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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Rocketeer: Jetpack Treasury Edition

Written and drawn by: Dave Stevens
Colored by: Laura Martin
Lettered by: Carrie Spiegle
Publisher: IDW Publishing

What’s it about?
The Rocketeer tells the story of Cliff Secord, a stunt pilot who used to race a plane around in a "circus act" during the 1930s'.

That is, until the day Cliff found a very strange package hidden inside his airplane.
Some gangsters left it behind while they were being chased by the police.
What Cliff found that day was actually a working jet pack prototype!
What is good about it?
The Rocketeer is a very fun tribute to the old pulp characters from the serials of the late 30s/40s.
The character was created by Dave Stevens in 1982. The "series" originally ran as a feature in another comic book before getting his own title.

The stories read like actual short episodes from an old series or a radio serial. Often ending abruptly on a cliffhanger that gets quickly resolved in the first page of the following episode. Even though, as a continuous read, it's a very fast paced adventure very reminiscent of characters like Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Question or The Shadow. As such, it's a nice change from most "super hero" comics that make constant use of alien threats, monsters, robots, costumed criminals or other creatures. Here it's the adventures of a more reality grounded hero in a simpler fashion. A true pulp hero!
This book actually collects the original complete first graphic novel!Which read as a whole, bringing the story full circle to a closed ending.

The story takes place in 1938. Dave Stevens did a fantastic work at both recreating that era visually, in clothing, cars, dialogues, as well as imitating the comic book format of the time. There's a lot of thought bubbles instead of narration boxes like most comics in the 80s were starting use, big full body shots in panels.

It's a comic made out of love for a simpler genre that was getting eclipsed due to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen or Batman: Year One that reshaped the industry into a more complicated, darker and grittier place.
The Rocketeer is full of homages and references to these forgotten optimistic stories, mostly the Rocket Man character from the TV serial "King of the Rocket Men" and its similar series.
Cliff's girlfriend is also none other than a Bettie Page-like character, the queen of the pinup genre. Called Betty in-story, she's the voice of reason and strong female figure in Cliff's life. She gets a better role in the sequel stories though, encouraging our hero in the heroic deeds most of the times, here the time is mostly spent on developing Cliff alone.

What is bad about it?
As much as I like the Indiana Jones-esque tone of The Rocketeer, it might not be everyone's cup of tea.
Don't search a real portrayal of the early WW2-era.
The characters are realistic, but there still are very stereotypical and parodical (in a good way) - not real!
Our hero is very heroic and very American.
Characters might feel flat compared to deeper modern graphic novels!

Various bad people want to get their hands on the rocket pack.
Nazi villains who are here to be simply the villains, US government secret agents also want to get the pack, and things get complicated when Cliff's also chased by other 3rd parties.

That's the reverse side of a true "pulp" story. Good vs evil, a "black or white" mentality. It's at its worst, cartoony.
But if you're all on board for it, like myself, then enjoy! It's a very nice breath of fresh air in this medium nowadays!

Also, there's some "sexy" artwork!
I guess it works both way, Cliff is also easy on the eyes, ladies.
Dave Stevens was mostly a pinup and cover artist, Adam Hughes quoted Stevens work as his influence and inspiration! I guess you know what to expect if you're familiar with the later (his work on Catwoman, Wonder Woman, etc.)

And finally, Dave Stevens died in 2008, due to complications with leukemia.
That doesn't relate to the book itself directly, but it is sad enough to mention as a bad point...

What’s the art like?
The art does look amazing!
This is quality comics, I wish more book could offer this level of quality!
Every panel looks amazing, the art looks timeless - which is always a plus for a story taking place in the 1930s, drawn in the 1980s!

As you can see, the art is fantastic! Dynamic, it's not as messy and saturated in lines as other 80s comics.
And if that wasn't enough, the book as been completely recolored Laura Martin. With gorgeous colors that pop off the page and truly compliment Stevens' lineart. Stevens worked closely with IDW regarding the restoration of the book, prior to his death.

Here's a comparison, featuring one of the "dirtier pages" (which as pinup-ysh as it is, feel classier than most art on more mainstream comics these days...):

It comes natural, from an artist that respects the female body, even if this was clearly to allure the reader.
The new colors breath some new life into these pages.

Other information
ISBN: 978-1-61377-114-3
64 pages - Color - FC • Cardstock

Priced at approximately £6.50

Easy to come by, even if printed as a limited run originally.

If you want to read the entire Rocketeer run by Dave Stevens, beyond the first trade paperback reprinted here, there's also a more expensive complete collection either as
The Rocketeer: The Complete Collection HC • FC • 144 Pages • ISBN: 978-1-60010-538-8
or in an even more expensive edition, adding various sketches, concepts, etc as
The Rocketeer: The Complete Deluxe Edition HC • FC • 248 Pages • ISBN: 978-1-60010-537-1

IDW also published some new original stories by various guest artists, expanding the adventures - which have been collected in the following:
Rocketeer Adventures Vol. 1 fearuting such artists as Mike Allred, Alex Ross, Mike Mignola and many more!
The series was sadly canceled, but it sold enough to warrant an upcoming new on-going series expected for 2013 at the latest! (which I'm personally not that much awaiting, I much rather preferred a self-contained story for The Rockteer...)

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