Saturday, September 20, 2014

CBR Rocket Raccoon and Groot


Since I recently took a look at Star-Lord's beginnings, let's do the same for two other famous Guardians of the Galaxy!

Hooked on a Feeling for more Guardians of the Galaxy reviews:

Comic title: ROCKET RACCOON & GROOT: The Complete Collection
Art by Keith Giffen, Sal Buscema, Mike Mignola, Timothy Green II with Jack Kirby
Written by Bill Mantlo, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Stan Lee & Larry Lieber

Published by Marvel Comics
From 2013
Lineup Marvel Universe/Guardian of the Galaxy series
Format: Trade paperback collecting Tales to Astonish #13, the Rocket Raccoon story from Marvel Preview #7, The Incredible Hulk #271, Rocket Raccoon #1–4, Annihilators #1–4 and Annihilators: Earthfall #1–4.

Beneath this gorgeous cover by Mike Mignola here are collected the first appearances of both Guardians of the Galaxy Rocket Raccoon and Groot, as well as most of the older comics they both have appeared in over the years.

Like Star-Lord, they went through a lot of changes and refining over the years, yet it is possible to go through their entire history in the above "Complete Collection".

This "Rocket Raccoon & Groot: The Complete Collection" over-sized trade paperback was released in 2013 and for about 264 pages-long collects their first appearances as well as the Rocket Raccoon limited series from the 1980s and a relatively recent reunion of both characters tying up with most of the material presented here.

Let's begin with Groot.

Groot was created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers. His first appearance is the first story collected here, from "Tales to Astonish #13" from 1960. Tales to Astonish was an anthology scifi/horror series which allowed several authors to explore different stories each month. Groot's tale is far from being the most original story you'll ever read, but it managed to surprised enough to make it stand as a memorable entry in the series. It's basically a slightly alternate take on the 1951 classic science-fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still. One day, an alien sentient tree invader arrived in a small town in America. His name? Groot, aka the "Monarch of Planet X". Groot arrived there to capture and study humans. But thankfully a local scientist that doesn't get any respect from other people, or his wife, was able to devise a plan. Bullets couldn't stop Groot. Even a fire was barely making any impact of the alien tree. Plus Groot was even able to control the nearby trees from the forest!! But as Groot was getting prepared to grab the entire town into a giant tree-cocoon, the scientist guy unleashed his solution... And was able to prevent Groot from experimenting on humans... with simply termites! That's right! He just locked himself in his own lab, breeded a ton of termites and let them loose on Groot! And thus Groot was vanquished for good... or was he?...

It's a fun little cheesy scifi-horror tale. With pretty decent 1960 old school art. Groot was pretty captivating as a character, even if the more talkative villain he was here is far from today's lovable gentler Groot.

Rocket Racoon's turn now.

Rocket was originally created by writer Bill Mantlo and artist Keith Giffen, his name and appearance are a nod to the cult classic Beatles song "Rocky Raccoon". His first appearance was in the same black & white anthology series where Star-Lord also first appeared, Marvel Preview. A series aimed at more adult readers (just for the kind of tones and themes they touched, nothing graphic mind you) where a rotating team of artists and writers explored big epic science-fiction adventure series. Some of the more popular characters getting a chance to jump onto their own title or get more episodes through Preview. The story here was taken from "Marvel Preview #7" from 1976. We jump into the second chapter of "The Quest for the Sword in the Star". We meet this young man, Prince Wayfinder. Following the death of his father and his homeworld, he was forced to take upon the stars along this robot servant Alkinoos. They were searching for a way to save their world, when they were forced to take a break on this nearby strange world, Witchworld. The planet almost seemed alive and trying to attack him. That is where the prince met this strange little furry guy, Rocky Raccoon. While it's difficult to get a proper idea from such a short extract from "The Quest for...", it's nice to see Rocket's first appearance, even if he was just a background character here. And the idea to have this funny Raccoon-guy surviving this strange crazy world would later be completely revamped and properly re-imagined as its own concept rather than being just the stop Wayfinder makes here. Speaking of, "The Sword and The Star" was Keith Giffen's first published work!

Next up, is the first proper appearance of Rocket Raccoon in a Marvel Comics! Which ended up being in the parodic issue of the 20th Anniversary issue of The Incredible Hulk, in "The Incredible Hulk #271". Instead of making the series move forward, they decided to take the Hulk out in a special adventure that wouldn't really be mentioned anymore, but it was a fun break from the tension in the storyline at the time. It all begins with The Hulk awakening in a strange world crazy world... When suddenly Rocket Raccoon - Rocky for short! - arrives on the scene! The story is even more filled with Beatles references this time, even titled "Now Somewhere In the Black Holes of Sirius Major There Lived a Young Boy Named Rocket Raccoon". Rocket and his friend Wal Russ save the green giant from these strange mechanical devices. They take him aboard their ship, the starship Rack 'n' Ruin, and explain him everything. He seems to have been strangely transported to outer space, to Halfworld in the Keystone Quadrant. There are crazy "Keystone Quadrant Kops" running around. Robots appear to have taken over half of this planet and in the industrial wasteland there, they have been working for centuries on this giant humanoid spaceship. Rocket is the self-titled "Guardian of the Keystone Quadrant". The animals appear to be the more intelligent dominant species, fighting over this "Bible of Gideon", while the zanier humans living their in the "Loonies colony" don't seem to notice much nor care about anything around them. This mole Judson Jakes is decided to take over the entire Halfworld and has kidnapped the princess Lylla. Hulk doesn't understand much of this world, but decides to help his new furry friends nonetheless. They face this army of robotic clowns put out by Judson Jakes' toy factory. They follow him into space. Finally this turtle, Uncle Pyko, sends Hulk back to his home planet away from their quarrels. Meanwhile back on Earth we find Betty Ross, Bruce Banner's girlfriend, and we learn how Hulk's friend Rick Jones was poisoned by an heavy dose of Gamma radiations. This alien techno-artist girl Bereet, who wanted to film stuff from Earth and Hulk to bring back to here world decides to break her vow to not interact with the locals to help Rick. Will Rocket ever get to cross paths with this Hulk again, someday? It's pretty silly. Pretty cheesy, but intentionally. This story brought a new take on Rocket, a friendly image. He now loves smoking, uses jet-boots. Also, this story basically introduced Rocket's entire background and world. It's simply the basis for the character of Rocket Raccoon to this day!

"Rocket Raccoon #1–4" was the 1985 follow-up series which just expanded upon all that. It was released as a 4-issue mini-series, and composes most of this collection. It was written by Bill Mantlo and penciled by would be-Hellboy creator, Mike Mignola. It all begins with Rocket, Wal Russ and Lylla having a break in a river. "Chief Ranger" Rocket is now carrying and protecting the Halfworld Bible. And trying to understand it, but it was written in a long-forgotten language and no animal can understand it. Speaking off, we know find out how Halfworld has been created as a colony for mentally ill people from a distant equally-forgotten world. The animals have been genetically modified to act as companions and caretakers to these Loonies. The robots were originally taking care of the Loonies and creating toys to entertain them, but have now left to work on their side of the planet. Judson Jakes wants to take over all toy factories and has been sending these killer clowns after Rocket. And his rival the lizard Lord Dyvyne abducts Rocket's friend Lylla. And soon a Toy War explodes on Halfword. The mercenary Blackjack O'Hare decides to leave the villains and joins forces with Rocket Raccoon. They apparently end up curing the Loonies once Uncle Pyko translates the Halfworld Bible. At the end of the day, our heroes decide to take the stars and leave Halfworld for good, into new space adventures! This is a pretty silly but story. Established upon the crazy foundations first seen in Incredible Hulk. Sure, it's a lot of non-sense. But it's fun! Featuring the great cartoony art from young Mike Mignola. Establishing the real purpose of Halfworld (..or did it?). It's a pretty fun captivating story,  pretty typical from 1980s comic. Fast-paced, with crazy artwork and an even crazier story, having fun with the medium and playing with genres and our expectations. And, yeah, it's pretty surreal at times.

Finally, the last third of this book reprints the Rocket Raccoon and Groot material from Annihilators #1–4 and "Annihilators: Earthfall" #1–4. Originally a back-up feature from these Annihilators series. Written by new-Guardians of the Galaxy creator Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, featuring the gorgeous art of Timothy Green II. It's pretty recent short adventures of Rocket and Groot, featuring their reunion following the 2000s GotG comic book series. Rocket has now been working as a clerk on some outer rim world following the disbanding of the Guardians. And it's all because of Star-Lord! One day he receives a strange package containing a killer robot clown! After analysis he locates the origin of the wood used to create this machine... the branch world of Planet X! Home of Groot himself! There, Rocket meets other "Flora Colossus" creatures like Groot. Populated by all these giant living trees with a language impossible to understand (even for Raccoon, they all have their own different accents...) where other beings are only able to understand "I am Groot". Groot was apparently the only one able to talk humanly intelligibly for a while (through most of the Annhiilation event, when he first began talking "I am Groot!"). There's also "maintenance mammals", intelligent animals like Raccoon taking care of the chores around the Groots. Rocket frees Groot who had been imprisoned for impersonating a Monarch (back in his first appearance, remember?). They trace the clowns back to Halfworld - Rocket's apparently been having problems remember his own past. He finally discovers the true purposes of Halfworld - again! The previous mini-series? Self-implemented memories apparently. Long story. A dangerous insane super-being had been imprisoned on Halfworld and it is now Rocket, Groot and Blackjack O'Hare's role to get it back in his cell! The second tale published through Annihilators: Earthfall is a much simpler funnier adventure story where our duo faces the insane new reality TV show decised by Mojo! These stories are pretty fun, hilarious and epic! The art is absolutely gorgeous! And it's fun to have Mignola back, even just for the main cover (repurposed for the collection!).

The only comic really missing here, not reprinted for the occasion, was a story from "The Incredible Hulk Annual #5" from 1976, which saw the first return of Groot and several more monsters from Marvel's old anthology horror series. But those were actually just duplicates summoned by aliens to face The Hulk. Even though, it would have been nice to have it here along Rocket's appearance on Incredible Hulk.

Overall, this is a pretty fun collection, Well Worth a Look for any Rocket, Groot or Guardians of the Galaxy fan!

The stories haven't aged that much, and it really helps they weren't supposed to be taken much seriously. It's all in good fun!

Rocket's mini-series had already been previously reprinted along Rocket Raccon's other appearances in the 2011 hardcover "Rocket Raccoon: Guardian of the Keystone Quadrant".

Groot would be later shown having survived his first appearance. And he ended up captured in the Collector's special zoo (a name Guardians of the Galaxy fans might be familiar with).

Rocket would go on guest-starring in the 1990s in Quasar #15 in 1990 and three issues of Sensational She-Hulk in 1992 (#44-46).

But overall, they had very few appearances in over almost 30 years of existence!

Both Groot and Rocket would finally be much later reintroduced in comics during the 2000s crossover storyline "Annihilation: Conquest" prior to joining the new Guardians of the Galaxy team. And they have now been received to a much bigger audience than they could ever hope for, thanks to the great huge reception to the James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

I give it:
2.5 / 3 Howards!

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