[Editor’s Note: Owing to some unexpected jury duty, Heather was unable to finish all of her Eisner Watch recaps before the ceremony this past Friday at SDCC. She still wanted to complete the series, though, so the last two installments will published under “Eisner Review.”]
The Eisners may be over, but there’s still a couple titles left to review! Rocket Raccoon, another title nominated in the Best New Series category [Lumberjanes by Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters and Brooke Allen ultimately won. – ed.], came right in the middle of an entirely unexpected phenomenon. Just one month before the hit movie Guardians of the Galaxy crash landed in movie theaters everywhere and stole all of our hearts with a dynamite soundtrack and charming roster of underdogs, this new solo title launched with writer Skottie Young (Magneto: Not a Hero, Marvel’s Oz book adaptions) and artist Jake Parker (Missile Mouse, The Antler Boy and Other Stories). Rocket Racoon is a raccoon a genetically modified, anthropomorphic mammal that closely resembles a raccoon who often teams up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to raise a little hell.
Before the movie and subsequent barrage of relevant comic titles came out, I had little introduction to the world of the Guardians, and even less exposure to Rocket Raccoon. All I really knew about him was that he was a machine gun-happy member of the Guardians of the Galaxy and also seemed kind of like a psychopath. But an adorable one? I never would have guessed that he’s actually something kind of a hero, or as much of a hero as you can be when you’re also a criminal. He’s like a furry little Han Solo who somehow still gets the ladies. Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn did a great job of making Rocket a real character rather than a cartoon, and has called Rocket the “heart” of the hit film on several occasions. Gunn’s direction triggers a lot of sympathy for this character, who hides a lot of inner pain regarding the unique disabilities resulting from his creation. In some ways, the story behind Rocket’s co-creator Bill Mantlo only heightens that sense of empathy in retrospect. In this new series from Marvel, Rocket is framed for murder by a mysterious imposter who looks exactly like him, and seems to always be one step ahead of Rocket every time he tries to get to the bottom of it. It’s up to Rocket and his best friend Groot to find out the truth, while also trying to keep out of jail. On top of everything else, a space armada of the raccoon’s angry exes also happen to be hunting him down across the galaxy.
In addition to Best New Series, Rocket Raccoon netted a much-deserved Best Humor Publication nomination [Richard Thompson’s The Complete Cul de Sac ultimately won – ed.]. Young’s writing is witty and fresh, with delightfully modern references to things like A Few Good Men and True Detective that make the reader feel a sense of real joyous recognition. Young also really captures the titular character’s clever, self-deprecating humor, which is usually masked (pun intended) by a lot of wisecracks and an even higher dosage of ego; he serves double-time as the artist for the first five issues of the series, and, as always, his art is wonderfully cartoonish and inventive, with appropriately exaggerated facial expressions that complement every single character. Parker’s art, starting on the second arc, brings its own unique cartoon style, while keeping true enough to the overall tone of the book that the change in artist isn’t completely jarring.
Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s (Taskmaster: Unthinkable, Marvel’s Oz book adaptions) colours are fun, eye-catching and bright, making every panel pop the lighthearted storytelling alongside Jeff Eckleberry’s (Giant-Size Little Marvel: AvsX, Groot) letters that perfectly suit the voices and personalities of the characters speaking. Along with the requisite Young cover art, this series nails every single beat it intends. An incredibly honest, hilarious, even a little bit naughty space adventure starring a surprisingly suave, trigger-happy talking mammal with some slight anger management issues. When he’s not making trouble with the Guardians of the Galaxy, he’s still getting into a whole lot of trouble by himself. Nothing is perfect; mistakes and history are often doomed to repeat. That doesn’t mean the journey has to be any less fun, right? Even in fiction, time is a flat circle.