Surprising Surprises in Rocket 3

by Drew Baumgartner

Rocket 3

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Any comics creator worth their salt understands that page turns are the most basic currency of comics storytelling. It’s built right into the format of the comic book — there are images that we can’t see that are suddenly revealed to us when we turn the page. There are certainly ways to surprise the reader within a page or spread, but none of those techniques are quite as inherent to the medium. Which means you can pack a lot of surprises into an issue by doing nothing other than leaning into the page turns. Page turns certainly aren’t the only technique Al Ewing and Adam Gorham rely on for surprises in Rocket 3, but they’re used so emphatically, it’s hard for those moments not to stand out.

I think it’s worth reiterating that Ewing and Gorham do manage to elicit plenty of surprises within their pages, albeit in ways that are unusual for comics. Take the first page, for example:

Rocket was wrong

Ewing packs plenty of detail into the narration, but we understand that everything here is pretty much setting up that Rocket’s visitor isn’t good news. There’s the detailing of Rocket’s expectations, there’s the mention of Karma, and finally the reiteration of Rocket’s assumption that it’s “good news.” There’s no way for this to be anything other than bad news — and this page concludes confirming that — but we don’t get the reveal of who it is on the next page, or the page turn after that, or the one after that. Ewing delays the gratification of that surprise until the story loops back around to that moment — a technique he has used throughout the series to give those reveals some extra punch.

Part of what makes those reveals so exciting is how effectively it uses the medium. Elsewhere, Ewing and Gorham are breaking comics best practices, using words and images almost exclusively in parallel, more or less repeating the same information.

Simple

The effect is something closer to an illustrated book than a comic, but that’s exactly the point. Ewing and Gorham are lulling us into a sense of security, tricking us into thinking that surprises can’t come anywhere but those page turns, where the medium must reassert itself.

But then it’s the storytelling conventions of comics that spoil the final page turn. I mean, I suppose some readers might not recognize the distinctive yellow speech balloons and self-aware dialogue as belonging to Deadpool, but we get a heck of a lot more cues to that reveal than we do for Gatecrasher earlier in the issue. Which is to say: Ewing and Gorham are messing with us, reminding us that they understand exactly how and why comics work, even as they flaunt the rules and apparently undermine their own points. They know enough about what’s predictable to use our own presumptions against us, delivering surprises that land in truly unexpected ways.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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