“The Rocketeer” #1

By | June 1st, 2023
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

The Rocketeer soars back into action and our hearts in a new anthology one-shot from IDW Publishing!

Cover by Adam Hughes

Written by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kelvin Mao, & Robert Windom
Illustrated by Adam Hughes, Craig Cermak, & Jae Lee
Colored by Adam Hughes, Laura Martin, & June Chung
Lettered by Karen L. Bates & Crank!

Dave Stevens’s beloved pulp hero, Cliff Secord, the Rocketeer, is back in an all new triple feature anthology from a fantastic group of industry legends. Carrying on the late Stevens’s legacy, this new one-shot features the heart, soul, and whimsy that made fans fall in love with “The Rocketeer” over 40 years ago.

There is a very specific mixture of dialogue and art that needs to come together to get a “Rocketeer” story just right. Because there is such a finite amount of entries for this character, the majority of which were written and drawn by creator Dave Stevens, this isn’t a property like “Batman” that has been handed over to hundreds of creators who have been able to put their own clear spin on it. At this point anything that strays too far away from the original tone and intention would feel like little more than fan fiction rather than a baton being passed. This endeavor would be hard enough to pull of with say, one or three creatives working on the title, but to have no less than eleven on a single issue goes to show that with the right people behind the book, you can get something that is wholly linked to the original books while having just enough of their thumbprint on it to make it their own special concoction. It also helps that some of the names on this book are also some of the writers and artists who helped make the collected “The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures” a thing of reality.

A beautiful comic from top to bottom, nearly all of the writing and artwork do feel like they are definitively part of The Rocketeer’s world. So much so that if Dave Stevens were still with us today I have no doubt that he would give this anthology his stamp of approval. A quick rundown of the three stories are “Amelia” by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Adam Hughes, and Karen Bates, followed by two untitled entries. The first, by Kelvin Mao, Craig Cermak, Laura Martin, and Karen Bates. And the second by Robert Windom, Jae Lee, June Chung, and Crank!

“Amelia is equal parts sentimental and classic Rocketeer pulp adventure. It gives us a bit of a peek into Cliff’s past and present. He has now been the Rocketeer for almost a year and the story flashes back between an early encounter with the one and only Amelia Earhart when he was a boy and how they kept in touch over the years. When Cliff learns of Amelia’s famed disappearance during her flight around the world. He once again straps on the rocket pack and goes searching for her. The dialogue moves back and forth between silly and heartfelt making this first story one that fully captures the magic of this series. And in no small part, Adam Hughes’s stunning art throughout is something truly special. Every page feels ripped from Stevens’s original works. Hughes’s clear reverence for the source material, and his own ability to draw and color in a way that feels both of the now and classic pulp fiction (See “Hellboy: Krampusnacht” and “Betty & Veronica”) makes him the perfect choice to kick off this book. You can hear James Horner’s score from the 1991 film adaptation playing with the turn of every page.

The second story is about as classic Rocketeer as you can get. Bumbling, fumbling, foot-in-mouth shenanigans plague Cliff as he tries to make it to a lecture at the museum that Betty begs him to attend with her. It has all the makings of not only a “The Rocketeer” storyline, but nearly any superhero you can think of. It’s the longest story of the three so it gives Cliff and Betty plenty of time to bicker, swoon, kick ass, and thwart a major crime. It even ends with an unspoken hint at another beloved 1930s adventurer – without violating any rights issues. Mao’s writing is probably the closest to what readers got in the classic series. The illustrations by Cermak aren’t as heavily detailed as Stevens’s work was, or even in a similar way to Hughes’s, but he also perfects a blending of here/now and there/then with every panel. Every moment is gorgeous, bright, and lets some things pop while also allowing for emotion and storytelling to pull out ahead rather than needing extreme detailing for every panel or page.

The final story is the shortest, at only four pages, and does feel the least like a true to form Rocketeer tale, but it is nothing short of spectacular in its visuals. The writing itself from Robert Windom is poetic, slight, and as beautiful as the artwork, but it isn’t “The Rocketeer.” Other than the intentions of it being directed at Betty and Cliff’s love for her, it is in no way how the character speaks or thinks to himself. It feels a bit too much like a modern take on classical speech patterns, from even before the 1930s, and it is a bit too influenced by a higher education, which neither one of those things describes Cliff Secord. It’s great, it just doesn’t quite fit here. What else is there to say about the art of Jae Lee? It’s simply incredible. In four pages he gives us a dynamic air fight between The Rocketeer and an enemy fighter plane and a moment of absolute blissful romance to close out the book. There isn’t a single thing wrong with anything he gives us here. Not a pen stroke out of place. And June Chung’s colors on top of it is enough to make a grown adult weep. Every bit of it is dreamlike and perfect. Their work together is nothing short of fantastic and even if the scripting doesn’t quite work in the context of this comic series, it’s still good writing and paired with that art it closes out a small trilogy with all winners in my opinion.

Final Verdict 9.0, An absolutely charming and winning return to form with creatives who knew how to revive this beloved hero.

Christopher Egan

Chris lives in New Jersey with his wife, daughter, two cats, and ever-growing comic book and film collection. He is an occasional guest on various podcasts, writes movie reviews on his own time, and enjoys trying new foods. He can be found on Instagram. if you want to see pictures of all that and more!