John Wagner, Alan Grant, and Dan Cornwell brought us an unlikely love story between an alien and the beautiful game in Rok Of The Reds. Here in the sequel, Rok The God, they do it all over again and, along the way, show us exactly how much we’ve missed this past Covid year.
Now, this one came out back in 2020 but has been on the list of review copies for way too long – all I really need is someone to invent a 27-hour day and a way to read & review in my sleep. However, our own senior editor Olly MacNamee reviewed it back when it was first released and loved it.
So, way overdue, here’s my little bit of love for Rok The God, a fun-filled sequel to that great first volume and a book that shows you just how much joy there is from being able to do all those wonderful things we’re missing right now.
In Rok Of The Reds, Wagner, Grant, and Cornwell, gave us a thoroughly entertaining tale of the alien Rok of Arkady escaping to Earth and taking the form of Radford Red’s star striker and all-round football brat, Kyle Dixon. It was only meant to be a temporary thing, but Rok totally fell in love with the beautiful game and ended up taking the Reds to glory, making Kyle a far better person in the process, and finding two new families, the one he’s staying with and the ones supporting his club.
In that first review, I praised Wagner and Grant for a wonderfully told piece of ridiculousness, the sort of thing that unashamedly plays to cliches on and off the pitch and talked of how it reminded me of another Wagner & Grant thing, The Bogie Man – completely different tone and theme but that same sense of comedy and ridiculousness in the culture clash of alien meets football.
And it’s no surprise to anyone that they’ve done it all over again in Rok The God…
It’s time to rejoin Rok as he begins a new season, facing even more trouble than before – an unscrupulous new Radford Reds owner looking to sell Dixon/Rok to Real Madrid, the real Kyle Dixon and the corrupt referee Nigel Bull escaping Rok’s ship (although they’re still in the shrunken form that Rok zapped them into), and the need to play a blinder this season for the Reds.
And then there’s the rather more pressing concern of being dragged across the galaxy, back to Arkady, where his dear old ma has decided it’s her time to head off to the great beyond, meaning it’s time for Rok to ascend to both the throne and to Godhood.
So much going on, so much to enjoy – will Rok accept the offer of becoming a God? What the hell does that even mean for him? And what about those plentiful enemies on Arkady who will stop at nothing to get rid of this young fool who insists on heading back to Earth and playing the “feetball”?
Oh, and just what does it all mean for Rok’s beloved Reds when he heads off across the galaxy and they have to struggle on without him?
There’s a little less footballing action here in Rok The God, with more time spent following the misadventures of tiny Kyle and tiny Nigel as they manage to get picked up by a couple of chavs looking to make a quick buck out of these tiny freaks and more time to explore the world of Arkady, complete with a magnificently Hitchhiker’s Guide-esque sequence with the comedic brilliance of the Godstone…
But even with less football, the tone of it all is just the same as in Rok Of The Reds, all the fun of seeing Wagner and Grant play with the culture clash of the alien falling in love with football, finding the beauty in something as seemingly unnecessary and unimportant as football.
And there’s a great truth in what they’re all doing in Rok, a truth any sports fan will know, whether it’s football/soccer, American football, Hockey, Cricket, Netball… anything at all. It’s all about that joy to be found in sport that transcends simple enjoyment, that taps into something greater – and that’s something that can be found in the very soul of these Rok books.
In fact, it could be anything that brings us together and gives us pleasure – sport, music, pop culture, comics, just the idea of these collective passions that envelop us, that give us a group pleasure, that lift the spirits so simply, soo easily.
It’s never been more obvious either – whilst many would scoff at the importance of these seemingly trivial entertainments in the grand scheme of things, I think the last year has shown us just how important these collective passions are to our lives, to our mental health, to the general well-being of everyone. It really is true that you don’t really know what you have until it’s taken away from you.
That’s what everyone involved here gets – that joy of the game, the joy of being part of something, and they milk it for all its worth, creating something that’s wonderfully silly, totally ridiculous, and yet in treating it (relatively) straight, they manage to create something that’s simply wonderfully entertaining.
And of course, a huge part of making Rok work is Dan Cornwell’s art. It’s worth reminding yourself that Rok Of The Reds was his first pro work, done when he was still driving a bus as his day job. Before Rok, he’d had work in the 2000 AD fanzines Futurequake and Dogbreath and in the Brit digital sci-fi anthology comic 100% Biodegradable. But Rok was a huge step up, with John Wagner literally messaging Cornwell when he was driving a bus and asking if he liked football and would he like to draw this new comic – very sensibly, he said yes and yes.
The art in Rok Of The Reds was, frankly, ridiculously good for that first pro job and, since then, he’s gone on to establish himself as one of a group of great artists on Judge Dredd. And here, in Rok The God, he takes it up another level, giving us epic space vistas, the strange landscapes of Arkady, plus the entire alien culture of the different factions on Arkady, before coming right back to do all the on-pitch action that he does so well back on Earth – it’s all done so very, very well.
Rok The God, by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Dan Cornwell, with colours by Abi Bulmer & Jim Boswell and letters by Jim Campbell, is published by RedRok Comics.
Get hold of your copy at the Rok website.