Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Neverending Fray: I aspire to be the Supreme General of Groo fandom

Groo the Wanderer #87
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1992

This issue kicks off the comic's new format, with an increased page count, an introductory strip on the inside front cover, a Rufferto strip on the back cover, fewer ads, better paper, and a higher price, and it's interesting to see what the Groo Crew does with the additional space, in which the main story stretches to a full 30 pages. It's a fairly rudimentary Groo tale, in which our favorite mendicant seizes upon a new desire and pursues it unflaggingly until he achieves his goal, only to find out it wasn't what he expected. In this case, he decides he wants to be a Supreme General, a rank which is bestowed upon the leader of the army after a king dies, making him the most powerful man in the kingdom. So he sets off to find a kingdom which will make him their Supreme General, and eventually finds one where a prince with an ailing father seems suspiciously willing to allow Groo to quickly rise up through the ranks of the army. And sure enough, after Groo finally realizes his goal, it turns out the prince had an underhanded reason for promoting him to the position so quickly. Sometimes what you thought you wanted just isn't all it cracked up to be.

With the increased page count, the story does seem to be a bit padded, but at least in this case, that just means more room for jokes. There are some really good ones here, like this exchange between Groo and the prince:

Or this example of how a battlefield can become even more dangerous when Groo is around:

And this imagined image of Groo and Rufferto at the age of eighty cracks me up (especially Rufferto's beard and graying spots):

As an example of the rule that anyone who plans for Groo to do something ends up meeting failure, this story works pretty well, with the prince who promotes Groo to Supreme General for underhanded reasons ends up seeing chaos and destruction visited upon his kingdom. But I think this might actually be a rare example of Groo being the one to fall prey to the rule; usually he doesn't think too far ahead, preferring to act in relation to whatever wanders into his path, but this time he's actually planning ahead and pursuing a goal. That's not necessarily an indication that he deserves to fail, but tellingly, he gets so wrapped up in getting what he wants that he starts to sacrifice his usual ideals, as when he captures some slaves to work in the kingdom, building the king's tomb:

That seems to be the moment that Groo earns whatever comeuppance he receives, but the goal itself, a position of glory and power, is outside of his normal desires as well, so one doesn't feel so bad for him when his quest gets him in trouble. It can be something of a shame when everything goes bad for the hapless doofus we love to wander along with, but occasionally, he deserves what he gets. But I bet he'll be back to pursuing cheese dip and random frays soon enough, and we can go back to enjoying his mindless carnage and still wanting him to stay out of harm's way. What a strange moral world this comic has built...

Next: The next issue I have is #89, "The Cult".

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: None in the main story, although starting with this issue, the Groo Crew appears on the inside front cover to introduce the story, with everyone, even Stan and Tom, getting a speaking part:

Hidden message(s): None
Moral: "The faster you climb, the swifter the fall."
Spanish words: Only Sergio saying "Buenos Dias!"
Running jokes: Groo thinks "Did I err?" and even with the expanded page count, that's about it.
Mark Evanier's job(s): Behind Schedule
Letter column jokes: Mark makes note of the new format and increased price, thanking the readers who stuck around and noting that prices are going up everywhere. When Aaron Crozier writes to say that he looked up the word "mendicant" and wants to know if Groo is a beggar, Mark replies "At these prices, definitely." Rodrigo Ribeiro threatens to name his son Groo (and then rethinks it and makes an even worse threat to name his daughter Groo) if his letter isn't printed, so Mark agrees, in order to "spare a child the agony of going through life with the name Groo Ribeiro." Chris Young notes that he has never written to Groo and asks if he gets a no-prize for his accomplishment, but Mark says that unfortunately they only give no-prizes for not writing to Groo, so he's now ineligible. Steven Ranzoni asks how come Groo always makes it through battles uninjured and if it's because nothing can get past his swords. Mark says no, it's because nothing can get past his nose. The rest of the column is taken up with the Statement of Ownership (average sales: 69,525; sales of most recent issue: 63,200), which Mark once again fails to make any jokes about, making me think that I'm more committed to that gag than he is.

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