With Rok Of The Gods currently in the middle of its Kickstarter (go pledge here), it’s a perfect time to take a look back at Rok Of The Reds, the first series that introduced us to the alien Rok as he falls in love with the beautiful game. And seriously, it’s a book you’re going to absolutely love.
As you’ll find out at the start of this quite wonderful book, Rok is an alien pursued by an intergalactic threat to life quite capable of destroying entire planets in their pursuit. He needs somewhere to hide, somewhere safe, and somewhere as far away from the main bits of the galaxy as possible. #
And there’s nowhere more out of the way than Earth.
And nowhere more unlikely to hide than by taking the place of the troubled, brattish footballer, Kyle Dixon.
That’s the gloriously strange set-up for Rok of the Reds, where the beautiful game meets alien adventure in a black comedy about revenge and redemption.
When it was announced, the prospect of John Wagner and Alan Grant teaming up once more was a tempting prospect. After all, this was the team that, in the past, brought us many Dredds, including the Dredd/Batman tales, lots of classic Strontium Dog tales, and so much more.
But personally, all I thought of was The Bogie Man, a comic made by Wagner & Grant, alongside artist Robin Smith, back in 1989. Sure, the content couldn’t be any different – after all The Bogie Man was about a psych patient who believed he was all of Humphrey Bogart’s characters from many different movies. But the tone, the style, that quirky, new sensibility, that’s what I thought when I saw Rok of the Reds first time round.
And genuinely, it’s a great tale, with Wagner and Grant combining so successfully here to give us a thing that’s obviously influenced by (and perhaps pastiching a little) those classic Brit football comics, most especially Roy of the Rovers, possibly even down to the ROTR similarity in names. And then they’ve added in the sort of tight yet fun sci-fi stuff they’ve done throughout their careers. It’s a great, great thing.
On top of that, their choice of artist was fabulous surprise. Dan Cornwell was a name little known here in the UK at the time, as this was pretty much his first big thing. But the faith of Wagner and Grant, as always, is something we can depend on, since Cornwell does a fabulous job, stepping up to do all the necessary, mixing both football and alien space stuff really well.
The tale unfolds, with us first meeting Rok on the run and then the brattish, overpaid and grandstanding Kyle Dixon, on his way down in football thanks to his ability to sabotage all his natural talent. He’s a nasty piece of work, selfish on the pitch, arrogant and ignorant off it.
And then Rok arrives on Earth…
And becomes Rok of the Reds, taking Dixon’s form and Dixon’s place and yes, he most certainly has changed… in every possible way.
Rok of the Reds has got something of a strangely cinematic vibe about it, or maybe a television drama. I mean that as much as things in here are telegraphed so often, so obviously, and there are so many cliches. Those times when Dixon gets breathalysed and bloods taken… but, the blood isn’t human blood, or the way Rok does the thing seen in so many Rom-Coms or Hollywood body-swap staples and turns lives around by being a better person in the shape of Dixon. Or that time when the truth comes out to the kid of the family, Rok’s true form revealed, yet things just work out because of the trusting nature and good intent of our hero… oh, it’s just so full of these classic tropes.
Yet, this isn’t so much a criticism as it is something like a comfortable, hugely enjoyable feeling.
This is just pure entertainment done damn well. Yes, so much of it we’ve seen before in TV and movies and books and comics, but that doesn’t matter one bit, as I just enjoyed it enormously all the way through.
So, as Rok/Kyle settles into a footballer’s life, there’s the whole problem of putting in motion his plans to save multiple worlds from the threat only he’s aware of.
Except, as we find out, things are much more complicated than even Rok may be aware of. Which is where the whole comic builds to a climax, things on-pitch and off coming to a head, all played out som well by all involved.
And yet, as Rok settles into Dixon’s life, he finds himself rather entranced, beguiled with the notion of football and the skills and passions it needs and produces, and in the end of it all, there’s some debate over whether Rok cares more about the beautiful game or his long-term mission.
And that finale, well, Wagner, Grant and Cornwell really do milk it for all it’s worth, and that’s all good with me, it’s pure a Roy of the Rovers moment mixed with the very best of the whole alien come to Earth thing.
Hell, Wagner and Grant even manage to throw in some great comedic moments along the way…
‘The referee seems most unreasonable and if I am not mistaken, partially blind‘… oh, that’s such a great line.
In some ways, there’s nothing I can say here that will beat the fact that I had a huge smile on my face all the way through Rok of the Reds, all the obvious stuff, all the cliches, all the on-field Roy of the Rovers stuff, it’s all just so damn fun all the way through.
Frankly, the 130-ish pages of Rok of the Reds pass by all too quickly, it’s just one of those comics that hits all the right buttons and put a huge smile on my face throughout. Wagner & Grant are on wonderful form all the way through and in Dan Cornwell we have an artist who’s a real find and one who’s work I’ve followed eagerly ever since I first saw ROTR.
Seriously, if you’re after a book that will entertain and enthrall, Rok of the Reds is that book. Football and aliens, who would have thought it could work this well?
And once you’ve caught up with Rok of the Reds, make sure you get the next installment, Rok The God. It promises to be every bit as fabulous.
Rok Of The Reds, by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Dan Cornwell, with colours by Abi Bulmer and letters by Jim Campbell, is published by BHP Comics. Get hold of your copy at the ROTR website.