Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dark Horse revives The Rook

Dark Horse Comics revives 'The Rook'

I didn't see this coming: Dark Horse comics this week released the first issue in a reboot of the Warren magazines' quintessential Steampunk hero, 'The Rook'. 

The Rook first appeared in late 1976, in Eerie No. 82 (March 1977 cover date). 

The story goes that in 1976, James Warren thought the time was right to bring back the Western genre, and cowboy heroes, to popular culture. He contacted Bill Dubay, formerly an editor at Warren, and Howard Peretz, an executive at the California toy company Package Play Development, and asked them to create a Western hero (Warren and Peretz apparently wanted to market toys and other collectibles based on the newly created concept).

After some contemplation, Dubay and Peretz came up with a character that combined both Western and sci-fi themes: a time-travelling cowboy called 'The Rook', whose great-great grandfather was an acquaintance of H. G. Wells's Time Traveller, and a chrononaut in his own right. Restin Dane, The Rook, was a young man of the 70s who inherited the time machine of said great-great grandfather, and proceeded to have all sort of adventures through time and space.

[This, of course, was years before the word and concept of 'Steampunk' were coined.]

The first appearance of The Rook drew a high volume of reader mail, and the character became a regular in the pages of Eerie. In 1979 Warren launched The Rook as a standalone title; it ran for 14 issues, until 1982.

In 1985 Harris Comics ('Vampirella') launched a four-issue miniseries, and that's all we've seen of The Rook....until now.

The Dark Horse comic is written by Steven Grant and illustrated by veteran Paul Gulacy. 

How is this first issue ? I have mixed thoughts. Grant's writing has the frenetic, incoherent quality that so defines the point of view of contemporary comic book editors and publishers: too much exposition and external narration are deadly if you're trying to gain the attention of the iPhone Generation. 

There's no effort in this first issue to orient the reader to the background of The Rook; hopefully this will be furnished in successive issues. But for now, at least, anyone lacking prior knowledge of the franchise - meaning practically everyone under the age of 40 - is going to conclude that this is simply a brand-new entry into the Steampunk genre, and yet another new title that will be struggling to compete on the already crowded shelves of the comic book shops.

However, on the plus side, Paul Gulacy's artwork is as impressive as ever, especially when combined with the elaborate software-based color schemes that are commonplace in today's comics, but didn't exist back in the 70s and early 80s. 

At this point, at least, The Rook has a better debut than Dark Horse's disappointing reboots of Creepy and Eerie. I'm willing to pick up the next few issues to see how things play out.

1 comment:

knobgobbler said...

Interesting. I never payed much attention to The Rook back in the day because his stories didn't look 'scary' and I was reading Warren comics for the weird stuff. But I've wondered a few times about what I might be missing and going back into my collection to read some of the stuff I passed over.
Strangely it never occured to me that he was Steampunk but it sure fits.