Groo The Wanderer Special #1
The hunt for specific comics is one of the most thrilling aspects of the hobby. One of the comics I collect is Groo the Wanderer and a few years ago I decided that I was going to try and find every possible appearance of the character. Using the internet, The Comic Book database site, Comic Vine, and some fan sites I put together a pretty comprehensive list of comics and appearances. Groo has never been a comic for the masses and generally speaking most of the comics on the list would not be very expensive. Probably the biggest challenge that I would experience on this quest would be that because he is not the most popular character dealers do not typically bring a lot of Groo comics to shows.
Over the last couple years I have done quite well crossing items off my list. I have all the Marvel issues (#1 – 120) with the exception of nine issues from late in the series. I found the first couple of appearances in Destroyer Duck #1 and Starslayer #10. I found all 12 issues that were published by Image at one dealers booth at the Baltimore comic con two years ago. The most difficult issues to find have been the ones published by Pacific Comics and the Eclipse Comics Special that was released after Pacific went out of business.
Pacific Comics was a special company. They started off in the distribution business and eventually got into publishing. They started working with Jack Kirby to publish Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers and branched out from there. They specifically offered creators the opportunity to publish their own characters and retain the rights to them, something the big two were not ready to do quite yet. Enter Sergio Aragones. Sergio had been working on Groo for years and Pacific Comics was the first place he, together with Mark Evanier, were able to put out a series for Groo. In all Pacific published eight issues of Groo the Wanderer.
I was able to get the first three issues of the Pacific run pretty easily. I still see the first issue in dollar bins from time to time and on those occasions it comes home with me. The later issues, #4-8, were more challenging. A couple of years ago at the Boston Fan Expo I found #5, 6, and 7 at a dealers booth selling them for five dollars each. I don’t normally like to plunk down that much money for a comic that I could just as easily find in a dollar bin, but for these I happily made the exception. I picked up #4 in Baltimore, I don’t remember for how much. All that was left was #8 and the Eclipse special and this year at the Boston Fan Expo I finally found them.
As my friends and I entered the convention we stopped at the first dealer near the door and decided to make our game plan. As we all had different goals, we split up and I started looking through the full sets the dealer was offering. In the very first box they had a complete run of the Pacific series and the Eclipse special! The problem was there was fifty dollar price tag on it. I could not bring myself to pay fifty dollars for two comics I needed and seven that I did not. I thought about asking the dealer if they would break up the set but decided against it, why would they do that for me? I moved on to their individual books starting with the five dollar ones. In the first box about a quarter of the way in, I came across Pacific Groo #4, then #5. I started to feel that familiar excitement that comes with searching for something and the likelihood of finding it has just increased. The same dealer appeared to have a partial set and was selling the individual issues. Dare I think it that he might have one of the two issues I needed? I proceeded with caution, #6, and #7 were there. Finally there is was, #8. I hurriedly pulled it out in order to purchase it. As I took it out, right behind it was the Eclipse Special!
I could not believe my good fortune. Here was a dealer that not only had a complete set of Groo comics that contained two of the issues I had been searching for several years for, but he also had individual copies of the exact two issues I wanted for my collection. The story does not end there though. I finished looking through all the boxes this dealer had and pulled out a couple more comics including in a DC Comics Presents #41, one of the last few issues I need to complete that series. When I was ready to settle up my bill the dealer turned out to be the same guy I made purchases from the previous weekend in Connecticut at TerrificCon.
What was so special about this dude was that in Connecticut I had found the last issues I was looking for to complete my collection of Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers and Atari Force. In a matter of two weeks time I had purchased comics from the same vendor and completed three different collections.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The comics in my collection are for reading, when I am at a shop or convention if I find a comic I am looking for I don’t give much consideration to the condition of the book. I generally prefer that there is not any writing or drawing on the cover and that the comic is readable without all the pages falling out. When I went to read the Groo Special I took it out of the bag and I could not believe the condition that it was in, it was amazing.
The cover is a heavier stock than normal comics, not cardstock but sturdy and the paper felt like the high quality Baxter paper that was being used in the mid eighties for premium books. This issue looked and felt like the definition of a mint condition comic. There is not a single break or crease in the spine. The front and back covers were completely square without a mark on them. The paper inside was white, the color popped on the page, and there was not a mark anywhere to be found. As I was examining the comic I actually thought to myself that I should get it graded. I have never had a book graded and I don’t much care about the graded comics collecting but this was so pristine I thought it would be neat to see how high it would come back. Of course I did not do that, instead I went ahead and read it.
By – Sergio Aragones
Linguistitian – Mark Evanier
Letters – Stan Sakai
Color – Tom Luth
The first story, according to the introduction on the inside cover, was intended to be published by Pacific Comics but at the time their publishing business was in a lot of trouble and they could not afford to print this story. The folks at Eclipse stepped in and got it done. This story is about how Groo got his famous katanas. In this case, the Sage and Groo tell the tale to a group of travelers while sittings around a fire.
The story begins with a battle and Groo doing something wrong. Surprise surprise. Emperor Fuchikaka and his army, with Groo, are winning a great battle when Groo is given the order to go and tell the men that they are to REPEAT what they had previously done that had been so successful. Groo happily takes the order but when he gets to the top of the hill where he is supposed to deliver his message he yells, RETREAT, instead of REPEAT. Emperor Fuchikaka’s forces are mystified by this direction but feel they must follow the order so they retreat. Both armies cannot believe what has happened. Groo is finally realizing that he has erred and is summarily taken prisoner by Emperor Sakisama’s men.
It turns out that Emperor Sakisama is a coward. He does not lead his army into battle and his generals berate their sad sack leader about this. The generals are discussing what had happened during the battle and how they won due to Groo’s sheer stupidity. It is world renowned stupidity after all. At the same time Groo and the other prisoners are being led past the building where the generals are conversing when one of them notices Groo. They yell for the guards to bring Groo before Emperor Sakisama. It turns out that Groo is the spitting image of the Emperor.
The generals devise a plan where they will dress Groo up in the Emperor’s armor and give him the Emperor’s swords. Groo, who loves a good fray, will lead Emperor Sakisama’s army into battle posing as the Emperor. Groo agrees to this and thus his training begins. It does not go well. The armor is too heavy and the Emperor’s swords, the famous katanas that this story is about, are too long for Groo. He does like the new weapons though and once he begins practicing his swordplay on prisoners he becomes quite adept at using them, getting so good that he can slice a swarm of bees in half, bee by bee.
Eventually the time comes to put the plan into action. Groo, dressed in the Emperor’s armor and carrying his weapons, is to lead the army into battle for the first time. The soldiers show their usual disdain for their leader when suddenly Groo charges headfirst into their foes army. Everything goes according to plan and Emperor Sakisama’s forces are victorious. Groo is thrown back into his cell, fed, and the Emperor takes all the credit. It is a win win situation as Groo is quite happy to fight and eat. As time goes by the Sakisama army keeps racking up victory after victory while at the same time his old adversary Fuchikaka has no idea how he is doing it. He remembers Sakisama as a coward.
While discussing how Sakisama is accomplishing all these victories with his general’s he is reminded that they lost to Sakisama because of Groo and no other reason. Taranto, a military man whose plans are usually foiled by Groo, makes a joke that Sakisama’s men probably captured him and made him Emperor. The meeting is broken up by a guard announcing that Sakisama’s forces are attacking Fuchikaka’s kingdom. There is a furious battle during which Taranto and the other generals are amazed at how well Sakisama fights. Taranto eventually realizes it is Groo and tries to reach out to him.
Groo is flaying his swords about and he slices one of the horns off Taranto’s helmet before he realizes it is his old friend. This is actually a pretty awesome scene because after this point Taranto will always be drawn with his helmet having one half horn and one full horn. Taranto convinces Groo to tell Sakisama’s army to surrender and that Fuchikaka will reward him. Groo agrees to do this but instead of telling the men to surrender as if he was their true leader, he removes his armor and tells them as Groo. This completely backfires and makes Sakisama’s men so angry believing their true Emperor was taken by Fuchikaka’s men that they double their efforts and finish their conquest of Fuchikaka’s kingdom. Realizing that Groo has again made a mistake he flees only to become a “man without an army” left with nothing but memories and the Emperor Sakisama’s swords.
The next story is introduced by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones, as they are often depicted working together in various stories, as the first full length Groo story that Sergio created back in 1977. The story follows Groo as he tries to save a pretty maiden from the awful Kolas who attack her village. Groo mistakenly kills her returning husband, thinking he is part of the Kola horde. He eventually discovers that the Kola are a society of monkey-like creatures who capture women and make them slaves to sing for their pleasure.
The Kolas let Groo go as they only want the women to sing. Groo feels bad leaving all the women behind and tries to figure out to free them. He eventually comes up with a plan to make musical instruments for the Kola to play and make music instead of having the women sing for them. The plan backfires as his gives the instruments to the Kola who in turn decide to force their female slaves to sing AND play the instruments from Groo. Groo decides that he tried to think his way out of the problem and that did not go well so he goes back to what Groo does best, using his swords.
The comic wraps up with several pages of awesome paper figures that are meant to be cut out and played with featuring soldiers, villagers, animals, and various Groo characters. The back up story that appeared in Destroyer Duck is also reprinted in the final pages of the special.
Finding this comic was an amazing thrill and was made sweeter due to the fact I bought it from a dealer I had previous experience with. For a long time collector these kinds of stories are few and far between but they are what makes the journey so much fun. Could I have bought this comic any time I wanted to on-line? Probably. Possessing the object of desire is not the only reason that I call myself a collector though.
There is a real sense of satisfaction in building a collection over time. The act of searching for comics is a much a part of the fun of the hobby as is finding the ones I am looking for. Along the way I have discovered lots of great comics I would not know about otherwise. I’ve made friends and talked to lots of interesting people. I’ve read amazing tales of heroism, fantasy and science fiction. I’ve spend thousands of hours cataloging and organizing my collection. I’ve had a wonderful time doing it all. All of that is highlighted by the experience of finding a comic like Groo the Wanderer Special #1.
I close this piece with one of the house ads just to remind everyone – “Don’t Go Naked!”