Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: 'Rocket Raccoon' #1 by Skottie Young and Jean-Francois Beaulieu

Movies are certainly the taste-makers of modern pop culture. Sure, there's  popular music and books and whatnot, but films take things to the next level. Novels sell tens of thousands of more copies when they're adapted for the big screen; The Rock is starring in billion-dollar franchises; and the hottest character going right now is a foul-mouthed, gun-toting space raccoon.

If that doesn't prove the power of cinema, nothing will.

The latest installment of Marvel's Kevin empire, Guardians of the Galaxy, hits theaters in August, and the breakout star of the trailers thus far has been Rocket Raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper. Who knows why? Maybe it's because he's represented by arguably the most popular actor in the film. Maybe because he's the weirdest, most offbeat part of a decidedly weird, offbeat movie. In any case, Marvel isn't letting this opportunity slip away and have capitalized on it with Rocket Raccoon, a series from Skottie Young and Jean-Francois Beaulieu that's sure to keep Rocket's newly-minted star rising.

Rocket Raccoon has been around for a few decades, although he mostly languished before finding a home in DNA excellent Guardians of the Galaxy on which the upcoming film is largely based. There he had a penchant for big guns and censored speech bubbles, often acting, along with Groot and Cosmo, as the comic relief of the series. Marvel is banking on him hard but it’s yet to be seen what he can do in an increasingly insular superhero market. What’s the verdict?

So far, so good.

Young is known for his exaggerated, cartoony style. He’s one of my absolute favorite artists in the industry today. The past few years have seen him busy with Oz adaptations, providing the occasional cover (especially variants) for Marvel. He’s been sorely missed on mainstream books but his style fits in perfectly with both the tone and subject of Rocket Raccoon.

One issue with anthropomorphizing animals is how much to let them emote: do only their mouths move, or do you give them more facial movement to allow them to show emotions with their eyes, for example? Young doesn’t find this to be a problem at all, as he allows Rocket, the wooden Groot, and every other character to show as much emotion as the best cartoons. The action is top notch as well; Young has a dynamic style, so whether characters are wrestling or dashing through the sewers avoiding gunfire, you can always feel the motion and excitement.

Young also writes the book, and if you weren’t expecting a book about a talking space raccoon to take itself seriously...well, you’d be right. The humor is irreverent and on point, and it isn’t just the dialogue that contributes to it. Characters’ reactions to absurd moments are great; signs of “Please Do Not Murder Others” set the mood; and sound effects include “pinky out click,” “splinter,” and “mmmmm drop” (the sound of a gun being let go, obviously). All these combine to provide humor in every detail, and looking through the book multiple times is a treat.

Beaulieu colors the book and does a fantastic job, complimenting the art wonderfully. The book takes place in the weirdest corners of outer space, and whether it’s the purples of a dark room, the bright oranges and yellows of a wrestling arena, or the green of sewage, each panel provides colors that are dynamic in their own rights. They’re bright and fun, adding to the wonderful cartoonish tone of the book.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know how long this series will last. I was surprised to see it marketed as an ongoing series rather than a miniseries, and the plot makes it feel more like the latter. Without spoiling things, the story seems pretty personal and contained, something that could be wrapped up in a few issues without any lasting repercussions. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, and there’s nothing saying that this won’t make a great first arc of a larger series. Still, that remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure, though: I hope it does continue indefinitely.

Rocket Raccoon is a strange book about a strange character who has been on a strange journey recently but it’s welcome. Skottie Young deftly weaves action and humor in a title that isn’t like much else in mainstream superhero lore. The writing and art come together perfectly to form a story and atmosphere that’s fun and silly in all the best ways. If the modern comic book market has taught us anything, it’s that books can go at a moment’s notice so we should enjoy them while we can. So enjoy Rocket Raccoon. It’s a breath of fresh air, and with enough love maybe we’ll be lucky enough to get more unique titles like this down the line.

Or Rocket Raccoon becomes the next Batman. Hey, it could happen.

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