Groo Puts Doctors and the Church to the Sword

*But first, a preview of an upcoming cartoon. Pedro Bouça posted this in a comments section from a few days back, but it'll get more attention up front:

Time Jam : Valérian & Laureline

Yes, it's Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent, the seminal French sci-fi comic by Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières... anime style. I wrote about the comics a bunch a few weeks ago.

To be exact, it's a French-Japanese television co-production, set to run for 40 episodes. The 2D animation comes courtesy of anime studio Satelight (best known as home base for Shoji Kawamori of Super Dimensional Fortress Macross), which co-produced the series with Luc Besson's EuropaCorp. You'll recall that Mézières worked on Besson's The Fifth Element, which adapted some designs straight out of Valérian. I believe the series' 3D work was done in France.

Hope you're not too attached to Mézières' designs, since they've been steamrolled into a fairly generic anime character aesthetic. The preview emphasizes fast action, which is natural enough, but if Christin's inclinations toward social comment have also been rubbed away, I daresay they've missed the point of the series entirely - Valérian isn't the type of thing that draws its power from the broad plot, and its action has always fueled by Mézières' elegance. But... it's only a preview, and it does have to appeal to the wider anime audience. Could turn out well. The animation quality looks decent by television anime standards.

Despite that English-language voice work, by the way, I haven't seen any English release scheduled.

Sergio Aragonés' Groo: 25th Anniversary Special

Ah, it was nice to go back with this.

Like I wrote the other day, I read a few issues of the old Epic incarnation of Groo the Wanderer back when I was little; the earliest issue I can recall getting my hands on was #22 from December of 1986, when I was five and a half years old. I had to look up the number and date just now, sure, but the cover art was still clear as anything in my head. Groo the pit fighter. Well, it sort of looks like a pit. The memory's not perfect.

I don't know exactly why my mother or great aunt (the two key funnybooks sources of those days; I think Diamond bought them out along with Bud Plant) opted to get me Groo, but I can make a safe guess: Aragonés' art simply exudes grace and charm, with plenty of childish doodle appeal out in front of his keen in-panel compositions and graceful panel-to-panel comedic timing. I internalized the beat of Groo so thoroughly back then, that when I got to reading this new Dark Horse issue it was like I'd developed a precognition for when the main story would splinter off into a line of panels so Groo could have a little skit with a periphery character.

But if I recognized the narrative beats, I'd just as much forgotten the element of moral lampoon the series often engages in. Groo may be a dumbshit swordsman with a smart dog who wanders around encountering things to break, but he's often surrounded with enough slippery contemporary concern that the little MORAL box at the end of each story seems as justified as it is flippant. I'd really not remembered that at all.

So I was kind of taken aback with this special issue's 24-page feature story, The Plague!, which sees Our Hero and his pal the Sage looking for a way to help a village out of the sneeze plague that's descended upon it. The plague is spread only by kisses, so the Sage invents a personal gag for safe kissing, only to find that most of the populace doesn't care, and the local fonts of spirit are strict proponents of kissing abstinence. It then turns out that the bug was first spread to humans by a monkey involved in medical experiments to uncover the cure to constipation ("Somehow... somehow, I will find a cure for constipation! I shall not sit until I do!"), which somehow leads to Groo happily aiding in deforestation efforts that threaten the discovery of a natural cure. And even after an elixir is developed, the local medicine merchants want it suppressed, and the priests... well! We don't want to encourage kissing!

It's not subtle, and always smells a little of cheese dip (it wouldn't be Groo otherwise), but it is very neatly folded into Aragonés' bouncy storytelling and Mark Evanier's sleekly exclamatory dialogue; when Groo practices his brand of sex education, swinging his sword at a necking couple, the background of the next panel has "Is that your husband?" displayed. "No, he is taller!" Maybe I wouldn't notice this aspect so much if I'd kept up more on Groo, but even then I'd still be sort of taken with the softly downbeat nature of the final message - the individual's good impulses have a way of getting infected in a society of fools like Groo.

Lots of other things in here. A two-page comics-format introduction (online here), a text piece debunking Groo's urban myths, an eight-page backup comic about the adventures of our Groo as a boy, and a fourteen-page character guide in verse. And that's hardly the end - next month sees the new Groo: Hell on Earth miniseries start (still love that title), and Aragonés & Evanier are set to take over the writing (plots & scripts, respectively) on DC's The Spirit once it's Cookeless. Some have seen that last gig as a little odd. If there's anything this book made me remember, it's not pigeonhole either in the memory.