The Rocket Ratser

You know Spider-Ham, right? Somehow we’ve become a world where I can reasonably expect that casual audiences might know Spider-Ham and that is not weird. Anyway, you know how Spider-Ham is from an alternate universe of cartoon animal people? Well, they’ve got a Rocket Racer equivalent over there don’t ya know? Let’s take another look Into The Rocketverse and see what he’s all about.

So we know this much: he’s a rat. That is all. And this is literally all we get to see of the guy. in this story Spider-Ham is all powered up and goes on a rampage of beating up his foes and the Rocket Ratser is one of them. We have to assume that, by the naming conventions of that universe, his real name is like Robert Furrell or something. And if the Ratser is still considered a “supervillain” at this point, we have to assume that either he hasn’t the nuances of his human alternate, or Spider-Ham in this story is just being pretty indiscriminate about whom he beats up. Honestly, either is likely.

For the record some of Bob’s known affiliations are also glimpsed. The Tinkerer equivalent is the Stinkerer, a skunk. Sandman is Sandham, presumably a pig. The Prowler is the Prowler, an owl. And the Will-o’-the-Wisp is still called that and is just seemingly vapour. Easy enough.

Anyway, let’s stick him in a movie and call it a day.

Was Rocket Racer in the Contest of Champions?

One of the Rocket Racer’s most prominent appearances in the last decade was in a backup story attempting to retroactively insert the character Deadpool into the Marvel Super Heroes Contest of Champions story, with intended comedic intent. When Deadpool became popular for being this irreverent naughty super-character, it was very popular to insert him places so he could mock things. But if the story was done purely for comic effect, does it matter to the Rocket Racer’s history? Well, I need to find out, because Rocket Racer is in this story, but not in the actual Contest of Champions story. So where is the truth?

Well, first we should take a look at the characters who have been retconned into the Contest of Champions to see if they could have canonically been there. Here’s the main characters:

Rocket Racer: Obviously we start with the most important one. Contest of Champions occurred in 1982, a point in Rocket Racer’s history that is largely unrevealed. His haircut is a flat top like he would go on to sport in his ’90s appearances, but there’s no reason he couldn’t have had that for a while back then. His gear looks a little different, but he’s always tinkering with that. Would he, at that point in his career, have qualified to be considered a “superhero” by these cosmic entities? Well, if they think about him the way I do then obviously, yes, he would. Overall, I see nothing that prevents Bob from having been there in canon.

Deadpool: Back when I strongly cared about Deadpool, I put a lot of thought into his chronology. Could he have been present in a comic set in 1982. Well, it’s complicated, but yeah. I don’t need to get into that here, but even before it came temporarily de rigueur to retcon Deadpool into the history of the Marvel Universe, I could have made a case for it. Anyway, this story is about him being there, so it’s not even worth debating. What is worth considering is whether he’d have been summoned among all the other heroes, given his less-than-heroic nature. Here’s the thing that explains both that and why it isn’t utterly impossible that these cosmic forces would bother to listen to Deadpool at all: Deadpool has a weird connection with the living concept of Death, this is established Deadpool lore, and one of the cosmic entities doing this Contest is Death herself. Certainly that gives us a way to pave over any problems here and lets me say that this could be canon.

Frog-Man: The timing seems to just barely work out for Frog-Man to have made his first appearance and then gotten scooped up into the Contest of Champions. The Frog-Man we see in this story is never unmasked and never says anything (except, for some reason “ribbit” once), but maybe young newbie hero Eugene is just nervous about being in a big superhero event all of a sudden. That said, his personality doesn’t really shine through here. Costume details are incorrect (most notably the boots) but I would accept either artistic error or maybe he just was trying some different things early on and that just happened to be what he was wearing when he got summoned to the Contest (his eye colour is correct, oddly). But here’s another theory: what if this isn’t Eugene? This guy is not as large as Eugene for one thing. What if this is his father, trying on the uniform again for the first time in a long time and getting summoned to this thing. Would the cosmic entities have made that mistake? I don’t know, but I like the idea that Vinnie got to have a weird adventure one time. Either way, I judge that there’s nothing here that can’t be canon.

Howard the Duck: The Contest of Champions is well after he first appeared and actually falls into a gap after the cancellation of his book and his more modern returns. He’s wearing pants and this is after he started wearing pants. Would the cosmic entities have considered him a “super hero” worthy enough to be summoned to this contest (even Howard questions that within the story), but he has fought villains and teamed up with other heroes and stuff. If the Hulk counts, why not Howard? I see nothing here that can’t be canon.

Doop: Doop would not make his first appearance for almost two decades after the Contest of Champions. But still, when he did finally appear, he was given one of those mysteries origins that stretches way back. The details aren’t known, but he probably dates back to the Cold War, so Marvel’s sliding timescale or not, he’d be around in the era of Contest of Champions. Here’s the one thing I noticed: He’s got the “X” insignia on his belly. If this appearance is way before he was in X-Force or X-Statix, why would he have that, right? So I checked out the story that the Internet thinks may be his earliest chronological appearance (aside from this one) and it was in “I (Heart) Marvel: My Mutant Heart” to see if it could help me. It doesn’t. Somehow that story manages to give us no clear look at Doop’s belly. I don’t see any sign that the X is there, but I also can’t confirm it isn’t. Is the X just a natural thing on Doop (well, as natural as anything about Doop could be)? I simply have no way of knowing. So either that or artistic error means I see nothing here that means this can’t be canon.

So that’s our main cast. I’m willing to say all of that works.

But what about all the characters in the background? Well, yes, this is where PDR find lots of continuity errors.

  • First, there’s some characters who ought not to even be there. Rocket Raccoon and Groot for example, and with both appearing as they would in the modern comics rather than they would have in 1982. But those two specifically I can write off. They appear in a panel that kind of looks like the character selection screen for a fighting game and the scene also includes Dr. Doom. Doom definitely should not be at the Contest of Champions. If he had been summoned there, he would have made it known. Doom is not one to stand at the back of the crowd. So, if Doom wasn’t there, I say we can write off all the Select Screen characters who don’t appear in the actual story, including Rocket Raccoon and Groot. I write it off, I say!
  • What else? Well, Ares, the god of war is there for some reason, and he’s in the costume he wore in the then-modern era. The cosmic forces pulled a handful of gods into this thing, so gods can apparently count as superheroes. But Ares? I thought he was mostly treated as a villain back in those days. But then, I’m not overly familiar with that side of the Marvel Universe. Looking at the comics that he appeared in on either side of the Contest, it seems like he may not have been actively supervillaining, just hanging out among the Olympian god. Maybe that counts? The costume still seems wrong.
  • And speaking of incorrect costumes: Storm is shown in the background with her iconic mohawk look, but in the actual Contest of Champions book, she had a different look. And here’s the thing: one the “Select Screen” image she has the look she’s supposed to have! That’s frustrating. So even within this story Storm’s costume is inconsistent, and the correct one is the one I wrote off.
  • And then there’s Shamrock, a character who first appeared in the Contest of Champions. It makes sense that she’d show up in the background for this story. What doesn’t make sense is that they’d have her in a costume that isn’t the one she wore in Contest of Champions. Someone gave this artist a reference for Shamrock that WAS NOT the Contest of Champions book they were specifically aiming to imitate. It makes no sense.
  • Also, the Hulk’s pants in this are ripped shorter than they are in Contest of Champions. Look, I’ll allow it. He maybe ripped the pants some more. Hulk wasn’t chosen to fight in the Contest. Probably got bored..

I could go on, but I’m reaching even my limits here. All the main characters of the story could have conceivably been at the Contest of Champions, and the background crowd shots are full of errors we’d have to write off as artistic license or something. So have I answered anything? Not really. Whether the story is in canon or not is up to the owners and creators of the Marvel Universe and, frankly, I don’t think any of them care about the matter.

But this is all about the Rocket Racer and nobody cares more about him than I do. So do I think he was at the Contest of Champions? Well I’ll say this: If the cosmic forces came along and brought all the superheroes of Earth to their game and they didn’t bring Bob there, then they did it wrong.

Rocket Racer’s Glasses

I’ve covered the stutter, but that isn’t the only affectation of nerdiness that has been grafted onto Bob Farrell over the years. He’s also had glasses in some of his more prominent appearances since the year 2000 (of which, God knows there have not been many). He wore the glasses in the Supervillain Team-Up book that brought us the stutter, but unlike that, Van Lente did not originate the glasses. Bob was first seen wearing glasses in the story in which he was in prison and was first seen alongside the Hypno-Hustler. I may not care for that story, but it has given me several things I like, apparently.

And I do like the glasses. Like the stutter, I think it is unfortunate that glasses are considered symbolic of “nerdy” people, but it does work for Bob as a tech guy. Also like the stutter, we’ve got decades of evidence that Bob did not always have glasses. Photos of him as a child show him not wearing them, and most of his adult life he’s been without as well. But still, you can need glasses without having them, especially if you’re from a low-income family. It could be that he didn’t realize he needed them until he was doing crimes and could afford to get some. It’s also very likely that he wears contacts on occasion. Bob has currently only made one appearance without his eyewear since they were introduced, attending a funeral, so maybe he just felt like contacts when he was dressing up that day?)

And, it is important to note that every iteration of the Rocket Racer’s outfit has included eyewear. Before and after his civilian eyewear came into play, he’s had visors and goggles as a part of his equipment. He has only occasionally had a helmet, but always something to protect his eyes. It would be perfectly believable to me that the Tinkerer or someone could make sure those things work with his prescription. I’ve also always kind of assumed the visor has some sort of HUD going on, but vision correction could be involved too.

Rocket Racer of Earth-20051

I mentioned last time that Fred Van Lente had written an “other-continuity” appearance of Rocket Racer not applicable to the mainstream Bob Farrell. Well, let’s delve Into The Rocketverse and explore that:

This was in a book called Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #21. You know how mainstream superhero comics are a poisoned cesspool of non-stop drastic changes to the status quo trying to trick the audience into thinking stories are “important” because apparently the bulk of readers of mainstream superhero comics only value stories for how “important” they are? Well, Marvel Adventures Spider-Man was mercifully not that. It was just a book that sought to tell simple Spider-Man stories and, from what I’ve seen, it did them well. Naturally it’s long dead now.

This story begins with Spider-Man chasing the Rocket Racer who has a big bag of cash stolen from a bank (classic!). This version of Bob stutters with almost every other word and he lobs insults at Spider-Man implying that the vigilante is dumb, showing that this Bob very much values intellect. Bob escapes with relative ease, but Spidey finds one of his rockets hasn’t exploded and it has a “T” logo on it.

Spider-Man then has to deal with two other supervillains, Frog Man (Eugene) and Stilt-Man (Wilbur), only to discover that the three are actually working together. They are just nerdy guys who “met online at a message board for connoisseurs of the mechanical arts” and from there they met the Tinkerer, the guy who provides supervillains with technology. The Tinkerer offered the three guys super-suits for free, no strings attached, because what the Tinkerer actually wanted was to show off how good his tech was to real supervillains. When these three loser villains fail to defeat Spider-Man on their own, Tinkerer remote controls them to attack more violently, against their protestations. The hero still wins, of course, but we see that these guys are crooks, but don’t want to be murderers.

This version of Bob clearly loves technology, but it seems like all credit for his devices goes to Tinkerer here, which clearly makes him less of a self-made Rocket Racer. The regular version of Bob did have his tech improved by the Tinkerer, but only after designing it himself and beginning his Rocket Racer career. Like Van Lente’s Supervillain Team-Up story, this story leans into the “nerd” take on Bob. He’s got a Star Trek shirt and a Godzilla poster and the like. I don’t mind this take, save for the fact I don’t think the mainstream Bob has the disposable income to collect things like that.

As for Wilbur and Eugene: Bob-616 has only minor connections to either of those characters. He attended the funeral/wake for his universe’s Wilbur Day, but more to be with his friends who were closer. And he may have met his universe’s Eugene, but only in passing as far as we’ve been told. For the sake of this story, Bob is roughly the same nebulous age that he always is, but Stilt-Man is, if anything, aged down and Frog Man aged up, so they are all now in the same cohort. For the record, in the Marvel Universe proper, Eugene is not a tech-guy. His Frog-Man suit was built by his father and he’s had to rely on others to repair it. Also, regular Eugene has never been a criminal.

Rocket Racer’s Stutter

There was a brief period in which Bob Farrell was depicted as a stutterer. It came out of nowhere during the Supervillain Team-Up/MODOK’s Eleven miniseries. Bob hadn’t been depicted as a stutterer in the decades he’d appeared before that, in fact he was often a fast-talking type. And he’s not been depicted as one since either, though that is mostly because he’s been lucky to get a line in any appearance since. Here are my thoughts on the Rocket Racer’s stutter:

It comes, as I say, out of nowhere. I can’t get behind it as an actual element of the character. But I do get it. It’s part of an attempt to lean into a “nerd” thing with Bob, trying to give him some personality that helps him to stand out among an ensemble cast. Writer Fred Van Lente also wrote an other-continuity Bob as having a stutter (in a story I’ll try to cover soon), so one thing is clear to me: Van Lente thought about Bob Farrell’s personality and role. He’s not just randomly picking Bob and pasting him there like a sticker in a book. I respect that.

I don’t care for stutters being generally considered to be a “nerd” thing, but I do think Bob being painted as a “nerdy” personality works. That said, I actually don’t think we need to have Bob as the kind of person who grew up with a stutter. Sure, that character type can be useful, even representational for young people with a stutter, but I feel like we can do something with Bob more in keeping with his history up to that point. The Supervillain Team-Up story comes after Bob has spent time in prison, after he was blown up by the Punisher, and after his mother’s illness has worsened and she’s fallen into a coma. I think it would be much more interesting to have Bob’s stutter be the result of all this trauma and injury, showing the consequences of what a man like Bob goes through in a genre where most of the characters are winners and, he’s just not.

(And, just for the record, Marvel does have at least one young Black man who grew up with a stutter, to represent that group: Cloak, of Cloak and Dagger fame, fits that bill perfectly.)