The Rocketeer At War #1
Script by Mark Guggenheim
Art by Dave Bullock
Colors by Ronda Pattison
The Rocketeer was the first book anyone at Ultimate Comics ever recommended to me. It was a slow week, and Eric Hoover said, “Hey, you read the Rocketeer?” I thought I remembered liking the movie as a kid, but mostly just how perfect Jennifer Connelly’s makeup was and how bad I wanted a jacket like Billy Campbell’s. So Eric showed me the new collection of Dave Steven’s 1980s series, and I loved the bright immersion in pulp excess. Test pilot Cliff Secord gets ahold of a jetpack and has grand adventures in the 1930s with a cute bulldog and his girlfriend Betty, a bombshell brunette with a lot of winking toward the provocative model Bettie Page. Years later, Alan has asked me the same question and handed the first issue of a much more grown-up book that fans of the original series or movie will really enjoy.
The story is that in 1942, Cliff has donated his jetpack to the US military and is a foot soldier in North Africa, dreaming of flying and reading love letters from dear Betty. In a conflict, he rescues a beautiful Irish pilot who threatens his commitment to his girlfriend in California. While working on a plane engine, he sees a Nazi steal an experimental piece of machinery, and his heroism in its recovery convinces the government to give him back the Rocketeer suit. Well, the heroism and the fact that every person who’s tested it so far kills himself flying it. And for the cliffhanger, Betty sends another letter – she has joined the Women’s Auxilliary and will be joining him in Tunisia!
This book has the fun of the original, with bright colors and broad panels and clean lines all over the place. But there’s an element of growing up that I found fascinating. Cliff is a brave man, but as of 1942, he has given up his suit because he cares enough about his country, and he is just as brave on the battlefield as he is in the Los Angeles skies. He’s sad about not flying, but he’s able to own it and not pout about how unfair it is, so when he gets the pack back, it feels earned, not a brat getting his toy back. The shocking death of the Rocketeer test pilots lend an eerie tone to the series much more personal than even the Nazi tanks could – I am not afraid for Cliff getting a bullet over Tunisia, but I am afraid for him in an uncaring government experiment. Most importantly, the sexy RAF pilot Molly “Roxy” O’Hara brings to the book this element that challenges so much of the pulp genre – the handsome hero always gets the girl. I’m fine with that. I love that part of the story. But here, a man who faced down a German rifle and a Nazi thief has to look a beautiful woman in the eye and tell her he has a girlfriend at home. It’s a different kind of fear, a different brand of courage, and he fails it. He isn’t cheating, not yet, but he is very much aware that he’s withholding information. I am cool with more fights against the Nazis for the rest of this series. But I am gripped by the idea that Cliff has not grown up enough to be brave enough to reject the gets-the-girl cliche. That’s the story I want to explore, and I can’t wait for Betty to get to the battlefront.
If you like adventure, romance, and fun, head down to Ultimate Comics in Chapel Hill and Raleigh and pick this one up. They’re closing early for Christmas Eve and will be closed Christmas Day, so don’t wait!
-MATT CONNER for Ultimate Comics