DUELING REVIEW: The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1

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After two mini-series, IDW Publishing has decided to make the Rocketeer an ongoing series. Mark Waid and Chris Samnee step up to take the series forward, and Matthew and Stephen sit down to review the adventure.

THE ROCKETEER: CARGO OF DOOM #1
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Chris Samnee
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Shawn Lee
Editor: Scott Dunbier
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously in The Rocketeer: Having discovered a stolen jet pack created by Doc Savage or Howard Hughes (depending on which origin story you follow), Cliff Secord has taken to the air as The Rocketeer! Aided by his best friend and mechanic Peevey, Cliff fights a never ending battle for truth, justice, and saving his girlfriend time and time again. (He also sort of fought James Bond, so that’s fun.)

STEPHEN: So here’s something a little different. Instead of a bunch of stand alone stories, IDW Publishing has seen fit to make an ongoing serial of the Rocketeer. I love the idea, as it gives us a chance to have a fleshed out adventure that can be a lot more than just Betty and Cliff pickering until she gets in trouble and needs saving. This issue still gives us some of the lover’s spats that have really grown tired for me, but at the same time, we get introduced to The Master and his cargo of doom in a very spooky and very pulpy way.

MATTHEW: I have to say, if they’re going to work with the property as more than just a Dave Stevens tribute, they HAVE to flesh things out. The number of original Rocketeer issues isn’t all that large, and the formula of “Betty acts like a brat and Cliff saves her” isn’t going to go forever. They’ve added some cast members, notably Peevy’s niece, Sally, who opens the issue with a near plane crash, thanks to a rather handsy member of the Civil Aeronautics Agency, who is SUPPOSED to be inspecting one of the planes. Part of me wants to say that Sally is a Dave Stevens creation, but I can’t remember right off the top of my head. Sally also serves to create a traditional love triangle thanks to her crush on Cliff. The issue is nearly all character work, as Cliff gets frustrated, Betty gets huffy, Peevy gets worried, and Sally gets justifiably upset, while the mysterious Master hovers about being all sinister and stuff…

STEPHEN: I’ll admit to being a huge fan of Mark Waid, and here he captures the spirit of Dave Stevens creation, while at the same time making it seem bigger than anything Disney or an anthology series has done previously. I think it’s because Mr. Waid understands that in order to draw the reader in, the writer not only needs to give the story plenty of action, but there has to be a protagonist worthy of battling the hero, as well as character interactions that give them depth. For each of these, Mr. Waid nailed it.

MATTHEW: With the Rocketeer’s pulp origins, you really need a villain with the pulpy charm, and The Master fits the bill. There is some reference to a history with the Rocketeer that is maddening to me, as I can’t remember what it was all about, and I don’t have access to my Rocketeer comics right now… But, since the character isn’t precisely a superhero, you can’t really do him justice with a standard-issue superhero story. Cliff does the right thing, but he usually does it out of enlightened self-interest, or for the welfare of someone he likes.

STEPHEN: There are a couple of uncomfortable moments in the issue; the first is Mr. Feeney and his advances on Sally. I don’t know how old she is – she certainly appears to be over eighteen, though her tomboy styling make her appear much younger, which makes the interaction that much more creepy. That’s a great way to set up a bad guy, but it kind of put me off.

MATTHEW: It’s a little creepy, yes, but I think that’s the intent. The original Rocketeer stories weren’t afraid to show off the seedy parts of life in Hollywood and/or New York and the desperate acts that some people are capable of. I think that, in a modern context, that scene would have been more off-putting, but I wasn’t as bothered by it here because it felt authentically creepy and seemed to fit in the style of the Rocketeer ouvre. I also read Sally as a grown tomboyish woman between 19 and 21ish, because of the implications of a love triangle that Waid is building. If she’s meant to be, as I assumed, a rival for Cliff’s affections, she has to be of appropriate age…

STEPHEN: The second moment in the issue that put me off, is the constant back and forth between Cliff and Betty. This is one of those things that will probably be a constant anytime the Rocketeer is involved, but for me it has the same effect as Silver Age Superman also making Lois Lane out to be less than she is. On the plus side, Cliff and Betty to get to do some lip locking at the end… while some mysterious shadow watches from the bushes.

MATTHEW: Yeah, I’m with you 100% here. Betty’s behavior throughout this issue makes her come across as selfish, vain and mean, especially as she berates Cliff about Sally, of all things. Betty is a very hard character to balance, given that she is often used as nothing more than the Maguffin to get Cliff in motion, and their bickering romance can quickly go from charming to depressing. I think that the multiple short stories that we have read the last few years have amplified this, as we’ve repeatedly seen Betty flouncing, pouting, well-i-nevering and basically being a jerk. But she, and everyone else in the issue, looks pretty wonderful under Samnee’s pen…

STEPHEN: There are a lot of artists who have a distinctive style that I really dig on. Chris Samnee is one of those artists, and I’ve followed his work for years. If you don’t believe me, dive into the Art Appreciation Moment Archives and see how many times his entries pop up. I love the pairing of Mr. Waid and Mr. Samnee on Daredevil, and to keep the duo together on this series is going to make it one of the best series from the storytelling and visual perspective. The pulp nature of the Rocketeer lends itself to dark shadows and heavy lines, and that is Mr. Samnee in a nutshell. The sequence in the cargo hold where the crew member loses his hands reminds me of the dark horror and noir movies of my youth. Mr. Samnee is able to capture character’s at the height of an action, which makes every page come alive.

MATTHEW: Well, I don’t believe you, but I don’t want to dig through the archives, so I’ll take yer word for it. The Rocketeer needs top-notch talent, and Waid/Samnee are absolutely that. When you’re following in the footsteps of an artist like Dave Stevens, you have to bring the good stuff, and Samnee delivers on that expectation.

STEPHEN: When people talk of master pairings, Mr. Waid and Mr. Samnee are two that I will gladly fork money over each and every time they work together. I first discovered the Rocketeer while traveling around the various comic book shops in the Topeka and Lawrence areas – and because I used shops you know it was a long time ago as there haven’t been more than two comic book shops in those cities since Reagan was in office. I fell in love with Dave Stevens’ art style and stories, and every time I hear there is a new project in the works, I get super excited. Upon learning that Mark Waid and Chris Samnee were collaborating on an ongoing series, I knew that I was all in. The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1 is a must buy, and I’m giving it 5 out of 5 Stars.

Rating: ★★★★★

MATTHEW: If it makes you feel any better, the shop that’s left is pretty awesome, and recently sold me the first appearance of the Rocketeer for a fine price. Of course, I know the guy who grades the books… Throughout the recent Rocketeer Adventures series, we both kept worrying that they needed to sow new seeds, to cover new territory, to take the character someplace Dave never got to, and this issue is a great first step in that direction. The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1 has it’s issues (Betty’s behavior, the unfortunate implications of Sally’s interaction with Mr. Feeney) but it’s a great first issue and a fun story, earning 4.5 out of 5 stars overall from me. At the end of this miniseries, I hope that we get to look back at this as the new renaissance for Dave Stevens’ wonderful and evocative little world…

Rating: ★★★★½
Overall Rating: ★★★★★