Sunday, July 06, 2014

Rocket Review

Marvel UK's Transformers comic is known for -- among other things -- Simon Furman writing a toy advert like it was a proper story with proper characters, Geoff Senior's amazing art, and the introduction of Death's Head yes? Although it was called Transformers it was more or less an anthology title; the first third was a reprint of part of a US Transformers comic -- the British version came out each week so they had to split the stories to avoid catching up with the monthly US title -- the middle section was a home-grown story, and the last third was a reprint from elsewhere. In the early days of the comic the UK and US stories took turns in the first half and the reprint made up the second half but that's not relevant to my point, if indeed I have one.

In that second-slash-third slot we'd see all sorts of stuff. The comic was sold as a tie-in to a line of science fiction robot toys so the reprint tended to tick at least one of those boxes and we'd get bumf like Inhumanoids and Robotix, but we'd also get Barry Windsor-Smith's beautiful Machine Man mini series and Hercules: Prince of Power in which Herc slept with alien women, rode horses through space and got Galactus so drunk he took off his helmet. For years I thought this was what Hercules was like all the time.

I think Strikeforce: Morituri was in there too but that may have been in Marvel UK's Thundercats comic. Either way it was a bit grim for kids, that one.

What was in there was Rocket Raccoon, a bizarre mix of Saturday morning cartoon, cosmic science fiction, and what can only be described as horror; this image stayed with me for years.

Thank you, Mike Mignola.

That series has always been a favourite of mine; many years ago there was a magazine called Comics International and this magazine had a message board and on that message board some posters proposed a new Avengers team. I suggested that Rocket Raccoon be included and then drew this when we decided on the full line-up

What is Rocket standing on? No idea.

It's been a funny few years as this somewhat obscure character has risen in prominence, reappearing in comics decades after his first appearance, popping up in video games and TV shows and even appearing in a summer blockbuster film that I'm so excited about I may just scream.

Oh and he's got a new ongoing comic all to himself too.

It's written and drawn by Skottie Young, who is a bit of a genius with the pens and brushes. I first encountered his work during Marvel's somewhat wobbly Mangaverse event back in the dim and distant early days of the 21st Century and I've followed him on and off ever since. His art is bold and full of character and movement -- what I would call -- "cartoony" in my more naïve reviewing days -- and is a perfect fit for a bouncy, kinetic character like Rocket. Young's lines are more loose and scratchy here than in some of his previous work and I'm reminded a little of Doug Tennapel's Earthworm Jim; that's no bad thing.

I would be happy enough with one of my favourite comic artists drawing one of my favourite comic characters but Young also does a good job with the writing. This isn't dense or ground-breaking science fiction like Brandon Graham's Prophet but it is fast and funny; the characters have distinctive personalities -- as may be expected, Rocket himself comes over as the most defined -- and Young manages to sketch out a broad setting and set the main plot in motion all in the first issue. As a result it's light and breezy but I'm not expecting anything else from the character; the Rocket Raccoon and Groot mini series from a couple of years ago slapped on multiple layers of angst and tried to make the character Very Serious™ and it all seemed a bit misjudged. Young's approach seems much more true to Rocket's swashbuckling origins.

Rocket Raccoon #1 looks brilliant and is fun to read. It's not Safe Area Goražde but if you want that then you can always read Safe Area Goražde; and I recommend doing so if you want hard-hitting comics journalism about modern European war zones. If you want a talking raccoon flying through space blowing stuff up with plasma pistols then Rocket Raccoon is for you. Except...

I don't know if Bill Mantlo is getting anything from this series. I doubt it as he doesn't even get a "Special thanks" credit, let alone a "Created by" and that's a bit crappy because even if he did create the character for Marvel he still created the character. So if you buy and enjoy Rocket Raccoon #1 then please consider a donation to Mantlo's continued medical care because without him the comic wouldn't exist. Thank you.

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