After a brief respite from churning out new reading orders for Patrons of CK, I’m back with a fourth guide to solo members of the Guardians of the Galaxy as their third film approaches! As with the other Guardians, this guide is for a character invented in the 70s, used briefly in the 80s, and then forgotten until the the 00s. He has the least pre-Guardians material of the core team (except for Groot), but the most solo series of them all since the release of their first movie in 2014! Of course, I’m talking about everyone favorite not-actually-a-raccoon, now completely covered in my Guide to Rocket Raccoon!
Creating a guide for Rocket was different than making guides for Star-Lord, Gamora, and Drax because I’ve literally read all but six comics he has ever appeared in. It was more like creating a guide to one of my beloved X-Men!
The six issues I had never read before were Rocket’s introduction from Bill Mantlo, first in black-and-white serialized space epic “The Sword In The Star!” and later in Incredible Hulk and Rocket’s own mini-series.
It’s clear that Mantlo (with artist Keith Giffen) introduced Rocket originally in his pulp fiction space story purely as a brief gag on the lyrics of The Beatles’
Rocky Raccoon. He comes and goes in a span of a few pages of Marvel Preview (1975) #7, wielding a huge gun and proving to be of little help to our hero.
That 1976 story wasn’t in Marvel continuity, so Mantlo had to reintroduce Rocket during his run on Hulk in Incredible Hulk (1968) #271 in 1982. This was a fully silly one-shot tale that further expanded Mantlo’s riff on those Beatles lyrics:
Rocky Raccoon, checked into his room
Only to find Gideon’s Bible
Rocky had come equipped with a gun
To shoot off the legs of his rival
His rival, it seems, had broken his dreams
By stealing the girl of his fancy
Her name was Magill and she called herself Lil
But everyone knew her as Nancy
Mantlo’s Rocket was already equipped with a gun, but this story introduced his love interest, Llyla (Lil, for short), and their quest to relocate Gideon’s Bible. Mantlo surrounded Rocket with a crew of other anthropomorphic animals on a planet called Halfworld, where a spacefaring Hulk made a convenient single-issue stopover.
For a few years it seemed that Rocket’s appearance in the Marvel Universe would be a one-off, but Mantlo brought him back yet again in 1985 in his own four-issue mini-series drawn by the legendary Mike Mignola! The series continued directly from his Hulk appearance, further expanding on the story of Rocket’s home on Halfworld.
And, that was it for Rocket. He appeared in a brief cameo gag in Quasar implying he had briefly fallen into the clutches of The Collector, and in John Byrne’s She-Hulk as a statue in a series full of references to past cosmic epics, but otherwise he went completely forgotten in the Marvel Universe for 20 years!
Dan Slott later used him as a background gag in a panel of She-Hulk in 2005, but at that point most readers had no idea who the character was. I guess they assumed he was just a random Raccoon in a space-suit, which wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see in a She-Hulk comic!
It was Rocket’s co-creator Keith Giffen who revived him for the modern age, pairing him with Star-Lord (and Groot!) in the increasingly hot Annihilation Conquest cosmic event after the success of the first Annihilation brought Star-Lord and Drax back to prominence.
From there, the rest is history: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning picked up Giffen’s Star-Lord crew and transformed them into the Guardians of the Galaxy, which became a cult hit with comic fans. Marvel drafted the unlikely heroes into an even unlikelier film, and assigned Brian Bendis to break the team into wider recognition among comic fans ahead of the movie. From there, Rocket became one of Marvel’s most-popular characters – garnering a string of multiple solo series (plus a duo book with Groot) and at points acting as their mascot across their entire web site!
That makes this Guide to Rocket Raccoon dissimilar to the reading orders for Star-Lord, Gamora, and Drax. For that trio, it’s important to read their pre-Guardians stories to understand where they are coming from. For Rocket, the stories that give him context and solo development instead run alongside his time in Guardians.
From the early glimpses of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 it appears it will focus on Rocket’s origins in the MCU. Will they echo his creation for Halfworld in the comics? MCU origins have a way of reaching back to influence their Marvel-616 characters, so it will be interesting to see what tweaks James Gunn puts on his story for the film
If you want immediate access to my Guide to Rocket Raccoon and over 70 other exclusive guides, become a Patron of CK for as little as $1 a month or $10.20 a year!
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