I have a sneaking suspicion that more comic readers are familiar with “The Rocketeer” movie than they are Dave Stevens’ comic, recently reprinted and remastered by IDW. Hopefully “Rocketeer Adventures,” an all-star tribute mini-series by some of the bigger names in comics, will inspire people to check out the original. If nothing else, based on the amount of affection these creators lavish on Stevens’ creation, it’ll get their curiosity piqued.
The book begins with John Cassaday and Laura Martin’s story, opening in media res as Cliff is about to save Betty from the evil Maroni gang. The plot is pretty brief, but that doesn’t really matter here. We’re here to see Cliff leap away from a hail of gunfire, Betty tied to a massive rocket, and of course seeing Cliff fly through the air as the Rocketeer. It’s that last one that truly sings, a gorgeous page of Cliff blasting off as he chances the rocket. Some of the early pages seem a little less detailed and textured than one would expect from Cassaday, but he and Martin (the latter of whom was also Stevens’ choice to re-color the original “Rocketeer” comics, so it’s great to see her on board) pull out all the stops. From the twin plumes of smoke with their gentle rippled edges and shifting color, to the look of terror on Betty’s face slowly fading as she feels the shadow come over her, it’s a perfect page. And the conclusion to the story? Well, there may not have been much plot here, but tonally it’s a perfect ending.
Next up is Michael Allred and Laura Allred’s story, set after Cliff’s trip to New York. There’s a lot to love here; Cliff’s “aw shucks” expressions, Betty’s beauty (when your main character is based off of Bettie Page, you should expect nothing less), or most of all the scenes of Cliff soaring through the New York City sky. Honestly, if this was nothing but a series of pages of Cliff with the Empire State Building, Flatiron Building, and Brooklyn Bridge in the background I’d be happy with that. Laura Allred’s colors seal the deal, especially those deep blue/purple hues she chooses for the night time scenes. My only complaint? I wish Chris Mowry had lettered this story too; Michael Allred’s letters look like placeholders rather than what was intended to be there. They’re rough and ragged; lettering is not Michael Allred’s strong point.
Last up is Kurt Busiek and Michael Kaluta’s “Dear Betty…” which is also, in many ways, the only complete story from start to finish (rather than the last few pages of an untold story, or a piece inserted into part of a Stevens story). It’s a sweet story set among the backdrop of World War II, as Betty worries about Cliff in the war while Betty performs on the stage to get people’s hopes high. Kaluta’s pencils are just gorgeous, with rich texture and so much detail. (Just look at the theatre marquee and be amazed at the number of light bulbs, signs, photographs, and incidental decorations you’ll see there.) It doesn’t matter if it’s a diner or a hotel, every single scene looks like a real place, come to life. Busiek’s script is good, too; it’s charmingly paced and the rise and fall of the story unfolds perfectly. It’s a great conclusion to the comic, and just like the first two it’s a fitting tribute to Stevens.
Add in two pin-ups from Mike Mignola and Jim Silke (the latter of whom is certainly well-established as a Bettie Page artist) and you’ve got a great comic. This isn’t just for fans of Stevens, but a way to hopefully help create new fans of Stevens. As nice as Alex Ross’s cover is, I do wish all the copies came with the Stevens cover so they could see that he was an artist just as good as the talent assembled here, but hopefully new readers will seek out Stevens’ works. Even if not, though, this is a nicely done comic from all parties involved. Now that I’ve read the first issue, I’m eager to see what else “Rocketeer Adventures” has in store. Good stuff.