Rocket Racer News Update May 2023

It has happened again! By which I mean that Rocket Racer has appeared in a real comic again. My people informed me that Bob made an appearance in the latest issue of She-Hulk, so I had to check it out. Like last time it is a single-panel appearance. But whereas last time I was able to say it fit well with my take on the character, this time I find this:

The scene is thus: the titular She-Hulk, Jennifer Walters, attorney for super-people, walks into her office. A bunch of people are there waiting for appointments, including the Rocket Racer! Bob gives a wolf-whistle at the sight of Jennifer, so she says she’ll accept any client first except him.

Obviously I don’t like to see Bob as a catcalling prick. That’s not the kind of guy he’s usually been. I accept that he’s a criminal and he has certainly endangered innocent lives with his crimes. I don’t need him to be some paragon of virtue. But his crimes aren’t the same thing as sexual harassment. And I have to add for the record, Bob has even met She-Hulk before when he worked alongside her and some of the other Avengers. She was wearing considerably less then and Bob reacted perfectly normally. Here’s she looks good, but it’s just a dress and she usually wears the equivalent of a swimsuit. The idea that she’d walk into a room and Bob would be unable to control himself doesn’t fit with the man we’ve seen before.

Of course, I won’t lie, my main concern is how it conflicts with my “head-canon” wish to see Bob revealed to be asexual. I’ve discussed it before . There is no direct proof that Bob is asexual within the comics, but my desire for more Ace representation and the fact there also no direct proof that Bob is not asexual have caused me see it as an ideal choice. But now there’s this scene where he objectifies a woman just because she walks past him in, what I maintain is a nice-looking but perfectly normal dress, that I have to contend with. I don’t care for that.

I haven’t been reading this She-Hulk book, but I have read and enjoyed some of writer Rainbow Rowell’s other work, including on Marvel’s Runaways (on which I think she’s the best writer the book has had so far), so I can’t blame her too much. I’d wager that this scene was crafted with the idea one of the loser supervillains would whistle as Jen and Rocket Racer’s name was picked almost at random from some list of potential loser supervillains. It’s like someone going through a book of stickers and finding which sticker they want to add to a page. Bob is just a sticker here. I know that writers can’t care about ever character, and Bob is definitely a character that almost nobody cares about. But he matters to me, so if I’m gonna continue logging my thoughts on this character on my website, I obviously had to register my complaint here, where nobody will care.

Rocket Racers Other Friend: The Prowler

I did a whole post about how I think the mild connection shown between the Rocket Racer and the Hypno-Hustler is probably indicative of a larger friendship taking place off the page. But, believe it or not, there is actually another super-character with whom Bob Farrell has struck up a friendship:

The Prowler, whose real name is Hobie Brown, is another Black character from Spider-Man’s stories who straddles the line between hero and villain, though he is much more consistently on the hero side. He actually predates Bob by nearly a hundred issues and has appeared a lot more often. And you can tell why: his costume just looks awesome (I mean, not in the picture I picked for this post, but that’s because I thought it’d be funnier to use that one). So, while Bob is a skateboarding weirdo that comics readers find goofy, Hobie is a cool-looking mofo.

Here’s the thing: if we ignore all the comics where Bob only appears for a panel or two in some cameo role, about a third of his appearances have also been appearances of the Prowler. The two met when they both came to Spider-Man’s aid. They both got jobs working for Silver Sable, and when that job ended they both tried to work together to find other sources of income. Work friends who went on to become real friends. It’s nice because they offer different angles on similar life paths. Hobie comes across as a little older than Bob, though that may just be because he’s married, but they both had monetary issues that led them to use engineering skills to resort to create gizmos that can help them do crimes.

Hobie’s life has veered away from Bob’s in more recent years, but not in a way that I think would prevent their friendship from continuing. I mostly only know this from Wikipedia and such, but it sounds like Hobie has maybe died and been cloned, I guess? And his Prowler identity has been usurped by another character (when the Miles Morales Spider-Man came along, they decided that his uncle should be the new Prowler, which is dumb, but I can confirm he was pretty cool in Into The Spider-Verse.) so he took up a different identity, the Hornet. It does, I admit, seem like Spider-Man is closer to Hobie than he is to Bob, which is why Hobie gets to show up more often. Anyway, even if Peter doesn’t feel the need to check in on Bob, I like to hope that Hobie does.

(Just as an aside, it isn’t the same Hobie, so we don’t know if he’s friends with a version of Bob or not, but it’s neat to note that in an alternate universe Hobie has spider powers and has taken the identity of Spider-Punk.)

Rocket Racer: Wheels Or No?

I’ve mentioned it before and I don’t deny it: Rocket Racer is goofy. But what makes people mock him in a way they don’t mock other goody superhero stuff like Batman or Captain America? Well, I have thoughts on that.

First, I have to remind you that characters like Batman and Captain America WERE mocked until relatively recently, at least outside of specific fans of superhero stories. The only thing that allowed them to move into the acceptance of more mainstream audiences is that they get to be in good stories. If people take a characters seriously and tell good stories with them, the audience will see the qualities that the storytellers see in the character and maybe come to agree. Nobody has really had the chance to do that for Bob yet.

But also, I think it’s the wheels. For some reason people find those things goofy. Iron Man once in the early had a suit of armour that had retractable wheels and people have mocked that on the Internet for some time. I’ve seen it on lists alongside Super-Ventriloquism as silly superhero shit best left forgotten. But why? It’s wheels. They’re one of the most significant inventions this species has managed. In any case, those wheels were forgotten and I bet if they have been mentioned at all in the last few decades, it’s been to mock them.

But Bob’s whole deal is he’s got an identity based around skateboards, so he has to have wheels, right? Well, not really. There have been attempts to give him a “hoverboard” style board instead. I can see the appeal, but at the same time, I’m not ashamed of how goofy Bob is on his normal board. I actually prefer it when his skateboard looks as much like a skateboard as possible while still looking like a piece of sci-fi equipment.

The solution here is obviously the same one that didn’t work for Iron Man when he tried it: retractable wheels. I’d want Bob to have his wheels as often as possible, he’s skating not flying, but the idea of the wheels going up now and then like landing gear appeals to me given it is evocative of Bob’s aborted stint in the Air Force.

As for the rest of it, I can say that at least one person, yours truly, takes the Rocket Racer seriously and would love to explore the experience of being a loser in a world that only considers you as valuable as you are successful. Would the stories be good? I don’t know, but they’d take the character seriously while still presenting him as a guy on a sci-fi skateboard with wheels.

An Amazing Rocket Racer-Adjacent News Item

Somehow, the broken remnants of capitalism and copyright laws have led to an announcement that I could not ever have anticipated. The Hypno-Hustler could become the star of a movie.

This is fascinating to me. I’m aware that Sony is limited in which Spider-Man characters they can use to make movies, but I feel like they’re scraping the bottom of a barrel when there’s still lots of other stuff in the barrel they could be using. Spider-Man has a thousand villains and fellow heroes that I would have predicted could be chosen before Antoine. Heck, realistically, I would have thought Rocket Racer had a better chance and I didn’t really think he had a chance at all. And somehow Rocket Racer gets it.

Don’t get me wrong, I would have thought I was among the biggest fans in existence of Rocket Racer’s friend with the guitar, but it turns out that someone out there is clearly a bigger one. And it feels like good news to me because clearly the only way this could happen is if someone actually cares about Antoine.

A movie like this could actually turn a joke of a character into a rounded out human. I’ve always thought that making Antoine into a three-dimensional being that audiences cared about would be one of the earliest writing challenges I would tackle given the chance, and now someone is probably gonna beat me to it. I’m thrilled, but admittedly jealous.

There are multiple ways this can go wrong:

  • It’s possible that the movie could fail so hard that the character is seen as unworkable. This is the one I fear the least, because the character is already considered bad and I don’t think anything they could do would make that worse. I’d actually be more worried about this for a Rocket Racer movie, where I feel like the character actually has a little bit to lose. Antoine has nothing to lose, and the fact the creators must care about him makes me think this isn’t going to happen.
  • It’s possible this could only be Antoine as I like him in name only. Heck, they might call him “Hypno-Hustler” and not even keep the Antoine Delsoin identity. Just rebuild him entirely from scratch. Look at how the Prowler seen in Miles Morales stories is not the Prowler from the comics that I liked (though the other Prowler is admittedly pretty cool in Spiderverse). But even so, the article above mentions that the musical aspect of the character is important to the project, so even if you call him Buddy Thrummer or something other than Antoin Delsoin, you’re going to have a music-based hypnotist who presumably does crime, it’s going to be closer than I ever would have expected.
  • It’s also possible that the movie could become too successful and that would ruin the character for me. If the Hustler becomes a hot new property, and starts showing up in every Marvel comic every month and he pals around with all the superheroes and does the same quips they all do, he would lose the characterization I like. One problem I have with the Marvel stuff is how small their universe feels these days. I remember after the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie I saw comics about the Guardians hanging around Earth so they could team up with all the heroes there. I hated that. The Guardians are supposed to out in their own cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe, but they had to hang out with Captain America and Deadpool, so their specialness was thrown away to make them a cog in the machine. If Antoine suddenly becomes one of the “important” characters, I’d lose interest him as one of the loser. I always choose the losers over the big important people. But this I also don’t fear too greatly, because my mind just can’t comprehend a world in which the Hypno-Hustler becomes important.
  • The movie might not actually come to pass. This one seems like the most likely possibility. I do believe that they are honestly working on this thing with intent for it to come out, but many things can happen that would stop it. Another pandemic? Character rights shifting to another company? Economic collapse? Any of these options or more could stop this movie in its tracks. And even then, we’d just be back where we started with the character.

So even with the bad outcomes, there is nothing TOO bad. I have no reason but to be excited for this movie. So let’s all be excited for the Hypno-Hustler.

The Animated Adventures of Rocket Racer

There was an episode of the ’90s Spider-Man cartoon that had Robert Farrell in it. They never actually call him “the Rocket Racer” in the episode, but he does all the usual Rocket Racer stuff. It’s got to be the most prominent appearance of the character outside of the comics so far, and it’s likely to remain that way for a long time.

In the fifth episode of the third season, titled “Rocket Racer” we meet Robert Farrell, voiced by Billy ‘Pop’ Atmore.

Watching the episode, I find that we get a lot of the things I want to see in a Rocket Racer story. There’s subtle commentary on race and how ex-criminals aren’t given a fair shot at finding their way back into society. We’re shown Bob struggling to help out his sick mother, whose illness is never identified. We’re shown that the neighbourhood where Bob lives is on his side (a pharmacist gives him a discount on medicine). Bob shows no signs of romantic interest in anyone. We even get the Big Wheel making an appearance. All in all, this is about as faithful an appearance to the comics version as possible. So here’s where I pick out what is different about Rocket Racer here and his usual portrayal in the Marvel Universe.

  • Bob is young here. I’ve mentioned this one before, but usually Bob is depicted as being at least as old as Spider-Man, but in this episode he is a teenager who is actually a student being tutored by Peter Parker. I don’t mind that he’s aged down for this (as I’ve said, you’d expect a skateboard-themed character to be young), but I don’t like that he knows Peter Parker. That makes the world feel very small.
  • Bob’s story is backwards. In the comics, Bob was an upstanding and smart young child who had to resort to crime because he couldn’t afford to take care of his family when his mother got sick. In the cartoon, Bob was a criminal child who turned his life around to help his mother when she got sick. There’s a place for each kind of story, sure, but I prefer the original, because it casts the broken aspects of society as the impetus.
  • Bob’s family doesn’t exist here. In this cartoon Mrs. Farrell (never named Emma, but we can assume) is shown to be a single mother, but instead of having seven children, she seems to only have Bob. I do feel that Bob’s siblings represent untapped potential for Rocket Racer stories, but this isn’t a Rocket Racer story. This is a Spider-Man show that only goes to the Rocket Racer well one time, so it doesn’t need all those other kids around to complicate things. It is understandable to have excised them. (Also, Mrs. Farrell is depicted as much thinner and more conventionally attractive than her comics counterpart. That I don’t like. Let’s have more representation of large people, please. But I guess having six fewer children made a difference.)
  • Mrs. Farrell owns a grocery store. We’re never told what Mrs. Farrell did for work in the comics, but in this cartoon she owns Farrell’s Grocery. Maybe the comics version has this store too. Maybe it’s manned by Bob’s adult siblings we never see. We simply don’t have the information.
  • The Big Wheel’s story is also backwards. In the comics, Jackson Weele was an embezzling businessman who was conned by Bob when the Rocket Racer did crimes on corporate types. That caused Jackson to create the Big Wheel persona for revenge. In the cartoon, the Big Wheel is an existing criminal mastermind with a gang of henchmen in power-suits called the Rocket Raiders. I’d guess maybe this was changed to make Bob a more sympathetic character, since blackmailing someone so hard that they become a supervillain isn’t a great look if you want the kid to be a poor wretch who deserves better, right?
  • Bob steals equipment from the Rocket Raiders to create his own Rocket Racer equipment. In the comics, Bob gets his equipment from junkyards and the Tinkerer. This is a very minor change, given that we’re still shown Bob assembling the equipment himself and Peter admits that Bob knows a lot about gyroscopic science or whatever it is. Sure, it seems like it’d be less impressive to build a rocket skateboard from pre-made equipment than from scratch, but it’s only really done to drive the conflict here. I’ll allow it.

So that’s my report on the Spider-Man Animated Series episode Rocket Racer. Let’s see what the people on the Internet have to say about it. “This episode and The Spot are considered by most fans to be the two worst episodes of Spider-Man: The Animated Series.” Ah. Well. At least it’s a tie, and not dead last.