Now that Cerebus the Aardvark is dead and its creator set on tackling the fashion industry, Groo the Wanderer is the world’s pre-eminent active Conan the Barbarian parody. The Groo staff hasn’t changed in years – Sergio Aragonés draws and writes the comic, Mark Evanier tries to make sense of Aragonés, Stan Sakai letters and Tom Luth colours.
With Groo: Hell on Earth (November 2007: Dark Horse Comics, $2.99 US), the first Groo miniseries in five years, the comic maintains the consistency that has given the comic a substantial cult following. Groo has always stuck to its central formula: Groo is well-meaning but stupid, and everyone but his dog Rufferto invariably hates him for the general destruction he causes. The formula really should get tired, but Groo is too entertainingly low-key and Sergio Aragonés puts too much effort into his artwork for the comic to really suck.
King Buco and Prince Guco’s eternal power struggle for the kingdom of Uslip sets the backdrop for Hell on Earth. Buco’s increased production of weaponry and the subsequent pollution that follows (caused, inadvertently but not surprisingly, by Groo) causes other kingdoms to prepare for war by making their own weaponry, which in turn convinces Buco to make even more weapons and ally with other countries in a vicious cycle. For his part, the excessive-weapon-hating Guco decides to crusade against the pollution for his own selfish want of the throne.
I can’t say I was expecting veiled sociopolitical commentary in Groo: Hell on Earth – Buco is George W. Bush and Guco is Al Gore. To Evanier and Aragonés’ credit they do not deviate that much from the basic Groo formula by dint of being topical. Unfortunately, the story comes across as heavy-handed, and it almost feels out of place in the world of Groo. Evanier and Aragonés are juggling satire with fart jokes (see: cow-belches-as-car-exhaust-fumes followed by “don’t light a candle”). They don’t go that well together at this point, but this might be leading up to something more satisfying. It’s hard to read where future issues of Groo: Hell on Earth will go.
I doubt Groo: Hell on Earth is going to convince many haters of the comic to suddenly place it on their pull-lists, but it’s worth a purchase. Groo‘s been around (well, off and on) for more than twenty-five years, and it’s nice to see that it’s not coasting on its reputation at this point in its history. I appreciate that an attempt was made to do a bigger story than usual for Groo, even if the results are uneven at times. As long as the Groo fundamentals exist, the mendicant can err for as long as he wants.