I haven’t been able to get into it to deeply on this blog, but I love the golden age/pulp era that is the 1940’s. If I could up and move to any time, it would be then. I got to talk about it recently a little when discussing Indiana Jones, and showed off my new recent additions to my slowly growing art collection from the Saskatoon Expo, but that’s been about it.
I am more than happy with my Shadow and Green Hornet pieces, but there are a few more from that style that I would like to add to the collection: Dick Tracy, The Spirit, original versions of Batman, and Superman, Indiana Jones, maybe the Invaders, and one who I kind of considered to be off-limits: the Rocketeer.
Why did I consider him off-limits? Well, because one of the larger art collectors in Saskatoon has a large collection of Rocketeer art. It’s kind of his thing. You can check out some of his collection here. I’m getting distracted and looking over some of it myself right now. (Are you kidding me, Byron, you have a freaking Tim Sale Rocketeer?) (And Francesco Francavilla???) I don’t often get jealous of collections, because my comic collection usually trumps anything anyone else has got, but this, along with another friends collection of early edition Hardy Boys novels, are the only collection that have me going nuts when I think about them. Anyway, I felt like getting a Rocketeer piece would be encroaching on his territory, but he gave me his blessing, so now I won’t feel quite as bad if I ever do get a piece. The gears are actually turning as I write.
My love for all things golden age goes back to my childhood, when I discovered that one of the local AM stations played classic radio shows from 11:00-1:00 in the morning. As often as I could I would stay up till those late hours and listen to the likes of Jack Benny, Abbott and Costello, Dragnet, X Minus 1, The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, and my favourite, The Shadow.
Some of the greatest fictional characters started to show up in that day in age outside of radio as well. Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, and The Phantom were fighting crime in the newspaper strips. Doc Savage and the Avenger were in pulp magazines, and Superman, Shazam, Batman and Captain America were blazing the way for comic book super heroes. Many of the characters I love all came from, or were inspired by this era.
But surprisingly, while it is set in the 1940’s, The Rocketeer wasn’t written until 1982. And there were also only 2 stories told by the original writer/artist Dave Stevens. As such, I knew of it only as a movie that my mom liked that was incredibly difficult to find.
My first real exposure with the character was only a few months ago, when I happened upon a collection of all the original issues at my local comic shop, Amazing Stories, and discovered the movie was on iTunes.
I loved it. It is the simple story of a pilot, Cliff Secord, discovering a jet pack and finding himself in the middle of the hunt for it, trying to do the right thing while also covering his ass. The story was fun, well written, and engaging. The characters were believable, it had the right balance of golden age adventure without having to add in that golden age cheese we all know and love. The art was great, reminding me of aspects of both Mark Bagley and John Cassady (Unfortunately, I had to read a recoloured version, so I lost what it was intended to look like) and very realistic. In particular the realistic visuals of people that it is famous for. And the back up characters weren’t all idiots! Jenny Blake, the romantic interest, who was based off real life pin up model Betty Page, actually had a life of her own, and it was he doing the chasing, reminiscent of the Clark/Lois relationship, but with a more provocative Lois.
The best part for me, as a fanboy, was when I figured out that The Shadow was sneaking into the second story. At first I just made not of the similarity in name between the club they were going to, and the club from The Shadow. Then, when a red ringed hand reached out, I knew it was too much of a coincidence. The confirmation, when a man with The Shadow’s uncannily large nose appears and sends me into a frenzy of excitement similar to when a child realizes what they have gotten for a christmas gift, but are to crazed to get the rest of the wrapping paper off.
When looking more into the story, I was surprised to discover that this wasn’t the first time Stevens had pulled this trick. It is very obviously hinted at, in the first story, that the inventor of the jetpack was Doc Savage. I wasn’t that familiar with Doc Savage, so I completely missed it. (I actually have a novel called Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life by Phillip Jose Farmer, that I bought alongside a Tarzan novel, that tied them and many other famous characters into a large intermingled family tree. The Tarzan book was great, but I never read Doc Savage. It has moved up quite a bit on my docket though.) After reading this book I went on a blitz trying to get as much of these two characters as I could, more recent Rocketeer adventures, the Rocketeer/Spirit team up, several Doc Savage series from different publishers. I like Doc Savage, but I think he is almost too perfect of a character, The Rocketeer is much more interesting.
I also went through the 1991 film, but it didn’t offer much that the books didn’t have, even his love interest, Jenny, (Jennifer Connolly, coincidentally) is just a watered down version of her comic counterpart. In the book they suspect Howard Hughes invented the Rocket, but it was Savage. In this it was Hughes, who was played by Terry O’Quinn (Locke from Lost). The only thing I really enjoyed was Alan Arkin as Peevy, the Rocketeer version of Alfred and, and just how awful Timothy Dalton is as the villain. Other actors include Billy Campbell as Secord and Michael’s boss/girlfriend from The Office as a background singer. It’s fun, but it doesn’t quite do the book justice. It does, however give Joe Johnson the directing chops to knock Captain America: The First Avenger, another 40’s period piece, out of the park.
I definitely advise checking out the collection if you ever get a change. When your done, put the movie on just to get that little extra fix and you’ll be good. And if that’s not enough browse through Byron’s art.
Thanks for reading.
Images from: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51SPX9FKD4L.jpg, https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/22/67/6b/22676b20dec491cf1e414ba4c50c1ccd.jpg, http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1387663229l/1303308.jpg, http://www.pjfarmer.com/woldnewton/dsrock01.gif, http://www.undercurrentatlanta.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/the-rocketeer-01.jpg
My crappy art for 1982: