Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Neverending Fray: Ha ha, Arcadio is lame

Groo the Wanderer #68
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Janice Cohen (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1990



A lot of the stories in Groo work as one-off tales, wrapping up their plots in a single issue without any need for a follow-up, but there are occasional "sequels" that work surprisingly well. This issue is one of those, following the events of the previous issue, in which Groo tried to replace a dragon that he had killed. However, this one doesn't just pick up where the previous story left off; it's actually presented as a story told by the Minstrel, after he wanders into a town who reveres Arcadio for slaying a dragon, and tells them the real story of what happened. It makes for an interesting theme of the way legends can often completely distort the reality of what happened, and it's also quite funny.

Minstrel's story tells about how Groo was trying to get rid of the "sissy" dragon that he was stuck with after the events of issue #67, but when he takes it to a town to try to sell it, the people panic and send for Arcadio to slay the beast. And thus begins what is probably my favorite Arcadio appearance in the series, since it's all about making a complete fool out of him. He's a character that I don't often enjoy, since he gets treated as a hero simply because he's handsome, and he usually ends up making Groo do all the work while taking all the credit for himself. Here, however, he's presented as vain and self-centered, and every attempt he makes to slay the dragon just makes him look like an idiot:




He tries to get help from Arba and Dakarba, asking them to make the dragon savage, but they mostly just laugh at him, make him look like even more of a fool, and force him to become romantically involved with Dakarba, the uglier of the two witches:



He eventually defeats the dragon (by accident), allowing for his reputation as a hero to be redeemed over time, but it's nice to see him get what he deserves for once. It ends up being a very satisfying issue, with the Minstrel providing a nice framing sequence that deflates the idea of heroism and legends. I really dig it.

Plus, there are some great moments, like this scene in which Groo tries to sell his dragon, resulting in one of those scenes of total chaos that Sergio does so well:



And I really like the title page, which has a nice poem by the Minstrel about why he tells the stories he does, in the middle of a great example of the amazing detail-packed scenes of people living their lives:



I love examining pages like that, discovering all the moments of domesticity that Sergio fits into his scenes and reveling in the way the world gets fleshed out so beautifully. The amount of work that goes into what could just be a shallow, silly barbarian comic continues to stagger me, even after I've read over 100 issues. I'll say it again: this series is something special, and each new issue reveals new depths. I'll be sad when I've got no more issues left to read.

Next: We're finally getting back to issue #101, "A New Land".
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This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Minstrel, Arba and Dakarba, and Arcadio.
Moral: None.
Spanish words: The town of Lerolero is named after a sort of children's taunt, similar to "nyah nyah". Another town, Gafas, is named for the word for "glasses". Some books in Arba and Dakarba's lair bear the titles Brujas ("witches") and El Diablo ("the devil").
Hidden message(s): This jar says "this is not the hidden message":



The real hidden message comes later, with the writing on these books reading "This hidden message is to say farewell and thanks to Margaret Clark from Mark and Sergio":



Running jokes: In a callback to the old gags about Groo considering eating Rufferto, the dog gets jealous when he mistakes Groo's hungry look at a dragon with a look of love. People comment on the size of Arcadio's chin. Rufferto gets upset when Arcadio calls Groo his lackey. Somebody calls Groo a mendicant.
Mark Evanier's job(s): Reptile Choreographer
Letter column jokes: Joe Fonte says he has been reading Groo to his five-week-old son, and the child has yet to speak, so they will be hearing from his lawyer. Jim True complains that Mark has never printed any of his letters, so he's following his friend's ridiculous suggestion to place the letter in a paper pocket called an envelope, affix a sticky piece of paper in the corner, and deposit the letter in a blue box bolted to the sidewalk, even though he thinks the whole enterprise is rather silly. Mark responds by asking if his father read Groo to him when he was five weeks old. Joel Pierce writes a weird letter claiming he was captured by Iranian terrorists and forced to write a letter, but it was funny, and he doesn't think anything funny has ever appeared in Groo. In a P.S., he asks Mark to print the letter twice, so Mark does, although he says that he doesn't think it made it any funnier. Greg Bigoni contributes the issue's Grooism, in which a friend's little brother stuck a Reese's Pieces up his nose and had to wait for it to melt to get it out, which is something he thinks Groo would do. Mark replies that he doesn't think Groo would stick a Reese's Pieces up his nose, but he could probably fit a Whitman Sampler up there.
Miscellaneous: I like the newspaper headlines in this ad for the games Snake's Revenge and Super C:



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