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Published on March 18th, 2015 | by JCDoyle

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The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures – Review

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This week why not settle down with a coffee at the Bulldog Café and read IDW’s new reprinting of The Rocketeer?

Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer first appeared as a backup strip in the 1982 comic Starslayer published by Pacific Comics. Although only a few chapters were printed, first in Starslayer and then in Pacific Presents, the narrative and the artwork proved to be very popular. A three part follow up story was published between 1988 and 1995 and later collected into a trade under the title Cliff’s New York Adventure. Also during this time Disney produced a movie based on the character.

The Rocketeer may not have had a long lasting ongoing title but it made its mark on those that did discover it. So much so that 20 years after the last Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer comic was published, IDW are reprinting the entire Cliff Secord Adventure in a new trade paperback.

Rocketeer insert 1

It’s 1938, Los Angeles, and Cliff Secord finds an experimental rocket pack left in his stunt plane by a mysterious criminal. Cliff is a fly boy with a semi-dangerous flying job and a troubled love life but all of that is about to change now he has the rocket pack. The future will be filled with fame and fortune and Betty won’t need to look elsewhere for the high life she craves. At least, that’s how Cliff see’s it when he gets Peevy, a mechanic, to design him a helmet to go with the rocket pack.

Not surprisingly it doesn’t turn out like that and in the first story arc Cliff becomes entangled in a web of intrigue involving G-Men, Nazi spies, drunken pilots and slimy glamour photographers.

Cliff is flawed hero, he’s impetuous, jealous and fool hardy but ultimately his heart is in the right place. If anything he is a working class hero striving to better the life of those around him while bringing down the rich and heartless of L.A.

Betty, on the other hand, is more world-weary with the L.A. scene and uses it to her advantage. One of the reasons she’s in love with Cliff is that he’s a ‘normal’ person, someone who is down to earth and she can rely on. This changes with the introduction of the rocket pack and the secrets surrounding it cause discord between them. She is a stunner and won’t be pushed around. At the end of the day she will do exactly what she wants to do, even if that means stripping naked for a photo shoot.

rocketeer insert 5

Stevens’ writing captures the noir 1940/50’s style of storytelling that inspired the creation of The Rocketeer. Many elements of the narrative are taken directly from the Rocket Man serials produced by Republic Pictures, with car chases and fuel shortages leaving the hero in dire straits. Other recognisable elements of pulp fiction are evident throughout the pages, the most notable is Cliff’s girlfriend Betty who is obviously based on the voluptuous Bettie Page. All of these elements are blended together to tell a rollicking adventure ride to rival Indian and all of his archaeological outings; it’s no surprise that Disney wanted to turn it into a feature film.

The visual design is unashamedly Art Deco and the Rocketeers’ costume is beautifully stylistic: rooted to the time period when it’s set but also it’s a timeless classic. In fact all of the characters are bursting with life and are uniquely designed. From the villains to the diner staff, each one has their own story and look. Stevens’ was so confident in his design that he never shied away from a long distant silhouette shot if the story needed it.

And I will admit to been a little in love with Betty, the delightful homage to Ms Page.

rocketeer insert 4

The second story arc ramps up the action and sends Cliff and Betty to the heady heights of New York where they get to mix with gangsters and stuffy high flyers before Cliff’s past put’s his life in danger. A flashback to his life as a carnie sets the scene for an over the top villain on a murderous rampage and only The Rocketeer can save the day.

The second arc has all of the elements that made The Rocketeer such a good read but it has been adapted to suit a 1990’s comic format. There are more open and larger panels that allow Stevens’ artwork to really excel. He is meticulous about perspective and choreographs the action sequences as if they were scenes from a movie: this is probably due to the fact he was a story boarder for some massive action films. There is a greater sense of enjoyment with the second story, as if Stevens was allowing his creativity more room to play. The characters are more larger than life than in the previous story, especially Lothar, the villain, and the new sidekick Goose.

Rocketeer insert 2

As a whole, the book is well presented and is awash with a selection of pin up style reprints of the covers used on previous publications. These are works of art in themselves and remind the reader just how good Stevens was at his craft. His figure and compositional work was of the highest standard which is why these comics are getting another reprinting. For a short series that was spread over a 13 year period, the number of people the comic reached and inspired has been astounding. If you don’t believe me just check out the names of those who worked on  IDWs The Rocketeer Adventures from 2011 onwards: Alex Ross, Tommy Lee Edwards, Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Mike Mignola, Jordie Bellaire, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave Giddons. The list goes on and on.

These two, short stories, contained so much character and were illustrated in such a stunning way that they caught the imagination of so many. In lesser hands this book wouldn’t exist as there would be no interest in The Rocketeer but Dave Stevens managed to create an Icon that captured the style of the 40’s and 50’s in a highly enjoyable way.

And to see these stories back in print for a new generation of readers is a tribute to Dave Stevens’ talent.

rocketeer insert 3

Title: The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures

Publisher: IDW Publishing

Artist/Writer: Dave Stevens

JCDoyle

JCDoyle

Lover of comics and Art and Sci-Fi in multiple media. Currently teaching my kids the ways of the Geek (while protecting my first editions)
JCDoyle

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