This may be something that most comic fans won't admit to, but The Rocketeer movie from 20 years ago was the first time I had ever seen that character. And I never read The Rocketeer comics until two years ago, when IDW put out an impressive collected edition of every issue that was published.
The basic setup is the same as the movie: a young pilot named Cliff Secord stumbles upon a stolen rocket-pack and uses it to become a costumed hero in the late '30s. As much as I liked the movie, Dave Stevens' Rocketeer comics were even better. Stevens delivered some terrific writing to go with his lush and beautiful artwork for a series that is rightly regarded as a timeless classic.
But the tragedy of The Rocketeer is that it was never finished. There was never an ending and I'm not sure why Stevens never returned to the character before his untimely demise a few years ago.
Fortunately, IDW has brought back Cliff and his friends in Rocketeer Adventures, a new anthology series that brings in several of the biggest names in comics to play with Stevens' toys.
The book kicks off with a short story drawn and written by John Cassaday, which finds Cliff in the awkward situation of having to save his girlfriend Betty from gangsters who want his rocket pack. Cliff's solution to the situation is… unique and perfectly in character. Despite his relative inexperience as a writer, Cassaday really captures the voice and tone of Stevens' creations. Cassaday also teamed up with his frequent collaborator on colors, Laura Martin for easily the best looking pages in the book. If the entire series was just done by Cassaday and Martin, I could have recommended it just on the strength of these eight pages.
I'm not quite as crazy about the second story, by Michael and Laura Allred. This one actually seems to be an epilogue to one of Stevens' Rocketeer stories and features Cliff and Betty reconciling with a few flashbacks as Cliff explains his latest predicament. There are some nice pages of the Rocketeer in action, but this is largely a story telling us what happened in other stories as opposed to actually telling one of its own. It's kind of pedestrian in that way. I presume that the Allreds wanted to depict Cliff and Betty outside of his costumed hero career and give them a brief respite. But it just wasn't as satisfying to read as the other two stories.
In the last story, Kurt Busiek and Michael Kaluta give us something that I thought we'd never see: a real ending for Cliff and Betty. The story itself takes place from Betty's point of view as she reads letters from Cliff detailing his exploits during World War II. For the most part, Cliff doesn't appear, but we see that he's been traveling the world and taking on Japanese Giant Robot Squids, among other off-the-wall threats.
This story also gives Betty more of an emotional grounding as she deals with Cliff's absence and her very real fear that she'll never see him again. The way the story wraps up could have been a fitting send off for The Rocketeer, but this is just the first issue. And there are more stories to come.
As a side note, this issue also has Rocketeer pinups by Mike Mignola and Jim Silke, who depict Cliff and Betty respectively. Either of those creators would be perfect for a short story themselves, but I'll take what I can get from them.
If you ever loved The Rocketeer, you can't miss this. IDW already has Darwyn Cooke, Geof Darrow, Gene Ha and Mark Waid lined up for the second issue. Comics don't get better than this.