Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer is such a distinctive and singular work for one artist. When I was younger, I often thought that no-one should even attempt new stories and comics without his distinctive touch involved. It was unthinkable – akin to comic book heresy.
The downside to one man’s vision was that the original Rocketeer storyline was put out so infrequently that it took over a decade to complete. To make matters worse, Dave Stevens passed away in 2008, leaving the world with a revered and unrivaled collection of work.
Time has the ability to change the opinions we all had as kids. So, with IDW’s Rocketeer Adventures 2 #1 I treated it not with the disdain of a jaded teenager, but as the welcome return of an old friend.
For now, IDW has kept this series, like the one before it, an anthology of short stories. Opening the pages of the first story, The Good Guys, was a lot like opening a time capsule. Not much has changed for stunt pilot Cliff Secord since the character first appeared 30 years ago. In case you were wondering, the mysterious rocket pack and distinctive helmet are most certainly in evidence.
The story opens in 1939. Secord, in full Rocketeer regalia, is doing what you’d expect him to be doing: flying. Not just any flying mind you, but a nail-biting, death-defying escape through the clouds as two enemy biplanes are in hot pursuit. A mid-air accident between the planes results in an explosion that causes the jet pack to malfunction, sending our hero plummeting to the ground.
Secord lands in the midst of a small rural community, where an inquisitive boy named Lucas finds him alive, but a little worse for wear. Before any questions can be answered, Cliff pushes the small boy away from an oncoming car driven by Lucas’ father. He gets hit in the process, and the unconscious Secord is taken into the family’s house.
It’s there that the townspeople begin a debate about what should be done with this mysterious stranger from the skies. Is he the menacing vigilante that a newspaper claims him to be? Or is he something more? Something that the world needs: a good guy.
This opening story is the best of the issue. Like a whirlwind trip through the skies, you think it’s going in one direction and veers off into places unexpected. It’s the closest in terms of Dave Stevens’ themes and, most importantly, artwork.
Sandy Plunkett’s drawing style and attention to detail is so similar to Stevens’ that I at first thought I was looking at a lost story from the archives. The artwork is just that good. Ultimately, this piece works because of its moral debate among the townspeople, and the grey areas in between. These are issues that not only affect Cliff Secord’s life, but indeed our own.
If the first story was designed to fit snugly into canon, the second, The Ducketeer, is decidedly not. The piece is meant to be a parody of Looney Tunes and casts a Daffy Duck-like character in the title role.
Its very loose story is broken up into several madcap vignettes showing our ‘hero’ being sent on a mission to obtain a secret shrinking ray from the Nazis, repeatedly failing in his clumsy attempts to take off properly, and battling a Nazi soldier who bears a suspiciously striking resemblance to Marvin the Martian.
While the painterly artwork and script are unique, the creative team’s deliberate messy and avant-garde approach to The Ducketeer hinders its potential. The story is at times very hard to follow, and struggles to find a happy medium. Is it Looney Tunes or The Rocketeer?
Not that I’m saying the two can’t gel, it just sadly does not do it here. Having said that, I will say that I appreciate what The Ducketeer was trying to do within the context of the anthology format of this comic. Things need to get mixed up some times, and experimentation is good. Even if it does not work, it’s great that the editors behind Rocketeer Adventures 2 let it happen.
The capper to this trilogy is A Dream of Flying. It’s a very endearing story that involves a child’s wish to fly. It begins with Cliff being held at gunpoint in a barn, by a farmer wanting the rocket pack for his own greed-driven devices.
Just when it looks like Cliff’s luck may have finally run out, a young farm boy sneaks up from behind, hitting the farmer on the head with a stick of wood. Seizing the opportunity, Cliff knocks out the farmer with one swift uppercut to the jaw. As a reward, Secord grants the boy his wish and takes him on an exhilarating ride through the clouds.
The writing and message of this tale is sweet and well told. It shows once again the positive relationship that The Rocketeer has with children, and what he means to them. He gives them hope and furthers their imaginations for the better.
However, the one drawback to an otherwise enjoyable story is the artwork. While pleasing to the eye, it is overly simplistic and a little out of place with the drama and themes contained within the writing of piece. All in all though, A Dream of Flying serves it purpose and ends this first issue on a very high note.
Rocketeer Adventures 2 #1 is a win-win on two levels. Firstly, it keeps the character alive in new and bold ways of storytelling. Secondly, proceeds from the book are donated to charities involved with hairy cell leukemia, the disease which sadly struck down Dave Stevens.
So, really do yourself a favor and not only pick up this issue, but the rest of the upcoming monthly series as well. It keeps The Rocketeer’s, and Dave Stevens’, memory flying!