Thursday, January 9, 2014

On Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer

Below: VHS copy of the film, the pirated DVD, the paperback novelisation, the VCD and the original DVD.

In 1989, I went to Booksale for my regular book and comic book hunt. More often than not they had unlikely buried treasures in their bins. This one hunt at the old Rustan’s branch in Cubao netted a particularly huge find.

At this point, I collected largely Marvel Comics with a smattering of DC titles. I spotted some Starslayer issues from First Comics. They were written and drawn by Mike Grell who I became a fan of during his run drawing Legion of the Super-Heroes for DC. Then he began to do Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters that set the comic world on fire. It was amazing.

Bunched among the Starslayer finds (I still have all of them) was this comic book.

The cover of Pacific Comics Presents #2 featured a man in a flight jacket holding on to some contraption. His shadow revealed him to be in another form – that of some hero with a helmet that looked way cooler than Magneto’s bucket head.

So I picked up the book (cost me about five bucks that was a bargain more so they were without that dreaded Booksale tag) along with the Starslayer stuff. When I got home, instead of reading Grell’s books, I opened Pacific Comics’ Presents. There were 13 pages of story and art by one Dave Stevens featuring a cool looking pilot named Cliff Secord who was the hero of the book, The Rocketeer, and a Bettie Page look-a-like model named Betty.  

Bettie Page was a pin-up girl during the 1950s. And I grew up reading my grandpop’s Life magazines seeing pictures of Bettie Page.

Stevens’ story was set in the post-World War II years with Secord as a barnstorming pilot who loves Betty but has so many problems trying to keep up with her. It was like Peter Parker only in a 1950’s setting. Cliff battles saboteurs to Nazis to gangsters. And more often than not, he wins the day by sheer dumb luck. Who cannot love a story like this? And he doesn’t have any powers. He’s not even good at fisticuffs.

I loved the story and tried to go back and hunt down other issues of Pacific Comics Presents. It took a while before I found a few more issues.

Years later, I picked up the graphic novel – Cliff’s New York Adventure that paired him off with a character that resembled The Shadow who became popular in the 1930s.

I have this thing for stories from the 1920-50s. I wasn’t born during that time but I have loved a lot of the pop culture that came up from those decades. The moral compass of the world was different at that time. Lines were very clear on what was good and bad. It was a simpler time. Sometimes, I yearn for that as well.

The Rocketeer, like Mike Baron’s and Steve Rude’s Nexus, became a favorite of mine rivaling only my love for the X-Men. And Steves’ art is gorgeous. The way he draws women – only Frank Cho (of Liberty Meadows) can draw them as dreamy.

In the years since and even after Stevens’ death from leukemia, I remained a fan and tried my best to amass a bigger collection of Rocketeer material.

Thus far, this is what I have (you’ll find them in the picture): The Rocketeer Jetpack Treasury Edition, The Rocketeer – Cliff’s New York Adventure, Dave Stevens’ Covers and Stories, The Rocketeer – The Complete Adventures, The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine, and The Official Movie Adaptation.

When the film by Joe Johnston came out in 1991, it was a dream come true for me. Bill Campbell was Cliff Secord come to life. Ditto with Jennifer Connelly as Betty! I also got the novelization by Peter David (The Incredible Hulk, X-Factor) that is now turning brown with age.

Since then I acquired the VHS tape and VCD that I purchased in Hong Kong years ago. The DVD that I bought in the United States and the pirated DVD that I bought in Manila. If there's a laser disc, heck, I'd have it too!

In recent years, I have been happy to see IDW’s new publications of Rocketeer Adventures Volumes 1 & 2, Hollywood Horror, Cargo of Doom, and The Rocketeer & The Spirit limited series. The closest that is faithful to Stevens’ works is Cargo of Doom and the limited series with The Spirit. The others have been nothing short of disappointing.

Hopefully, one day I’ll get to write a story featuring Stevens’ famous character and put all my love and care into it.

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