Never trust adults, certainly not anyone over 30.
That’s one of the half-serious, half-playful premises behind sci-fi comic Rocket Girl which spotlights a future in which the entire New York City police department is made up of adolescents.
Rocket Girl taps into that earnest teenage yearning to change the world as well as the requisite distrust of adults and authority figures. As such, it has a ready and willing audience among the young adult readership, but even better, it has something to offer adult readers as well.
Realistically, of course, teens would be far too emotionally tempestuous to serve as effective peace officers, but nevertheless it’s the kind of idea that works just fine in young adult fiction and it works fine here too except for the fact that the how’s and why’s of the NYTPD (New York Teen Police Department) are not really explained.
Nevertheless, in Rocket Girl, officer Dayoung Johansson goes back in time to investigate the purported crimes of the Quintim Mechanics corporation. She travels to 1986 when the company first invents the so-called Q Engine that changes everything and allows Quintim to become the Evil Empire of the future.
Rocket Girl addresses an aspect of time travel that is conveniently ignored in many time travel works which is the very real prospects of self-oblivion for those who seek to manipulate events in the past. It isn’t just a matter of affecting something arguably small like causing the yo-yo to never to be invented, for instance. Logically speaking, changing one thing could potentially negate one’s entire future world and, by extension, one’s own being. In fact, part of Dayoung’s heroism lies in the fact that if her mission is successful she would be cancelling out her own world and (it is implied) her own existence. Yet she accepts the mission anyway.
There’s a fair amount of humor here, including of the slapstick variety but, characteristically, it’s at the expense of the adult characters whose foibles and dim-wittedness are contrasted against Dayoung’s sober internal monologue. Again, we’re given that sense that the world would be saner and better off in the hands of conscientious teens like her.
I quite liked Rocket Girl but had just a few small problems with it.
First, the future world-altering implications are not resolved in a way that was clear to me. Did I miss something? I don’t know.
Second, if Quintim Mechanics is the big, bad adult-controlled corporate entity that controls everything in the future and privatizes law enforcement, why do they build their police force with passionate, idealistic teenagers when, rebellious in nature as they are, they’re predisposed to wanting to bring down the powers that be? Or, as in the Matrix trilogy, is this part of the control mechanism? Again, not clear.
Third, and this isn’t so much a problem as a minor question, I’m not exactly sure who this comic is targeted towards. The story, the teenage protagonist, the characters in general, and much of the dialogue would all lead me to think that a YA readership is the primary audience here, but unless kids nowadays are smarter and more science literate than I ever was at their age (which is quite possible) they are liable to become confused about a few things as I was regarding the alteration of Dayoung’s future world and even herself.
Amy Reeder’s smooth and delicate yet detailed artistic style is delightful, particularly when she juxtaposes Dayoung against the present and future New York cityscape. One of her sequences, a rocket-fueled chase through the subway tunnels of present-day NYC, is just incredible. And her future-NYC is vibrantly realized with a true futuristic feel. As for the cute but determined Dayoung, she is a pearl of character design. Green-eyed and freckled, cute but not over-sexualized, and looking as if she’s just flown out of some iconic anime film, her feline expressions are sure to make teen readers of all genders come down with crushes for her. And her white-and-black costume, while probably intended to resemble a police vehicle, also serves to represent the black-and-white manner in which adolescents tend to view right and wrong.
Also, though I no longer have an ethnic axe to grind like I used to long ago, a nice little bonus is that Rocket Girl is the surprisingly rare work based in New York City that actually reflects the diversity of that city, not just in the background but in the foreground where the action is. Dayoung herself is of mixed heritage, a fact which I confirmed with writer Brandon McClare over Twitter.
Speaking of ethnicity, a little visual detail that I appreciated is the use of the hangul (Korean) characters 다영 (which spell the name Dayoung) in an attractive neon glow at the beginning of each issue/chapter in this volume. Also, if you look carefully, you can see that these same characters are used to nice effect in the design of Dayoung’s uniform on her helmet and torso (design wise, it probably helps that hangul is a very symmetrical alphabet).
Rocket Girl ends with an intentionally open and ambiguous ending. Image Comics has already made an announcement regarding the series but I won’t say what it is in case you’d rather read this first volume with that ambiguity present.