Friday Flashback: GROO THE WANDERER

Friday Flashback: GROO THE WANDERER

The Friday Flashback that almost none of you demanded is here!  We return you now to those thrilling days of 1982 (your thrill mileage may vary) to witness the double-bladed debut of Groo the Wanderer at Pacific Comics.  (Younger readers wondering about Pacific, we’ll address that in a minute.)

1982:  ’82 was actually a fairly tumultuous year on the world stage.  Although you had positive events like the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, the year was marked by ongoing conflicts across the globe, such as the Falklands War between the U.K.  and Argentina. Time named “the computer” as its “Man of the Year”; coincidentally, the Commodore 64 also debuted.  The first CDs see release (in Germany) as Sony puts out the first CD player.  EPCOT Center opens at Walt Disney World in Florida.  And some kid is born in England that’s having a big wedding soon.

Music:  Michael Jackson released Thriller.  If you find yourself confused by that, remembering as you do how singles and videos from that album ran through ’83 and ’84, you’re not wrong.  It was just that fragging popular.  Also in ’82?  The Ozzy Osbourne Bat Incident.  Bands the formed that year include The Pogues, Faith No More, The Smiths, They Might Be Giants, The Fat Boys, and DIO.

Film: E.T.  is the biggest moneymaker, holding that spot for YEARS until the Star Wars re-release (which is later dethroned by Titanic).  1982 also gives us the Wrath of Khan.  Don’t forget it.

Comics:  This was a huge year in comics.  Diamond is founded.  DC institutes royalties, and Marvel launches Epic Comics.  Harvey folds.  “Marvelman” and V for Vendetta begin in Warrior #1.  The first ongoing X-Men spin-off, The New Mutants, begins.  Bullseye kills Elektra.  My favorite single issue of all time, Justice League of America #200, is released.  The Legion’s Great Darkness Saga occurs.  Dreadstar kicks off at Epic.  There was also a special book that arrived from Eclipse Comics, and that book was . . . Destroyer Duck!  Okay, time to explain . . .

The Coming of Groo!:  When Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber attempted to take on Marvel Comics for ownership of the character, he sought to raise money with the Destroyer Duck anthology.  Other independent minded creators contributed, and one of the characters to appear in that first issue was . . . GROO THE WANDERER!  Makes sense now, eh?

Over the Pacific:  Groo was the creation of Sergio Aragonés, famed and beloved for, among other things, his “margin drawings” in the pages of Mad Magazine.  Aragonés, joined by writer/co-plotter/editor Mark Evanier, letterer Stan Sakai (he’s done some other things, obviously) and colorist Tom Luth, has kept Groo running in some form since 1982 (a rather big accomplishment).  In his early days, Groo saw print at Pacific Comics, an early bastion of creator-owned comics (such as Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer and the Kirby titles currently finding a new “Genesis” at Dynamite).  As a publisher, Pacific really only ran from 1981 to 1984, but the damage had been done.  Groo, as a character, stuck.

Why Do We Love Groo?:  Groo struck a chord for being stridently funny and bitingly satirical in a cultural moment where mainstream American comics were really neither.  Obviously, there were great American comics, but they weren’t, y’know, funny.  Groo was funny on a number of levels, from wordplay to sight gags to the obvious fact that the creators were poking fun at the notoriously serious Conan franchise.  A great supporting cast gathered around Groo, including the Sage and the cheerfully evil Taranto.

I was lucky enough to get the first Pacific issue of Groo when it came out, having had it recommended to me by the son of the owner of one of the local comic shops.  Fortunately, Groo survived the demise of Pacific, moving over to Marvel and Epic for many years, then to Image, then finally to Dark Horse in 1998, where it remains today.

Groo, the character and the series, stay relevant.  With last year’s mini “The Hogs of Horder”, the creative team deconstructed the recent economic collapse and recession of the United States refracted through the actions of Groo and those around him.  It was a savvy and savage satire, forcing you to laugh at a subject that’s really pretty damn depressing.

The inspiring note in this is that you have the same little band of creators doing something that they obviously enjoy with a character that they obviously still have things to say with after almost 30 years.  That, friends, is real staying power.  So, if some uncouth vulgarian would take your life and purse, just send for this barbarian, who’ll likely make things worse.  He is Groo the Wanderer, and he is your Friday Flashback.

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