Today, Scott and Patrick are discussing Rocket Raccoon 1, originally released July 2nd, 2014.
Scott: I have something of a sidekick complex. As the youngest of three brothers, I typically wound up as the Robin to someone else’s Batman (often literally). As a kid, my favorite athlete was Scottie Pippen, perhaps the most famous ‘sidekick’ in sports history. (I liked his name.) There was one other Scott in my high school class, and he was the prom king, so for the most part I was the other Scott (which probably makes me more of a second-fiddle than a sidekick, but hey, I needed a third example to solidify my argument, so play along). Of course, we’re each the main character of our own life, so being the overly sentimental kid I was, I often wondered how it made the various sidekicks feel to be relegated to a secondary role in everyone else’s eyes. Chewbacca, Mr. Smithers, Gromit — these are great characters, and they deserve their share of the spotlight. The Guardians of the Galaxy are a team, so Rocket Raccoon might not be a sidekick in a strict sense, but he’s never had a strong story of his own to carry in Brian Michael Bendis’ title. Honestly, this story by Skottie Young (I like his name!) probably could have been chopped in to smaller pieces and told as a B-story in Guardians, but I’m all for the little guy getting his shot at the big time.
We may know Rocket as the snarky little furball at Peter Quill’s side, but when he’s not cruising with the Guardians of the Galaxy he’s actually quite the hero, rescuing princesses and whatnot. He’s a total heartthrob. When he takes Kaleeko on a date to a wrestling match (featuring Groot, who I guess might be considered Rocket’s sidekick) the two are featured on the Kiss Cam, and Rocket is IDed as a wanted murderer, sending the entire arena into a frenzy. Rocket escapes, but he’s confused – it’s not until he contacts Peter that he realizes the crimes he’s accused of were committed by another raccoon, which is equally confusing since Rocket believed himself to be the last of his race. Rocket decides to turn himself in – it’s the first step of his plan, but the end of a different one; all of Rocket’s exes are trying to kill him, and the “date” he was on was really an attempted hit.
When I heard about this title, I was skeptical. Why couldn’t this Rocket story just be told through Guardians of the Galaxy? If Rocket isn’t a strong enough character to carry an issue of that title, why should he get his own? It seemed like an obvious marketing ploy on Marvel’s behalf to drum up some awareness of its characters leading up to the release of the Guardians movie. What I was forgetting, however, is that I love Rocket Raccoon and I absolutely wanted to read an issue devoted to his crazy exploits. This is a marketing ploy, no doubt, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. Young treats Rocket like a true star, quickly establishing him as a hero. A one-liner-delivering, princess-kissing hero.
I’m glad to see Bendis’ affinity for Star Wars references carried over into this book. Amalya’s “You’re taller than I expected” is a perfect riff on Princess Leia’s “Aren’t you a little short for a Storm Trooper?” line when Luke rescues her from the Death Star (there’s also a visual nod to the periscope-eyed trash compactor monster as Rocket is running through a sewage pipe).
In fact, my favorite thing about this issue is the way it walks the line between feeling like a part of the Guardians world (er, Galaxy?) and feeling like its own distinct thing. Young nails Rocket’s cocky wisecracking charisma, and shows that, while he’s just as much of a jerk, he’s even more lovable in an expanded role. Most of the distinction comes from the artistic end, which is a pretty big stylistic departure from Guradians. Young’s style is more cartoonish, with characters that tend to look younger than I’m used to seeing them. This is especially noticeable with Peter Quill, who looks more like a skinny, angsty teenager than the well-built hunk we know.
The art is a great fit for this story. Rocket’s exploits have slightly lower stakes than what the Guardians tend to deal with, and this style matches the zany fun you’d expect from a story about a bunch of princesses hunting an anthropomorphic raccoon.
It’s hard to think of a better word to describe this issue than “fun”. That’s not very creative, I know, but it’s right on the money. Young has managed to take a snarky side character and turn him into a snarky lead character with no ill effects. Maybe Marvel needs to rethink who their franchise star should be. Rocket has a big personality, a penchant for trouble, and the ladies love him. He’s everything a leading man is supposed to be, except, you know, he’s a raccoon. What do you think, Patrick, are you on board with Rocket as a leading man?
Patrick: Oh totally. I mean, maybe the term “leading man” is a little misleading (…for obvious reasons), but this series does have a certain alchemy at work. The whole thing is just dripping with personality, and it’s hard to say whose is more pronounced in this issue: Young’s or Rocket’s. Like any Marvel fan, I’m mostly familiar with Young’s work on the “baby” variant covers for special issues of just about everything in Marvel’s line — I love those covers, and have cool print of Uncanny Avengers 1 on display in my home, but it had been a while since I’ve seen his storytelling in action. In fact, the last time might have been the criminally adorable A-Babies vs. X-Babies. For a goofy send up of the latest Let’s You and Him Fight event, that issue was delightful – I cooed and laughed in all the right places.
That’s all one very specific kind of monster, and Rocket Raccoon manages to be quintessentially Skottie Young without being a retread of any of the things I liked about his earlier work. For starters, the baby-designs are gone. It is perhaps a silly bit of literary criticism to note that “none of these characters are babies,” but that’s been such a staple of Young’s designs that I feel that it bears mentioning. Instead of Peter Quill looking like a toddler, he looks like Fry from Futurama (orange hair, red coat, space = Fry). Scott’s got him pegged as kind of an angsty teenager, and I’d say that’ pretty accurate. That teenage-ness is the engine that Young masterfully allows to drive the whole story.
Take, for example, the reveal at the end of the issue: Rocket is being set up by a League of Evil Exgirlfriends. Even without borrowing Bryan Lee O’Malley’s language, the similarity to Scott Pilgrim (…do you like his name?) vs. The World is pretty clear. Of course, part of what makes this variation on the League so intriguing is that, instead of there being seven of them, there are seemingly countless well-organized exgirlfriends, decked out in crazy sci-fi goggles and shit, ready to take revenge against our favorite raccoon.
Hey, speaking of “our favorite raccoon,” I thought it was incredibly neat that this story takes its set-up from the issue 2 of the Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite Comic that came out last summer. I had mostly forgotten about the rogue second-raccoon, but that’s another story beat that feels particularly teenager-y. Rocket is fiercely proud of his uniqueness — how many times can he boast that he’s the “last of his kind?” — and the idea that there’s another space-raccoon out there is damaging to his ego. I remember keeping an eye out in high school for another hybrid of Orchestra Dork / Drama Geek / Ska Kid, but thankfully, I was the only one, and I was proud and happy with that identity. If someone else had appeared wearing checkered suspenders, playing the cello and quoting Macbeth, I might have had a nervous breakdown.
Rocket’s desire to be an undefinable individual is at the heart of this issue. I absolutely love how incredulous Peter Quill gets when Rocket balks and being wanted for murder. You can’t have your catch phrase be “BLAM! Murdered you!” and not expect to be considered, y’know, something of a murderer. But Rocket maintains that he’s always justified, and not an outlaw at all. Mind you, he makes these claims while evading arrest… When he finally decides to turn himself in, Rocket’s asserting his non-outlaw identity yet again, baffling his attackers.
Skottie Young’s artwork throughout this thing is just amazing. The expressions he’s able to put on Rocket’s face are incredible and varied, whether he’s shocked, or crushed or coming up with an awesome plan.
I’m actually reminded of an old Calvin and Hobbes Sunday strip that’s just a dozen panels of Calvin making faces in the front of a camera. I took a cartooning class where this was used as an example of how expressive simple character designs can be. That’s the kind of simple elegance Young is dealing with in this series.
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