This is issue 2 of an anthology tribute to Dave Stevens’s The Rocketeer. An homage to Dave Stevens’s homage to the 30s and 40s. I bet you can guess my review is going to be about how the creative energy here is diluted.
I’ve expressed my ambivalence on this very website before about Dave Stevens’s beautifully illustrated, nostalgia-driven, industry darling of the 1980s.
I found the original Rocketeer rich in period detail but low-calorie in story. Of course, that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be — a slick, modern homage to classic movie serials. And sometimes all a comic *needs* to be is visually interesting anyway. In that respect, The Rocketeer is supposed to function in exactly the same way as Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark — those are low in story calories too.
The “mainstream” comics industry has evolved into something much like theater where we can have 5000 actors portraying Hamlet. We can also have 5000 artists and writers give us their take on Batman. What’s more unusual is to see this happening with an indy property. A good independent comic typically has an idiosyncratic style that doesn’t naturally lend itself to interpretation by others. This is particularly true when the power of the art overwhelms the story. (I didn’t get the point of that Spirit tribute series either.)
So here we have a situation where a group of talented artists and writers are asked to create tributes to Stevens’s tributes to the 40s and to keep it light and airy. The stories are 8 to 12 pages long, and the effective lack of narrative captions (a stylistic choice) means they don’t accomplish much in their limited allocated space. The unifying theme is: “Have the Rocketeer fly around for 8 pages, and give it an angle!”
And even then the story structures are confused. The story by Darwyn Cooke starts out with people watching a movie serial of the Rocketeer in a theater, then switches to the actual Rocketeer. The story by Lowell Francis and Gene Ha is an aerial battle entirely counterpointed with commentary from a boxing match, until the last few pages when it clumsily slips into word balloons to tie up the narrative.
The opening story by Mark Waid and Chris Weston is the best of the three. Mark Waid is underrated, I think. His comics typically have a good balance of action, heart, and positivity. That’s true here too, but he also tries to slip in a little meta-commentary about the foundation of the comics industry and the poor treatment of artists which seems a bit out of place and ultimately flippant in a 8-pager. Also, Stevens would not have approved of so much exposed skin on Betty.
I have to add too that personally I preferred every artist in here to Stevens. I know, shoot me. Stevens belonged to a tradition of “illustrative cartooning.” The problem with many of the illustrative cartoonists is at times, a kind of staginess in the posing and progression from panel to panel. Breathtaking, stunning, but occasionally stagey. Dave Stevens seemed to have that problem sometimes too.
I would recommend reading the original Rocketeer instead, or something *else* by Waid, Weston, Cooke, or Ha.
I would also recommend dishing out the money and buying this thing for the “Good Lord!” centerfold pinup by Geoff Darrow in which he has the balls to just be goddamn Geoff Darrow. It alone is worth the price of entry. If only the other creators involved could have followed suit.
P.S. Cliff Secord’s helmet falls off in all three stories.
Kumar Sivasubramanian is the writer of Weird Crime Theater.