The late Dave Stevens creation The Rocketeer is enjoying a resurgence in comics culture recently drawing major talent to work on stories. One notable example in the last year was the last full length story mini-series, Cargo of Doom, which brought together writer Mark Waid and artist Chris Samnee who are currently working on a very successful Daredevil run for Marvel comics. In addition to the Waid/Samnee series there have been two collected volumes of anthologized stories by an astounding number of talents on display in the Rocketeer Adventures title. So why so much interest or appeal for creators with a lesser known character in popular comics culture? Perhaps it is the allure, the challenge, of trying to create a good old fashioned adventure from another era.
A missing scientist, a religious zealot, a supernatural threat, a hero in development, and the gal in his life who he loves. The tagline for this new series, penned by Roger Langridge with pencils by J.Bone, is “an all-new adventure in a grand old tradition.” What encompasses that tradition though? The Rocketeer as a series was always and will always be an homage. Our hero Cliff Secord is forever stuck in that original WWII Americana timeframe, a time when heroes with moral and ethical ambiguity was a no-no, and plot was mapped out easily for one to enjoy. I think that is the largest appeal of this tradition, the enjoyment of reading a big hero story that is just grounded enough by its characters—it is big but not overwhelming. This tradition, these types of stories, to me fall into the genres of serialized hero adventure and romance but get all mashed-up in the right ways.
Cliff Secord is always just on the cusp of understanding, of finding his purpose in a world that is unraveling quickly as science speeds up society. In my readings of the Rocketeer, to make Cliff any more experienced, overly self-confident, or as an over the top hero is to move him outside of the innocence that is the charm of his character. While he is the everyman of the late ’30s and early ’40s, it is hard to walk that line from not making Secord too much of a bumbling good guy. Langridge plants solid seeds in the story by presenting Cliff as a guy that is trying to understand that being a hero and being a regular guy with a job, a gal, a life, is incredibly difficult, much like the original ideas of character utilized by Marvel comics during their golden age fallible heroes era. This type of hero that Cliff represent incorporates well with the other necessary dynamic of that grand old tradition—the romance.
Betty loves Cliff, Cliff loves Betty. It seems simple, but just like in life, it can be complicated. I like that Langridge is showcasing how these two feel about each other but also adding the dimension that Betty is a modern woman who does not believe that her gender defines her role. It will be interesting to see how much Langridge lets Betty share in the adventure rather than serving as a plot point for Cliff, but of course minimizing her role would be staying in the grand old tradition of the cheesier aspects of classic serialized adventure or even noir stereotypes in book, film and television. Based on his body of work, I don’t think Langridge will necessarily follow the elements of the genre that closely and will branch out to put his stamp upon things.
The art of J. Bone is that wonderful blend of cartoony and complicated, sharing a style with other artists such as Darwyn Cooke and Chris Samnee. Some will be turned off by this style, as they are probably acclimated more towards the psuedo-realism of super-hero design. There is nothing wrong with that style necessarily, but I think artists like J.Bone and his ilk are important in showing how comic characters can be interpreted. Characters are able to have a longer life span, in my opinion, not just through great writers, but through the styles of different artists.
I think IDW has the right idea with how they are handling The Rocketeer by spacing out the stories they are releasing. In a way, I think it is the way all serialized comics need to move towards—taking time off in between adventures to let us appreciate the stories more and to leave us with a taste for wanting the next full chapter.