Monday, October 22, 2007


Book Report

I'm in the midst of several reading projects at the moment (rereading all of James Gurney's Dinotopia series upstairs, slowly working my way through GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire downstairs, and reading bits and pieces of Star Trek novels during my morning walks), so the only thing I finished this last week was a comic book. But it was a good one, and worth remarking here.

Frank Espinosa's Rocketo: Journey to the Hidden Sea: Volume 1

I first noticed Rocketo when it was originally being serialized in individual issues by Speakeasy Comics. I stopped picking up the individual issues before Speakeasy went belly up, but fortunately for all of us, Image Comics picked up the series when the original publisher went under. Twelve issues have been published to date between the two publishers, which together represent the first "book" of the series, "Journey to the Hidden Sea," the first half of which is collected in this first volume. And this first "book", of which the present volume is the first half, is only the first of four in a projected series, forty-eight chapters in all.

Confusing? Not really. Just understand that what you're getting here is a beginning without an end (or rather, with an ending that's of the cliff-hanger variety) and everything else follows.

As pointed out in a interview I linked to back in 2005, Frank Espinosa " is a world-class animator with many credits under his name," including everything "from re-designing the complete Looney Tunes characters in 1992, to creating series of Looney Tunes US Postage stamps. If that weren't enough, he also designed the Baby Looney Tunes characters." And as I remarked at the time, I was glad that I'd already finished work on my own Paragaea: A Planetary Romance before starting to read his new comic. After reading this first collection, I'm even more glad. Rocketo is inspired by many of the same things that fed into Paragaea, and is a world-class planetary romance in its own right. I don't think it's any accident that the outfit that the titular hero Rocket Garrison wears is more-than-a-little reminiscent of that often worn by Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon.

Rocketo takes place in the post-historical world of Lucerne, at some unspecified point in the future. In between now and then, all sorts of things occur, mankind has achieved a true golden age, in which "mankind had not only pried loose the secrets of science but the mysteries of the heart. Art, literature, music... all reached a point that has never since been equaled." The moon had become a "portal to the stars and beyond, through time, through space and through dimensions." Naturally, nothing golden stays, and it all goes wrong when an alien invader called the Ull destroys the moon, sending its fragments falling to earth (shades of Thundarr the Barbarian, perhaps?) and ravaging the world. In the ages that follows, mankind adapts to its new, altered terrain, genetically altered to suit each of the new environments created by the catastrophe: bird men, fish men, dog men, and more. And a new kind of human is designed to navigate in a world that has last its magnetic field, making travel from one region to another all but impossible. Called Mappers, they are "the compass of humanity, the explorer, the way-lighter."

The story of Rocketo begins generations later, with the son of one of the twelve mapper bloodlines, Rocketo Garrison. His father had been expelled from the guild for marrying the wrong woman, but Rocketo still inherits all the genetic potential of the Mappers. When his parents are killed while he's still an adolescent, he's sent to live with a family friend, himself a Mapper, and when he's of age he's sent off to the Mappers Guild to be trained. A young tearaway, though, Rocketo never makes it to school, instead opting to become a kind of Pony Express rider, carrying mail on a flying horse, climbs a few mountains, goes deep sea diving, gets into barroom brawls, hunts for treasure, and when war breaks out joins up with a cavalry of flying fire horses. He's captured by the enemy, who use his Mapper potential to help control a giant robot by telepresence, and when the bad guys have won he's turfed out, only to end up manning a lighthouse atop a huge sentient island. He gets mixed up with Spiro, a dog man he knew from his treasure hunting days, who has hatched a plan to penetrate to the heart of the Hidden Sea, a mysterious region from which no Mapper has ever returned alive. And that's really where the story begins.

This is that kind of story. The level of invention is high, and every few pages brings some terrific new idea. The art is a cross between the fluidity of classic animation and the richness of newspaper artists like Alex Raymond and Hal Foster. The only downside I've found is that the characters are kept somewhat at arm's reach from the narrative, and so it's difficult to get too invested in them emotionally, but the world is so rich and the action is so nicely paced that I was still engaged enough to continue.

I've just discovered that there is a second volume already published, which presumably completes the "Journey to the Hidden Sea" story arc. From posts on his message board, it appears that Epinosa is hard at work on the next arc, "Journey to a New World." I'm hoping that he sticks with it, and that sales on these first volumes justify the series's continuation, because I for one would very much like to see more of Rocketo's world, and to see where his journey ends up.

Highly recommended to anyone who find appealing the description "a planetary romance that combines the aesthetic of classic animation with the richness of Alex Raymond and Hal Foster, complete with flying horses, dog men, and sentient islands."


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