The first gym leader in every Pokemon game is usually a bit of an idiot. They almost always have a team that is weak to two, if not all three starter choices, and it’s difficult not to be drastically overleveled if you simply battle all of the trainers on the way there. The most recent introductory gym leader, Sword & Shield’s Milo, deserves to be stripped of his badge immediately – or at least told to focus more on training decent ‘mons than training his lats, eh?
Brock falls into the same category of “how did this eejit get a gym?” although he’s much better than pretty much all of his generation counterparts. Sure, Black & White technically has the best first gym, but there are three gym leaders in it and none of them individually are half as intriguing as the premise behind them as a collective unit. So, in terms of being a fascinating person in and of himself, Brock wins the award for best rubbish first gym leader, because outside of training Pokemon, he’s actually a pretty decent dude.
In the original Red & Blue, Brock’s Onix is one of the most impressive Pokemon in any of the first few gyms. An enormous rock snake that could outpace a Lamborghini? Amazing. Shame it can’t take more than a hit or two from babies like Bulbasaur and Squirtle – and, in FireRed & LeafGreen, Charmander thanks to Metal Claw. Still, it manages to articulate the scale of Pokemon right from the get-go. Five minutes ago you were fending off bugs in a forest, now there’s an angry floating head with boulder biceps bouncing around the room like a bird who’s just accidentally flown into your kitchen, except instead of feathers it’s made of, you know, rocks.
But again, Brock’s main points of intrigue don’t come from his gym or ability as a trainer. I’m not talking about the anime here either, mind, although I do think he’s great in that, too – the frying pan drying pan line is still some of the best writing in television history.
In Pokemon Let’s Go, a spin-off designed to entice younger audiences into experimenting with Game Freak’s iconic series, Brock’s role in the game is completely repurposed. He’s easier to kick around than ever, especially given that your superpowered Eevee or Pikachu is given powerful counters to his ‘mons at a low level, but he doesn’t just become irrelevant after you nab the Boulder Badge. Instead, he follows you throughout the game and gives you help on your journey, proving that there’s more to Brock than a level 14 Onix – he even gives you the Hot Tea that took all of us 1,000 years to find as kids, which made loads of people angry because apparently Pokemon is too easy now. OK, bud. Let’s make our favourite series less approachable to youngsters because our big 25-year-old brains think the exposition in a game designed for children is a bit heavy-handed. Brilliant idea, that – have you considered applying to be the president of Nintendo?
There are other gym leaders in future games that do a bit of roaming around the map, too. I was Nuzlocking Black & White recently and beat up some Team Plasma eejits in their cheap knight cosplays with Burgh, although it’s just not the same. Burgh doesn’t quite treat you with the same level of mutual respect as Brock – the only non-rival trainers I can think of that even compare to how natural it feels are Lorelei and Cynthia, and they’re both Elite Four members. As far as Pokemon gym leaders go, Brock isn’t the strongest, or even the most fascinating. He is one of the best in the series in terms of character consistency, though, and despite the fact we’ve already had two separate sets of Kanto remakes – three if you include its appearance in HeartGold & SoulSilver – seeing how Brock could potentially be redesigned for yet another outing from Pallet Town intrigues me.
I just hope the poor lad is given a few new ‘mons next time around. I know he gets some extra Pokemon in Gens 2 and 4 that make him at least a bit more formidable, but come on. There’s an Aerodactyl fossil literally around the corner from him. He’s got Omastar and Kabutops in HeartGold & SoulSilver, which means he’s absolutely been to the fossil restoration lab on Cinnabar Island, so what gives, eh?. Give the man his pterodactyl made of ancient boulders – it’s the least he deserves if he’s sound enough to escort us around some of the originally arcane but now-actually-decent points of progression in Kanto. He’s one of the most instantly likeable gym leaders in the entire series, despite being the first one we ever met and, as a result, likely the first one we rage quit over as kids. Surely that has to count for something.
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