Rocketo: Journey to the Hidden Sea (Vol. 2)

As I mentioned before, a great recent week was highlighted by the release of the second collected volume of Frank Espinosa’s Rocketo, the future-set adventures of famed mapper Rocketo Garrison. If you read the interview I did with Frank when volume one released, you know that the second volume was set to be published in vertical form, instead of the horizontal setup of volume one. This was apparently because Image said it couldn’t do a horizontal printing. Not sure what happened between then and now (I’m going to ask as soon as I get a chance to chat with Frank again), but the second volume is indeed horizontal.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketI’m very curious about this because all promo images for the second volume were vertical (see the Amazon link below), so I had to snag this screen image from Espinosa’s site. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic that the book is horizontal, because Espinosa’s wild, sprawling art needs a cinematic outlet. And, man, does he deliver in this second half of the Hidden Sea storyline.

By Frank Espinosa and Marie Taylor (W) and Espinosa (A)
Published by Image, 2007, $19.99

The Plot: Picking up right where volume one left off, Rocketo and his co-adventurers have hit the fan while exploring the mysterious lands around the Hidden Sea. Just as all seems lost, they’re rescued by a lost civilization that resides deep in the land and know its secrets. Beyond that, Rocketo learns the true history of how the world fell to pieces, and what the path is to restoration. At the same time, he’s trying to recover his mapping ability, which was stripped from him years ago as the Lucerne government used him to conquer much of the world. The evil Scarletto, an agent of Lucerne who’s also penetrated this land, slowly amasses a force to try and topple the secreted kingdom and use its power to further spread Lucerne’s grasp. It leads up to an epic battle between the two sides, with only Rocketo to save the day.

The Positives: The first thing anyone will notice when looking at Rocketo is the art. It is unavoidably different than most comic book art, with little flicks of solid black line accumulating into swooping forms, all tied together with broad swatches of colors. When you first look at a page of Espinosa’s work, often a second will pass before the abstract splashes coalesce into the full image. But that’s not a drawback, as each page is so delicately crafted that it’s no problem staring at them for a half minute or more. I was reading this book on a recent flight and nudged my half-asleep wife to show off a particularly exciting page. Though she’s no comics fan, her eyes widened and she said, “Wow.” There is unceasing movement in Espinosa’s art, and it works especially well because he has such a mastery of his characters that with only the smallest details its easy to follow who is who.

The writing is nearly as remarkable and unique. Espinosa’s twists on the conventions of sci fi and fantasy and so many other genres spin out into something very new. And the broad cast further gives the story a deeply original feel (Spiro, as usual, is lots of fun as he paces and spouts about “grand swag”). This is one of the most imaginative concepts in comics, top to bottom, and it just shouldn’t be missed.

The Negatives: There are two very minor things I didn’t like about this book. First, there’s a love story that’s a bit rushed. But it’s hard to imagine what to cut out to fill that out more. Also, romance in adventure stories usually isn’t given a ton of room. The other thing is that the limited use of colors (while great most everywhere) is a bit drab in the first chapter, when there’s little color except yellow and slate.

The Grade: A Did it seem like I was really searching for something to criticize? Well, you called that one. This is probably the most fun comic book out there, and the art is heads and tails beyond anything else you’ll see. I’ve run out of superlatives. Just go read this and come up with some of your own.