SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Rocketeer Adventures #2

A comic review article by: The Firing Squad
This installment of IDW's buzzworthy Rocketeer anthology series has excellent contributions from Mark Waid & Chris Weston, Darwyn Cooke & Dave Stewart and Lowell Francis & Gene Ha.

Rafael Gaitan:
Karyn Pinter:
Matthew Z. Rios:

Rafael Gaitan:

Grodd help me, I love the Rocketeer. It's no coincidence I rented Joe Johnston's flawed classic the week that we were graced with another issue of Rocketeer Adventures. While the film does indeed excite and captivate, it's more concerned with the rest of the cast, which would be fine if I didn't want to see the dude with the rocket on his back do stuff -- it's not called The Nazi Spy Actor Who Went Up a Zeppelin and Came Down a Fireball. I'm not hating, just saying, but I digress.

Since I was 5, I've been insatiable for what's available of Cliff Secord, Peevee, and their high-altitude adventuredom. Having just recently returned to print, Stevens' stories have undoubtedly influenced legions of creators, and the second issue brings some of the heaviest hitters in the comics game to the tribute table. Mark Waid, Darwyn Cooke and exciting newcomer Lowell Francis handle scripting duties, with gorgeous art by Chris Weston, Cooke himself and Gene Ha. This month's tales are even more fun and high-octane than the last, and as if to match the stakes, we're also gifted with a decidedly awesome pin-up by none other than Geof Darrow.

Darrow's pin-up is the most badass thing ever, with his patented eye for action staging giving us Cliff banging it out with several Nazi planes. The little touches, like the magazines taped together for easy reloading, that highlight both Darrow's mind-blowing talent and the love and recognition that goes into this character from creators that take him on.

Waid' story, "It Ain't the Fall That Kills Ya..." takes a more comedic approach -- it's more akin to the lighter moments of the movie, but perfectly encompasses cocky, jealous Cliff and the brusque yet concerned Peevee. Waid's script is period-ready, and he stages some damn fine flights of fancy. As if I wasn't already excited for his upcoming Daredevil run, Waid proves he can still do an adventure tale with the best of them. Chris Weston's pencils are probably the most in the vein of Stevens' own, but his attention to detail is remarkable. He draws Cliff's helmet and lenses as light-permeable, so we can see his eyes as he flies. This tactic puts us into his mind more, and ups the urgency in this story -- and there's urgency, indeed!

Darwyn Cooke's "Betty Saves the Day" is a stunning effort from a certifiable genius. Cooke's work lately has been paramount. His adaptations of Richard Stark's Parker novels have been exemplary works of fiction, and he utilizes comics language better than any of the other stories do: our main action takes place with bookended title sequences, creating a spot-on testament to the serials that Stevens always inspired to. There is a time for subtlety, but this ain't it. By putting Betty as the hero, we also get to explore her love of Cliff -- she usually just peters around being upset at him, but Cooke writes her with genuine concern, and her feelings don't remain masked for long (even though she does rock the helmet.) Cooke's art is eye-popping and kinetic as usual: if you're going for the old-timey comic style, Cooke's usually the first name that gets bandied about, and with good reason.

Lowell Francis' "TKO" has the most unique perspective of all the Rocketeer Adventures stories: it contrasts a fight between the Rocketeer and another aerial nemesis over a boxing match on the radio, and the captions sync beautifully, almost effortlessly to the action. Francis, who will soon be co-writing Project: Superman with CB favorite Scott Snyder, comes roaring out of the gate with a tight, engaging story that feels like it's about to jettison the page. Gene Ha's polished, detailed art is inked to perfection, and none of these stories would have quite the pizazz they do without Dave Stewart's bright, meticulous color palette. Stewart is a notoriously talented colorist, and it's almost as if he was made to bring out the Rocketeer in all his crimson and golden glory.

Rocketeer Adventures is a delight, through and through. It's a welcome flashback to simpler times, when stories could only be a few pages long, and you didn't need to buy 17 additional tie-ins you didn't want. A time where heroes saved the day, villains took their lumps, and the idea that a man could fly was only limited by the fuel in his tank. Stevens could never have imagined how his tribute to the comics of yesteryear would one day find its own devotional following, and that's what Rocketeer Adventures is: a love letter to a love letter, and a remarkably effective one at that.

Rafael Gaitan was born in 1985, but he belongs to the '70s. He is a big fan of onomatopoeia, being profane and spelling words right on the first try. Rafael has a hilariously infrequent blog and writes love letters to inanimate objects as well as tweets of whiskey and the mysteries of the heart at @bearsurprise. He ain't got time to bleed.

Karyn Pinter:

Issue two of IDW’s homage to Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer picks up a little from the first issue with Mark Waid and Darwyn Cooke offering up exemplary short stories of the highflying hero. But then there’s the third story, by Lowell Francis. Francis' offering just seems to be the odd man out, maybe because it has to follow up Darwyn Cooke’s little bit of awesome and that’s a hard act to follow. To me it just seems a little lack luster, falling back on all action and little to no dialog. The concept is nice, as it's narrated by a fight night announcer, but it just falls flat when it’s compared to the other two stories.

The art all around though is excellent in all three stories. Mark Waid will get bonus points for using the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition and an Action Comics reference. It’s the fun, little historic touches and connections that help bind the reader to the comic. Darwyn’s piece is the stand out, at least to me. Of course I’m really partial to Darwyn Cooke; I’ve always been impressed with his art style and his handling of female characters and he’s created a exciting adventure that puts Betty in the spotlight.

IDW has certainly proven these adventures are worthwhile. The amount of talent in each issue is impressive to say the least. It’s wonderful to see the love the comic community shares and shows for one of its own and one of its classic characters. It doesn’t matter if there was one lame duck in the issue; it’s bound to happen in any series that is passed from hand to hand. It’s still a fun read for old or new fans. The rest of these miniseries’ issues should be equally good or maybe even better, as this issue has improved over the first.

Matthew Z. Rios:

I’m in a fully committed relationship with a beautiful girl whom I love very much. She enjoys reading my comics, likes to watch scary movies, and loves costuming with me at various conventions. And still, she only comes in second place compared to Rocketeer Adventures. Please don’t think I’m a heartless bastard; the same sentiment goes for close friends and family members to boot. Never has any tie-in, revamp, or relaunch ever bullseyed the heart of the original source material quite like this comic.

Upon first seeing solicits for this book in the pages of Previews past, I was nervously suspicious. I imagined long, drawn-out issues full of lackluster art and barely-there story. Discovering it was an anthology series warmed my heart… plus, the big time comic names listed didn’t hurt either. The premiere issue hosted works by John Cassaday and Mike Allred and didn’t disappoint a single iota. This month, we lucky fans are treated to art and stories by Mark Waid, Geof Darrow, and my all-time uber favorite, Darwyn Cooke. And again with the Alex Ross covers? My heart…wasn’t made strong enough for all this… joy. Now, I know that there has to be substance behind this style… but could you honestly doubt the quality of these creators?

Waid’s story “It Ain’t the Fall that Kills Ya”, cherrypicks the best themes and ideas from the original Rocketeer stories that we love: from Cliff’s jealousy over Betty’s lusty admirers to his uncanny ability to get stepped on by life. These events from Dave Stevens' classic tales reflect the feel and motives of what they stood for-what made the book. Darrow includes a two-page pin-up that quite frankly, had me whooping and hollering, throwing my fist in the air. Normally, his art sorta makes me feel uncomfortable, as it has been attached to so many strange, off-kilter mags, but seeing his insane detail cascading with an all time favorite childhood love… man, do I really need to explain anymore?

But probably the cherry on top of this wonderful sundae was a seven-page story by Darwyn Cooke entitled “Betty Saves the Day!” Cooke turns an already terrific story into an old-timey movie serial. Genius? Yes. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that we see beautiful Betty clad in a Rocketeer helmet and jacket, jetpacking through the sky. Lust, thy name is Cooke. The love is there, the respect is clearly present, and the desire to create something that hopefully can be half as good as its predecessor is alive and thriving in this series. Your heart will be warmed and you’ll be glad you paid the price.

Did you guys know that Rocketeer Adventures is only a four-issue miniseries? I didn’t -- I saw that disclaimer on the cover for the first time this month…and you can imagine the sound of my heart shattering. Thank God I have those lesser loves in my life, like parents and a girlfriend. They’ll be an acceptable substitute for this series in a few months. Much like Dave Stevens' book, this series too will have an ending, but at the same time, will have formed a special place in my nerd heart for years to come.

Matthew Z. Rios is an intrepid horror movie fan, a constant comic book connoisseur, steampunk enthusiast and collector of toys of any type. He has been in love with comics ever since the tender age of 4, when his dad gave him a copy of the Greatest Flash Stories Ever Told on Christmas and changed his life forever.

In college, Matthew majored in English and tossed in a screenwriting minor at the last second, which became his real passion. One day he hopes to write comic books, short features, or any type of creative media. Matthew is an active member in the tiki scene, which revolves around tropical drinks (the Zombie being his favorite). His favorite fictional/unobtainable crushes include Bettie Paige and She Hulk. On occasion, after several drinks, Matthew Z. Rios talks about himself in the third person. Matthew Rios was not drunk when he wrote this bio.

Matthew is also a writer for
Tiki Magazine and can be Facebooked. His infrequent and begrudging Tweets can be found at @tikisideburns.

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