Recently, I’ve had a bad habit of buying #1s of all of the series I’m interested in, and then either letting the single issues stack up or buying the trade when that drops. In my Binge-Reading column, I catch up on everything I’ve been missing since falling off the monthly train in a blaze of glory. This month, I’m catching up on two series at once, thanks to a stellar marketing move from the House of Ideas: Marvel’s Rocket Raccoon and Groot.
So, about that stellar marketing move. After running for 11 and 6 issues respectively, Rocket Raccoon (2014 – 2015) and Groot (2015) were released as two separate series and had their own series of trade paperbacks – two for Rocket, one for Groot. What made me decide to jump back on board after enjoying the first issues of each but losing track of the monthly series was Marvel’s decision to reprint both series together as a huge trade paperback, titled Rocket Raccoon & Groot: Bite and Bark. It’s a thick, gorgeous volume and, at $34.99, it’s pretty pricey but, considering it collects 17 issues and some bonus content, it’s definitely worth it.
Besides those two series, it also includes content from Brian Michael Bendis’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers, which I’ve read before, but kicks the volume off nicely. The Rocket Raccoon series is written and partially drawn by the incredible Skottie Young, with Jake Parker and Filipe Andrade taking over art duties halfway into the series – probably so Young could shift focus to drawing his I Hate Fairyland series, so I can’t even get mad at that. Young is one of the best artists in the game, but Parker and Andrade both take the spirit of his work and make it their own, delivering some stellar and completely insane artwork. Colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu helps the transition as well with his rich and dynamic palette, shifting back and forth seamlessly from moody lighting to big and bright action. The art in Groot is stylistically similar, but illustrator Brian Kesinger and colorist Vero Gandini who colored #3-5 match the more introspective style of Jeff Loveness’s take on Groot, which is every bit as wild as Rocket’s story while also bringing forth some affective and unexpected pathos for Groot. Both series are lettered by Jeff Eckleberry, who pulls some major weight here – so often, good lettering doesn’t stand out because it facilitates a seamless read, but damn. Eckleberry’s lettering keeps up with the zaniness of the art, creating some of the most inventive sound effects I’ve seen in superhero comics, as well as creative and subtle use of sizing and bubble shapes to create interesting and expressive conversations. On creativity and vision alone, these two creative teams are some of the best Marvel collaborations I’ve seen in recent history.
Story-wise, both series are terrific. Each series fully embodies the title character, with Rocket Raccoon’s pacing matching that of a story Rocket tells you over far too many beers at the seediest bar in the universe, interrupted only so he can get into a bar fight. Not to say there wasn’t emotion – we care about this Rocket and his relationships, and the character arc is effective here – but it was the Groot series that offered surprising depth. I remember wondering briefly how the series would be effective as an ongoing considering Groot’s linguistic limitations, but that’s not even a concern in the writing. It’s witty in execution, creative in its use of Groot’s speech patterns without making it gimmicky, and really cuts to the core of who Groot is without getting sappy – and no, I am not sorry for that pun. I pun naturally, folks. Gift or curse… you decide. But yeah, while it’s every bit as fun as Rocket Raccoon, the emotional resonance in the Groot story is terrific, culminating in one of the most moving scenes I’ve read in a comic book, which closes out this beautiful collection with a grace note.
As an aside, one thing I would’ve liked to see in here is Skottie Young’s Rocket Raccoon & Groot series, which takes place after his original Rocket run – but hey, this thing was already big enough, so I can’t fault them for keeping that series in a different volume. I’m just greedy.