The Rocketeer: The Complete Collection
Writer/Artist: Dave Stevens
The Rocketeer was one of the myriad short-lived series that came out of the early Eighties’ independent press. The premise is simple ”“ Cliff Secord, a 1930s aviator, dons an experimental strap-on rocket pack and a metal mask to fight Nazi spies and dally with heart-throb Betty. The stories are disposable fluff, the lines clunky, the plot thinner than toilet paper. But the reason behind the enduring success of this series is the work of Dave Stevens. Stevens was one of the most promising superstars in his field, his fluid inks praised by the likes of Frank Frazetta and Al Williamson. His ghost-duties on miscellaneous titles like Tarzan was enough to cement his reputation as artist extraordinaire. The Rocketeer is a distillation of Stevens’ fascination with movie serials of the 1940s, the pinup goddess Bettie Page (Cliff’s girlfriend Betty is a not-so-thinly veiled homage) and pulp adventure stories like The Shadow and Doc Savage that he grew up with. Obviously, he was not alone in his affection for the gentle adventure stories of yesteryear, because The Rocketeer has a fan-following that ranges from industry veterans to children.
Stevens’ early death due to cancer ensured that the number of Rocketeer stories is extremely limited. The fact that he was a notorious perfectionist also ensured that the stories trickled out slowly, and through different publishing houses, which meant fans had to track down the issues individually all these years. IDW Publishing, in collaboration with the Stevens estate, has brought the complete Rocketeer stories in one 144-page release, in multiple versions. Re-coloured digitally by Laura Martin (Eisner Award winning colourist of Planetary and Astonishing X-Men), the collection is a stunning showcase of Stevens’ artistic prowess ”“ his full page-splashes make you gasp with wonder, the precise design of the sequences make you realise just why he is so revered, despite his limited body of work. Kudos to IDW for bringing out a volume that is so obviously a labour of love. You can either buy the softcover, no-frills edition or the nearly-out-of-print deluxe hardcover, which comes with about 75 pages of extra material. For the more hardcore collector, IDW also has a 12 by 17 inch artists’ edition, shot directly from Stevens’ original black and white art ”“ only 1200 copies were printed, and at $100 a pop, were lapped up within days of release at this year’s San Diego Comic Convention.