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What happens when you sacrifice all chance at a normal life and years later you find your sacrifice has rendered you obsolete? The title character of “Retro Rocket,” a new four issue mini-series from Image Comics beginning in March, finds himself in this very situation. But, an alien threat may turn Retro from an outmoded soldier to Earth’s only chance at survival. CBR News spoke with writer Tony Bedard about the series, which should delight readers hungry for fast and furious Giant Mecha action.
The seeds for “Retro Rocket” were first planted thirty-five years ago on a Saturday morning. “It all began back in 1971, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where four year old Tony Bedard couldn’t wait for Saturday mornings, when ‘Ultraman’ reruns would come on in Spanish,” Bedard told CBR News. “One look at a giant robot-man pounding the crap out of space-lizards and I was hooked! Twenty-five years later I was making funny books for Bill Tucci’s Crusade Comics and it occurred to me that ‘Retro Rocket’ sounded like both a good title and character name. The story just came pouring out from there and since I was working with a young artist named Jason Orfalas who was equally into the Giant Mecha genre, we brainstormed the tale of a nearly obsolete mech who gets one last shot at saving the world just as it looks like he’s headed for the scrap-heap.”
Retro may be a nearly obsolete mech, but at one time he was a top of the line weapon in a world that’s been savaged by decades of war. “This story is set roughly a century from now, following a series of devastating wars that ended with a new world government, and the mech-warriors of the Global Defense Force keeping the peace,” Bedard said. “But fifty years before, the Man-Mech Wars introduced robotic soldiers with human brains permanently grafted within. They were sort of a weapon of last resort, not intended to survive the conflict. But our man-mech hero, Retro Rocket, does survive, and five decades later he’s still kicking around alongside the latest automech models, which the pilots can enter and exit as easily as a tank or fighter plane. Retro’s accepted as one of the GDF ‘bot-jockeys, but his cyborg status means he’s a bit of a freak, and it’s getting harder for him to even keep up with the new mechs. Just as Retro is ready to retire from the G.D.F., Earth is invaded by–what else?–mechs from space. Suddenly, Retro’s personal problems don’t seem like much compared to the extermination of the human race.”
Retro’s personal problems stem from his choice to become a man-mech all those years ago and in an upcoming issue readers will learn why he chose to forfeit a normal life. “Issue #3 will be the big reveal of Retro’s former life as a special forces soldier in the bleakest world war ever,” Bedard explained. “It’s a defining moment for him and the sort of experience that might drive a man to become a monster…or a walking weapon of mass destruction. What’s strange to me is how this back-story, which we started cooking up in 1997, has become more and more relevant in recent years. I can’t go into much more detail without giving it away.”
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He may be a walking weapon of mass destruction. but Retro’s metal shell holds a human soul. “He has a strong sense of duty and he’s very experienced in the ways of battle,” Bedard stated. “He’s very old-school, and shares much in common with other comic book characters trapped in bodies not their own, like the Fantastic Four’s Thing, or Paul Chadwick’s Concrete. He’s also a bit of a man out of time, like Captain America.
“His closest friend is an old mechanic named Tom,” Bedard continued. “Tom has kept Retro up and running for over thirty years. These two guys are contemporaries and have formed a bond of trust and friendship, but unlike Retro the old mechanic can’t keep on ticking forever. So it’s another sign of Retro’s impending obsolescence that his best pal is retiring.”
Tom’s impending retirement means Retro’s life will become more complicated because Tom’s replacement is his beautiful niece Sparky Parks. “Sparky likes nothing better than tinkering on Retro’s inner workings and all that attention from such a pretty face makes Retro feel things he really can’t do much about,” Bedard explained. “And then comes the invasion that isolates Retro and Sparky from everyone else and drives them even closer together. In their darkest hour, a sort of Beauty and the Beast chemistry develops. But then we’re going to see a very strange and impossible love triangle develop between them and another character. And if Retro finds he actually has a chance to really be with Sparky, what might he sell out to take that opportunity?”
Sparky isn’t the only supporting character that Retro has an uncomfortable relationship with. The Man Mech is also striving to be a valuable asset to the unit of young soldiers that he’s attached to “In any office or organization you’ll find that old-school veteran with a wealth of experience who isn’t really in synch with the young go-getters,” Bedard stated. “Retro is that guy, and maybe some of his colleagues treat him well, but they’re also wondering when the old man will retire. And there’s just a natural barrier to bonding with a ten-foot rock-em-sock-em robot.”
The first issue of “Retro Rocket” shows Retro in action with his fellow soldiers. “We ride along on a GDF mission and see first-hand how Retro is both invaluable in certain situations, and yet he’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Bedard said. “It’s fast-paced and funny, but there’s an underlying tragedy as the poor guy just can’t seem to win. And at the end of his worst day ever, when Retro decides it’s time to hang up his rocket-pack, that’s when the enemy arrives and our story kicks in the afterburners.”
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“They’re called the Quorum, though we don’t find out why until issue #4,” Bedard continued. “Naturally, they have their own giant robots, along with some secret weapons that the GDF just isn’t ready for. A lot of the fun of this four-parter is gradually learning the deep dark secret behind the Quorum’s origins, and how that background relates to Retro and his own history. There’s a weird connection there that will ultimately test Retro’s allegiances and his darkest desires. Plus, Jason’s designs for the alien mechs are just plain cool — not to mention their bizarre mothership.”
Jason Orfalas’s pencils and designs for “Retro Rocket” have astonished Bedard. “Jason Orfalas is an evil genius and his day in the sun is at hand,” Bedard stated. “I mean it: you are going to love the eye-candy Jason’s serving up in these four issues. And you’ll swear you can almost hear the gears creaking and the turbos humming when Retro Rocket zooms into battle!”
Bedard and Orfalas’s mutual love for giant robot and giant monster stories were their major influences on “Retro Rocket.” “Oddly enough, I missed out on ‘Robotech’, although I think Jason is incorporating that influence in his art and designs,” Bedard said. “‘Ultraman,’ ‘Space Giants,’ ‘Starblazers,’ ‘Battle of the Planets,’ ‘Spectreman,’ ‘Johnny Sokko,’ ‘Thunderbirds,’ ‘Godzilla,’ ‘Gamerra,’ ‘Gigantor,’ ‘Astro Boy,’ ‘Mobile Suit Gundam,’ ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion,’ ‘Akira,’ ‘Ghost in the Shell,’ ‘Terminator,’ ‘Doom Patrol’ and ‘Concrete’ are all contributing something to this stew. That and my own feelings over the years about growing older amid the ever-increasing rate of technological change. It can be pretty scary stuff; feeling like the world is overtaking you and leaving you in the dust. Heck, it’s seemed like that’s what was happening to the comics industry itself at times. But then you also have to look for the timeless things in the midst of all this change. I think it was Mike Carlin at DC who once said to me that there will always be a place for comics, so long as people need something to read in the bathroom. It’s a strangely comforting thought.”
“Retro Rocket” is only a four issue mini-series, but Bedard has a whole slew of ideas for further adventures of the man-mech. “If everyone who reads this article goes out and gives us a try when we hit the stands in March, we’ll be able to follow up with more mecha-action. Lord knows I have more stories to tell about Retro Rocket and Sparky Parks. Or maybe we can find a taker in Hollywood to turn it into an animated feature. I just finished my first animation screenplay and I’d love to pursue more of that stuff. But mostly this is a labor of love for me and Jason that began with a dream in 1997 and is finally making it onto the printed page.”