Friday, August 8, 2014

Recommended Reading for 8/8: Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket Raccoon & Groot- Steal the Galaxy

Ok, so this is the wrap up to our celebration of Guardians of the Galaxy. I still can't get over the fact that these obscure characters are the stars of the biggest blockbuster of the summer. Not a complaint, just... wow. So, today's recommendation is not a comic, but the most recent in Marvel's series of self published novels. While the earlier books in the series were adaptations of comic series (Civil War, X-Men: Gifted, and New Avengers: Breakout to name a few), this novel is an original story, and to top it off, it's written by Dan Abnett, half of the writing team that brought the Guardians back to prominence. When it was announced, I knew I had to give it a shot, and I was pleased that I did.

This novel is a wacky caper story, where a Rigellian Recorder robot falls into the hands of Rocky and Groot, and quickly it turns out that the robot is being pursued by the Badoon, The Kree, Timely Inc. (a megacorp that Rocket once worked in the mail room for), and a few other factions. It isn't clear at the beginning what the Recorder might have recorded, but whatever it is, it's got many factions hunting it, and only a raccoon and a tree to protect it. The novel a tour of the Marvel cosmos, with intergalactic empires, space cops, Spaceknights, and hired killers all hunting for our hapless heroes and their new robotic friend.

It's not surprising that Abnett tells an action packed story with more than a touch of humor. Rocket and Groot are inherently funny characters, a classic odd couple, and tossing in the Recorder to be a straight man against the two of them works beautifully. The voices that both Rocket and Groot have (well, it's a bit more limited with Groot, but the impressions you get form him) today are directly from Abnett's run, so I can think of no writer who better captures them. Different chapters of the novel are narrated differently, but the majority of them are form the perspective of the Recorder, who is a very likable narrator, a robot in the mold of C-3PO without much of the screeching, and so you get his often very literal interpretations of events, and his commentary about the odd characters around him, including a recurring line about Rocket's, "disturbingly human hands" which starts out funny, and then it does that thing where it gets less funny only to become even funnier as the line keeps popping up.

Before I move off the topic of humor, I just want to touch on Timely, Inc. When they appeared in the comic back-ups starring Rocket and Groot in the Annihilators mini-series, you knew they were this very officious mega-corporation. Digging deeper into their workings, you see that it's even worse than you imagined. The scenes with Timely are like a Dilbert comic strip in space, where the company is actively attempting galactic domination and with all of the different aliens on the Special Projects board speaking in these terrible buzzwords that clearly have no real meaning, just adding ridiculous suffixes onto existing words. It's a funny little trope. The great thing about that board, too, is that variety of aliens represented there. It includes not just a Kree , but a Skrull (the shape-shifting enemies of the Kree), a Z'Nox (an obscure alien race from early X-Men stories), a Shi'ar (a much less obscure race from more modern X-Men stories), and a Kaliklakian (the insect-like species that former Guardian Bug was a member of who have a -tik- distinctive speech pattern).

That variety of aliens is a hallmark of the book, which takes you all over the Marvel universe. As someone who is deeply familiar with these concepts and characters, it's hard to judge ease of accessibility, but it struck me that Abnett did a good job of explaining the core concepts. With the Recorder, whose whole job it is to accumulate data, as a narrator, there was an easy device to talk to the reader and explain who or what something is. By introducing original characters as members of the Nova Corps and Shi'ar Imperial Guard, you got to know these characters and through them their organizations, instead of trying to use an established character.

Thematically, the book treads on similar topics as the movie, a story about friendship and loyalty. I don't think  this is necessarily intentional, as the friendship between Rocket and Groot, and their loyalty to one another, has been key to a lot of the the stories that they have been featured in. What the book does is bring in other characters. We see how Rocket and Groot have to make decisions about the Recorder, and whether to stay loyal to him despite his vast worth to various factions. Gamora appears, hired to retrieve the Recorder, and she must decide if her contract is worth more than the friendship she has with our heroes. And a fallen Galadoran Space Knight, called Roamer, who has forsworn his oaths to protect the innocent, must decide if he really is a mercenary or still has a hero within him, loyal to the ideals who once believed in.

And for those of us who are familiar with the Marvel cosmic universe, there are a few great cameos and appearances. I've already mentioned Gamora has a role in the novel. Roamer, a member of the Spaceknights, is, well, never really given much background, but with that name and background I think Roamer might be someone we know. The master of the Negative Zone, Annihilus, pops up as one of the beings hunting the Recorder. The very end of the book tosses one last faction into the novel that I won't spoil, but is familiar to anyone who truthfully knows their Marvel cosmic history (there's a hnt there). And the cameo that got me most excited was an appearance by Pip the Troll. The one member of the 90s Infinity Watch (the team that protected the Infinity Gems, also featuring Adam Warlock, Gamora, Drax, Moondragon, and Thanos) that never appeared in the Guardians of the Galaxy comic series (he was a member of X-Factor for much of that time, a mismatch that worked really well), Rocket and Groot get to meet up with a retired Pip who now runs a junk shop. It's a really fun scene, and a treat for those of us who know these characters.

I know a novel is a lot more of a time commitment than a comic is, and so many have to be more frugal about what they choose to start. Rocket Raccoon and Groot- Steal the Galaxy is a quick, fun read, perfect for summer vacation. If you're a long term fan of Guardians of the Galaxy, or someone who just discovered them through the movie, it's a great read.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket Raccoon and Groot- Steal the Galaxy is available at any book or comic book shop.

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