The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine #3, January 1995, Dark Horse Comics
by Dave Stevens
I’ve been waiting a week to read and review The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine #3. Last weekend, my girlfriend and I swung by a local hobby store that carries a variety of older, potentially obscure back issues, a compilation that has fueled A Comic A Day on occasion, and to my fortunate, these books were on sale during my visit. I immediately sought his thin Rocketeer section; I’ve always been a fan of the character by way of the Disney film, but the rarity and infrequency of his comic book appearances have prevented me from experiencing him any other way. I eagerly snatched every issue in the Rocketeer section, which seems to be all but the first three installments of the Rocketeer’s saga. I read all but today’s issue that night, and had this week not been reserved for the issues I had planned for Valentine’s Day, I would’ve read it as early as last Monday. So, how does that saying go about what comes to those who wait?
No one understands that old cliché better than Rocketeer fans. Five years passed between The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine #2 and #3, which is a jaw-dropping four more than between #1 and #2 – not that one year isn’t a long time between issues, but compared to half a decade? Indeed, the five Rocketeer comics I scored last weekend essentially tell a single story yet were released sparsely between twelve years and four publishers. If Stevens’ stories weren’t so excellently told, if each panel didn’t betray his attention to detail and unduly effort to entertain, I imagine that the character wouldn’t have lasted as long, let alone warranted a feature film adaptation. Further, had Dark Horse not been as established by ’95, I wonder if it would’ve published this issue, since the Rocketeer saw both Pacific Comics, Eclipse Comics, and Comico go under. Fortunately, it did, so old fans could finally achieve the closure they deserved, and by then new fans could see the Rocketeer in his native medium – a treat by both accounts, I insist.
As a side note, here is a list of the other issues I acquired last weekend, listed with their publication date and original cover price (I got ‘em each for $1! Again, good things come . . .) for the sake of comparison. Remember, these issues each faithfully feature the “next” chapter of the Rocketeer’s story, in order, despite the gaps of time between them
Pacific Presents #2, April 1983, Pacific Comics, $1.00
The Rocketeer Special Edition #1, Eclipse Comics, November 1984, $1.50
The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine #1, July 1988, Comico, $2.00
The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine #2, July 1989, Comico, $2.75
By Rocketeer Adventure Magazine #3, originally $2.95, fans experienced a nearly 200% increase in cover price, yet, remarkably, the quality of Stevens’ work hardly changes, which is high compliment as each issue is incredibly entertaining, well-paced and beautifully illustrated with a pulp fervor that fits the raw industrial era of the Rocketeer’s adventures. In this issue, Cliff Secord has pursued his model girlfriend to New York, only to leave her to her high culture lifestyle, and is now in pursuit of a former fellow circus performer, who is systematically killing the members of their old troop. The brute, the inspiration for (and dead ringer likeness to) the towering thug on Secord’s trail in the film, is seeking retribution for the female midget performer that died filling in for Cliff in a circus stunt, a broad bittersweet stroke from his cinematic incarnation but that unfortunately meets a similarly fatal fate. Interestingly, throughout this New York adventure, a mysterious benefactor helps the Rocketeer achieve success – an eccentric that can only be the Shadow. Worlds apart, these characters still have this era of American history and a certain mysterious intrigue in common, and the collision is brilliant marketing and awesome storytelling. While the Rocketeer movie is a bit more tidy in its resolutions (which scriptwriters had to invent for the character, as the resolution to Secord’s original comic book epic wasn’t even over yet), the readers can rest assured that the hero saves the day and gets the girl – after a few days’ worth of adventure told in over twelve years’ time!
Yes, I have to keep mentioning the timeframe! You thought All-Star Batman and Robin was running late . . .!
Anyone that loves the Rocketeer will tell you, it’s all about that helmet. Dave Stevens has a solid art style that can best be described as shades of Alan Davis and Art Adams – who apparently helped with some of this issue’s pencils, implying that even five years wasn’t enough for Stevens to finish this issue on his own! His characters are fluid, natural, and expressive, matching his non-stop storytelling fittingly. Based on this work, I’d be interested in seeing what else Stevens has published. A quick visit to his website reveals his obsession with illustrating beautiful women, foreshadowed by the knockout pin-up poses of Betty almost every time she appeared on the page, who is incidentally an absolute look-alike of Betty Page. Pardon my ignorance of her career, but is Stevens implying that Secord dated Page (just as real life icon Howard Hughes makes a critical appearance), or is he just paying homage? Either way, the guy is obviously a student of any subject he pursues, evidenced by the essays on aviation that supplement early issues. The Rocketeer was always heady material – like I said, it’s all about that awesome helmet.
One final note: Aside from Eclipse’s special, this is the only issue from the batch that exclusively stars the Rocketeer; the other issues featured back-up stories by the likes of Steve Ditko and Mike Kaluta, each highly respected artists, as well. The Rocketeer’s first appearances were apparently as back-ups in other Pacific comics, including a series by Kaluta, so my search for the character’s comic appearances isn’t complete yet. I can live with that, if it means that someday I’ll get to discover the work anew. For a character that flues high, the Rocketeer is one that has remained under the radar for far too long.
In fact, referencing yesterday’s Judge Dredd review, I insist that the Rocketeer is worthy of an action figure in Marvel Toys’ upcoming line of toys inspired by indie heroes. In fact, I plan on pursuing the point further . . .
After all, if anything can be learned from the Rocketeer experience, from Stevens’ dedication to the character to Secord’s tenacity in his adventures to finding said adventures in the first place, it’s that perseverance pays off.