A fascinating aspect about the members of the team in Marvel's upcoming "Guardians of the Galaxy" film is the fact that at one point or another all five members of the group (Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Groot and Rocket Raccoon) had to wait over a decade between comic book appearances. In other words, the entire team had a long road to travel to get to the point of starring in their own feature film. None of the others, though, had quite as strange of a journey as Rocket Raccoon, who began his fictional life as a one-off joke character seemingly destined to be lost to history. Instead, nearly forty years after his debut he is about to be a featured character in a major motion picture.
Rocket Raccoon's debut came in 1976, in the pages of the Prince Wayfinder feature in "Marvel Preview" #7, a black-and-white science fiction comic book magazine (Rocket's future Guardians of the Galaxy teammate, Star-Lord, debuted in the same magazine three issues earlier). Prince Wayfinder, who debuted in "Marvel Preview" #4, was a hero searching for a special sword thousands of years in the future. In #7, he ended up on a Witch World. He encountered some strange creatures while on the planet, including a talking raccoon with a British accent who said that his friends called him "Rocky." This, of course, was a reference to the song off of the Beatles' "White Album" titled "Rocky Raccoon." At the end of the story, Prince Waydfinder moves on with his quest and that seems to the be the last anyone would ever see of "Rocky."
Six years later, though, his co-creator, Bill Mantlo, decided to dust the ol' raccoon off and use him in an issue of "The Incredible Hulk", which Mantlo was writing at the time. The story for "Incredible Hulk" #271 was titled "Now Somewhere In the Black Holes of Sirius Major There Lived a Young Boy Named Rocket Raccoon," which is another reference to the aforementioned Beatles song, "Rocky Raccoon" (the song opens with "Now somewhere in the black mountain hills of Dakota, there lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon"). Now that Mantlo was making him a "real" character, though, he gives him a name other than Rocky Raccoon. We learn that "Rocky" was just short for his real name, Rocket Raccoon. In the issue, the Hulk lands on Halfworld, home to Rocket and his friend, Wal Russ (another Beatles reference, this time, naturally enough, to the song "I Am the Walrus"). The Hulk helps them fight a bad guy who want to steal the greatest treasure on Halfword, Gideon's Bible (yet another reference to the Beatles song "Rocky Raccoon, specifically the lyric "Rocky Raccoon checked into his room, only to find Gideon's bible").
The character proved popular enough that in 1985 Marvel gave him his own miniseries, written by Mantlo and drawn by a young Mike Mignola (with inks by Al Gordon). Unsurprisingly, the artwork on the series was amazing. However, it did not lead to an ongoing series for Rocket Raccoon. Instead, it seemed as thought this was the last hurrah for the character. He did not appear in any comic books for the rest of the 1980s. Mark Gruenwald had Rocket Raccoon make a cameo in 1990's "Quasar" #15, as one of the various characters captured over the years by the Stranger (a number of them had also been in comic book limbo like Rocket Raccoon, and this functioned as an in-story excuse for why they were all off of the grid for so long).
John Byrne next used Rocket Raccoon as a guest-star in 1992's "Sensational She-Hulk" #44-46, as She-Hulk and her friends were on an outer space adventure at the time. Rocket had run afoul of the D'Bari (the aliens who turned the Avengers into stone in Captain America's Silver Age debut in "Avengers" #4) and was turned into stone for most of the adventure.
That was it for Rocket in the '90s. Beyond a brief cameo in a 2006 issue of "Exiles" (Mojo is flipping through the Multiverse and briefly happens upon Rocket) he was a forgotten character. However, just like when he seemed initially forgotten and his co-creator Bill Mantlo gave him new life, this time around it would be his other co-creator, Keith Giffen, and editor Bill Rosemann who would pluck Rocket out of comic book limbo. In 2007's "Annihilation Conquest: Starlord" #1, Peter Quill (Star-Lord) is feeling a great amount of guilt. The security system he developed for the Kree Empire's throneworld was taken over by the evil techno organic race known as the Phalanx. In an attempt to atone for his role in the fall of the Kree Empire, Quill agrees to lead a group of Kree prisoners in an attack on the Phalanx to keep them from spreading further into the galaxy. Among the prisoners Quill is assigned is, of course, Rocket Raccoon (as is another future Guardians of the Galaxy team member, the walking tree, Groot).
Star-Lord's team of misfit prisoners went on to play a major role in the battle against the Phalanx (and their mysterious leader) in the 2008 "Annihilation Conquest" miniseries, written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. At the end of the series, Quill decides to form a permanent team of heroes to help protect the galaxy so events like the Phalanx invasion could be stopped before they ever get started. Rocket Raccoon is one of the first people he asks to join the new team, which eventually became known as the Guardians of the Galaxy (also written by Abnett and Lanning). In fact, Rocket is the one who named the team (after the heroes meet Vance Astro from the future version of the Guardians of the Galaxy)!
Although team members have come and gone in the Guardians of the Galaxy in the years since, one of the constants has been the presence of Rocket Raccoon on the team. He currently co-stars in the ongoing "Guardians of the Galaxy" comic book series by writer Brian Michael Bendis.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on "Guardians of the Galaxy." For more on co-creator Bill Mantlo's ongoing struggles following a closed-head brain injury we invite you to revisit this 2011 profile of the acclaimed writer.