He’s small, he’s furry, and he carries a lot of guns. Rocket Raccoon may look like a cute anthropomorphic raccoon, but he’s a tough mercenary who rules the stars. Some of you might know Rocket as a member of the space-traveling Guardians of the Galaxy, but do you know where the lovable murder rodent came from?
As Rocket revisits his past in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, let’s join him in diving into his background.
Interestingly, Rocket Raccoon’s creation can be traced back to a 1968 Beatles song. 'Rocky Raccoon' is a Paul McCartney-written track from the group’s influential White Album. The song depicts the trials and tribulations of a raccoon named Rocky who battles his rival Dan for the hand of his fair maiden Lil.
The song inspired Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen to create Rocket Raccoon, who was originally just called Rocky. The character first appeared in a serialized story (written by Mantlo and penciled by Giffen) about a space explorer named Prince Wayfair in Marvel Preview #7 (1976).
The story, which takes place 10,000 years in the future, finds Wayfair marooned on a planet called Witch-World, a vast jungle inhabited by a society of anthropomorphic animals. Rocky was a poacher on that world who helped Wayfair navigate the treacherous jungles. The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe would later designate this story as taking place in a reality known as Earth-7614. In other words, Rocket’s first appearance wasn’t even in mainstream continuity.
Rocket’s first appearance in Marvel’s 616 continuity was in The Incredible Hulk #271 (1982). This issue established that his first name was Rocket and that he comes from a planet called Halfworld. The story is filled with various puns to lyrics from the Beatles song, as Rocket teams up with Hulk to rescue his girlfriend, an otter named Lylla.
How was Rocket Raccoon created?
Initially it appeared that Rocket was just an anthropomorphic raccoon with no origin to speak of. After all, his appearances in Marvel Preview and Incredible Hulk had him surrounded by other anthropomorphic animals, leading readers to believe that’s the way things were on Halfworld. But in 1985, Marvel published a four-issue Rocket Raccoon limited series, which revealed the true nature of Halfworld.
Years ago the Halfworld had been established as a planetwide mental health facility in which humanoids were treated and given emotional support animals. When the facility lost funding, the doctors were forced to abandon the planet. Robots were left as caretakers for the patients, but they malfunctioned and began to stray from their original programming, building large technological structures around the planet, leaving little time to care for the patients.
In order to ensure the patients would still be cared for, the robots experimented on the emotional support animals. The creatures were given advanced intelligence, the ability to speak, and in some cases, cybernetic enhancements. As you’ve probably gathered, Rocket was one of those emotional support animals. Rocket was initially unaware of his true origin, and was shocked to learn the true purpose of the world he was on. Over time Rocket regained his memories, and later comics like Guardians of the Galaxy #8 (2019) had him flashback to his time as a service animal, and the painful procedure that transformed him.
Annihilators #3 (2012) revealed that some of Rocket’s adventures on Halfworld were false memories implanted within him. This calls into question some of the events from his 1985 limited series. Despite this continuity curiosity, most of the elements of Rocket's presented origin appear to be canon.
Joining the Guardians of the Galaxy
Although Rocket enjoys a high profile now, this wasn’t always the case. Despite getting his own limited series at only his third published appearance, Rocket only appeared sporadically after that, mostly as obscure cameos.
For his first 30 years of publication, Rocket only appeared ten times in total. But then, in 2007 Rocket’s co-creator Keith Giffen wrote a mini-series called Annihilation: Conquest Star-Lord, which changed Rocket’s destiny forever.
During the limited series, Rocket meets two characters he would become prominently linked with: Star-Lord and Groot. Star-Lord recruits Rocket for a mission to help stop a war on the Kree homeworld. Rocket had been locked up by the Kree for a series of destructive crimes, so he is more than eager to get out and bust some heads. The bond between Rocket and Groot grows over the course of the mission, sowing the seeds of one of the Marvel Universe’s most iconic friendships.
A new Guardians of the Galaxy ongoing series was launched in 2008, with Rocket joining the new team alongside Star-Lord, Groot, Gamora, Drax, Mantis, Quasar, and Adam Warlock. Star-Lord formed the team to be a first line of defense against any galactic threats and recruited Rocket because of his tactical mind and proficiency in weapons. Rocket accepted, partially because of his friendship with Star-Lord, and partially because he was looking forward to more action. This series would serve as the template for the MCU’s popular Guardians of the Galaxy film series.
What else has Rocket been up to?
The success of the Guardians of the Galaxy comic series and film propelled Rocket’s popularity, which led to him getting a solo series in 2014. The ongoing, which was written and illustrated by Skottie Young, followed Rocket’s adventures away from the Guardians. The first arc of the title followed Rocket as he dodged intergalactic authorities due to being framed for murder. This led to a showdown with Blackjack O’Hare, an anthropomorphic rabbit from Rocket’s Halfworld days. Blackjack had engineered Rocket’s framing as part of a revenge scheme against Rocket for foiling a previous scheme.
Rocket Raccoon was relaunched in 2016 as part of the 'Marvel Now' publishing initiative. The new volume began with an arc written by Matthew Rosenberg and penciled by Jorge Coelho. The series took Rocket out of his comfort zone by marooning the mercenary on Earth. Rocket had a hard time adjusting to our planet’s customs, and inadvertently created destruction wherever he went.
What is Rocket Raccoon’s role in the MCU?
Rocket Raccoon made his MCU debut in the 2014 film Guardians of the Galaxy. The James Gunn directed film gave nods to Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy comics. The character of Rocket was voiced by Bradley Cooper, while Sean Gunn provided the on-set motion capture performance, performing Rocket’s actions in a motion capture suit on set, which the VFX team would then use to create the CGI version of Rocket.
Like his comic book counterpart, the MCU version of Rocket was a weapons expert with a snarky attitude. He joined the Guardians of the Galaxy after the group found themselves caught in the middle of a conflict between the Nova Corps and a deranged Kree warrior named Ronan. Despite his rough exterior, Rocket displayed hidden depths. One memorable scene of the movie had Rocket opening up about the trauma he felt surrounding his transformation from an ordinary raccoon.
Rocket has also appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019), Thor: Love and Thunder (2022), I Am Groot (2022), and the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022). His latest appearance is in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023).
What happens to Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3?
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is Rocket’s movie, despite the fact that the character spends most of its running time comatose after sustaining serious injuries after Adam Warlock attacks Knowhere. It’s not just that the majority of the movie revolves around the Guardians’ attempts to save Rocket’s life: it’s that, as he lies dying, we get flashbacks to his origins, which involve being experimented on by the High Evolutionary alongside his friends, Lyla, Teef, and Floor — don’t get too attached to them, sadly — and discovering his genius-level intellect in the process.
That’s both a blessing and a curse, however; that intellect allows him to escape the High Evolutionary’s clutches, but it’s the High Evolutionary’s desire to dissect Rocket’s brain that makes him so obsessed with Rocket that he sends Adam Warlock after the Guardians, leading to Rocket’s near-death experience. (That Rocket’s escape also leads to the deaths of his friends likely tips everything closer to “curse,” let’s be honest.)
Rocket is, thankfully, eventually saved by his friends, and comes out of the experience a changed raccoon — one that has remembered how important his friends are to him, and how they’ve shaped his life — but this shouldn’t be taken as a sign that he’s lost his edge; just because he’s kinder and gentler to those that deserve it doesn’t mean that he can’t throw down when it’s necessary, as can be seen when he and the Guardians hit the High Evolutionary’s headquarters on a rescue mission that becomes an even larger rescue mission than they’d anticipated.
Rocket’s further evolution is something recognized by the rest of the Guardians, with Star-Lord, Nebula, Drax, and Mantis all leaving the team in his care at the end of the movie, officially naming him as the Captain of the Guardians and letting him rebuild the team around him. The mid-credit sequence of the movie shows the new Guardians in action, with Rocket where he’s meant to be: leading the charge, and saving the day.
Where can I learn more about Rocket Raccoon?
If you’re looking to read some of Rocket’s classic comic appearances, you can start with the trade paperback collection Rocket Raccoon: Guardian of the Keystone Quadrant. This trade paperback collects Rocket’s earliest appearances, including his debut in Marvel Preview #7. Guardians of the Galaxy by Abnett and Lanning: The Complete Collection Volume 1 collects Rocket’s early outings with the Guardians. If you’re a fan of the MCU Guardians movies, then you’ll love this run, which served as an inspiration for the films. Rocket Raccoon: Grounded collects the first arc of Rocket’s 2016 series, which has some fun adventures of the furry mercenary stranded on Earth.