Rocket Raccoon and Groot know that the opportunity to get into trouble in Marvel Comics’ Cosmic Universe is as vast as space itself. As members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, the heavily-armed talking Raccoon and the giant lumbering tree-being routinely become embroiled in intergalactic crises, but they’re also quite adept at getting into trouble on their own.
Readers will see just how good the duo are at getting into interstellar jams this June when “Rocket Raccoon & Groot: Steal the Galaxy,” Marvel’s first in-house original prose novel hits stores. CBR News spoke with author Dan Abnett (co-writer of the acclaimed 2008 “Guardians of the Galaxy” series) about the experience crafting the novel, which finds Rocket and Groot on the run from several intergalactic great powers and law enforcement agencies. Plus, Abnett teases the existence of Rigellian Recorder and appearances from characters and galactic species from across the Marvel U.
CBR News: Dan, fans who strictly follow your comic work might not be aware of the fact that you’re a veteran prose novelist as well, with novels in many different series including “Warhammer 40,000,” “Warhammer,” “Doctor Who,” “Torchwood” and “Primeval”; as well as original sci-fi novels as well like “Embedded” and “Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero.” How does it feel to take two comic characters that you’re known for and create an original prose adventure for them?
Dan Abnett: When I’m writing novels for properties like “Doctor Who” or “Warhammer,” it’s very much like writing a comic in that I’m dealing with licensed characters and my understanding of how they work. I’ve got to be respectful of them and make sure that I make it work. So that skill set remains exactly the same in terms of this, but to try to take something with a very distinct flavor like “Guardians of the Galaxy” or Rocket and Groot and translate that into prose has been particularly fun because I wanted to capture both the hectic pace of it and the high action content. I wanted to make it quite amusing because there’s always been a strong hint of humor in Guardians. Not to break down the seriousness of what’s going on, but it’s got a wisecracking feel to it.
I also wanted to bring in the Marvel Cosmic universe as best as I can so people who read the book that are big fans of the Cosmic, “Guardians” or Marvel are going, “Oh that’s a great reference to that!” or “That’s clever!” or “That’s a great joke at the expense of that!”
If you don’t know anything about “Guardians” — and let’s face it, a lot of people out there who are even aware of Marvel characters may not necessarily know the cosmic side of it — the book won’t be impenetrable. I didn’t want to make it so people who discovered these characters via the upcoming “Guardians” film go, “I have no idea what he’s talking about.” I hope I’ve walked that line there. I hope it’s a really good high octane, space opera romp with very amusing characters in the middle of it and that anyone can read and enjoy these moments if you’re a Marvel fan and part of the club, but also enjoy it as a sci-fi novel that ties into a movie you enjoyed.
I also understand that “Rocket Raccoon & Groot: Steal the Galaxy” is Marvel’s first original, in-house prose novel. How does it feel to kick that line off?
That was a huge thing. It does seem odd to say prose novels but I understand we have to distinguish between prose and graphic novels. Marvel has been publishing prose novels and very successfully too, but what they’ve been doing is taking existing story lines like “Civil War” and adapting them into prose form, which is great.
When Stuart Moore first asked me about this he said, “Why don’t you take an existing Rocket and Groot story, perhaps the Rocket and Groot mini-series you did, and turn that into a novel?” I went, “Creatively speaking I’ve done that once. I don’t want to adapt something. I’d much rather give you something new.” I think he was surprised by that. I think there was a sense that doing something new involved more work than adapting a story that was already there. In a certain respect, it does, because I’ve got to build a plot, draw things in, and create it all. It also gave me much more creative freedom though; particularly creative freedom to construct a story that’s told through prose rather than moving something from one form into another.
A lot of the things I’ve invented for “Steal the Galaxy” are about the narrative telling. My hope, and my feedback from Stuart so far has indicated this, is that it’s very funny in the way the story is actually told. There are unreliable narrators, alternating points of view, and there are things I can only do in prose.
So, yes, I suggested an original story. … The “elevator pitch” I gave them was “John Woo’s ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.'” They went, “Sold!” and got very excited. [Laughs] They obviously had to approve the outline, but I went with that and it’s just this picaresque, ongoing, exciting tale where Rocket and Groot are still part of the Guardians of the Galaxy, but they’re off on their own trying to do their own work. They’re down on their luck and get caught up in the middle of something, and the more they try to fix the situation, extricate themselves from it, and try to make some money out of it the more they realize they’re caught up in a bigger and bigger thing. There are all these different cosmic forces closing in on them, and they all want a piece of what Rocket and Groot are involved with.
This is something much bigger than what they thought it was in the first place, and it indeed grows to galaxy-threatening proportions. The title “Steal the Galaxy” is entirely justified. It’s a story that expands out, and I think there are some very cool action sequences, some funny pieces and some great references to different aspects of the Marvel Universe. I wanted to bring in as much of Marvel’s cosmic landscape as possible and say, “This is what this is like, and this is what’s over here” rather than just having them fly around in space ships. There’s a lot of cosmic lore, but I think it’s explained and done interestingly and accessibly.
What’s it like writing Rocket and Groot in prose? Are there things you can do with those characters that you can’t do in comics? Might we get a Groot inner monologue?
[Laughs] I was thinking about that because Groot only says, “I am Groot.” I did play around with thoughts about what I could do with him in a prose novel that I couldn’t in comics, and ultimately I decided I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t want to hear him say anymore than, “I am Groot.” I was worried as I started to write it that if all Groot said was, “I am Groot” a lot of the dialogue between the two main characters and their interactions with other characters in the book it’s going to seem much more obvious on the page than it is in the comic where you’ve got pictures to look at, but in fact I think it makes him incredibly sympathetic.
I don’t think there’s a terrible sense of repetition at all because all of the other characters talk to him as if he’s making perfect sense and we actually learn more about what he’s saying and what he’s thinking than we do in the comics. Other characters will respond to him with lines like, “Of course you’d think that.”
The narrator for instance can speak Groot. He has conversations with him where you can understand exactly what Groot is saying even though he only says, “I am Groot.” I think that preserves the gag, but also develops him as a character.
My initial concern was that Rocket would be the lively character bursting off the page and Groot would just be this cypher; this sort of Chewbacca who went along with him and didn’t do too much apart from fire his gun and say a few things. He actually becomes an intensely important part of the story. He’s a very sympathetic character. I think that’s something I can do in prose that I couldn’t do elsewhere. I can get digressions about what he said and why he said it without having him say those things himself.
What can you tell us about Rocket and Groot’s status quo when “Steal the Galaxy” begins? You mentioned that they’re on a semi-vacation from the Guardians in a remote part of space.
Yes. I’m trying to acknowledge the movie continuity and the look and the feel of the movie. If your sole experience with Guardians is the movie, this will make perfect sense and feel in keeping with it, but it’s also very much embedded in Marvel comic continuity and the sort of things I was writing with Rocket, Groot and the Guardians.
That whole thing about their status as a team is that it comes and goes and doesn’t get any recognition. There are long periods of time when they’re not recalled to duty. I liked the idea that unlike the glamorous Avengers or Fantastic Four, these guys have to go and get another job sometimes because the universe never appreciates the fact that they just saved it again. [Laughs]
I’ve mentioned Chewbacca a couple times and there is a certain Han Solo-Chewbacca dynamic of the star pilot and his buddy in a bar going, “What do we do now? We’ve got no money” and being very grudging about the fact that the universe hasn’t acknowledged all the sterling work that they’ve done. Also there’s the fact that they are quite ruthless. They may have hearts of gold somewhere in there, but they are still pirates and mercenaries and out for themselves. Groot is more sympathetic than Rocket in that regard. Rocket is quite hard-nosed.
So there is a sense of two guys on the make looking for what to do next with their lives, and when they see the opportunity, they think about it purely in monetary terms. It’s only when they realize what they’ve got hold of and what the implications are that they begin to get some kind of conscience about doing the right thing. It fits in very nicely after the comic stuff I did and I kept it vague so the story can fit in where the reader thinks appropriate.
We meet many classic species and concepts: the Nova Corps, the Kree, and the Badoon, all have a part to play. So, to show that space is big, instead of having the Kree turn up and it be Ronan the Accuser or the Nova Corps turns up and it’s Rhomann Dey; a different Accuser and a different Centurion show up. That shows it’s a big universe and gives me some liberty to play around with these characters. They’re going to do things you’re not going to expect and their fates aren’t going to be what you expect because they’re not necessarily toys I have to put back in the box, so to speak.
There are [also] lots of references to well known characters. So there are a few cameos, and there’s one particular guest star, who plays a particularly important role and is a mainstream Marvel comic character, which I think will delight people.
It sounds a lot like “Midnight Run” meets “Star Wars.”
[Laughs] I like that. That’s good. “Midnight Run” is a favorite film of mine actually. This is very much like that. If the Robert De Niro character was split into a raccoon and a tree and the Charles Grodin character, and this is not giving anything away because it’s in the plot, is a Rigellian Recorder who’s got information in his head that everybody wants. He doesn’t know what it is, but he does know everything. So that’s where the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” analogy comes in. He’s like the book. As he tells the story and talks to the reader and the characters, he can tell you anything about where they are, what it means, the political history of the Kree, how the Nova Corps work, all that kinds of stuff to the extent that they keep having to tell him to shut up.
He’s my key expositional device, and I think that’s useful, but I didn’t want him to feel like he’s Basil Exposition and here’s a big dump of stuff. So it becomes part of the running gag of the book that he talks too much. He starts to explain things and then begins to stop himself and goes, “You don’t need to hear this do you?” [Laughs] He’s aware that he’s annoying Rocket and Groot. Plus he talks directly to the reader as the story progresses. So “Midnight Run” meets “Star Wars.” Yeah, that’s cool.
This is the second time Marvel fans have seen an eccentric Recorder pop up: 451 appeared in Kieron Gillen’s recent “Secret Origin of Tony Stark” story in “Iron Man.” Is the Recorder in “Steal the Galaxy” as out there as 451?
No, he’s more stable. Also Bob Layton did some great “Hercules” stuff with a damaged Recorder. I think they’re a great Marvel Cosmic concept; the idea of this species that just sends out these humanoid “sponges” for information so that it can know the universe better. These pretty much indestructible things go out there for thousands of years and just experience everything they can. They record it all and take it all back when they’re sort of brimming full.
Inevitably some of them get lost. They’re like space probes. Many of them would get damaged, many of them would start to malfunction, and many of them would experience things that literally blew their mind. [Laughs] So I’m sure there’s quite a high average number of unstable Recorders out there.
This one is pretty stable. He’s pretty much intact. The only thing is he has, without knowing it, absorbed one key piece of information that is the nugget that everybody wants. He can’t work out what it is, but he does know that it’s slightly disturbing him because there’s a blank in his mind that he can’t quite get to. He’s much more together. He’s quite a proactive character. He’s not crazy or anything like that. At the start of the book he says that in order to tell the story better to the reader he’s going to deformalize his narrative prose form so he doesn’t come across as a machine. He’s going to talk to you like a human being. He thinks he understands Earth so he keeps putting in Earth culture references so the reader can understand what he’s talking about. He talks informally and makes character observations. He’s unusual in that he’s slightly more human than the other Recorders we’ve seen.
He’s not cold and impassive. He’s a slightly different take on a Recorder, which I feel are a wonderful part of the Marvel Universe on many different levels. They make perfect sense in a science fiction way, but they are also a wonderful tool for storytelling and absolutely perfect for this novel because it is prose and he can therefore conversationally tell you the story. It goes back to the way classic novels were told, with a narrator who starts and says things like, “This is what happened. I’m telling you this, and oh I have remembered this over here! I should explain what this is over there. Oh and then this happened!” I always thought that was a really cool thing to do.
What I’ve done is, every couple of chapters, I break off his narrative and literally in a very comic way go, “Meanwhile,” and there’s a chapter that shows what’s happening from a different perspective that will then tie-in later on. It’s not the Recorder all the way through relentlessly. There are batches of other things and he ties it all together. There are third person sequences where we switch to what other characters are doing and what impact they’re going to have on the story as it goes along
You’ve already talked broadly about Rocket and Groot’s pursuers in “Steal the Galaxy.” Can you offer up any more hints about them?
[Laughs] Well goodness me. The simplest answer is that everyone is after [Rocket and Groot], but the principal people after them in the beginning are the Badoon. They appear to be our chief baddies, but the Badoon have simply got wind of something that other people heard of. Then they run into the Nova Corps because they cause so much chaos trying to escape from the Badoon that the police arrive. So the Nova Corps then want them, and they’re trying to work out what’s so valuable.
Several intergalactic super powers also turn up because they’ve heard what the Badoon have heard and they want a piece of what’s at stake. There’s another individual mercenary who wants to take over from where Rocket and Groot are going. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but there’s also the shadowy body that’s responsible for the whole thing in the first place; the core of the conspiracy.
Plus, there are chance encounters with other people. At one point they bump into the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. And once again because of the ruckus they cause the Guardsmen go, “What’s that about? We need to know what’s going on!” So the Shi’ar are then after them as well.
Everybody piles on and it gives a wonderful opportunity to showcase moments when they’re face to face with one particular adversary. We get to see things like what the Badoon are like and what their mentality is, and the action varies from really fast hand to hand combat, to blazing gun fights, to super hero clashes like when several of the parties chasing them come face to face. You’ll see Nova Corps versus the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. That’s going to be great fun.
It will also go all the way to full on space war when enormous dreadnoughts are blasting each other to pieces and Rocket, Groot and the Recorder are in the middle of it yelling, “Get away!” There are a lot of things that are sort of beyond their level. They’re guys with guns and smarts and they do stuff on a very down-to-Earth level, but ultimately the book shows that because of their cleverness they don’t need to have war fleets or massive super powers. Because they’re the right guys in the right place to do the right thing and they can outsmart everybody.
If the opportunity presents itself, would you be interested in following up “Steal the Galaxy” with more Rocket and Groot prose adventures?
I’d love to. I think writing novels in a superhero universe, particularly one so beautifully established as Marvel, is even more fun than I thought it would be because It’s something I already do anyway. I write stories for the comics and it’s a wonderful place to play, but the different things I can do with prose is very appealing. Writing novels set in the Marvel Universe is great, and I think the cosmic side of it really is rich. It allows for supreme invention. I’m not constrained by the necessary limits of Marvel Earth and the heroes on it. I don’t have to absolutely adhere to current continuity. I can muck things around a little bit. Space is so big that I can blow up planets and show the rise and fall of empires without upsetting the status quo. Everything feels really big, but it completely and loyally stays within the remit of what Marvel wants from the novel.
I would strongly recommend “Rocket Raccoon & Groot: Steal the Galaxy” to readers of all different stripes. Marvel fans who are also Marvel Cosmic fans will get a huge kick out of it. People coming to it with no previous knowledge except the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie which they thought was really, really cool will get a kick out of it. I think if you like high octane action based wisecracking science fiction and know nothing about Marvel or the movie you’ll get a kick out of it. It’s a wild, high adventure in space with all the trappings a story like that should have. And, like I said, there’s a major guest star. I’m not going to tell you who that is, but she is cool!
“Rocket Raccoon & Groot: Steal The Galaxy” hits stores in June.