Two of the most popular pulp heroes ever in comics collide this July in IDW Publishing’s “The Rocketeer / The Spirit: Pulp Friction” by writer Mark Waid and artist Paul Smith. “Pulp Friction” is Waid’s second time writing “The Rocketeer” with IDW, following 2012’s “Cargo of Doom” miniseries.
“The Rocketeer” was created by the late Dave Stevens in 1982 and follows the adventures of stunt pilot Cliff Secord, who uses a jetpack to fight crime in 1940s Los Angeles. “The Spirit,” alter-ego Denny Colt, is the vigilante protector of Central City, created by comic legend Will Eisner in 1940.
Waid spoke with CBR News about “Pulp Friction” revealing story details, his thoughts on legacy in comics and what the pulp genre means to him. Plus, exclusive art!
CBR News: Mark, what’s the basic story of “The Rocketeer / The Spirit: Pulp Friction?”
Mark Waid: A man last seen in Central City turns up dead hours later in Los Angeles — in a time when no plane on Earth could fly that fast coast to coast. This impossible crime brings Commissioner Dolan and The Spirit (and Dolan’s daughter, Ellen) to L.A., where it dovetails with a Rocketeer case.
Which versions of the characters are you using?
I’m using the Sam Jones TV movie Spirit. Kidding. I’m using the classic versions!
What would the Spirit think of the Rocketeer’s methods and vice-versa? Are they fast friends or reluctant partners?
More the latter than the former. They’re just so different. One’s laid back and relaxed, one’s a bundle of nerves all the time. Paradoxically, the relaxed one (Spirit) is a city boy and Cliff (Mr. Coffee Nerves) is West Coast all the way. They don’t have much common ground; they’ll have to fight to find it. But who they fight is a mystery.
Did you play with any East Coast / West Coast tropes or rivalries between the Rocketeer and the Spirit?
There are huge fish-out-of-water moments, but halfway through the story we move back to Central City, so Cliff has the same difficulties — it’s damn near impossible to maneuver that jetpack through the urban canyons!
Are you adding new supporting characters or villains to either the Spirit or the Rocketeer’s cast in “Pulp Friction?”
No new ones, but close readers of “Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom” should spot at least one of the villains.
At a recent IDW panel, you said you were reluctant to do this story at first — why?
Honestly, I was reluctant because it’s intimidating to work with such classic characters. It was Paul Smith’s involvement that put me over the moon and got me to sign. Paul’s outstanding.
Although they occupy similar time periods, these two characters were actually created over 40 years apart. How does the Rocketeer stand-up next to an authentic ’40s pulp hero like the Spirit?
Cliff strikes me very much as the “missing link” between pulp heroes and comics heroes, and the Spirit isn’t too far removed from that, either. But the tension really comes from the fact that, given the time period, Cliff’s been the Rocketeer for a while, but Spirit’s fairly new at the game — which makes Cliff the senior partner!
Describing them as the “missing link” between pulp heroes and comic book heroes is an interesting thought — can you elaborate?
In both cases, they’re more grounded in pulp fiction than in superheroics. Adventure comic books had just begun when Eisner created the Spirit; likewise, with Rocketeer, Dave Stevens elected to link his origins to some thinly veiled pulp heroes and place his starting career in the years before costumed adventurers became all the rage in comics.
You’re also writing “Green Hornet” with Dynamite Entertainment. Have you always had a love for pulp heroes, and how would you define “pulp fiction?”
Good question. I’d describe the genre as over-the-top menaces, hyper-melodrama and huge action set pieces. “Green Hornet” has at least two of these, maybe three.
It’s not so much that I have some deep abiding love for pulp heroes; it’s that I have an affinity for older characters with a history and a legacy.
What do you think is more important: a character’s in-story legacy or the real-world legacy surrounding the creation and publication of that character?
Both are equally important to me because by honoring the former, you honor the latter and often vice-versa. It’s harder to directly honor the latter without getting all meta.
Can fans expect more “Rocketeer” comics from you?
Time will tell.
How has the Thrillbent.com relaunch been going?
We’re still slugging away — the site’s loaded with free online comics! Stop by!
So Mark, at the end of the day — are you an East Coast or West Coast guy?
Ha! Truth to tell, I’m a Southern boy! Maybe I should have taken both heroes to Memphis, instead…
“The Rocketeer / The Spirit: Pulp Friction” by Mark Waid and Paul Smith goes on sale in July from IDW Publishing