The Weird Origin of Rocket Raccoon

James Gunn says Rocket’s origin will be a big part of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’, and if he pulls even a little from the comics, then we can expect a lot of weirdness. Or, business as usual.
Rocket Raccoon
Marvel Comics
By  · Published on April 13th, 2020

Nobody is perfect. Recognizing our flaws and battling through them is the hallmark of a life well-lived. It’s what raises Marvel Comics characters above others in the art form. Tony Stark is a war-mongering, narcissistic drunk, but one night in a cave contemplating his mortality recontextualizes the life he’s led and where it’s going. The change of self is the most heroic action.

The Guardians of the Galaxy are a bunch of a-holes. It’s baked into their narrative, and their morally gray behavior is not only their charm but the key to their survival and ours. By riding the line, they can go where others can’t, but they also know right from wrong and when to stand against tyranny. As they will tell you themselves, they may be jerks, but they’re not dicks, or at least not 100 percent of a dick. No one is 100 percent of a dick.

At the center of these jerks is Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), the pained soul of the Guardians. When Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) dares to besmirch his name with a raccoon label, the gunslinging reprobate retorts, “Ain’t no thing like me, except me!” He’s absolutely right, and as much as it is a point of pride at the moment, it’s also the source of sorrow often resulting in debilitating anger. Rocket is a science experiment, a tiny creature who was poked, prodded, and scrambled until some mad scientist somewhere was happy or dejected by his work.

Where did Rocket come from? We don’t know, and that question is one of the driving narrative forces at work in James Gunn‘s screenplay for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Like many, the director is coping through self-isolation by hosting watch-parties of his films. Several days ago, Gunn pressed play on the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie and answered fan questions via Twitter.

At one point, near the start of the film, Gunn was asked if Rocket’s origin would appear in the upcoming sequel. Feeling generous to all of us (new) entertainment-starved consumers, he replied that Rocket’s beginnings would amount to “a big part of what’s happening in the future.” The tiny hints to Rocket’s origins that we have gleaned here and there from the two films were purposefully sprinkled with the third film in mind. Revelation is coming.

Whenever little MCU tidbits like this surface, there is a desire to go diving into the back issues, scouring for information amongst the panels of comic books. Rocket Raccoon was not a major player in the comics until James Gunn dragged the critter under the mainstream spotlight. Until the 2014 film, he was a supporting player, reserved mostly for the less popular cosmic stories that excited those that bothered to read them but were often dismissed by Spider-Man and X-Men fanatics.

The success of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie changed all of that. Cosmic stories became cool again, and more folks demanded a-hole content, and we’ve been inundated with tales of Rocket and Groot ever since. The mystery of who and what Rocket is has never been much of an issue. In the comics, we know who he is and how he came to be. It’s ugly, and it’s very strange.

Created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen, Rocket Raccoon first appeared as a backup story in Marvel Preview #7 during the Summer of 1976, but he wouldn’t have his proper full-story coming out party until The Incredible Hulk #271 in May of 1982, followed shortly by a solo mini-series in 1985. Mantlo & Giffen snatched the name from The Beatles song “Rocky Raccoon” and were simply interested in telling some weirdo anthropomorphic animal stories.

Rocky Raccoon checked into his room
Only to find Gideon’s Bible
Rocky had come, equipped with a gun
To shoot off the legs of his rival

Marvel’s Rocket comes from Halfworld, the largest planet in the Keystone Quadrant, and is protected by a massive force field. Many, many, many years ago, Halfworld was settled by an army of scientists who needed a place to house the mentally ill. When their government cut off financial assistance, the doctors abandoned Halfworld, leaving robots and service animals behind to watch over their patients.

When a supernova occurred in a nearby star, the robots were somehow granted sentience. With their newfound intelligence came an anger toward the humanoids that made them, and in their rage, they engineered sentience in the service animals. The robots fled, leaving the animals in charge of the patients. Rocket Raccoon quickly rose as a guardian of the Keystone Quadrant, watching over those who could not defend themselves.

Rocket would not join the Guardians of the Galaxy until the Annihilation: Conquest cosmic crossover event in 2007. He partnered with Star-Lord in an effort to halt the cybernetic species known as the Phalanx from acquiring the Kree homeworld for their nefarious purposes. During this series, we see a Rocket Raccoon as a brilliant tactician with a deep thirst for firearms. He is a little, mean badass, who finds his joy in killing the bad guys.

While it would not be surprising to hear the name “Halfworld” pop up in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, I would not expect much of Rocket Raccoon’s comic book origin to apply in whatever James Gunn is cooking. The unpopularity of the Guardians allowed Gunn a lot of free reign to script his first two features, and whatever he’s planning for the trilogy-capper, it’s a safe bet that it will almost exclusively be born from Gunn’s skull.

The Rocket we know from the movies is a creature who has experienced a lot of heartbreak, and when we met him in the first film, his pain had hardened his furry exterior. Through his interactions with Star-Lord and the rest, a lot of his hurt was healed. The time has come for him to confront his origins and allow them to be what they are. Every bit of agony he has known has brought him to the character he is today: a rough ‘n’ tumble, gun-toting brawler who would do anything to protect his friends and family.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)