Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

18 March 2016

Rocket Raccoon, v. 1: A Chasing Tale

Collects: Rocket Raccoon #1-6 (2014-5)

Released: October 2015 (Marvel)

Format: 136 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785190455

What is this?: Rocket Raccoon of the Guardians of the Galaxy endures space jail and an army of ex-girlfriends while trying to discover what happened to “his people.”

The culprits: Skottie Young, with artist Jake Parker (#5-6)


Since Rocket Raccoon, v. 2: Storytailer will be released next week, I thought I’d look back at Rocket Raccoon, v. 1: A Chasing Tale. Relevance!

For most readers, the book’s appeal lies in Skottie Young’s artwork. Young, who drew #1-4 and wrote the entire book, certainly gives readers hyper-cartoony action and violence, the kind of stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. Not that Young’s style looks anything like old Warner Brothers animation, but it does have the expressiveness, flexibility, and humor of those cartoons.

Rocket Raccoon, v. 1: A Chasing Tale coverYoung’s art often lives up to its reputation for imaginativeness. The prison escape montage is excellent. The sea-creature visuals surrounding Rocket’s accomplice Macho are creative and cohesive; I especially like the fish-like creature who swallows Macho’s ship, then spits it out at the other end of a hyperspace warp. Young sneaks in a few funny Easter eggs as well, like a box marked “John Woo props” in the middle of a gunfight.

Sometimes the art fails to live up to that standard, though. The aliens all look like humanoids, blobs, or animals; I’m not sure what else they can look like (clouds? Mechanical items?), but I feel confident Young could come up with something more unusual if he tried. (The strangest alien in Chasing Tale is Xemnu the Titan, a long-time Hulk villain Young uses in #2.) The ship designs are a bit boring as well. The sound effects Young adds are not as funny as the ones in Hercules — or as funny as Young thinks.

But I am not interested in Rocket Raccoon because of Young’s art. It’s nice to look at, but I’m a fan of the character Rocket — both Bill Mantlo’s original creation, with his anthropomorphic animal friends and stupid Beatles puns, and Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s sardonic, violent space warrior. The latter is in Chasing Tale, but the more I learn about him, the less I like him.

Young’s Rocket has a habit of swindling and leaving women he has bedded. He uses the idiotic catchphrase “Murdered you” that Bendis came up with in the new Guardians of the Galaxy series. (It’s possible Young might be using the phrase ironically; that doesn’t make it better.) Rocket learns no lessons from his bad behavior. What’s worse, he spends time angsting about his origins …

Once upon a time, Rocket’s origins were simple. He was an uplifted raccoon, meant to amuse the inmates on Halfworld, a mental asylum planet. When the psychiatric professionals left, Rocket and his animal pals were elevated to caretakers of the Loonies. Halfworld had a lot of uplifted animals, but none of them seemed to be of the same species; given that Rocket (then known as “Rocky”) was in charge of Halfworld, he would have known whether any other raccoons existed. But in Chasing Tale, he’s looking for others like himself (one of whom seems to exist) and Gideon’s Bible, the legendary artifact of Halfworld. What happened to Rocket’s memories of Halfworld? Why doesn’t Rocket know where any his old friends or the Loonies are? Why doesn’t Rocket know why Blackjack O’Hare hates him? (And why does Blackjack say it was over an employment dispute, since the two frequently fought on Halfworld?) Would it have killed editor Sana Amanat — or assistant editor Devin Lewis, who signed the lone footnote in the book — to give us a damn footnote explaining some of this?

The villains in Chasing Tale are all weak or problematic. The women Rocket wronged are both. They are all portrayed as unhinged, as jokes. Their leader tells Rocket that women’s pain isn’t treated as seriously as men’s; she’s right, but saying that doesn’t mitigate Young making light of their pain in Chasing Tale. (I mean, look at that pun in the title!) Rocket ruined their lives, and his only punishment is a few punches that he takes without complaint (and community service). That’s not enough; Rocket not only seduced and left the women, but he took their money, which caused them to lose their social status. Rocket manages to pummel an army of exes, despite their armaments and large ships, and still have something left over for Blackjack.

Every other villain is merely a speedbump for Rocket on the way to the end of the story. Without a clear view of continuity, Blackjack is only an opportunity for Young to draw a murderous bunny, not an opportunity to explore an existing relationship. The rest of Rocket’s antagonists are done away quickly and as a joke — huge person (with or without a gun) threatens Rocket, Rocket thrashes huge person. Ha! Ha?

Groot’s haphazard evolution as a character continues here, with the Guardians of the Galaxy movie providing the impetus for his new directions. In Chasing Tale, Groot can regrow from a splinter. Repeatedly. In a few hours. This ability reduces the stakes to nothing when Groot is in danger. And since when can Rocket (and the other Guardians) understand Groot? I think it’s a poor choice; Rocket’s responses to “I am Groot” aren’t funny enough to justify the change. Groot’s impenetrability was an aspect of his character I appreciated. Issue #5, in which Groot tells a bunch of kids a story, illustrates the superior comedic potential of not being able to understand Groot. The kids’ mystification is great, and the story’s entire dialogue consisting of repeated “I am Groot” communicates that confusion to the reader while the art tells the story.

Young is trying for a lighthearted tone in Chasing Tale, and despite the missteps I mentioned above, often he succeeds. Rocket quoting Earth movies to the space police during an interrogation at the beginning of #2 is amusing, although Young undercuts the joke by explaining it on the next page. The entirety of #5 is hilarious, and I especially enjoyed the Deadpool cameo. The payoff in #6 is a nice touch as well. But sometimes the violence and humor sit uneasily next to each other, especially when Young doesn’t quite nail the joke.

Jake Parker drew #5 and 6, and I prefer his work to Young’s, actually. His work on Groot’s tale in #5 does a better job telling the story than all but a few of the wordless ‘Nuff Said issues Marvel did in 2002. Parker’s art seems more in line with the funny animal aesthetic that covers Rocket’s backstory and the ideas Young’s story undercuts. Parker’s work isn’t as dynamic as Young’s, and it’s not as exaggerated; in fact, Parker looks like he’s strongly influenced by Bill Watterston, who wrote and drew Calvin and Hobbes. This gives Parker’s issues a touch of innocence that works well with Groot’s story in #5 and with Cosmo’s scenes in #6.

Chasing Tale has a lot of energy and a decent amount of humor going for it; if it was a story about a new character, I’d probably enjoy it more. Readers familiar with Rocket from the last few years or only the movie might love it, although that won’t get them past how Young treats Rocket’s exes. Storytailer might make this book better in retrospect by explaining Rocket’s history, but no matter what happens, I can be sure of this: I don’t care if Rocket is the last of his kind.

Rating: Rocket Raccoon symbol Rocket Raccoon symbol (2 of 5)

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