And yet, those familiar with Rocket Raccoon know he does far more than talk; he’s a raccoon of action.
This week on Galaxy Guide, we’re going to take a look at this plucky procyonid, his history in the Marvel Universe, and why those who mistake him for a cute little critter do so at their own peril.
Like his future "Guardians" compatriot Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon first appeared in Marvel’s black-and-white anthology magazine Marvel Preview, a proving ground for new concepts. Rocket was not the star of his first story, however, being introduced as a supporting character in 1976’s Marvel Preview #7, which contained the latest installment of the sci-fi/fantasy feature “The Sword In The Star,” by writer Bill Mantlo and artist Keith Giffen. In this tale, set in a distant future, Rocket (then known only as Rocky, in homage to the classic Beatles song, "Rocky Raccoon") is an inhabitant of Witch-World, a place with anthropomorphic animals, sentient trees, and other oddities. He befriends Prince Wayfinder, a freedom fighter on the run from the genocidal aliens who destroyed his homeworld, and is shown to be a capable fighter, facing down threats by combining his expert marksmanship with his trusty blaster.
Although the "Sword In The Star" feature was not continued, Mantlo liked Rocket enough to introduce him into the mainstream Marvel Universe, in 1982’s Incredible Hulk #271, illustrated by Sal Buscema. Here, Rocket is shown to be a hero of Halfworld, a planet populated by various anthropomorphic animals in a sector of space known as the Keystone Quadrant, which is surrounded by a barrier called the Galacian Wall, meant to keep anything from entering or exiting the quadrant. Despite this, the Hulk finds himself transported to Halfworld, where he aids Rocket and his friends in their mission to recover Gideon’s Bible, a book containing the secrets of Halfworld’s origin, from the evil Judson Jakes, a mole with dark designs on Halfworld.
Rocket’s appearance proved popular enough to warrant the publication of the 4-issue Rocket Raccoon miniseries in 1985, by Bill Mantlo and Mike Mignola. Following up on his Hulk appearance, Rocket and the rest of the animal denizens of Halfworld are revealed to have been created by a long-departed civilization, who genetically-engineered animals with human-level intelligence and capabilities, to serve as guardians for their mentally ill. Rocket and his friends once again thwarted the plans of Judson Jakes, and his ally Lord Dyvyne, and having disabled the Galacian Wall, the heroes departed Halfworld for parts unknown.
Rocket eventually made his return in the pages of 2007’s Annihilation Conquest: Star-Lord, written by his co-creator Keith Giffen, and illustrated by Timothy Green II. By this point, Rocket had been captured by the alien Kree under unknown circumstances, and was drafted to fight alongside Star-Lord, Groot, and other heroes to battle the body-snatching menace of the Phalanx. Rocket quickly became close friends with Groot, and a trusted adviser to Star-Lord, whom he provided the benefit of his years of tactical expertise as a guardian of Halfworld. Recognizing his value both as a tactician and a fierce combatant, Star-Lord persuaded Rocket to join him when he founded the Guardians of the Galaxy, a team dedicated to defending the universe from reality-rending threats.
Rocket became a mainstay of the Guardians, and accompanied them on virtually all their missions throughout the run of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s 2008-2010 series. But when the Guardians faced off against the threat of Thanos and the malignant other-dimension Cancerverse, Rocket to his horror watched Star-Lord and fellow Guardian Nova sacrifice themselves in a bid to end the threat permanently. With the team disbanded in the wake of this tragedy, Rocket and his pal Groot went on to be featured in a series of back-up tales in the Annihilators miniseries, but it wasn’t long before the Guardians made their triumphant return, under as-yet unexplained circumstances, in the pages of Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Avengers Assemble, where Rocket retains his trademark snarky sense of humor, as well as his deadly effectiveness in combat, as the Guardians once again face the threat of Thanos.
As difficult as it may be to pull off such a character, who on his face may seem a bit absurd, and yet is capable of being every bit as serious as his humanoid counterparts, Marvel may have chosen just the right person to do it in director James Gunn. But as to whether the world is ready to accept a talking raccoon as an intergalactic hero, only time will tell.
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