Last year, upon picking up the hardcover edition of Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer, lovingly released by IDW Publishing, I was of two minds about the news that the company was putting out a mini-series devoted to paying tribute to the deceased Stevens and his fascinating creation. On the one hand, Stevens can’t be replaced. Sure, his storytelling got thin at times, but it also remained consistently entertaining and always beautiful to look at. It was light, airy tales that did not forget that the movie serials that informed it were also light and airy. Still, the roster of people who signed on to pay tribute was impressive. Certainly they were going to bring their “A” game to this endeavor.
Three issues into a four issue stint, I can say that the Rocketeer Adventures mini-series has been a huge disappointment. Each issue has featured three stories and a handful of pin-ups; the pin-ups are almost always based on the character of Betty, Cliff Secord’s girlfriend and nod to Bettie Page, in a state of undress. The stories have been almost uniformly of the Betty-is-a-damsel-in-distress variety leaving one to wonder, how did it take so many writers and illustrators to come up with the same narrative over and over again?
As a matter of fact, I joked with our comics guru Johnny Bacardi upon the release of the second issue that the repetition was getting dull. At the same time, I was hoping the third issue would finally break the mold. Alas, still moldy.
More often than not, the art is nice to look at and if that was all that was required to sell the book, mission accomplished. However, I still read for stories too, and the only one that takes full advantage of the fertile time period of the setting, the late 1930s/early 1940s, was the last story in issue one written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by the legendary Michael Kaluta. The art is pure Kaluta, meaning it is not as smooth and perfect as Stevens’, but the team knew the times and took advantage of it. With both The Rocketeer and Betty doing their best in the war effort, on distinctly different fronts, we had an honest-to-God story on our hands.
Meanwhile, nearly everyone else has taken this golden opportunity to have Betty, with heaving bosom and flashing garter, shriek for help with The Rocketeer swooping in to save her. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with heaving bosom and flashing garter if it is done once or twice, but steak for dinner for a year gets pretty monotonous too. And that is the unintended result of the series. In an effort to hold up these characters as a point of inspiration, they forgot one thing: to tell a unique story. When Stevens launched his creation in the ’80s in the back of Mike Grell’s Starslayer series, it’s retro look and ridiculously detailed rendering was jaw-droppingly unique to the racks of the day, but what sold the deal was a fun, cohesive story that did not rely solely on Stevens’ ability to draw the sexiest women in comics at that moment.
Herein lies a huge problem with the industry right now. We’ll call it the Girlfriend Scenario wherein a guy who buys and collects comics is inundated with female characters busting with busty bodaciousness, and they have guns too. The nice thing is that if the girlfriend comes over to watch a movie or whatever, it is just a comic book. It is not like a copy of Penthouse lying around. Guy gets his t&a, and girl doesn’t get quite as offended (unless she chooses to actually read it. How is said dude to explain away to said girl that Claws II, issue one, implies that Felicia the Black Cat has just given Logan the Wolverine a blowjob in the coatroom of a restaurant?) You know, it is okay to be a little bit titillating, but skimping on the story to get a couple more deep-cleavage poses in is just goofy.
And that fevered, high-school mentality of wanting to see hot chicks but not wanting to get caught seeing hot chicks ends up marring this chance at bringing Dave Stevens’ world back to life. I will end up buying issue four, completist that I am, but I already know what’s in store, and that is a deeply saddening reality.
- Confessions of a Comics Shop Junky, No. 66 (popdose.com)