Based on the original W.B. DuBay creation published by Warren Comics, the Dark Horse relaunch of “The Rook” by Steven Grant and Paul Gulacy does its best to modernize the character, maintaining the swashbuckling aspects of the time traveler while doubling down on the hero’s personal stakes. They put in a lot of effort, but some stiff art and odd pacing ultimately make for a disappointing debut issue.
There is a lot to mine in the concept. Grant utilizes the time traveling elements to create a dangerous looping scenario where Restin Dane, the titular hero, must travel back to 2015 to visit his younger self as he’s chased by a cadre of villains bent on seizing the Time Castle, which Dane invented to flit through time. It’s a clever plot but there are a lot of questions left unanswered — enough that it makes the book feel like there are too many holes. However, returning to Dane’s past gives the writer a chance to play the character’s game while walking him to the stage. It’s a good use of time travel and an interesting structure.
Lock, a nose-less monster with Major Lazer’s hair and the fashion sense of a doorman, is the prototypical villain on a quest for power. He desires the Time Castle to travel through space and time, which is confusing because he is able to do so by using the chronal energies created by the Castle. Dane knows this, yet continues to bounce around the timeline. Lock could simply follow the Castle forever, creating the chaos he desperately covets.
As a leading man, Dane is like Harrison Ford, gritting his teeth and clenching his jaw to save the day when he’s not cracking wise to his robotic servant. In the issue, the version of Dane readers spend the most time with is not the version readers leave with at the end of the chapter, so that character development must now be reestablished throughout the series. It’s the “Super Metroid” craft of storytelling, giving the audience all of the tools early, then stripping them away and requiring them to rediscover those tools for themselves.
Gulacy’s art, once the epitome of Marvel style in works like “Master of Kung Fu,” feels stiff and posed on these pages. The shot choices are good but the characters’ choreography doesn’t spark life on the page the way it has in his previous works. The panel layouts also feel cramped in places, like during the fight scene at the Halloween party, which takes away the power of the action. Readers who would visit the work to support Gulacy should certainly do so, but be warned that the art unfortunately doesn’t match up to the power of his past efforts.
While it’s a disappointing debut, there is still a lot of opportunity to be mined in “The Rook,” the story of a man who travels back to his own beginnings to die. It’s unknown to everyone but the creative team — and perhaps Restin Dane — what the future holds for the book. Readers looking to be entertained by two legends of the medium should check this out with the knowledge they both have much better works in their canons.