Published on May 19th, 2014 | by Swamp Thing1
The Rocketeer – Building The MIM Helmet Kit
In 1982 a back-up story called The Rocketeer appeared in issue 2 of Pacific Comics’ Starslayer: The Log of the Jolly Roger. Created and drawn by Dave Stevens, The Rocketeer would be instrumental in getting him recognised as one of the most talented comic artists of his generation, but in 1982 he would have to settle for being the first to win Comic-Con International’s Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award. With The Rocketeer, Stevens had taken all of the ingredients of the pulp serials and films of the 30s and 40s and added a more burlesque feel to the humour, occasional flirting with eroticism but never really getting beyond ‘saucy’. From the outset it was clear that The Rocketeer was something special, an opinion reinforced by the long delays between instalments as a result of Stevens’ highly meticulous approach to his work. He also recognised that his creation was perfect source material for a movie, and he began working on a proposal in 1985 before eventually deciding to sell the rights to his character to The Walt Disney Company.
Fans of Stevens’ work got nervous. Comic book and superhero adaptations hadn’t exactly been wowing cinema audiences in the second half of the 1980s. Admittedly Tim Burton’s Batman was looking good (though in line with the law of diminishing returns, Joel Schumacher would eventually put that franchise out of everybody’s misery), but Christopher Reeve’s tenure as Superman had ended in a blaze of mediocrity with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and who could forget Howard the Duck? Everybody, one would hope. The new decade seemed to be getting off to a more promising start for comic fans, and whilst it may not have been to everybody’s taste (including most critics), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became the second highest-grossing independent film of all time. Sam Raimi’s pre Spider-Man outing Darkman also did decent business at the box-office. More mainstream comic characters didn’t fare so well in 1989 and 1990, however. Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher was a disappointment, The Return of Swamp Thing made back less than 10% of its already low budget, and 1990’s Captain America was a critical and box-office disaster.
It was into this fickle and unpredictable market that in 1991, Walt Disney Studios released The Rocketeer, a matinee action-adventurer that Disney hoped would convince filmgoers that the genre didn’t begin and end with a whip wielding professor in a fedora. Why they didn’t quite pull it off is worthy of a series of articles in itself (in short, the stunning stylized Art Deco poster looked wonderful but told the potential audience nothing about the film or who was in it – including the not quite replaced yet James Bond, Timothy Dalton – and having the Disney name attached bought with it the assumption it was a children’s film), but frankly it could have been worse. Early in The Rocketeer’s production there has been talk of redesigning the one thing that the fans considered to be sacrosanct when it came to look of The Rocketeer – his helmet. Dave Stevens’ wonderful Art Deco headgear epitomised the period feel of the comic he’d created nine years earlier, whilst at the same time making an appreciative gold-finned nod in the direction of the Saturday morning serials that had inspired him, most notably King of the Rocket Men and its sequels. Disney did make some aesthetic and story changes to Stevens’ work that set the fans grumbling, particularly the excising of pin-up queen Bettie Page from the storyline (though Stevens himself was presumably less concerned about the changes as he was heavily involved in the production as a hands-on co-producer and also makes a cameo appearance in the film), but thankfully in the end that iconic hardhat made it from page to screen pretty much unscathed.
For Rocketeer fans who have gone down the cosplay route, there have been few alternatives to scratch building both the helmet and rocket pack over the years. Disney and Master Replicas produced a limited edition metal helmet that sold out pretty quickly at its initial $399 price tag and now changes hands for £500 upwards on ebay, even though many fans don’t rate it that highly for accuracy. Monsters In Motion supply a rocket pack kit that’s an accurate copy of the film version (which in turn is very different from Stevens’ original comic version), but that comes in at £700 plus shipping from the States.
That brings us to the Monsters In Motion Rocketeer helmet kit. These days the term ‘kit’ seems to be applied to anything that isn’t pre-finished, and in the case of MIMs Rocketeer helmet it means that you’re going to get a single piece of hollow-cast resin that will need finishing (mainly cutting the eye holes and mouth grill) and painting. The only other ‘parts’ to the kit are the smoked acrylic lenses for the eyes (which confirm this to be a movie version as in the original comic art the helmet had much greener lenses). Whilst the need to do some work to complete the helmet will undoubtedly put some people off, it ticks a few very important boxes. Firstly, availability. As I mentioned earlier, the Disney/Master Replicas helmet is getting hard to find and consequently prices are getting prohibitive. The second tick goes alongside accuracy of the casting. Generally, fans consider the MIM kit to be as good as, many think better, than the Disney version, and certainly better than the majority of fan-built helmets kicking around on ebay. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the price. Currently the helmet kit sells for $199, plus another $58 for shipping to the UK. With the current strength of the £ against the $ we Brits are doing rather well on orders from the USA, so the helmet and shipping come to a total of £152. HMRC may slap duty and VAT onto that total if they’re in that kind of mood on the day your helmet reaches this scepter’d isle, but even so it’s an attractive price that compares favourably with similar helmet kits for Iron Man and Robocop, and with a lot less work to do to complete the costume than is the case for either of those ferrous gentlemen.
And so to formally open proceedings on this build, I ordered a Rocketeer helmet kit from Monsters In Motion on the 25th April 2014. As it’s a ‘made to order’ item the website says to allow 4-5 weeks for delivery, and that’s for delivery in the continental USA so I’m expecting as much as double that for delivery to the UK, though as is normally the case with Monsters In Motion my card won’t be charged until the item ships. Time to start watching the skies…