The Rocketeer
by Dave Stevens (IDW, 2009)

Although Dave Stevens passed away in 2008 from complications due to leukemia at the age of 52, he left behind a legacy that, while cut tragically short, remains a significant influence on comic book artists and fantasy illustrators. His comic book series, The Rocketeer, was responsible for the revival of interest in pop-culture goddess Bettie Page. Its phenomenal art has cemented its place in history as one of the most well-drawn graphic novels ever crafted.

Down-on-his-luck circus stunt pilot Cliff Secord makes the startling discovery of a rocket backpack, the likes of which he's never seen before, in the cockpit of his plane. Unbeknownst to him, it was placed there by Nazi spies who had stolen it from a U.S. government lab. Being the adventurer that he is, and needing to make some money to impress the girl Betty, whom he's long been trying to woo, he has to try it out. The backpack is a wonder, but the spies and the G-men, all of whom want their pack back, now know who he is. And they won't hesitate to use his love for Betty as a weapon.

While Stevens' writing is somewhat basic, it's his art that's the real star. It's just plain incredible, telling the story so well there almost doesn't need to be text at all. The facial expressions are very realistic, his action sequences are among the best I've ever seen and his penwork excels. This is a story about classic pulp fiction-style characters, and the art is accordingly very retro/art deco, evoking a classic, golden-age feel, with a sense of nostalgia that simply drips from gorgeous pages. It is jaw-droppingly wonderful, both augmenting and elevating the rather thin storyline, and is still considered today to be among the greatest illustrations that have ever been produced -- and that's no exaggeration. There's a good reason it was made into a 1991 film of the same name.

The only problem is that it's too short. Stevens' output was sporadic. There is so much more room for so many more stories; light and airy though they were, they were breezy, good-natured fun. Thankfully, IDW Publishing has worked with Stevens' estate to create more Rocketeer adventures.

review by
Mary Harvey

8 June 2013

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