This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on May 3, 2016.
Comics Bulletin critic Chase Magnett has been working his way through Marvel Comic’s biggest franchises since the publisher relaunched (don’t dare use the word “reboot” anywhere Tom Brevoort can see it) their superhero line in the wake of Secret Wars. From the X-Men to the Avengers to the Inhumans, he has tackled five comics in a single week to check up on these big teams along with their individual members. There was at least one big gap left in his series of expeditions though: the Guardians of the Galaxy.
In the last few years the Guardians of the Galaxy have gone from Marvel’s unloved 80s space series and a second-rate knock off of the Suicide Squad to one of the most precious properties in publication thanks to the surprising success of a single movie. Instead of having only one or two series, if any, in publication, now the team has a reliable ongoing and a solo series for almost every one of its members. That’s not to mention other tangential titles that can’t be squeezed into this week. So has the success of the movie Guardians of the Galaxy translated into some quality comics? Let’s find out…
Rocket Raccoon and Groot #4
Written by Skottie Young
Art by Aaron Conley
Colors by Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Letters by Jeff Eckleberry
Rocket Raccoon and Groot #4 is a gigantic exaggeration. It takes recognizable characters, concepts, and humor, then plugs an air compressor directly into their ass to see how large they can be inflated. The superheroes, specifically Tony Stark, become cartoonish caricatures. The games of Dungeons & Dragons and Fantasy Football are rendered into almost unrecognizable forms packed with absurdist violence. And amidst it all there are spittle-filled speeches and bigger-than-life leaps of logic. All of that is to say, this comic gets that it’s a superhero spectacle and has as much fun as possible being just that.
While writer Skottie Young may be Marvel’s sales pitch to wary readers, it’s artist Aaron Conley that makes this bombastic comic function. From enormous spreads of alien football players to over-the-top cuteness marking the best joke of the issue at the end, Conley gets what it means to exaggerate form. That exaggeration never comes at the cost of storytelling though, which is key. These figures have shoulderpads wider than the Potomac and Rocket’s fangs growl outward from his jaws in an obscene fashion, yet each push for expansion gets to a point. Things are bigger in space, but Rocket is the fiercest fellow out there no matter his size.
Watching the action unfold in Rocket Raccoon and Groot #4 is a delight. Conley conceives each page as its own unit designed to pack some sort of punch. Whether it’s the purely visceral revelation of figures or the heightened action of fantasy and football scenes, there’s something to revel in at every step along the way. Simply put, this is fun in the way Immonen and Ellis conceived of Marvel comics being fun in the pages of Nextwave. Caution is discarded, but impact never is within this comic. Each joke lands as it ought to thanks to the tone-setting of these loose pencils and the bouncy, buoyant colors of Jean-Francois Beaulieu.
None of this is meant to undermine Young’s contributions on script. While the art team is absolutely necessary in delivering the punchlines, a firm understanding of what is being lovingly mocked is required to make these joke function on any level. Young appears to be someone who has some experience with role-playing games whether they involve D20s or football stats. As someone who has extensively played both, it was a delight to see them torn to shreds in technicolor without being mocked or diminished.
The high point of the issue comes in the form of a coach who most likely serves no purpose. He’s a combination of cinematic speech givers and over-exuberant sports dads, screaming and wailing, pitching sound and fury, but signifying nothing. His passion reminds fans of either game of their own, the joy of experience without the need for meaningful results. This is what is meant by loving mockery. Even if there’s is fun to be poked, it’s clear that this Coach and his words are laughing with readers and not at them. Some of his tirade may invade the momentum of the story and feel overfilled, but it also sets the tone that is all-important for this comic.
There are more than enough superhero comics that take themselves far too seriously, but Rocket Raccoon and Groot #4 go the opposite direction and takes itself with no seriousness at all. Conley, Beaulieu, and Young are a team that want to go big and go big they do. It’s broad strokes that aim to ram every joke directly down your throat. Even if a few may cause coughing fits on the way down, most will dissipate like cotton candy leaving the desired sugary residue one would expect from a comic about a wisecracking rodent and sentient piece of flora.