Book of the Month
What did the
Colorist: Laura Martin
I'm late to the game on The Rocketeer twice-over. First, I'm late in experiencing and enjoying The Rocketeer as a comic. Way late. You see, my first exposure to The Rocketeer didn't come from the comic, rather from the Disney movie in the early 1990s. In fact, despite being an avid comic reader back then, the fact that this was a comic book movie completely eluded me. I didn't even know the comic existed. As I got older and my comic book knowledge grew, I became aware of the existence of The Rocketeer as an indie comic and its creator Dave Stevens, but never actually read it. The original, first story was printed as back up stories to Mike Grell's StarSlayer series published by Pacific Comics in 1982 and the second follow up story got the proper complete issue treatment by Comico Comics in 1988 and 1989, but only for 2 issues, the final 3rd issue was published by Dark Horse Comics in 1995. The Rocketeer is an example of some of the amazing work that was done in the 1980s independent comics scene that now, 20+ years later runs the risk of falling through the cracks. So many great comics were published by independent publishers that may never get the proper reprinting that they deserve. Lucky for us and The Rocketeer, IDW has put together this amazing, updated collection gathering all of The Rocketeer comics in one handy volume.
And that's where I'm late to the game for the second time. IDW released this collection (as well as a more expensive, deluxe edition) at the end of 2009/beginning of 2010. Everyone was raving about these collections, but it wasn't until recently that I got the opportunity to pick it up, and give it a proper reading.
I'm so mad at myself right now. First for not chasing down this comic before 2010, and second for not getting this collection the day it came out.
Simply put, every bit of hyperbole you may have heard about The Rocketeer comics and Dave Stevens is completely and utterly valid and accurate. Reading this comic was one of the most fun experiences I've had in a while, reminding me what can be done with this outstanding medium of comic books.
The book has a simple premise/set-up: Los Angeles, 1938, Cliff Secord, a down on his luck stunt airplane pilot who can't make enough money to keep his girl Betty, stumbles upon a top-secret rocket pack, dons a helmet and stumbles into becoming The Rocketeer. Then of course he gets caught up with government agents, Nazi spies and much more than he bargained for.
Dave Stevens was able to, in the span of just a few chapters of story, tap into the imagination of comic fans with simple, key themes like pulp heroes of the 1930s, science fiction (with the jet pack), Nazis (always great villains), romance (or lack of romance), and non-stop excitement and action. It's no wonder this comic was adapted into a movie; every panel oozes with action and adventure, bringing together all the makings of a great story. Stevens was no slouch when it came to art either, from his sci-fi influenced design of the rocket pack itself, to Betty who was not too subtlely modeled after the great Bettie Page, Stevens created this world of L.A. in the grand, early Hollywood days so accurately, that this story made me want to go watch L.A. Confidential after reading it.
What makes this collection extra special is the care and love that IDW put into the production. The entire comic was re-colored by Laura Martin, a decision/recommendation made my Dave Stevens before he passed away, and the man made the right call. Martin's colors are able to give an updated and vibrant look to Steven's art. The art itself is beyond fantastic, balancing great design elements of the 1930s and the type of stories that Stevens was channeling with his own drafting that kept a solid cartooning style just when it needed it. Particularly, I was impressed with Stevens use of layouts and depiction of action within the story. Depicting aerial maneuvers and action is no easy feat in the pages of comic books, but Stevens was able to do it with ease. Additionally, his use of location; Los Angeles in the first story and New York City in the second, was something that added to the atmosphere and feel of the story, transporting you to those cities in those time periods.
The history of the comic book industry is dominated by institutions, creations that have endured decades, but there are also creations that were single moments of brilliance, often too short. The Rocketeer will always be remembered as one of those brilliant moments. The best compliment I can give The Rocketeer is that instantly after finishing the issue, I was immediately depressed that there weren't more stories to be read with these characters in this world. Luckily, IDW has put together an amazing collection that not only celebrates the work of Dave Stevens, complete with back matter such as covers and additional artwork, for me to marvel over.
Man, I wish there were more..
Buy The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures at Amazon.