Drew: I think reading makes us bad at evaluating comics. Or, rather, the fact that literacy so far outstrips our art literacy that the art can often go unnoticed. I know from my own experience that there’s a tendency for beginning readers to just burn through the dialogue, barely paying any attention to the art. It’s these tendencies that make Stan Lee an inarguable household name, while Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby are only known by comic fans. Indeed, our focus on writing is so ingrained, it often takes a compelling dialogue-free issue (or sequence) to remind us that comics are a visual medium. With Rocket Raccoon 5, Skottie Young and Jake Parker deliver something of a goofy cousin of the silent issue, but one that nevertheless emphasizes just how much storytelling can be done with images alone.
The issue opens, inexplicably, but adorably, with Rocket and Groot entertaining a boyscout troop around a campfire. It’s now Groot’s turn to tell a story, which of course means “I am Groot” can be the only words used. It’s a goofy conceit, and Young and Parker take it to the absolute limit, cramming “I am Groot” into every corner they can.
The story itself is about as straightforward as can be — a multi-step MacGuffin hunt that ends in a surprise birthday party for Rocket — but is told with absolute clarity. There’s a ton of clear-cut cause and effect (that hologram map with a finger pointing at a specific planet becomes an important recurring image), but ultimately, the art team really shines in the little visual jokes. Each MacGuffin plays a key role in the hunt for the next, with the briefcase from Pulp Fiction buying them access to a backroom poker game, a key they won in the poker game allowing them to access a sword, and the sword allowing them to procure a cyclops eyeball, which allows them to find a castle. Of course, we don’t ever know what they’re hunting for (or why), which allows Young and Parker to surprise us at each step of the journey.
For all of the clever narrative devices and visual gags, my favorite part of this issue is just how sweet it is. I was recently lamenting that the Justice League never seems to get together to just hang out — everyone is just too angsty to want to wish Cyborg a happy birthday, or to challenge the JLA to a softball game or whatever — because, for me, the real pleasure of any series is just spending time with the characters. Young and Parker totally get this, delivering a hangout issue hidden inside another hangout issue. That the Guardians would go through all of this trouble just to put one over on Rocket is adorable, but it’s even more adorable that Groot loves the story so much, he’ll tell it even though none of the kids understand him (save the one plant kid).
I’d actually like to suggest silent issues are some of the most telling about the central character: Sin City‘s “Silent Night” is about what Marv is willing to do to protect the innocent, Batman and Robin 18 is about Bruce’s grief in the wake of his son’s death, Spy vs. Spy is about how much those two just fucking hate each other. Here, we get a surprisingly thorough and concise statement of who Rocket is — he’s totally motivated by greed, but is still loved by his friends. Like I said: it’s super sweet.
So, Spencer, what did you think of this issue? Were you as charmed by it as I was? Did you, too, laugh out loud at that Deadpool cameo? In spite of really enjoying this issue, I found myself struggling to say much about it, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe I just need to shut up and enjoy the campfire stories, even if they’re all “I am Groot.”
Spencer: Oh yeah, I absolutely loved this issue, Drew. “Goofy” silent issues aren’t unheard of — the excellent Young Justice 31 is the first that comes to mind — but we can certainly stand to have more of them, especially when they’re as well done as Rocket Raccoon 5. Drew’s right to praise the clarity of storytelling in this issue, because it’s absolutely outstanding.
Young and Parker have a lot of tricks up their sleeves that they use to convey story without words, such as surprisingly effective gestures and body language, but I’m most stunned at how clearly the one panel above tells a story. Rocket looks absolutely despondent, all by himself with that pitiful little birthday cupcake, but the way the rest of the bar patrons are all gathered together in large groups situated off to the side, isolating Rocket in the center of the panel, makes him look even more alone. Even colorist Jean-Francois Bealieu gets in on the action; all the other patrons are bathed in bright colors from various light sources, but Rocket is colored more naturally, which makes him stand out like he’s in a spotlight. It’s an amazingly effective way to kick off the plot, and to be honest, I don’t think there’s any way dialogue could improve this panel at all.
I also like what this panel says about Rocket. The rest of the issue plays up his more selfish and money loving sides; when he discovers that the entire quest was just a ruse to throw him a surprise birthday party he breaks down and bemoans all the cash he lost, and even in the present-day he doesn’t like to tell the story because he’s still sore about it, but this panel shows that, despite all his grumbling, the party was exactly what he wanted. That small spark of humanity hidden within Rocket has been the most grounding and compelling element of this title, and Young continues to use it to great effect here.
In a way it’s sweet, and that sweetness transfers to the ending as well. I knew the campfire kids couldn’t understand Groot’s story, and the entire time I was reading this book I kept trying to figure out how Young would handle that punchline. I did not see the actual solution coming, and it gave me a hearty laugh, but as time passed, what really struck me was how sweet it all was. None of the kids could understand Groot, but he had this fantastic story to tell, making it all the more touching that one of the kids did get it. It makes me think about how important it is to try to understand the people around us — be it to better empathize with them or to work to overcome language barriers — because everybody has something important to offer us if we’d only listen.
Another thing I appreciate about this mostly “silent” issue is how it involves the reader more in the story. In our recent discussion of Multiversity I mentioned how the act of turning the page and reading the story makes the reader at least partially responsible for bringing a comic to life, but that effect is heightened in an issue with so little dialogue. The reader is forced to take more time to closely examine the page, and in doing so possibly notice things they may have otherwise missed; likewise, in doing so they may start exploring areas of the story that the creators may have never even considered.
My sappy reading of that Groot joke from a few paragraphs ago is certainly one example of that, but another is the gag Drew pointed out about how all the writing in Groot’s story just says “I Am Groot.” It’s a killer gag, but I don’t believe for one second that all the words Groot reads or hears register as “I Am Groot.” Young and Parker depict the words this way because Groot is telling the story, and that makes me think about how long Groot must have been talking if he’s even describing the buildings and random fliers in the bar with that much detail. I’m surprised his story ever ended! It’s a silly little thought that was surely not a part of the creative team’s intentions, but I can’t help but love it anyway.
Still, I think much of the finer details to this fetch quest were decided upon simply because they would be funny, cute, flat-out bonkers, or some combination of the three.
Pirate Rocket and Groot! Rocket and Deadpool playing intergalactic poker! Space sirens! What’s not to love? Young and Parker clearly had a ton of fun bringing this book to life, and it’s absolutely infectious. Drew, I too had a bit of a hard time trying to figure out what to say about this issue, but that’s only because Rocket Raccoon 5 is so expertly crafted, so certain about what it wants to say, that there’s not much of a reason for us to point it all out. That’s certainly not a bad thing.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?