Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Classics - Pacific Presents #1

There are few comic book characters who (you should excuse the phrase) rocketed to stardom with fewer actual comic book appearances than The Rocketeer.

The character was created by writer / artist Dave Stevens as a pulp-era (late '30s) hero. Cliff Secord is a pilot who happens across an amazing device - a working rocket pack. In short order he comes into conflict with spies, federal agents, thinly-disguised pulp heroes, monsters and Nazis (natch).

The stories are a great mix of incredible art, fast-paced action and sex appeal, courtesy of Cliff's girlfriend Betty, who was based on the model Bettie Page (and her inclusion in this comic led to a resurgence in interest in her as well).

But this issue of Pacific Presents isn't the character's first appearance. He got his start as a backup feature in two issues of Mike Grell's Starslayer comic in the early '80s.

From there, the character bounced around a bit, appearing in one more issue of Pacific Presents, then moving to Eclipse Comics, then Comico, then Dark Horse, and more recently IDW.

The biggest problem was the fact that Stevens was in great demand, and a methodical creator at that (which is a nice way of saying he was not a speedster) - so his entire run of Rocketeer stories is limited to about six issues total.

From that we got a feature film (which had its good and bad points) and a series of reprint volumes - but precious little in the way of new adventures. But while the quantity isn't vast, the quality is top of the line.

Stevens was an amazing talent, and it's sad that he's no longer around to continue telling stories about his creation. But his work stands the test of time - it's fresh, energetic and loaded with character. He managed to capture the power of Frazetta, the ingenuity of Steranko and the spirit of Wood (among others) and combine them into something exciting and original.

If you missed The Rocketeer, the collections are still around and well worth reading.

Oh, I should mention the backup story - it's an odd character by the legendary Steve Ditko. The Missing Man is a crimefighter who has somehow been altered into a cartoonish character. This story's not Ditko's best effort as a writer or artist, but even his average work is a lot of fun and well worth tracking down.


Grade: A-



Kyle said...

Howdy Chuck, I am a huge fan of Dave Stevens and the Rocketeer. I vividly remember the first time I saw Dave Stevens work, the cover of Airboy #5... Yowza!

FYI, finally getting around to finishing the 1st Jonah Hex TPB. Liked it alot, I thought the stories were great but some of the artists were a little too photo-realistic for me, if that makes sense... Johah looked too much like Clint Eastwood most of the time... It was very brutal with lots of murder, revenge, cruelty etc. I usually don't care for that too much in your standard superhero comic, but it fits the title and setting very well.

Chuck said...

Kyle, I'm also a fan of that Airboy cover - Stevens was a fantastic "good girl" artist. That's a comic I'll have to add to the "Classic" review list.

Glad you enjoyed the Hex book. I agree that the art on the comic can be up and down - it's surprising they don't have a "regular" artist - but the strong writing covers it.

-> Ray said...

I have a framed poster of that Airboy cover hanging in my basement.

Chuck said...

I have a copy of it, too - I should get that framed.