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Rocketo Vol. 2
posted May 8, 2007
 

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Creator: Frank Espinosa, Marie Taylor
Publishing Information: Image Comics, softcover, 212 pages, April 2007
Ordering Numbers: 1582407355 (ISBN10), 9781582407357 (ISBN13)

In this age of graphic novels so rigidly circumscribed it's hard not to see the pitch to the publisher staring back at you from their pages, it's rare enough to encounter anyone attempting an ambitious fantasy that isn't satirical commentary on ambitious fantasy that it socks you in the gut to even think about nitpicking it to death. The story of adventure fiction archetypes defending a lost city in a hidden land in a broken world of the far future, Frank Espinosa's Rocketo carries the shortcomings of 20th Century adventure pulp right out where everyone can see them, as if blended into the square jaw of its mythical traveler-hero. Its broad characterizations are a mile wide and gossamer thin, the narrative outcomes seem rigidly tied into a heroic formula that leaches suspense and complexity from the plot, much of the dialog creaks and wheezes, and there's an awkwardness in the staging of individual scenes that serves as a cruel reminder of how a story like this one depends to a critical degree on action and ascending levels of visual flair.

imageWhat makes Rocketo different than your standard transposition of some writer's long-ago role-playing game experiences is its art and a kind of all-encompassing faith in itself that together should help many readers over the rough patches. Espinosa eschews representational illustration for a feathery, sometimes broken line and watercolor combination. When anchored by expressive figure drawing, the combination of line and color allows for a compelling start and stop effect. Even when standing still his characters seem to pulsate, like actors settling into position a micro-second before the curtain comes up. And yet some of the best pages are oblique and moody to the point you have to puzzle out what you're looking at. His strength is in single imagery rather than panel to panel storytelling, but that's not a bad thing in a comic driven by fight scenes and high fantasy reveals. There is a lovely two-page spread that thwarts my ability to scan artwork that features most of the protagonists in action in a way that not only carves out a visual moment for each but drags the eye across the page in a way that slowly builds energy, like tracking a line of ink squirted into water. It's a fairly standard trick in comics to hint at marvels just off the page and allow the reader to fill in the blanks; Espinosa promises visual wonders and then does his best to drag them onstage for his audience to gawk at. If one is to work in a storytelling mode that depends on action and design, it's a definite positive to be skilled in both.

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As comics, however, I think how well Rocketo works for you will depend on whether it convinces that its story is worth the naked investment that flatters its direct charms. There are hints at deeper meaning, or at least idiosyncratic beliefs, that might allow readers that act of generosity. Where the old-fashioned nature of Rocketo Vol. 2 appeals the most is in a declaration of values bound up in its protagonist. Rocketo's central metaphor isn't conflict or self-actualization or, happily, anything having to do with modern politics or culture. Espinosa's hero helps people get from one place to another, and his story within the story deals with competency and vocation and leaving home as an experience that binds fellow travelers more than it provides a series of peak moments or opportunities for epiphany. Rocketo has a good heart, and it's hard not to forgive it anything it asks of you.