Saturday, January 18, 2014

ROCKETEER: CARGO OF DOOM

I love The Rocketeer, the character created by the late Dave Stevens back in the 1980s. Stevens was, in my estimation, one of the greatest comic book artists of the second half of the twentieth century. No one else had his lush line, his attention to detail, his ability to draw breathtakingly beautiful women including a spot on take on the legendary pin-up queen Bettie Page. THE ROCKETEER, as written and drawn by Stevens, was a labor of love, a pulse pounding valentine to movie serials of old, pulp magazines and high adventure. Oh, did I mention beautiful women? THE ROCKETEER had all of this (and more) in spades.

I love dinosaurs and they're a major plot device in the recent mini-series THE ROCKETEER: CARGO OF DOOM, published by IDW. In fact, they are the titular cargo of doom! The series is written by Mark Waid, as fine a comic book writer as is currently working in the industry, with artwork by Chris Samnee. I must confess that I was unfamiliar with Samnee's work before I read this hardcover collection of the series but I found it to be very good. To his credit, he's not trying to be the next Dave Stevens, a feat that no artist could accomplish anyway. Samnee's style is radically different from Stevens but it's still appropriate to the material. He's content to be the first Chris Samnee and that's a good thing.

So, we've got the Rocketeer, Betty, dinosaurs, a 1940 setting, a script by Mark Waid and art by Chris Samnee. What's not to like?

Not much but I did have a couple of beefs. The story ends on a cliffhanger with several major plot threads left dangling. This was frustrating to me because I felt the story was just picking up speed when it suddenly came to a close. And it's a corker of a story, one which evokes both KING KONG and Doc Savage, two titans of 1930s pulpdom. The cargo of doom is indeed dinosaurs, brought back on a freighter to Los Angeles from Skull Island by none other than John Sunlight, the only villain to square off against Doc Savage twice in the super sagas THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE and THE DEVIL GENGHIS. The use of Sunlight fits nicely with previously established Rocketeer stories in which Cliff Secord "borrowed" some of his rocket pack technology from a certain Man of Bronze. But Sunlight's not the main bad guy here. There's a mysterious "master" pulling the strings from behind-the-scenes and his true identity remains a secret at the end of the story. I'm sure that Waid and Samnee will resolve this (and other plot threads) in their next Rocketeer arc but it still left me feeling as if I didn't get a complete story.

To add to that feeling of being slightly shortchanged, the Rocketeer story ends on page 100 of a 138 page book. What to put in the remaining thirty some odd pages? How about another solo Rocketeer story? I'd really go for that. Instead, we get all of Samnee's original art (including covers) for the entire mini-series. The art is printed four pages to a page and while it's mildly interesting, it's not interesting enough to spend time looking at all of it all over again. I just did that for crying out loud! Makes me glad that I didn't pay full price for this book.

In sum, I've got to give THE ROCKETEER: CARGO OF DOOM a thumbs up because when Waid and Samnee are cooking, they're great. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. They left me wanting more and that's really not such a bad thing. It's not Dave Stevens (and nothing ever will be again) but it's a solid piece of comic book storytelling that does right by the characters. Stevens would be proud of what these guys have done. Check it out.

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