September 6, 2009

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The Groo Odyssey

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

Lee and Kirby.
O'Neill and Adams.
Evanier and Aragones.

Okay, so you probably don't think of the last pair when you think of great comics teams, but I do. Aragones, one of the great artists from Mad Magazine, paired up with former Jack Kirby assistant Evanier to start working on this funny swordsman some 25 odd years ago. Evanier, who wrote almost all of the Garfield cartoon show (where I first encountered his work) adds great dialog to Aragones' silly but intricate drawings and the result is comedy gold.

In this collection from their long run on Marvel's Epic line (issues 57-60 to be exact), Groo starts off by accidentally captaining a ship far better than you'd expect him to. When an ill-fated man (when Groo is around at least) comes on board, even he is impressed. But things don't last long when Groo is about, and soon everyone gets that sinking feeling.

Next up is a story that puts Rufferto, Groo's faithful dog, at the head of the line--he's worshiped as a God and the local priests take advantage of him--and Groo's love for fighting. While Groo happily frays for the faith, Rufferto gets more and more frustrated. (I think my favorite part is a scene showing Groo attacking. "We already revere!" cry the poor villagers. "You do not revere enough!" is Groo's retort.) In the end, the priests find a better object of worship, and Rufferto provides wisdom beyond his dog years about the whole thing.

Groo gets a rest in a story about how prevention can make things worse than the problem, as a town sets out to be Groo-proof. This seems like a good idea at the time but ends up making matters a lot worse. Not that we'd know anything about that as a society, oh no...

Last but not least, Evanier gets to do a little more intense political satire as Groo, a wanderer by trade, goes to work keeping the homeless out of a city. There's a lot of comments on the rich-poor dynamic (a common theme with Groo) and of course, asking Groo to help you only leads to trouble. This one is not as funny as the others, but neither does it come off as preachy--that's one of the virtues of their partnership.

While other comics seem ham-handed in their treatment of politics, Evanier and Aragones manage to tell the story first and their "agenda" second. That's the way it should be. There's no harm in giving comics a political spin. The trouble is doing it right. This pair has that concept down, and I wish they'd teach it to Mark Millar.

Groo is just so much fun--Aragones draws wonderful expressions and though very "cartoonish" his breakdowns are often quite intricate--there is no skimping on the details. Combined with Evanier's razor-sharp wit, you're in for a treat.