Back Of The Net! Wagner, Grant And Cornwell’s ‘Rok The God’ Reviewed

by Oliver MacNamee

Summary

Rok returns for a second sensational season of playing football for Radford Reds. An alien hiding behind the guise of Kyle Dixon, Rok must return to his home planet to face his mother and the offer of godhood. Witness how our hero takes on the mantle and keeps up appearances back on Earth in this sensational sequel to ‘Rok of the Reds’ by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Dan Cornwell.

Overall
10/10
10/10

Any book that begins by including a Kevin Keegan quote is always going to be alright with me. But then, any comic book written by John Wagner and Alan Grant was always going to be too much of a temptation. Their legacy and their dry satirical streak is legendary and so needs no repeating again here. Just pick up any Judge Dredd strip written by either and you’ll understand their appeal. And, it’s that same appeal that will have fans flocking to pick up their latest successfully crowdfunded graphic novel, Rok The God. A book that started off as a homage/parody of the kind of soccer story comic strips popular here in the UK at one time, but has now evolved into some far more grand in scale. In this new collection, Rok leaves the confines of Earth and the Football Association and heads to the stars and godhood.

Joining Rok, Wagner and Grant in this stellar journey is Dan Cornwell, returning artist who’s become something of a regular on 2000AD these days, and if you pick up this book you’ll see why. And, my American friends, please don’t be put off by the mention of ‘soccer’. 

Rok, posing as Radford Red’s star striker, Kyle Dixon, has fallen in love with the game, and the planet, so you can imagine he’s none too keen to be carted halfway across the galaxy by anyone. Let alone his own family keen to get him installed on the throne, when Uncle Morg pays him a visit. The fact that he is banned from returning to his home planet, Arkady, is no longer an obstacle, which should start ringing alarm bells in readers minds. Why the sudden U-turn? What’s the catch?

As Rok sets off we are re-introduced of to some familiar faces – the real Kyle Dixon and corrupt referee and all-round bounder Nigel Bull – who have been shrunk down in size to face a world where even a blade of grass towers over them.  And so the stage is set for a science fiction romp that will have you gripped as the gang develop their story. A story in which Rok is effectively cornered into accepting the offer of godhood. But then, there is one Hell of a clause to this contract that Rok would be mad to accept. If only he had has agent with him to negotiate, right?

Wagner and Grant are masters if the written word, and touch on a myriad of different styles to recount this particular chapter of Rok’s life. We have the inclusion of that dry wit Wagner and Grant are renowned for as well as some beautiful inner reflection by Rok. There is also the inclusion of philosophical discussions along the way too, including what it means to truly be alive, as Rokk implores his mother to come and watch him play a game back on Earth. If you’re a fan of any sports team, you’ll know what he means. It’s still one of the most energetic and passionate games on the planet. As a Liverpool fan having waited 30 years to win the Premier League, I am living proof of that passion and pain. Or rather, my bar bill on the day they won, is proof to that. That, and the hangover. Cornwall, being a Manchester United fan, will also testify to the pain when your team slips from the golden spot they once inhabited and not too long ago. Sorry, Dan, this was too good an opportunity NOT to rub your nose in it, no matter how eloquently. You’ll get there again one day. Just not this season. 

But, I digress. Not hard when talking about football. 

While this is a graphic novel that may put some off because of its subject matter – football – and very British cast of characters – don’t let that stop you from buying this book. The ‘chavs’ in Chapter 2, who find the shrunken Kyle and Nigel, are a good reflection of The Simpson’s Cleetus’ family, albeit far, far crueler. The game that fuels Rok’s passions could easily be replaced by your own version of football. You know, the one you play predominantly with your hands? As for Nigel Bull. Well, bounders are universal, and usually all have British accents from my experience of TV and film.

 

It takes a skilled artist to keep up with the likes of Grant or Wagner, but with both of them together, you really have to bring your A game to the table. And Cornwell does exactly that. He draws more realistically when called upon and when the story needs it, and with more exaggeration and caricaturing flair when depicting character of a more comical nature, such as the aforementioned UK Cleetus’ clan.

If Rok of the Reds was Cornwall’s rookie year, then this season and the way he’s ‘playing’ he’s destined for the golden boot after the performance he puts into this one.  Whether it’s the comparatively mundane backdrop of football, or the British countryside, or the grandiose architecture and culture of Arkady, Cornwell shoots and scores each and every time. For the ordinary to the extra-ordinary, and even to the vert trippy, Cornwell certainly had his work cut out for him, but rises to the occasion like a seasoned professional. And without a single substitution either!

From the grand, wide expanses of space, to the contrastingly diminutive space in which Basil and Kyle fine themselves encroached within, to the personal drama of Rok’s return to Earth and footie, Rok the God certainly take it all in. And, gives back a great epic sci-fi story that mixes space operatics up with the kind of Incredible Shrinking Man B-movies of the post-WW II era, as well as all the drama of a big match day. A book that pays just as much tribute to these dazzling forerunners as it does in creating a new and funny and emotively charged story with twist, turns, laughs and more.

A beautiful book about a beautiful game, but with plenty of science fiction goodness to appeal to a broad range of readers.

Rok the God is available now. You can order your copy here.

You can also read our in-depth review of Rok of the Reds here as well as catch up with my panel from last year’s Leam Comic-Con, wherein I talk with Wagner and Cornwell on Rok the God here just after the 5 minute mark.

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