Saturday, September 10, 2011
The Rocketeer Adventures Review!
Just finished reading through all four issues of IDW's Rocketeer Adventures. The contents of the four issues include eleven comic short stories, one prose adaptation, and seven poster shots featuring either Cliff Secord the Rocketeer, his best gal Betty or both.
The talent assembled for this project is impressive. Mike Kaluta, Mike Allred, Darwyn Cooke, Chris Weston, Geoff Darrow, Ryan Sook, Bruce Timm, Scott Hampton, Mike Mignola, and John Cassaday are just some of the artists who take a crack at the characters. Writers include Dave Gibbons, Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, and Joe Lansdale among others. All four issues feature robust Alex Ross covers, though alternate covers by Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens are available for all issues by adapting artwork created for ads and other things.
I love the Rocketeer, and I think that Stevens created one of the great comics of all time when he slowly but surely over the years assembled this saga which evoked the best of the pulps and serials and other details of vintage pop culture.
But alas I have to say that ultimately as finely crafted as these stories are, they lack that certain magic that makes the original stories buzz. This is no slight against the talents assembled, and I'm not saying these stories are bad by any means, but they don't give me the same excitement I had that the original did and still does.
And it all adds up to the fact that none of these talents can really change the status quo of the series, so most of the stories seem to amount to homages to the characters. They give us glimpses of the times and the people, but don't really engage us. Most of the tales have Betty getting hit on, Cliff getting sore, and the Rocketeer often as not bumbling into action and somehow saving the day. There are some clever twists in these stories, but they rarely rise above "clever".
An exception is the story by Joe Lansdale, a prose tale illustrated by Bruce Timm which seems to have enough difference to keep bad comparisons at bay. This points the way to perhaps some successful additions to the canon later by way of prose as opposed to comics.
Darwyn Cooke's spin on the character pretending him to be a serial hero and giving us just one neat chapter was pretty nice too, with some good spins on the characters.
Also above average was Kurt Busiek's and Mike Kaluta's WWII take on the character which pushed the story into their future seeing the end of the war and the result. This is the kind of change needed to really make the series succeed. We need commitment that these characters will grow, and this story as opposed to many of the others hints at that growth.
I want to love this series as much as I love the original, but that's not going to happen. I like it for what it is, but its limitations keep me from truly falling for these well-crafted but often cold versions. I remember this was a problem too many years ago when Kitchen Sink tapped new talents to try their hands at Eisner's The Spirit.
I don't want to see Rocketeer continue with any more new stories, that is unless they commit to seeing the story really progress. I doubt that will happen, but there is a bit of hope in a few of these tales. I can see that more tales having to do with plans for other versions of the rocket pack getting into the wrong hands might trigger new stories. But I'd have to see the talent put together to do this first.
I recommend this limited to one and all, though I don't think the armada of alternate covers is really necessary though the straight image Stevens covers are sweet to look at. (I have only the Alex Ross ones myself and eventually I might add the Stevens covers too.) But don't imagine this is the Rocketeer you remember, it's merely a shadow.
But sometimes even shadows can be quite fetching still.