Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Neverending Fray: Hey, Groo is kind of a jerk

I've been considering doing this series for a long time, but here it finally is: an issue-by-issue reread of all the Groo comics in my collection. I should note that I do have Destroyer Duck #1, which contained the first appearance of Groo, somewhere, but I couldn't find it, so I'm starting with the first issue of the first series. Let's see how long I can keep this up...

Groo the Wanderer #1
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Gordon Kent (coloring)
Published by Pacific Comics, 1982



Sergio Aragones' Groo has long been one of my very favorite comics, but I've only read the work that was published by Marvel's Epic imprint, so going back to this first issue of his first published series is something of an eye-opener. At this point, the personality of the character and rhythms of the storytelling haven't yet been established, and the art is a bit less refined that what Sergio would be producing a few years down the line. Groo's appearance is a bit off, with legs thicker and arms a bit fatter than they would be later, and his personality is different too. He's still dumb, and he still thinks of himself as a great warrior, but he seems just a little bit more worldly, ready to carouse in bars, chase women, and provoke fights:



I tend to think of him as a clueless naif who barely notices the opposite sex and gets in fights either because he's being insulted or because he just likes to join battles. But maybe my memories have been polished with time; it should be interesting to see how they hold up as I keep reading these issues.

But one thing that is definitely different than the later Marvel-published work is the "adult" nature of some of what happens here. The battles are surprisingly bloody, partly due to the coloring:



Sergio and company may have decided later that it's funnier to keep the blood and gore to a minimum, with killings implied rather than demonstrated so nastily. But it does make this joke, in which Groo casually murders a guy, pretty brutally funny:



There's also more of an awareness of sex, whether it's Groo squeezing a guy's balls:



Somebody looking up a woman's dress:



Or a rather tasteless joke about rape that might have flown in 1982 but would definitely be frowned upon today:



Sergio's talent for visual gags was already quite apparent here, as was his proficiency at filling pages with crowd scenes and humorous details. I especially dig this page; check out how every character's sight line can be followed to the center of the second panel:



The plots would also be improved upon, as this one is fairly weak (although it's a great introduction to the character and the usual sort of antics he would get up to). Groo is being chased by an army that wants his head, and he tries to think of who would want him dead. He has a couple flashbacks to incidents that would make people angry, and then he stumbles upon the army that apparently wants to kill him, although the reason is never really given. There are plenty of great jokes in between though, and even in this first issue, he gets to search for a job, only finding one after hearing somebody say "[the last guy] was a real jerk...he was a real incompetent...a bumbler of the first order! Ever hear of him? His name was Groo." That one never gets old.

One other thing worth mentioning: on the opening page, which sees Sergio appear in his studio to introduce the comic, he mentions that he had been wanting to do a Groo comic for years, but couldn't find a publisher that would let him keep ownership of the character. I hadn't realized (or had forgotten) that Groo was one of the early leaders in the creator-owned comics movement, but it's an interesting and illuminating fact to discover, and also a reminder of how comics always seems to be behind the times when it comes to treating people like human beings.

Next: "The Missive"
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This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Taranto, Groo's "friend" who usually manages to manipulate him to his own ends, and the Sage, who stars in his own backup story, both make their debuts (I think)
Hidden message(s): none that I noticed
Running jokes: Groo's love of cheese dip is established, as well as his sort-of catchphrase, "And now, Groo does what Groo does best!"
Mark Evanier's job(s): Interpreter, Decoding
Letter column jokes: Just an into from Mark Evanier here. I'm curious to see at what point the letter column evolved into its own collection of running jokes and silliness.
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Bonus! Other titles considered for this series:

Did I Err?
To Err is Groo-man
Mendicant Meanderings
Cheese Dip Diet
What Pirates?
Groomblr or Groo the Wanderblr (if this was on Tumblr)
Frayed Nerves
Groo Is So Dumb That...
Grooish Wanderings
Sage Advice
Secret Messages
Adventures of the Prince of Chichester
Sailing with Groo
Pieces of Groo
Groo-vy Times
Thin Grool
Groon Squad
Groo Fighters
In the Groop
Groo-ing Pains
A Grooling Journey