It would be too easy to write “I am Groot” several hundred times and call that a review (the temptation is there). However, this debut issue is such a multi-faceted delight that it demands in-depth attention. Featuring the breakout CGI characters of the Guardians of the Galaxy phenomenon in yet another “solo” effort, this story flips the buddy-pairing dynamic and puts Rocket in the back seat for once. While heart-warming and smile-inducing throughout, writer Jeff Loveness and artist Brian Kesinger also pepper in plenty of genuine laugh-out-loud moments.
The opening page sets a whimsically amusing tone, capturing familiar Americana and pop culturisms against the usually foreboding vacuum of deep space. For every old school fan of “road” movies- from the Hope/Crosby classics to Planes, Trains and Automobiles to, hell, the Brian/Stewie episodes of Family Guy– this story wonderfully plays up that tradition. The pseudo “back country road” flavors are numerous and appear at nearly every turn. Broken-down RVs, chicken coop-filled pickups and truckstop diners all analogously represent. There’s even a slight nod to Dumb and Dumber’s scooter trek and a winky riff on the Superman mythos.
For first-time collaborators, the creators present as a fantastic surprise unit right out of the gate. On paper, it’s hard to not suspect the sinister hand of “corporate synergy” bringing together a writer from an ABC-TV late night talk show and an animator from Walt Disney Studios but the results leave that cynicism flat at the door. Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire’s cover is maybe as dark as it gets but inside it’s nothing but sunny outlooks despite harrowing circumstances and Rocket’s cranky disposition. The whole experience is topped off by letterer Jeff Eckleberry’s hyper-expressive and bubbly typography, making the comic you wish was a cartoon still super-enjoyable in a more static medium.
Not only lovable and ridiculously adorable in potted-dancing-baby format, Groot is also an incredibly fascinating character with loads of history. Although he is far from anyone’s first choice for any obvious lead role, it is this very unlikeliness that makes him all the more interesting. Forgotten or downplayed factoids that everyone’s favorite space tree began as a rampaging pre-Marvel “Kirby Monster” and is something of floral royalty seem like they could spring to prominence at any moment. How these components will co-mingle with his latter-day pacifist inclinations remain to be seen but mostly the compelling ingredient is the language barrier thing.
How will Groot summon people like Lassie to rescue Rocket from space pirates? It’s relatable not only on that “remember the early Simpsons where Bart goes to France” level but from the perspective of any child who’s ever found themselves alone and overwhelmed. Momentarily separated at the grocery store or set upon by bounty hunters on the intergalactic byways is only a matter of degrees.
Slated for only six issues, Team Groot need to work swiftly and impactfully. The good news is that, so far, this is not proving difficult for them in the slightest. Even better, the road they’re taking seems fairly continuity-free. For those looking for something fun and “popcorn-y” this summer amid all the super-serious event shenanigans, this is your best bet. It’s just shy of being recommended as great entertainment for the whole family but that depends on how liberal you are on quasi-cussing (Rocket does say “flark” a lot. Like a flarking lot!). While blending in better with the Guardians’ adult ensemble, they stick out here like, well, giant wooden thumbs- especially against a guy with a three-word vocabulary.
Official verdict? We are Groot. Verily!