Thursday, May 31, 2012

CBR The Rocketeer


It's the turn for an all-time classic!
I already reviewed another Rocketeer book, The Rocketeer: Jetpack Treasury Edition for another blog, New Readers.
Now let's dig into....

The complete Rocketeer experience, Deluxe-sized!!

Comic title: The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventure - DELUXE Edition
Art & story by Dave Stevens
Colors by Laura Martin
Additional help from Mike Kaluta,Paul DeMeo, Sandy Plunkett, Art Adams and more...

Published by IDW Publishing
From 2010
Lineup The Rocketeer
Format: Giant-sized omnibus TPB, reprinting The Rocketeer book 1 and book 2 originally published as back-up stories in StarSlayer and then The Rocketeer on-going series plus additional behind-the-scenes material such as sketches and scripts and more!

Dave Stevens is a fantastic talented artist that was sadly taken away fromthe world way too soon.
This discret author came from the indie scene, he actually worked for Hanna-Barbera Productions before, worked on various series such as Spider-Man, Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, Star Wars, and on some movie screenplays such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Michael Jackson's Thriller.
But no one doubts that his lifetime achievement still is through and through The Rocketeer.

Even now over 20+ years later, this little independent comic is still quite fondly remembered and loved all over the world. And for a reason.
Even though most remember it thanks to the Disney movie in the early 1990s, it brought the comic under the spotlight for many others.

Dave Stevens passed away after a long fight with leukemia he kept secret from most of his friends and coworkers in March 10, 2008.

The Rocketeer was originally published as back-up stories in Mike Grell's Starslayer indie book, starting in 1981.
The first story was published from '81 to '85, and consists of chapters 1 to 5.

It is a period piece. Set in Los Angelese, 1938.
The story is about Cliff Secord, an happy-go-lucky reckless daredevil airplane pilot.
Cliff has been having some money troubles, specially if he wanna keep up with his girlfriend Betty who is an actress and model in Hollywood.
One day he stumbles upon a top secret rocket pack prototype some criminals were hiding aboard his plane.
Cliff has his best friend and mentor Peev work up a special helmet he dons, along a red jacket and up, up, and away goes The Rocketeer!
And from one day to another, Cliff ends up caught in the middle of government conspiracies, a world of spies, secret Nazi agents... well in over-his-head as you might say.

Surfing on simple themes from pulp heroes of the 1930s, Dave Stevens' Rocketeer is simply put, a love letter and a tribute to the old serials of the past.
The book employs a simple light science fiction element (the rocket pack) and ground this tale in a more realistic environment that his contemporary masked superheroes (in the 80s or nowadays).
The tone is a mix of all kinds of great comics from that time, action, adventure, romance. It appeals to the dream everybody ever has, what if a man could fly.
 It's a light hearted tale, full of car chases, aerial fights. Not a full blown superhero genre, some of the usual plotpoints are brought up - the secret id, villains - but are not part of the main dilemma. Which keeps this book more realistic than, say, Batman. Closer to old pulp heroes such as Tarzan, The Spirit.

And what makes the charm of The Rocketeer is how apart he is from the usual tropes of the medium.
Cliff is an unlikely hero, not motivated to act for the good of manking, but rather by personal interests. He's in for the money, for his girl.

The follow-up, the second Rocketeer story is called "Cliff's New York adventure", and was originally published from 1988 to 1995. Now in his own Rocketeer Adventure Magazine under Comico Comics.

Continuing were the original left off, it is a bit closer to a more traditional comic book.
It was actually made for a broader audience in mind, while Stevens was working a deal for the rights of the character with Disney, for a picture deal.

This time following The Rocketeer mostly in his civilian identity over most of this new story-arc.
It is a more classic story of vengeance, unraveling his childhood past and a mystery at the same time.
From the previous arc, only Betty is carried over, though only to frame the new story.
The supporting cast is expanded, with the likes of Goose Gander, another pilot and old friend of Cliff.
It is a darker atmosphere this time around, the action taking place in a very oppressive New York City. The story is still quite pulp, exposing a circus past.

Dave Stevens had various contributors help out while he was working on the movie adaptation or traveling around to Paris, etc. Mike Kaluta did some breakdowns and inks, the movie adaptation's co-screenwriter Paul DeMeo did some scripts for this new comics, some other colleagues and friends such as Sandy Plunkett and Art Adams helped finish some issues.

The story is left a bit open ended, a sequel - a third book - was supposed to follow-up on Betty and Cliff's unresolved relationship. The original idea was even pitched by Stevens at Dark Horse Comics. But sadly he moved on other projects, illustration and commission work mostly.

It's such a page-turner!
The original comic was asking for a movie adaptation, so much personality and character was oozing beyond the panels and the pages.

The artwork is simply gorgeous, Dave Stevens work didn't age a day. His artistic range covers various type of art style depending on the scene, from real life-like to more cartoony comic strips. There's a bit of pin-up influences in his style right alongside his more realistic and cartoon approaches to scenes.
Every detail was researched, clothing, people, manners, cars, vehicles. Hey, he even bought those boots actually for reference! Dave was great with planes in action, but also more scifi elements such as the futuristic rocketpack.
The art is big, bright and clean.
Actually, the main principal characters were based after himself and his circle of friends and idols. By using both photographic references and his own knowledge of figures. And it shows.
Betty was modeled after, well, pin-up model Bettie Page. Dave actually ended up meeting her in real life and the two even became good friends. He was the one who brought her back to the pop culture front through his work.

Most of the realism is given through Betty.
It is her relationship with Cliff that grounds the Rocketeer in "our" world.
It is also a window through the era, the sadly accurate male-dominated environment of the early-Hollywood settings. It's a cynical but reak look at the life of young starlettes in Hollywood in the 30s.
It's the aspect of Cliff's life that makes The Rocketeer live in a plausible world, which brinngs the only fictive element, the rocketpack, to life. Cliff accumulates bruises,..

You feel the period.
The whole thing is a big tribute to old pulp heroes from the 1930s and 40s.
An homage to old serials but also everything Dave Stevens was and loved. Dave IS The Rocketeer, his character share his personality, using him and his friends as basis for the characters make even secondary background characters full of life. And it also the reason why Betty feels so absent in the second tale, his muse Bettie Page left the place for his actual wife, and he was in the middle of a divorce during the 2nd book.

Like Indiana Jones, The Rocketeer design and suit is rooted in pulp stories. He's quite simple, realistic and iconic.
Stevens even managed to work in a Doc Savage allusion during the first story, but well integrated enough if one his familiar with the character that it doesn't detract from the experience in the opposite case.
The second story actually uses The Shadow as one of the main character, a lot more obvious, but never referred to in-name to avoid copyright issues and smartly used to flesh out this universe.

The whole Rocketeer has a very nostalgic feel of the time and fiction of that era, influenced by such as the King of the Rocket Men movie serials or the syndicated Commando Cody TV series.

Overall, it's a cult comic book!
And a perfectly example of what was being made on the indie scene in the 80s. And it just shows its quality, being still in print nowadays so long after it ended!
IDW re-released this updated collection for all to finally enjoy the complete experience in 2009/10.
It's a very fun entertaining experience

The first part is a perfect reflect of its author, the story is just that fun and the art so facinating.
"Cliff Secord in New York", the follow-up, has a bit less Rocketeer in it and is a more traditional vengeance story, with less spies chasing around, more linear and a bit less fun.

It's a nice mirror of its time.
It's fun to notice that like Edgar Wright with Scott Pilgrim nowadays, it was Joe Johnston's movie adaptation that helped make this indie comic famous originally.
The book is over 140 pages, the art is gorgeous. The book was edited in two releases, a Deluxe and a non-Deluxe edition. Of course the Deluxe one is more expansive but it contains a lot fun sketches and trivia, from concept arts to characters design to breakdowns and scripts. It also has a great foreword by Punisher actor Tom Jane who was friends with Dave Stevens and a huge Rocketeer fan.

This modern IDW reprint really his made from a lot of love for the character and its creator. From Rocketeer fans to fans.

The Rocketeer had been out of print for quite some time now, and it was with the cooperation of Dave Stevens before his death that this had all been collected.
It features a brand new coloring by renowned artist Laura Martin who had been personally chosen by Stevens to recolor the series.
Her "magic" colors by Dave's recommendations really update the overall look of the entire book. Keeping his gorgeous timeless art intact.

I give it:
  3 / 3 FlamingCarrots!