Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Rocketeer

Last week a very special book finally arrived on my doorstep. Something I have wanted to read since I was a kid. Something long out of print and very difficult to find. The Rocketeer! I really loved this movie when I was a kid. I remember going to the theaters with my dad and loving every minute of this movie. I was so enthused by this movie, the Rocketeer was the coolest hero EVER. After the movie my Father and I went to a Toys "R" Us, I remember looking everywhere for action figures, there was nothing. I scoured that damn action figure aisle forever and then I finally gave up. While about to leave I spotted a candy container that was in the shape of the Rocketeer. It was the only piece of merchandise I had ever owned from this movie. I remember telling all my friends about how cool the Rocketeer was and nobody was buying it. To this day I insist it's a really fun and exciting movie. How come none of my friends never saw it? How come I never found any toys? How come there was never a sequel or a tv show or ANYTHING?! Why was this? Well, I can only speculate. Perhaps it's because Terminator 2 came out on the very same weekend so it flopped in the box office. I also think Disney didn't have too much faith in the film and didn't try to merchandise it better. Why release it on the same weekend as the much anticipated sequel to Terminator? I also think people are very stupid and can't appreciate anything good in this world, (grumble grumble). I eventually found out that the movie was based on a comic book. Only problem was that I lived in a very rural part of NY where the closest comic shop was about an hour away. Not to mention the comic might have been just a little out of my age range. The writer/artist Dave Stevens really liked his spicy Bettie Page homages. The images of rocket packs and sexy hollywood ladies slowly moved to the back of my brain. When I finally became interested in comics as an adult (2004-ish) The Rocketeer had been long out of print due to a number of failed publishers, I couldn't even find any of the old single issues. I was really out of luck.
Sadly, in 2008 Dave Stevens passed away. I was upset to hear this news and I immediately began hunting for Rocketeer material once again. Perhaps it's morbid or pathetic, or maybe a little bit of both, but I really felt like I needed to read Dave Stevens' "The Rocketeer" to pay respect to and appreciate Dave Stevens. Much to my disappointment, I still couldn't find any Rocketeer reprints and the single issues I could find were sparse and pricey. Later in 2008 maybe even as late of the spring of '09 I read somewhere that IDW was reprinting all of the Rocketeer material as one big omnibus. As an added bonus, Laura Martin (colorist on astonishing x-men) was recoloring the entire collection. Apparently Dave Stevens personally requested her to color the book. After a release date that was pushed back a couple of times, the book is finally out on stands. In 2 different versions no less. There is the bare bones edition which features all 140 pages of the rocketeer fully colored ($30) and then there is the hardcover slipcase edition that features a boat load of extras including thumbnails, preliminary sketches, unedited original scans of Mr Stevens' artwork and more ($75). I went for the deluxe edition and I suggest you do the same.
Now that I got this self indulgent adolescent sob story out of the way, let me give you my thoughts on the book. Let me start off by saying I was a little nervous about Laura Martin recoloring the book, I tend to feel her work can be over-rendered and too digital looking. I have to say though, I absolutely loved the work she did on this book. Her colors were vivid and complimented Dave's artwork very well. I came into reading this book a little nervous because Dave was mainly an illustrator, not really a comic book artist, at least not by my wacky standards. But I was surprised at how well all his pages held together. There is a great unity to his compositions and his page layouts are surprisingly playful and extremely readable. His hand lettering in his dialogue balloons as well as his title pages are to die for. The only real issues I had with this book were the following. Sometimes in the panel, his balloons were slightly hard to follow in the proper order. He had this nasty habit of having a balloon in the bottom left corner and in the top right corner. Causing an ambiguity as to which balloon comes first. I quickly learned that Dave's balloons go in order from top to bottom instead of left to right. Also the writing was a little too loose and had a nasty habit of not tying up loose ends. The ending was a little bit of a bummer and didn't have much of a payoff. But boy was this book one hell of a ride. Dave's figures are very fluid and you can really feel the movement of every character, it's fantastic stuff. Also you can see the amount of effort that went into every single page. From the crazy thumbnails to the roughs to the inks to the lettering. Dave did it all and he did it damn well. It's no wonder this guy was a notoriously slow worker, the amount of effort he put into every drawing is incredible. All in all, the entire Rocketeer story is only 140 pages but each page hits where it counts and it will have you coming back begging for more. I only wish Mr Stevens' was still alive to see his work reproduced with such respect and craft. Get this book if you have any respect for comics.

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