The World of Cars: The Rookie #1The World of Cars: The Rookie #1 (of 4)
Written by Alan J. Porter
Art by Albert Carreres
Colors by Emily Kanalz
From BOOM! KidsPreview here
Saying Cars is my least favorite of Pixar's releases is like saying Super Bowl XXXIX is my least favorite of the Patriots' championships: it's all about context. The bar is set so high for each film, and now licensed property, that the projects are not simply expected to be good; they are expected to be spectacular. So while it was no Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Incredibles, or Wall-E, Cars was a good way to spend $9 and an hour and a half. So there you go- context.
The easiest way to describe Cars: The Rookie in comicbook terms is to call it Cars: Year One. The story begins just prior to the film, during a televised interview with the hotshot, bull headed Piston Cup contender Lightning McQueen. Yet to be humbled by the experiences of the movie, McQueen gives an account of his younger years as “Bulldozer” McQueen, a young aspiring racer who could not yet ride the Lightning, never mind call himself such. Struggling to secure a chance to prove his mettle in the Piston Cup Series pro league, Bulldozer is as much a way to describe his racing style as it is his personality. He is aggressive and inconsiderate, and though he had talent, his recklessness discounts any chance he had of winning. He struggles, meets some friends, and begins his climb to greatness.
The story's structure is an effective flourish; McQueen's interview gives his grandiose narration of events while the art provides the genuine account. It is a fun exercise in doublespeak, and it perfectly illustrates McQueen's delusions of grandeur. Given that it is a prequel, readers know where it is headed, and how McQueen the egomaniac will eventually be redeemed. This is the story of his race to the top.
The beauty of Pixar film projects is that while they ostensibly targeted at kids, they are made in such a way that they can be equally enjoyed by all. They are layered, nuanced, and overall top notch. And even when they do resort to formula, the characterization and environment is strong enough that it doesn't detract from the total merit.
I wish I could say the same for this comic.
This issue read at a slow pace, ironic given the subject matter. Contrasting to the films, its attempt to be kid-friendly and direct left it feeling by-the-numbers and written-down to its audience. Even the characterization of young McQueen seems wrong-minded. If the Cars film is about ego and hubris and the need to be grounded by a community, then a prequel should really be about the inverse of that. It should tell readers how McQueen acquired such an ego. It should show the origins of a young talent finding his way, and then finish with him at the precipice of going too far, leaving him right where the film picks up. That's the thing- as a prequel, we know the endgame. We know he ends up a jerk. Starting him out there in this story is a missed opportunity to actually flesh out his story, and not just pick up at an arbitrary point in his life. I guess what I'm saying is that if the overall character-arc is one of a rise and fall (then rise again), it would make sense to make the protagonist someone you can root for when he starts at the base of that mountain, but who learns the wrong lessons on the way to the top. Instead, we find that our hero is someone who, from the very beginning, was all talent, no heart.
If this book's purpose was to be a nice supplement to young fans of the movie, it probably succeeds in that. If it is meant to bring big time Pixar-kids into comics stores and newsstands, just to acclimate them with the medium, it can do that. It is lushly illustrated, and remains consistent and on model with the film. The reason to look at this book so harshly is that Pixar as a brand represents so much more. They have cornered the market on true family-films, ones that are equally enjoyable for all 4.5 members. They are the golden standard- so there is no shame in failing to live up to that impossible ideal.
Because it's all about context.