Rocketeer Adventures #1
Stories by John Cassaday, Mike Allred and Kurt Busiek
The Rocketeer was a quiet but brilliant little creation by Dave Stevens in the early 1980’s. Had Stevens’ work not managed to turn some heads and eventually land a Disney film property, it’s likely that the Rocketeer would be a largely forgotten book that only aristocrat-like comic enthusiasts spoke about in smoke filled comic shop backrooms… Or some such equivalent.
However, since Dave Stevens’ work did reach the mainstream, it began to get revered in a sense. The Rocketeer never truly became a hit, but it did manage to become iconic. Stevens was very attached to character and his passion was evident in his Rocketeer work, as it was in all of his art. When Dave Stevens died in 2008, it seemed as though his works, in particular the Rocketeer, would reach another level of mystique. As if somehow, the character was untouchable.
That is until IDW announced last year a Rocketeer mini-series involving some of the greatest talents in all of comics. It seems to me that IDW is using this mini-series to lessen, if not erase, some of that mystique. I mean that of course, in a good way. IDW seems intent on letting people know that the Rocketeer is in good hands and that, others can do the character justice. For many the Rocketeer died with Stevens, but like any good comic character, he should be immortalized. Of course this is just speculation on my part, but I’m hopeful that this will lead to an eventual regular release Rocketeer comic.
So how is the comic? Does it embrace the mythos well? I was both curious and optimistic heading into this new book from IDW. Read on if you want to know the answers to these questions and more.
I should preface the review by saying that I think the Rocketeer is a great idea in premise, more than execution. As much as I love Dave Stevens’ work and respect his passion and meticulous detail when it comes to the pulp nature of the original books… I think there was more untapped potential than fully realized greatness. Some folks may not realize that there is not a wealth of Rocketeer material out there. Stevens’ did just a handful of comics with the character over the course of several decades. His battle with leukemia and seemingly other interests, prevented him from doing much.
The best parts of the Rocketeer, for the most part, were extrapolated in the Disney Rocketeer film. The rest of the comics were a bit misguided, seemingly looking to be expanded upon, but never were. Stevens was more content with drawing sexy Bettie Page pin-ups and romanticizing Doc Savage pulp heroes, than truly realizing much of Rocketeer’s own world. That was always a sad reality, often not mentioned by those who wax on about the greatness of the character.
Perhaps Stevens’ best laid plans, were the ones that never came to fruition. He did indeed plan on many more Rocketeer adventures, ones where we learned more about the character and he was able to truly be a hero. One such adventure, involved a Martian invasion and a team up with a Fleischer-style Superman. I was not alone in imagining a larger Rocketeer world, Dave Stevens had that dream too.
Which brings us to the IDW book. Yes, we took a long way getting there, but knowing the history is what makes the book special. IDW offers us three mini-stories, one of which looks to be a multiple parter, and several pinups, all expanding upon the Rocketeer’s hero element. These are like short little glimpses into the Rocketeer’s world and finally, a bit of that untapped potential is coming to light. The Rocketeer is alive and vibrant in vivid glorious color.
The first story, simply titled “The Rocketeer” by John Cassaday, is not only beautifully rendered, it’s a perfect slice of 1950’s Saturday serial. The Rocketeer has to save Betty, while battling mobsters with a secret missile. It’s short, it’s sweet and it’s not a comic that makes you think. Rocketeer kicks butt and saves the day. I don’t think that’s a spoiler… This is exactly the kind of thing that the entire premise of pulp comics were based on.
The second is a multiple part story giving us a little more details on the mysterious “Shadow” known as Jonas. Along the way we discover another Rocketeer pack and helmet. Whether the story will unfold more with “Shadow” revelations (I imagine IDW will have to tread even more lightly than Stevens’) or where it will take us exactly, I don’t know. However it should be fun watching it unfold and I’m glad we get one multi-story arc here. This comic is drawn of course, in an entirely new style than the previous, but it feels no less Rocketeer.
Finally we have a unique story told through a series of flashback style letters from Cliff to Betty. We never actually see the Rocketeer in action, but he’s peppered throughout in tidbits of details and newspaper articles. Cliff is off fighting in World War II and along the way, he’s updating Betty about his day to day life. She too is dealing with trouble at home and eventually, the letters stop, leading to Betty worrying for Cliff’s safety. Can Cliff help end World War II?! Well, you’ll have to read to find out.
As well, in typical Rocketeer fashion, there are a couple of pinups. Most notably, an incredible one from Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart. There’s even a ton of variant covers to the comic itself, including a reprint from Dave Stevens himself and one from uber famous artist, Alex Ross.
So is this comic worth a buy? I think so. The Rocketeer Adventures from IDW doesn’t do anything to reinvent the wheel. In fact, it doesn’t attempt to reinvent the Rocketeer at all. These are just little snippets from Rocketeer’s adventures that weren’t published. You know, the ones you likely have imagined him in ever since you first picked up a Rocketeer comic years ago.
There is no origin story here, nothing for the first time reader, though to be honest, a first time reader would likely enjoy the story just as well. That’s the way old school comics were, you didn’t need a bunch of info on the hero, you could just pick up a comic and read. IDW has succeeded in what many thought was impossible. This isn’t IDW’s Rocketeer, this isn’t a new reboot Rocketeer, this is Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer. I hope there is a lot more to come.