Rocket Racer News Update September 2022

If I have a series called “Rocket Racer Thoughts” on my site, I should at least offer my thoughts when the character appears in the comics. He recently did. In the most recent issue of Amazing Spider-Man (from either this week or sometime within this month anyway) our boy Bob gets a whole panel!

There’s a Big Event Crossover Story going on in the Marvel Universe right now and it’s all about a giant space god that is attempting to judge every person on Earth to see if they’re “worthy” or not. Usually this entails it appearing to the person being judged in some form that means something to the person being judged (a dead relative, a symbolic figure, even the person themselves, and cetera). The space god watches them for a bit, then gives a thumbs up or down to indicate it’s findings. A lot of people in the world have not reacted well to this whole situation. One of those people is Robert Farrell.

We’re only told that Rocket Racer “flipped his lid” and had to be stopped by Miles Morales. As the biggest fan of the character, I declare this appearance a good one. Yes, this comic in which Bob doesn’t get to say a word and in which he is presumably badly beaten off-panel is entirely in keeping with what I consider to be in character for Bob.

How would Bob react to knowing that he’s being judged by some cosmic being? Well, Bob is definitely, painfully aware that he has not lived up to his potential in life. He’d probably try to argue about how he couldn’t live up to that potential because of his circumstances, what with having to take care of his family and all that. But then he’d feel bad for blaming his family for his own failures. Then he’d deflect again, blaming society, but then he’d remember how he’s tried to improve society in the past, but absolutely failed to follow through with it (or gone about it in stupid ways). And this back-and-forth would go on for a while (I guarantee he’d make fun of himself for having a childish gimmick) and then, yeah, he’d probably flip his lid. And yeah, he’d probably get punched in the face a couple times as a result.

Typical Rocket Racer.

Rocket Racer’s Family Are Untapped Potential

It’s something I’ve complained about very often: I don’t think superhero comics give enough focus to the normal human supporting casts of their heroes and villains. Therefore, it should be no surprise that, even though the Rocket Racer has a large family, there has been little to no focus on the supporting case of this, if we’re being very generous, Z-list Marvel character.

While Bob’s family are one of his primary motivations as a character (he is the oldest of seven children and feels like he needs to help his ill single mother support the family), they have hardly been seen. Only one of them has a name (his mother, Emma), and only half of his siblings have even been depicted (most likely the three youngest). We know that Bob’s father left the family when Bob was a teenager and that Bob thinks he is a loser. Every other detail about Bob’s family is an unknown that can offer potential stories.

But if anyone cared about tapping that potential, I worry they’d ruin it. I dislike so many of the things that are usually done with superhero supporting casts that I fear those would be the first stories told using the Farrells. Naturally I have plenty of story ideas I don’t want to give away, so what I’ll do now is list some things I absolutely don’t want to happen to them:

  • First of all, don’t kill them all. One of the first instincts superhero writers have is to take things away from the heroes to create a momentary burst of drama. It’s usually done in a damned lazy way, and if someone were to kill off Bob’s whole family, it’d be such. I may not like it, but I admit you could kill one or two. If Emma dies, it would be sad, but I feel like it’d be a bit of a relief to Bob and he’d hate himself for it, so there’s story potential there. If someone HAD to kill off one of his siblings, at least there would still be more to work with. If Bob’s father died, it could prompt a story about Bob’s relationship with his father, and that is something we need, though this way would cut off potential for ongoing stories on the topic.
  • On the topic of Bob’s father, they should absolutely not reveal him to be “important” in some way. Obviously he is important in that he is Bob’s father, but I don’t want a reveal about how he is a super-secret government agent or a secret supervillain or an alien prince or something. The fact that Bob is from inauspicious roots is a core facet of the character and we need more “unimportant” people in our fiction.
  • Similarly, I wouldn’t want to reveal that any of his siblings are mutants. Mutants are randomly-powered people who can manifest in the Marvel world, so there is no in-universe reason that one of his siblings couldn’t suddenly gain powers, but I just find it would be too much of a coincidence. If one of them became a hero or a villain as a result of what Bob has been through, that would be a believable consequence of what has come before, but one of them who just happens to have powers strains credibility.
  • But of course, I wouldn’t want all of his siblings to become superheroes or villains. Much like the killing, if it happened to one I could accept that because there would be more. But what I want from this family is a look at a normal family with few means trying to get by in the world of superheroes.

I know I’ll never be happy unless I’m the one who gets to reveal the details of this family, but if someone else bothered to do it, I could accept that if they avoid these potential pitfalls.

Rocket Racer should be Medium Tough

I’ve said already that I don’t want writers to take Robert Farrell and treat him like he’s one of the smartest people in the world. But I want to make it clear I don’t want them to treat the Rocket Racer as if he’s incapable of kicking a little ass.

I get that he’s a skateboard-themed supervillain and your instinct is that he’s a goofy joke character. I can understand that impulse. The inherent goofiness of the character is part of the appeal to me. But this is the superhero genre, people! It’s all goofy as hell! One of the most popular guys is a rich amateur detective who dresses as a bat so he can drive around in a bat and throw little bats at the bad guys. Just because this stuff is goofy doesn’t mean we can take it seriously.

I don’t want Rocket Racer to be one of the most powerful forces in the Marvel Universe, mowing down cosmic enemies with ease. I don’t even want him to be on par with the heavy hitters on the Avengers or the X-Men or whatever. As with his intellect, I want him in the middle. I just want it to be such that if some street-level hero or villain is up against the Rocket Racer, he’s not someone who is taken out in a panel because he’s “lame” and “lame” characters are bad.

Bob Farrell is definitely a loser and probably has only grown to doubt himself more as his career has been a trainwreck, but he is also an above-average skateboarder who has designed clever bits of technology to help him do what he does. If we make enough stories that treat someone like that as a human, readers will learn to take it seriously. Like that amateur bat detective guy.

Rocket Racer Is A Grown-Ass Man

I feel like it is important to note that Bob Farrell, the Rocket Racer, is at least as old as Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, if not a year or two older. The only time we’re given an exact age is Spectacular Spider-Man #104, in which a newspaper article notes that Bob is twenty-three years old. This is in an era when Peter was in university, and so probably only around twenty-one himself.

But some of the stories that came after that had a tendency to act as if he were a teenager. When they told the story about Bob going to university, they felt the need to include a line about him passing a high-school equivalency test first, forgetting that he was already an adult high school graduate when he first appeared. When he tried to register with the government as a superhero, they stuck him in the “Avengers Academy” for training alongside a bunch of teenagers. And later, when one of those same teenagers tried to gather a bunch of other young heroes to fight a threat that could control adults, they included Bob on a list of potential recruits.

It’s clear that people, both inside and outside the Marvel Universe, think of the Rocket Racer as if he were a teen.

There’s something to be said about the way society treats Black men simultaneously as naive children when it wants to and other times as dangerous adults, but I don’t think that even I can say that’s what’s been happening in Rocket Racer stories. I really just think that people have an understandable tendency to assume the skateboard-themed character is a teenager. If I were to start telling someone about a skateboard-themed character from superhero comics, I’m confident most would assume “teenager” until told otherwise. And, indeed, the idea that he’s got an embarrassingly “childish” style is one source of Bob’s self-esteem issues.

I don’t have much of a deeper thought behind this post. I’d just like for writers to remember Bob’s correct age when they write him. For posterity I must note: Bob’s appearance on the 90s Spider-Man animated show did indeed treat him as a teen. Perhaps that’s correct way to have taken the Rocket Racer, but I think his adult failures in the real Marvel Universe make him a more compelling character.

Rocket Racer and Hypno-Hustler = Best Supervillain Friends

If you had to ask me “Which superhero or villain is the closest friend to Rocket Racer?” I’d obviously have to reply the Prowler. They’ve been friends in a bunch of comics. But Bob’s relationship with Prowler is a topic for some other post. Today I’m talking about the best friend Rocket Racer has that we’ve barely been shown: Antoine Delsoin, the Hypno-Hustler!

Bob and Antoine first appeared together in a story that is likely the worst story in Rocket Racer’s limited history of appearances. But I won’t hold that against the relationship between the two characters.

When we first see Bob and Antoine as a pair, they are in prison together, and join a “crew” assembled by the criminal known as Tombstone (also, Big Ben is there, but we don’t need to worry about him now). We’re not told if this is the first time Bob and Antoine have met, but they don’t seem to get along well. I posit maybe they knew each other and even worked together, got caught, and blame each other. That would certainly cause some tension between them.

That story came and went until, suddenly, fourteen years later, another comic depicted the two together. This time, it was just a single panel (but a better comic). Bob and Antoine, both out of prison at this point, were just talking about developments in the superhero/villain community. We have no way to know if this was their first time catching up since prison, or if they’ve stayed in touch all along.

But what I do know is that Bob and Antoine make a good pair of friends. Antoine, like Bob, is a low-level supercrook who is pretty ridiculous on the surface and is routinely mocked for it. The main difference between them is that Antoine is never embarrassed by it. In his way, Antoine has a lot more self-respect than Bob. He’s more socially active, he is comfortable being himself, and unlike Bob, Antoine definitely fucks.

They’re a great contrasting pair. I’d like to see their relationship continue to shine in what few appearances these chumps get. Heck, make ’em roommates, sharing a supervillain lair because neither makes enough to afford one on their own.

I mean, why not?