Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing I Am Groot 1, originally released May 24th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: When I first discovered that Baby Groot would feature in Guardians of the Galaxy v.2 I was taken by surprise, since in the comics Groot can regenerate from the kind of injury he suffered in the first film almost instantly. Of course, in the movies, James Gunn is free to make whatever changes he wants to the characters; the comics have since brought in Baby Groot as well, but that requires a bit more explanation. While the “whys” of Groot’s predicament are playing out over in All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s fallen on Christopher Hastings, Flaviano, and Marcio Menyz’s I Am Groot 1 to explore the effect Groot’s new form is having on the team, and on Groot himself.
Groot’s having a blast being young. Like in the movie, Groot’s newly-childlike form comes with a more limited, childlike mentality, which finds him playing Hide-and-Seek with Gamora and taking over the ship’s weapons for his own amusement. As you might guess, the Guardians aren’t having quite as much fun.
There’s a lot to unpack from this exchange. To me, the most important is the fact that the Guardians aren’t parents. Outside of Drax (who’s too eccentric and alien to parent anybody outside his own species), none of the Guardians have any experience raising a child, and it shows. They clearly love Groot, and even seem to enjoy his new childlike form (even after disciplining Groot, Star-Lord can really only look upon his antics with a wry, amused expression), but they don’t know how to handle him at all. There’s a lot of distracted parenting going on here, which means that nobody notices the trouble Groot’s getting into until he’s already gotten himself stranded halfway across the galaxy.
The fact that Groot is enjoying his second childhood, meanwhile, also says a lot. Groot’s somewhat bratty behavior is out-of-character for his more considerate adult form, meaning that his new form has indeed affected his mind, but unlike his movie counterpart, Groot still has his adult form’s memories. This means that even though his judgment and sense of responsibility is likely severely impaired, he’s also fully embracing this opportunity to get into shenanigans. That’s exactly what gets Groot into trouble — he flies the Milano straight through a bizarre portal and messes with the control panel without having any thought of the consequences.
Considering the circumstances, it’s hard to know how much blame we can really put on Groot for that — how much is he actually capable of understanding right now? What’s clear, though, is that Hastings and company have sent Groot on a journey of growth and discovery. It actually reminds me of Hastings’ work over on Gwenpool — Gwen’s arc thus far has involved learning that, even in a comic book universe, her actions have consequences and that she has to take responsibility for them. Groot needs to learn many of the same lessons, but since he’s a child at the moment, that explicitly makes his arc a “coming of age” story, a tale of growing up. It makes sense, then, to split Groot from his family; the best coming of age stories never involve parents. It looks like Groot will have help on his quest (Buddy, if no one else), but if he’s going to grow up, it can’t be a decision Rocket or the Guardians force upon him — he’ll have to embrace it as eagerly as he’s embraced his new childhood.
The idea of “Baby Groot” probably edges too close to a “cute mascot” for some, but both the movies and now I Am Groot have done excellent work in fleshing out the concept and imbuing this Groot with heart, character, and even flaws. It’s telling (in a good way) that I’ve spent 700 words talking about theme and character arcs without even mentioning how cute Groot himself is in this issue, but just in case you’re wondering: Flaviano’s Groot is adorable. The very opening page, before we even get to the actual story, is already one of my favorite images of Groot ever.
Much like the story, though, there’s plenty of substance to Flaviano and colorist Marcio Menyz’s art as well. I’m impressed by the creativity in alien designs and landscapes once Groot lands on the weird planet, and Menyz’s colors are absolutely breathtaking throughout. The power of the Milano’s weapons, the might of the intergalactic portal, the sheer wonder of space, all land primarily because of Menyz’s colors. They’re absolutely vital to this title.
Hastings also has an excellent grip on the voices of his characters. I don’t require comic characters to perfectly mirror their movie counteparts, but there are two separate moments in I Am Groot 1 where I can’t help but to read Star-Lord’s dialogue in Chris Pratt’s voice (“We’re in the weird thing!” and “We all did! We all should feel bad about it!”) even when I try not to, and that’s pretty astounding. And hilarious, to boot.
Patrick, I didn’t end up talking much about the story once Groot touches down on the new planet, mainly because those scenes so far are more interesting for the emotional journey they’re setting up for Groot than for the specifics of the planet or its fate itself. Did you have any thoughts about that plot line? Were you as charmed by lil’ ol’ Baby Groot as I was?
Patrick: Oh that Baby Groot’s a heartbreaker, for sure. I’m really enjoying the strained parental relationships that all of the Guardians have with him. Spencer did a great job of detailing why that would be — thieves, killers and mercenaries don’t make for the strongest parents — but I love the micro stories that Falviano and Hastings tell about these relationships. In the heat of our heroes escaping the not-black-hole-black-hole, we get two revealing insta-stories in rapid succession. Here’s the first:
This first story is told almost entirely with camera placement: look how large Rocket appears in that first panel. He’s authoritative, but also partially obscured by the edge of the panel, which is slanted to emphasize the idea that the perspective is bisecting him. Groot’s position over Rocket’s shoulder tells more of this story: he’s being sidelined as the grown ups get the real work done. Rocket’s dialogue matches the visual story perfectly.
The next micro story is maybe more of a throw away visual gag, but it brings me so much joy, I just had to share it anyway.
Peter’s white-knuckling those control sticks, biting down into a grimace of pure concentration. Lil’ Groot matches both the body language and the facial acting, even though he’s not really doing anything, and just like a child, tries his damnedest to say what daddy just said. Of course, because it’s Groot, it comes out as “I am Groot.” That’s his version of baby talk. In every moment, this creative team is reminding us how the baby version of this character fits in with the rest of his compatriots — i.e., as a baby.
I don’t know that I have too much to say about Groot’s adventures once he touches down on this strange extra-galactic planet. Hell, I’m not sure I understand what’s happening. Looks like Groot is beset by some robot hive mind imitating his friends before being rescued by a partially robotic, talking pug named Buddy. Hastings and Falviano take just about every opportunity to amplify this mystery with grotesque designs and red herrings. I actually thought that the ghostly greeting system was one of the coolest, most evocative images in the whole issue — check it out:
That design is fucking awesome, and the swirling mix of ghostly energy and galactic starlight promises that anything is possible. In an insanely cool move, Flaviano and Menyz use the color and shape of the escape pod for that little insert of Groot reacting to this apparition. It’s a bold stylish page, but all of the gravity that comes with it is swept away on the next page when we get a shadowy glimpse of the man behind the curtain. It’s one mystery immediately replaced by a second mystery, and thats enough to knock even the most experienced reader off balance.
It does mean that we’re going to have to find our footing fast in issue two. Untethered from the rest of the Guardians, I’m not totally sure I understand Groot. I mean, without Rocket there to reassure the reader with a knowing facepalm, are we left to be exasperated with the character on our own?
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When I first saw that GOTG 2 was going to have Baby Groot, my first thought wasn’t surprise, but reaffirmation that James Gunn was a genius. A fantastic adjustment of Groot’s regeneration power to give consequence to Groot’s actions at the end of the first movie by forcing him to spend an entire movie dealing with the consequences of what he did. Gave meaning to Groot’s sacrifice while allowing Marvel to keep making movies with the valuable IP/character. Hell, didn’t even need that much change – the first instance of Groot’s regeneration power took a long time, only fully regenerating after two time skips. I think it was only with Bendis that Groot could return to full size quickly. Baby Groot just got even better when it was clear in the movie that Groot actually died in the first movie. Movie Groot doesn’t have the ability to regrow from a twig. Baby Groot isn’t Groot. He’s Groot’s son. And it just got better when we realised how Gunn was using the fact that Baby Groot is a child to fuel the thematics about family and deadbeat dads.
But this creates weirdness with the current comics. While I am loving the current Guardians book, and they are approaching the mystery of Baby Groot well, it is a clear case of trying to fit the movie when things aren’t a perfect fit. Comics Groot is never a child when in a smaller form, and I wonder if they’ll ever properly explore why Groot is all of a sudden so childish.
Still, Hastings is pretty perfect to write Groot, isn’t he? Again, he has found the book that best uses his Doctor McNinja skills, playing utter weirdness and silly concepts with utter sincerity. As Spencer so brilliantly articulated, this is, despite the character, a Coming of Age story. And Hastings does it so well. It is worth emphasizing what a great job he does with Groot. He could so easily fall into obvious traps with writing children and immaturity, but balances it so well that Groot is a character, not an idiot who annoys us. Even as the story requires him to do silly stuff that leads to him getting abandoned. What makes it work is there is an internal logic to all his actions. An immature logic, but one that makes sense by its own internal rules. You know why he is doing it, even if you also know that it is immature to do so. Which creates a truly delightful story. I’m going to be interested about what happens down on the surface of the planet. Hastings does some great mysteries, really using his Doctor McNinja skillset well. I love the Ghostly Greeting System as well.
But so much of what made this issue strong was due to Groot with the Guardians, so I hope that Hastings can do a good enough job at all the challenges that being away from them means. How will dialogue work with the other Guardians as translators? How will the loneliness of the setting manifest? What is teh basic story loop of this book, considering it doesn’t involve any of the rich Guardians stuff? It feels like it needs another issue to fully make an opinion on the planet aspect. Still, this was such a great start that really makes me want to read more. Especially when they give it the delightfully perfect name of ‘I Am Groot’
Also, interesting trivia, since Spencer brought up Drax’s alieness. Drax, despite being among the more alien Guardians, is actually human in the comics. He’s Arthur Douglas, a saxophone musician who was turned into the Destroyer by the Titans after Thanos killed his family. This aspect has been rightly deemphasised recently, as it became clear that the Guardians are stronger when Peter is the sole tether to Earth (even Bendis’ run treated Iron Man, Captain Marvel etc as guest stars that didn’t count as core members of the team). But yeah, unlike the movies, he’s actually human