However, if their survival instinct has been triggered, they can interact with solid objects. While passing through computers, they can cause overloads that can result in explosions that can cripple computer banks. They can also enter into advanced machines (like Iron Man's armor) and cause their circuits to overload, triggering electrical discharges that can cause pain or even death to anyone wearing them. They can also use the abilities of whatever machines they are in for their own purposes. Through physical contact with an external power source, they can draw energy from that source and into the machines they are occupying.

Limitations: Spores can fly through the atmospheres of planets but the friction generated by doing so can create enough heat to incinerate them. Exactly how the passage of intangible beings through gases can generate ANY friction has not been explained.

   Spores that have entered into and become part of solid objects can be affected by gravity. Exposure to a strong enough gravitational field will hurt such spores and force them to exit those objects in order to end the pain. Once they have exited those objects, spores will again be unaffected by gravity.

   Spores can be stunned if struck by laser beams (but it's possible that only laser beams of certain specific frequencies will have that effect). While stunned, spores exist in a passive state and are often content to cease moving/flying.

Traits: Spores are creatures whose actions are driven entirely by instincts like hunger and survival. However, they have been known to demonstrate some cleverness when dealing with threats.

Type: Non-humanoid
Sensors: Unrevealed. Spores can sense nourishment and their surroundings but how they do so has not been revealed.
Manipulatory digits: None
Limbs: None
Coloration: Dark green with black spots and a light green aura; (cleansed) light green throughout
Hair: None
Average diameter 1"-2"

Type of government: Inapplicable

Level of technology: None

History: The origin of the "spores" has not yet been revealed (see comments).

(Iron Man I#157 (fb)) - "Eons" ago, in an area of space "several galaxies away" from Earth, the spores made their first known appearance. Needing to devour "mechanical" energy for sustenance, the spores were drawn to the Therhin, a civilization made up of "entities of pure mechanics." By trying to feed upon the Therhin, the spores (unknowingly) initiated a war between themselves and the Therhin. Through unrevealed means, the Therhin managed to drive the spores away from them but, concerned that other races in the universe might not be as fortunate, they sent a number of mobile entities into space to seek out and destroy the remaining spores wherever they could be found in the universe.

 

(Iron Man I#157 (fb) - BTS) - Much more recently, a group of spores that were near Earth were being tracked by a Therhin ship. After passing through a cosmic storm that damaged its defense circuits and crippled many of its functions, the ship entered into orbit around Earth and used an energy shield prevent it from being detected by Earth-based radar systems.

 

(Iron Man I#157 (fb)) - After arcing around the Moon, a group of seven spores approached Earth and the Therhin ship that was in orbit. Driven by hunger, the spores effortlessly passed through the ship's energy shield but doing so caused the shield to warp momentarily, creating a fluctuation that triggered a scan system at Stark International that was used to detect unusual energy readings beyond Earth's atmosphere. However, Iron Man did not notice the blinking red bulb because he was so focused on tracking down the cause of a very recent overload of his lab's equipment.

(Iron Man I#157) - Within the Therhin starship, the seven hungry spores began searching for the starship's powerful fusion reactor and passed through any and all physical barriers during their search. They eventually encountered the ship's central computer that was only beginning to recover from effects of the cosmic storm that had crippled many of its functions.

 

   At this point, three of the spores sensed an even greater source of nourishment on the planet below so they left the ship and began descending towards Earth. However, the friction generated by their passage through Earth's atmosphere created enough heat to incinerate the foremost spore. Sensing its death, the other two spores quickly changed course and returned to space (allegedly to the starship).

 

 

   Aboard the starship, the computer tried to fight back against the four invading spores by lowering the temperatures within the ship to absolute zero. Although this caused some of the internal atmosphere to condense into ice, the spores were unaffected but the attempt did trigger their survival instinct and caused them to attack the computer by causing an overload within it. Once that overload had caused an explosion that left the ship's main computer banks crippled, the spores felt that the threat had been dealt with and returned to their feeding.

 

   Unable to help itself and needing power, the Therhin ship sought help. After scanning Earth, it detected the greatest power in the smallest mechanical package (the Iron Man armor being worn by Tony Stark) and used its transport beam to bring Iron Man aboard. The computer then telepathically asked him for help against the invaders and, seconds later, the four spores arrived on the scene. Reasoning that if the "cosmic fireflies" were powerful enough to disable the starship, then they might be capable of damaging his armor, Iron Man tried to put some distance between them, but the spores followed him, passing through the walls as they pursued him. Iron Man ripped up some of the metal floor and wrapped it around them, but the spores just passed through it as well and then entered into his armor. Their presence caused the armor's circuitry to overload, releasing so much electricity that the armor's insulation layer was unable to prevent Stark from experiencing painful shocks. With his armor frozen by the electrical pulses, Stark cybernetically commanded his power storage pods to release a negative electric charge that he hoped would repel the invaders. However, although the spores were weakened enough for IM to regain mobility, they continued to interfere with the circuitry, first by releasing waves of reverse magnetism to throw IM off balance, and then boosting the armor's cooling system to encase IM in ice.

   When Iron Man easily broke free of the ice and attempted to leave the ship through a hatch, the spores, having anticipated that he might try to escape, used the ship's power system to send more electricity through the armor. They also activated his boot jets, intending to slam him into a door, but the computer opened the door just before he would have slammed into it and allowed him to enter its laser room. Feeling threatened by the laser gauntlet, Iron Man got out of there as quickly as possible but was then pulled to the floor by a crushing amount of (artificial) localized gravity. As the computer assured IM that the increased gravity would hurt the spores and help him, the spores quickly abandoned the armor, and the computer returned the gravity to normal.

 

 

 

   Changing their tactics, the four spores combined into an energy creature that resembled a giant slug which immediately charged IM, striking him with enough force to propel IM partly through the starship's hull in an attempt to force him out into space. However, exposure to sunlight gave the armor enough power for IM to kick the slug back and then blast it with a repulsor ray. Unharmed, the slug attacked again so Iron Man, realizing that it couldn't pass through solids in its current state, again tried wrapping it in torn-up flooring, but the slug instantly began secreting acid that ate through the metal and began melting IM's armor, forcing him to flee and ask the computer for help. The computer suggested that IM electrify the mass to alter its state and then trap the result in Sector Four but before IM could do that the slug began emitting waves of force that pinned him in a corner in preparation for a charge that would crush IM into the bulkhead. Recalling the computer's advice, Iron Man detected a live electrical cable in the wall behind him and, after tearing it free, used it to electrify the slug, setting it on fire.

 

 

 

 

   To avoid the pain, the spores-as-slug transmuted into their vapor form. Warned by his sensors that the vapor was both caustic and poisonous, Iron Man quickly flew away through the corridors of the ship, eventually ending up in front of the door to Sector Four. As the vapor raced at him, IM held his ground until the last second, then dove down through the metal floor while the computer remotely opened the door. Carried forward by its own momentum, the vapor entered the ship's cryogenic chamber, and the computer immediately closed the door and caused the temperature inside to lower so quickly that the vapor was forced to condense into a solid state as a large mass of green ice.

 

 

 

 

   Believing that the danger was now over, Iron Man soon removed the icy chunk from the chamber, but the solidified vapor just changed back into its spore form, causing Iron Man to think to himself that there was "no end to this nightmare." However, the now-repaired computer corrected him, stating that there was now as it fired a beam of energy at the four spores that stopped them dead. With the spores held suspended in the energy beam, the computer explained the history between the Therhin and the spores, how it was one of a number of mobile entities sent to seek out and destroy the remaining spores, and how the damage it had suffered in the cosmic storm while tracking these spores had forced it to call upon Iron Man for help.

   When Iron Man then asked what it was going to do with the spores now that they'd been caught, the computer responded by performing what it called "the cleansing" and blasted the four passive spores with another beam of energy. As the appearance of the spores changed, the computer explained that, instead of killing them, it had merely altered their metabolic modes so that they would now take nourishment directly from starlight and no longer be a menace to either mechanical lifeforms or civilizations that used powered machines.

   The four cleansed spores were then released through an open hatch so that they could roam the universe as they pleased, and the Therhin sent Iron Man back down to Earth.

 

Comments: Created by Alan Kupperberg, David Michelinie and Dan Green.

   The Omniscient Narrative in Iron Man I#157 describes these aliens as "a mass of sparkling, sporelike creatures" and the Therhin call them "spores" but I'm just not seeing it. My dictionary defines a spore as "a primitive usually one-celled often environmentally resistant dormant or reproductive body produced by plants, fungi, and some microorganisms." This does not sound like these alien "spores" to me.

   Another problem is that the spores were said to be a threat to the Therhin because they fed on "mechanical energy." I assume that the writers meant that the spores fed on the energy that machines (like the Therhin) needed to function but, according to Wikipedia and multiple online dictionaries, the term "mechanical energy" is defined as either "the sum of the energy that a body has due to its movement (kinetic energy) or position (potential energy)" or as "the total amount of kinetic energy and potential energy of an object that is used to do a specific work." Actually, I'm not sure exactly what the energy within machines is called, except maybe electricity, but that's probably not correct.

   I thought that the spores were an interesting antagonist but there were four things about them that I felt weakened the story. First, although they were said to have come from a region of space that was "several galaxies" away from Earth, no explanation was provided for how such tiny creatures were able to get to the Milky Way Galaxy. The distances between galaxies are ASTRONOMICALLY VAST, with even the closest being over one hundred thousand light-years away and most others being much farther away, so it seems incredible (as in "unbelievable") that aliens less than two inches wide would be able to travel that far on their own, especially since their only possible sources of nourishment would not have been available within that vast gulf. I speculated about two possible solutions in the Powers/Abilities section but it would have been nice if the story had provided the answer itself.

   The second problem that I had with the spores was the variety of powers that they demonstrated. Aside from being able to fly through space and travel across intergalactic distances, they seemed to pull out a new ability whenever the plot required that they be a threat to Iron Man. First they could pass through walls, then they could enter and control his armor, then they could combine into a giant slug-form that was physically very strong, then that slug could secrete powerful acid, and then that slug could become vapor. The idea that the spores possessed such a wide array of powers seemed a bit too contrived.
   As another facet of this problem, I didn't like the fact that it was never established if the spores were beings composed of matter who spent most of their time in an intangible state; or energy beings who could become solid/physical when they needed to do so.

   The third problem that I had with the spores was that the story lost count of the number of them who were present. I would normally attribute this to miscommunication between the writer and the artist but, since "they" were the same person, that's obviously not the reason. Anyway, on page 4, seven spores were shown flying near Earth and passing through the Therhin starship. On page 5, three of the spores were shown flying down towards Earth until the friction of traveling through Earth's atmosphere caused one of them to burn up and the two survivors were then described as returning to the starship. This should mean that, from then on, there should have been SIX spores attacking the starship and Iron Man. However, we were consistently shown only four spores, up to and including the final page where four spores were cleansed by the Therhin. So, what happened to the other two spores? Did they just leave BTS without being noticed? Or did they somehow merge with the other spores?

   The last problem that I had with the spores was that they seemed to have always devoured "mechanical energy" and it seemed unlikely that a species would have appeared out of nowhere "some eons ago" with this very specific nutritional requirement. As I thought about it, I began to wonder if they might not have been CREATED with that ability, possibly as a weapon. And then I remembered the story that had been told by Skeletron who claimed that he was the last member of one of many biomechanical races that had once existed in the distant past and that they, united as the interstellar empire known as the Turgentine Technenium, had attempted to wipe out all the organic races in the universe but, "through means lost to time," had lost the war and been routed. It occurred to me that the spores could have been a weapon created by those organics to target their biomechanical enemies. Of course, being as benevolent as they are, the Therhin could never have been part of the genocidal Technenium, but that didn't mean that they couldn't have fallen victim to a weapon that was left over from that ancient war. Remember the Doomsday Machine from Star Trek?

   Hmmm. I've had that theory in my head for YEARS but it's only now that I've finally written it out for the first time that I realize there's a flaw in my reasoning. While it's true that any species that evolved the ability to devour energy would probably initially feed on "natural" sources of energy, it's also true that, as "mechanical energy" began to be produced by technology, some of the energy-devourers might begin to specialize in this new type of nourishment and expand into this newly-created ecological niche, eventually becoming a new and separate species. This would mean that the spores could have evolved naturally, without any genetic tampering to turn them into weapons needed. Too bad. I had thought that I had come up with (at least) a partial solution to the mystery of how the Organics defeated the Turgentine Technenium so long ago but I guess there's no reason to believe that it could be valid after all.

   I had wanted to include images with the subprofiles but it turns out that there are only two good images of the slug-monster. So, since I wanted to use both of them in the main profile, I just made the subprofiles imageless.

Profile by Donald Campbell.

Clarifications:
The "Spores" have no known connection to:

The Therhin have no known connection to:

The Therhin who referred to itself as "this ship" has no known connection to:


"slug" form

   Also described as a "super-snail" and a "slug-beast" by Iron Man, this is an energy creature that can be created when several individual spores choose to combine. Spores are only known to combine like this when they feel threatened. Bizarrely, the slugs are MANY times larger than the spores who combine to form them, as when the four spores who battled Iron Man were able to form a slug that was at least 20 feet long and both wider and thicker than Iron Man.

   Although they are energy creatures, these slugs appear to be solid and can interact physically with other solid objects. They can use their bodies to strike at enemies with enough force to propel them through metal walls.

   These slugs cannot become intangible in order to pass through solid matter. However, they can secrete a powerful acid capable of quickly eating through even metal. They can use this acid to free themselves from any solid matter that obstructs them and can cut through solid objects with ease and at a speed like that of their intangible base forms.

   These slugs can generate waves of force from their bodies and direct those waves at enemies, either to force them away or to pin them against other solid objects so that they cannot evade more direct attacks by the slugs.

   These slugs cannot fly and can presumably be affected by gravity. They are also vulnerable to electricity and electrifying their mass will set their slug-bodies on fire, forcing them to transmute into other forms, presumably to avoid pain and/or death.

--Iron Man I#157


vapor form

   A gaseous form into which a group of spores can transmute themselves. The volume of vapor into which a group of spores can transform appears to be greater that the combined size of the component spores but is far smaller than their slug form. It is not revealed whether individual spores can transmute themselves into vapor or if they can only do so as a combined group.

   Spores-as-vapor cannot be harmed by direct physical attacks but also cannot pass through solid objects. Although they seem to possess the characteristics of matter and thus can presumably be affected by gravity, they are able to fly almost as quickly as in their base forms. Exactly how their gaseous forms are able to propel themselves in specific directions through air has not been explained but they do have momentum while flying and this can be used against them.

   Their vapor form is as corrosive to matter as the acid of the slug-form and is extremely poisonous to organic lifeforms like humans.

   Although the vapor form is gaseous, it is also tangible and thus vulnerable to changes in temperature. Being exposed to a sudden and extreme drop in temperature (like in a cryogenic chamber) can force the vapor to condense into a solid state. As ice, the spores-as-vapor are harmless and immobile but they can free themselves and regain their mobility by changing back into their base forms.

--Iron Man I#157


images:

Iron Man I#157, page 4, panel 1 (main image - Spores...In...Space!)
      page 19, panel 3 (Therhin ship battling spores)
      page 4, panel 2 (spores approaching Earth)
      page 4, panel 5 (spores passing through Therhin ship)
      page 5, panels 1-3 (spores in Earth's atmosphere)
      page 10, panel 4 (spores invading Iron Man's armor)
      page 14, panel 2 (spores-as-slug)
      page 17, panel 1 (electrified slug)
      page 18, panels 1-2 (spores-as-vapor chasing Iron Man)
      page 18, panels 4-5 (vapor in the cryogenic chamber)
      page 18, panels 7-8 (spores breaking free but not for long)
      page 20, panels 1-3 (spores being cleansed and released)


Only Appearance:
Iron Man I#157 (April, 1982) - Alan Kupperberg (plot/pencils), David Michelinie (script), Dan Green (inks), Jim Salicrup (editor)


First Posted: 07/20/2022
Last updated: 07/20/2022

Any Additions/Corrections? please let me know.

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