Friday, February 27, 2015

Forgotten Books: Rocket Robinson and the Pharaoh's Fortune - Sean O'Neill

This graphic novel came out in 2013, but I'd never heard of it until I came across a copy at Half Price Books and was intrigued by the look of it. It reminded me a lot of some of the adventure novels I read as a kid, books that were called juveniles then. I don't know what they're called now. Judging by the acknowledgments, it was a Kickstarter project. It certainly reads like a labor of love by the author/artist Sean O'Neill.

ROCKET ROBINSON AND THE PHARAOH'S FORTUNE is set in Cairo in 1933. The protagonist is Ronald "Rocket" Robinson, the son of an American diplomat who's been posted to Egypt. Nothing is ever mentioned about Rocket's mother, but it's pretty obvious that his dad is a single parent. Rocket has a pet monkey named Screech and a habit of getting into trouble because of his curiosity. When he has an unpleasant encounter on a train with a bald, eyepatch-wearing German named Count Otto von Sturm, you know it's not going to turn out well, especially when Rocket finds a mysterious note that von Sturm drops. It's written in what appear to be Egyptian hieroglyphics, but when Rocket gets to Cairo he finds that nobody can translate it. Even worse, when von Sturm discovers that the note is missing, he figures out that Rocket may have it and sends a couple of goons after him. (Of course he has goons working for him.) Rocket gets away from them with the help of a Gypsy girl named Nuri, and the fact that von Sturm wants the note so badly just makes our intrepid young hero even more determined to find out what it means.

This barely scratches the surface of a long, dangerous adventure that takes Rocket, Nuri, and Screech all over Cairo, into a set of sinister catacombs under the city, and out to Giza for more danger involving the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Khufu. There's a lot of stuff about code-breaking and Egyptian history worked into the story, but O'Neill handles it very well without really slowing down the pace.

If I'd read this as a novel when I was twelve years old, like Rocket, I would have thought it was one of the greatest books ever. As a cantankerous old geezer, I thought it was still pretty entertaining as a graphic novel. It seems obvious that O'Neill was trying for sort of a Young Indiana Jones/Rick Brant/Jonny Quest feeling in his story and art, and for the most part he succeeds. There were a few anachronisms that bothered me (comic books as we know them now didn't exist in 1933, and I don't think anybody would have used the phrase "good cop/bad cop routine" back then, either), but those are minor quibbles by, as I said, a cantankerous old geezer. With its kid protagonists, there's really not a lot of violence despite the perilous situations in which Rocket and Nuri find themselves, so it's pretty much safe for all ages.

I really enjoyed this one, and I think anyone who grew up on a steady diet of such adventurous, exotic yarns as I did probably would, too.


Rick Robinson said...

Sounds a little like a Tintin adventure without the high quality artwork of Hergé.

James Reasoner said...

Some of the reviews compare it to Tintin, but I've never read any of those so I couldn't really draw that comparison myself. The art is inconsistent, mostly okay, really good at times, and too crude and unfinished-looking in a few panels. But still a heck of a lot better than I could do! I could draw better in first grade than I can now.