September 6, 2009

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The Groo Houndbook

Written by Mark Evanier
Illustrated by Sergio Aragones
Dark Horse (formerly Marvel/Epic)

In another life, this would have been called Rufferto: Year One because it's a reprinting of his first four issues (29-32 of the ongoing Groo series, for those keeping track at home). Of course, then Rufferto would need a revamping to make him darker (more spots), have a tragedy--as though being Groo's companion isn't bad enough!, and then a bunch of fans writing in to say that we need Rufferto: The Dark Mutt Strikes Again.

Ahem.

If I can be serious for a moment, hard to do in a Groo review I admit, I'll mention that this really is the first set of issues with Rufferto, a character that was planned as a one-off and ended up sticking around over ten years later. He's introduced in a two-part story where you can tell that he's not meant to last, as the primary joke is that he's a backup food source for Groo (cue Excel Saga music here) and the secondary joke is that he thinks Groo is amazingly smart.

No matter the reason, the jokes are all here, and are particularly good, as Evanier takes lyrical aim at schemes to make money that backfire and finds a way to make Groo both rich and poor over the course of four issues. We also get commentary on the defense industry, bankers, and the rich in general, all products of the time this is being written (late 1980s) that hold true today. It's funny how sometimes things that were intended as topical humour end up rather relevant later. Okay, maybe it's not so funny after all. Sad is probably a better word for it.

Over the course of this selection, Groo is a poor worker (in both senses of the word), a rich man, and poor again, but you'd never know it. As long as he has a good fray, he's a happy man. That's advice we could all take. Except for the fraying. Cops tend to prefer it if we don't fray.

This series also shows off Aragones' amazing eye for detail---a bridge scene that most artists would have drawn with outlined people at best, stick figures at worst gets detail right down to making each person wear different types of clothing. He may be a "parody" artist--but the quality of his work is amazing.

There are several things that make this particularly funny, the most obvious of which is that Aragones and Evanier take the concept of a princess who wants adventure and turn it into a dog. That alone is worth the price of admission, but there's also the idea of Groo math, Groo capitalism ("I will be dead, but so rich!" he remarks after taking what he thinks is his third job), a running gag about Groo's lack of mental ability, and of course, the fray-ing. How do you look for Groo? "Like misery, he will find you"--and you will find good stuff. Enjoy!