Sunday, March 23, 2008

Varmints #1

Varmints #1, 1987, Blue Comet Press
by C.A. Stormon, Glenn Wong, Jim Miller, Manuel Villalovos, Hiner

Blogger's note: Entry for Saturday, March 22, 2008.

I've been a huge fan of the Rocketeer since Disney brought Cliff Secord to the big screen in 1991. I have a small but honorable Rocketeer memorabilia collection, and since last year's Comic Con I have managed to acquire the multi-part, multi-publisher original comic book adventure that started it all, part of which I reviewed last February. So, you can imagine my shock and melancholy when I learned that Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens died earlier this month. His contributions to the comic book industry were surprisingly minimal in quantity considering the impact made by his work's quality, and while he will undoubtedly become best known for the Rocketeer, I have had the privilege of purchasing and enjoying his work in Pacific Comics' Alien Worlds and on the cover of Sheena: Queen of the Desert 3-D Special (which is waiting in the wings for a review later this year). The guy loved comics almost as much as he loved the ladies, and though his life was brief, it was a celebrated by a combination of these two passions that fans like me will adore for a long, long time.

One of the more peculiar aspects of Stevens' work with the Rocketeer are the parodies that resulted from his innovative jetpack-wearing hero. Around the time I posted that review last February, I found an interesting, limited list of "Goofeteer" collectibles on-line, including this pin featuring Goofy as the Rocketeer. I also read of a "Rabbiteer" somewhere, and recently I found him for myself in an issue of Varmints #1, published by Blue Comet Press. Now, I'm developing the bad habit of looking up many of these more obscure comics before I post my review about them, undoubtedly often skewing my impression, but sometimes, like this time, I just can't help it. Sometimes I really want to know if I'm not the only person that has read the obscure comic in question. When it came to uncovering proof of the Rabbiteer's existence, I was hard pressed to find anything except for an eBay auction for this very issue, which, at the starting bid of a dollar, is seventy-five more cents that I paid.

Ah, yet this week, all roads lead to Usagi Yojimbo, and I found this pin-up by Stan Sakai when I sought this rabbit's likeness in an almost futile image search:


As you can see, the Rabbiteer shares the Rocketeer's basic costume design, though he seems a bit more eager to dive ear-first into battle. In Varmints #1, he, alongside Nails the mobster-like beaver and Ninja Duck (also pictured above) fight the dastardly Doctor Death (not related to the classic Batman villain of the same name, I presume) for the prize of a highly coveted ruby. The trio manage to defeat the Doctor's samurai robot, but in the end "Lucky" the Rabbiteer proves the irony of his name when a passing bird snags the jewels in its talons. It's really a whole lot of adventure for one weak visual gag, yet Glenn Wong's artwork actually grows on you considering the cartoony nature of his subject matter. Now, I need to get my hands on that Varmints special for which Sakai drew that back cover pin-up. If Yojimbo's involved, you can rest assured that issue is hide and hare above the rest.

Ugh. Sorry 'bout that one, too.

Varmints also features a pulp detective story starring a hippopotamus. Though this back-up tale ended too briefly for my tastes, the concept is interesting enough: basically, think Spawn, but with a hippo. Literally. When a police officer is killed in a zoo before his time, his spirit is sent back to Earth but accidentally lands in an adjacent hippopotamus. That's pretty much it, thus far. This story features a psychedelic afterlife sequence, but I'm curious to see if this hippo makes more of a splash in other issues. I mean, Spawn-meets-Hip Flask? How cool is that?

Also, interestingly, this odd issue's context about conquering death is quite appropriate for Easter, all things considered. Jesus was actually somewhat anthropomorphic at least in metaphor, as He was dubbed "the lamb of God" that was effectively led to the slaughter, if you believe in that sort of thing. When you strip all of the spiritual supplications away from the story of Jesus, one is left simply with a mythology about legacy, about preserving one's place in existence. Jesus sought to make a dynamic impact, and he gave His life to enable others' beliefs. In a much, much lesser way, Dave Stevens contributed to the world of comics and his work remains a testament to his talent. In both cases, whether or not you're a fan, some time should be set aside to tip the proverbial hat.

Hmm, I wonder, now . . . Does that make the Rabbiteer a false prophet . . .?

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