By Al Ewing, Adam Gorham & Michael Garland
Two weeks ago, Marvel relaunched Guardians of the Galaxy with an All-New title to coincide with the team’s return to cinemas. Last week, it was team member Rocket Raccoon’s turn as he took the next step in his journey from that “black hole somewhere in Sirius Major.” Rocket’s evolution as a character has been a fascinating one from his unassuming debut in an incomplete science-fiction serial to a brilliant solo limited-series, followed by two decades of obscurity until gaining a prominent place on the post-Annihilation Guardians of the Galaxy. With the imminent arrival of the first Guardians movie, Marvel gave Rocket another shot a solo series, which, give or take the standard marketing driven relaunching, Rocket has steadily maintained over the past three years. For most of this time, his exploits were delightfully scripted by Skottie Young. The post-Young issues have ranged from charming (Nick Kocher’s) to meh (Matthew Rosenberg’s). Last week Al Ewing assumed scripting duties, immediately breathing fresh air into the title once again.
In the back matter, Ewing summarizes his pitch for the series as “heists in space,” and, indeed, a strong element of crime fiction is present from the beginning. Many of the familiar boxes are checked off: opening dialogue about the job having gone south, flashback to protagonist morosely drinking in a bar where a lovely dame suddenly appears out of the past. An easy score, broken heart and assembling a team round out the narrative’s plot points. Despite all these elements, Ewing’s writing never feels cliché; as is often the case with genre, the creativity comes in the execution. Ewing, perhaps paradoxically, uses the conventions of crime fiction to soften Rocket’s character (one of the faults of Rosenberg’s run was leaning too heavily on Rocket’s surliness). Sitting in the bar, Rocket is stunned to be greeted by his old flame Otta Spice, an otter like creature who had guided Rocket through his first criminal exploits. Together they lived the high life while abiding by their own code of honor until, Otta broke it, snitching to the Kree to save her own tail. The scenes of Rocket reliving these memories is expertly done. Much credit for this goes to Adam Gorham’s art. Gorham’s emotive facial expressions strike the right balance between coy and affecting.
Another nice touch with the Otta character is how it alludes back to Rocket Raccoon’s past. In his 80s limited series, Rocket was in love with Lylla, a creature with a similar appearance to Otta. Rocket’s time on Halfworld has not been well-served by his various adventures post-Annihilation; in fact, too many authors write the character as if that series never existed, or worse, ret-con all the charm out of it. In the back matter, Ewing speaks of wanting to evoke the Bill Mantlo/Mike Mignola tale in the new series and the early indications are that he has found a good way in which to approach it. His Rocket has many of the rough edges familiar from his more recent stories, while also hinting at the idealistic underbelly that was once his driving force. (As Ewing observes, too many readers forget that Rocket was once a cop himself). His chronology for Rocket and Otta’s relationship also neatly fills in a blank in the character’s backstory, explaining how Rocket ended up in that Kree jail cell from which he was recruited to join Peter Quill’s band of misfits to take down Ultron in Annihilation: Conquest.
The mood of Ewing’s script is expertly conveyed by Adam Gorham’s art. Gorham has experience with crime fiction, having provided art for Ed Brisson’s Image title Violent. Gorham also embraces the narrative tropes of crime fiction, dressing Rocket in a suit which is simultaneously dapper and drab. Gorham’s most striking pictorial choice regards the layouts where images are contrasted with blocks of text. (Sean Phillips’ work for Kill or Be Killed goes unremarked upon in the back matter, though, it is hard to imagine that there is not a bit of affectionate satire at play here). More important than Gorham’s sources is the fact that he fills the pages with lively, imaginative images. The action sequences have a fluid movement, while, as mentioned above, the character beats have an expressive quality. While crime fiction is a key component of Rocket, Gorham plays up its science-fiction aspects as well. His art is full of delightfully strange sights including some quite personable security cameras. Michael Garland’s vivid coloring strengthens the art. Garland’s shifting tones, dark neon for the bar/bright hues for rose-tinted flashbacks, skillfully build the ambiance of the story.
All in all, this is an enjoyable debut installment for Rocket’s new series. By tweaking the familiar and giving Rocket a new band of companions (hopefully they stick around long enough to develop their potential), Ewing and Gorham have found some new seasonings to enliven Rocket’s adventures.