|Review by Clay N Ferno|
Summertime is the best time to catch up on reading! One of the classic comic characters I have always wanted to know more about, since seeing his 1991 film was The Rocketeer.
The pulp hero, inspired by art deco design and the creations of Howard Hughes (see The Aviator) was the titular work of Dave Stevens, a cartoonist and storyboard artist that passed away in 2008.
IDW released an accessible paperback volume of our hood ornament of a hero with The Rocketeer The Complete Adventures in association with the Stevens Estate. The publisher and Stevens before his death tapped the talented Laura Martin to remaster the colors for the hardcover edition.
This book is the best independent comics has to offer, a legendarily rare creation with extraordinary art and dogfight action.
The Rocketeer wasn’t created in the time of the pulps, but instead captures the spirit of that high-flying time in American history with Cliff Secord, The Rocketeer and his sometime pin-up gal pal Betty.
Back in 2013, we covered Mark Waid’s Rocketeer & The Spirit: Pulp Friction. The two heroes are a perfect pairing for an adventure, but this was all I knew of Cliff and Peevy the mechanic besides the film.
Reading the ‘real’ Rocketeer makes me itch for more of these kinds of tales, hopefully Waid, Langridge. Samnee and J. Bone continue to work on more tales of Cliff under the IDW imprint.
Though the 148 pages of The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures book seemed not nearly sufficient, immersing myself in the jet pack escapades from the mind of Stevens were difficult to put down.
We get a similar origin story for the down-on-his-luck Cliff finding the jet pack to first flight.
His trusty mechanic Peevy is more Alfred than sidekick as he fits Cliff with his signature helmet.
Sure enough, with great jet pack comes great responsibility, plus the original designer is on the lookout to recover his lost property.
Rounding out Cliff’s life is his complicated relationship with Betty — a Hollywood pinup starlet inspired by Bettie Page. (Page and Stevens eventually became friends in real life after his tribute to her form renewed interest in the Page image and pinup culture).
The Rocketeer isn’t merely a great story — the art is spectacular. From dogfight scenes with bi-planes to cartoony exaggerated thugs, Steven’s mastery of the page layout is at once classic and modern.
The references to pulp heroes and serials are numerous, but my favorite is a nod/cameo of The Shadow in ‘Cliff’s New York Adventure’. The star-struck lover follows his lady to New York out of jealousy but meets up with some old pals and eventually has to suit up.
In a time of reboots and more often than not, the not-so-clever rehashing of ideas, reading The Rocketeer feels like it has real teeth. The book revisits the golden age of pulp serials, but has an original voice, an exciting character that can fly and is an everyman with wide range appeal.
The award winning Stevens loved to draw pinups and take his time doing so. It might be hard to imagine a book like this being released in today’s market. Whereas we do have the film directed by Joe Johnson (Captain America: The First Avenger) to refer to as one of the best super hero films produced before our current Iron Man age of films.
A huge disadvantage is that there is not much of a back catalog or 75 years of stories to fall back on for The Rocketeer. What today would be an Image Comics release was released in drips and drabs over the course of the early eighties as backups in Pacific Comics and later Eclipse.
The Flash (‘90s television show) writers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo co-wrote some of what is included in this book, as well as developed the story for the movie. Support credit for this volume are such impressive comic book names as Arthur Adams, Geof Darrow, Dave Dorman and Paul Chadwick.
For that summertime nostalgia with bit of pencil skirt fetish, check out The Rocketeer The Complete Adventures. Continue to imagine yourself above the clouds looking down on everyone and zipping through the sky.