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RACER X

Tommy Yune returns to explore Racer X's mysterious past

By Benjamin Wright     August 30, 2000

'Unknown to Speed, Racer X is secretly his older brother, Rex, who ran away from home years ago!'

Every time this line was rattled off by the narrator of the classic 1960s cartoon Speed Racer, viewers knew they were in for wild action and unequaled coolness. Such things were guaranteed whenever Racer X appeared. In fact, many fans would say that Racer X is Speed Racer's most memorable character, but not because of his amazing skill and charisma. No, Racer X's appeal is based on mystery.

The Speed Racer TV series revealed little about the masked racer. How did the talented hothead who was Rex Racer become the masked mystery known as Racer X? Years passed between Rex's disappearance and Racer X's introduction on Speed Racer. So, what happened during that time?

Origin Story

Enter Tommy Yune, WildStorm writer/artist extraordinaire and Speed Racer fanatic, whose new, three-issue Racer X mini-series hits stands today. Riding hot on the heels of the breakaway success of his Speed Racer prequel mini-series, Yune's Racer X three-parter endeavors to answer some of the questions surrounding Rex's past. Penned by Yune and illustrated by Jo Chen, the story is interlaced with the first mini-series and serves as yet another prequel to the classic TV series

In doing prequels, Yune's adding to a body of work that includes the original 1960s series, 1993's The Further Adventures of Speed Racer and even a full-blown anime remake by Tatsunoko in 1997. 'We took everything into consideration,' says Yune on the subject of continuity. 'We decided to stick with the original, because that's what the majority of the fans remember.'

So, beyond nostalgia, what can fans expect from this series? 'Basically, the underlying story is very dramatic--it's a romantic adventure at its core, if you can believe that!' says Yune. But that doesn't necessarily mean some mysterious woman influenced Rex's choice of lifestyle. 'No, Rex's lifestyle actually has a detriment on his personal life,' continues Yune. 'In a way, that's what makes this story tragic.'

This tragic, romantic adventure involves Rex's determination to become the world's racing champion. But fans interested in exploring Rex's career as an Interpol agent will have to wait for another series. 'This predates that,' says Yune, explaining that the story will hinge on racing, not spying. 'This is Rex's personal quest for redemption, his soul-searching. He's basically a racing prodigy, and as a brash youth, one of the things that he lacked was discipline and self-control. That's what initially gets him kicked out of his own father's racing team. As he travels to search for a basic sponsor, he finds a mentor--one who is, much to his surprise, even more reckless than he is.'

As it happens, savvy fans of the original TV series already know who the mentor is: Kabala, prince of Kapetapek, who was mentioned in episodes 16 and 17. This was the only time the series gave any real hint of Racer X's background, naming the man who taught Rex how to race in the mountains. 'It's a really great trivia question,' says Yune. 'And those who don't know [the show] are gonna think this is a kinda cool, new backstory.

Character Study

Regardless, new and old fans alike will finally be able to see how Rex became the ironclad-cool character seen on the show. 'Kabala forms the crux of the story,' continues Yune. 'Racer X comes to the island nation of Kapetapek in the midst of international turmoil. The prince seemingly has control of the island, but at the same time he's even more reckless with his own life than Rex is with his. By becoming the apprentice of this prince, Rex learns a lot more about himself and comes to terms with himself.'

Any seasoned anime fan will recognize this type of character as an archetype that keeps popping up in the medium. Be it Racer X, Roy Fokker (from Macross/Robotech), or even Hawk (Avery Brooks in Spencer for Hire), the character's always cooler than the hero, and yet not the hero--he's the mentor. 'It's a common archetype,' says Yune, 'and you'll see that even in Racer X, where Prince Kabala plays that role.'

Considering the swift cancellation of the Hawk spin-off TV series, which placed the mentor in the hero role, Yune's decision to swap young Rex into the hero role and to place Kabala in the mentor role seems particularly wise. 'Well, my personal analysis into that is if a guy is too cool, then he doesn't give the audience anything to identify with,' muses Yune. 'When an audience sees vulnerabilities and imperfections in the main character, they feel like they can relate to them. I think that's important. It makes the main character more realistic, more human. In my story, Rex is just really, really cool, but not too cool.'

The other question on many fans minds is how big a role Racer X's car, the Shooting Star, will play in the series. 'You'll see the Shooting Star introduced,' says Yune. 'But the story is less about the Shooting Star and more about Racer X himself and his relationship with Kabala. But yes, you will see the Shooting Star. And to everyone's surprise, you'll find out who built it. And, of course, the guy who built it is also another side character yanked out of the Speed Racer lore.'

Creative Energy

While Yune isn't revealing the engineer's identity, the inclusion of so many minor characters certainly shows that he's a big fan of the TV series. In fact, his work on Speed Racer and Racer X is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. 'It was a pleasant surprise,' explains Yune. 'I always enjoyed Speed Racer, but hadn't really pursued doing it. Then, about two years ago, I found out that the license for Speed Racer had come to WildStorm.' Even though he was still the new guy at WildStorm then, he knew the most about Speed Racer lore. His proposal went over well, and WildStorm's first Speed Racer mini-series was born.

Yune both wrote and illustrated the original mini-series, but this time around he's turned the art duties over to Chen. 'I think she's a phenomenal artist,' says Yune. 'Also, she has a really authentic shojo style,' referring to the Japanese tradition of 'girls comics.' 'It's a far more mature style, as well. She's gonna kill me if I typecast her into girls' comics! But not only does she draw dramatic characters very well, but she can draw cars, which is very difficult to find in an artist, especially a woman. She's phenomenal.'

Phenomenal though Chen may be, fans of Yune's Speed Racer art will want to know why he's not illustrating Racer X himself. The answer amounts to time. 'I'm doing something related to Danger Girl,' confesses Yune. 'It's an as-yet unsolicited project that I'm tinkering around with on the sidelines. I've also got other little projects in the pipeline. Just this month, I've got a little Cybernary storyline that just went to press in the WildStorm Thunderbook.'

As for future Speed Racer or Racer X projects down the road, Yune is certainly keeping his options--and creative floodgates--open. 'You know, I've already thought of more stories in my head,' says Yune. 'But it depends on how the projects I'm currently working on pan out. There's always a place in my heart for Speed Racer. If the opportunity arises, I'd definitely take it.'

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