The Rocketeer

Missing image
Rocketeer Adventure Magazine #1 (1988), Comico Comics. Art by Dave Stevens.

The Rocketeer is a comic book created by Dave Stevens, appearing in short installments over the course of 13 years, from 1982 to 1995. Beginning in Los Angeles in 1938, stunt pilot Cliff Secord finds a rocket pack which causes him to become the title character. The retro and nostalgic story and art were influenced by, among other things, movie and radio serials and Bettie Page. Stevens' work gained fans and critical acclaim despite long stretches between story installments.

The Rocketeer’s first adventure appeared as a backup feature to Mike Grell's Starslayer #2 from Pacific Comics in 1982. Four more installments appeared in various Pacific publications, and were later collected together by Eclipse Comics (ISBN 1560600888). The fifth chapter ended in a cliffhanger.

The story picked up again in the Rocketeer Adventure Magazine. Two issues were published by Comico Comics in 1988 and 1989, but the third did not appear until years later, published by Dark Horse Comics in 1995. All three issues were collected by Dark Horse as The Rocketeer: Cliff's New York Adventure (ISBN 1569710929).

Film adaptation

The Rocketeer is a superhero film starring Billy Campbell and Jennifer Connelly. It was released in 1991 by Disney. The movie is set in Los Angeles in 1938, the time just before World War II as Nazi Germany was preparing to go to war. Numerous other topical elements from the time period were combined, including the Golden Age of Hollywood, mobsters and G-men, and the enigmatic Howard Hughes (played by Terry O'Quinn). The film involves the escapades of Cliff Secord (Campbell) after he and his friend A. "Peevy" Peabody (Alan Arkin) discover a jet pack. Secord also has to defend his relationship with Jenny Blake (Connelly) from being broken up by movie star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton).

Music for the movie was written by James Horner. The film won a Saturn Award for Best Costume in 1991. It was one of the first movies directed by Joe Johnston, who later went on to direct movies such as Jumanji and Hidalgo.


Missing image
The Rocketeer (1991)

The movie opens with Cliff flying a Gee Bee airplane in which he and Peevy have invested a lot of time, in preparation for an upcoming race. Due to circumstances out of his control, Cliff is forced to crash-land the aircraft, ruining the investment. While this was going on, a chase between mobsters and pursuing G-men has occurred on the ground. A mysterious package hidden by one of the pursued is soon discovered by Cliff and Peevy. It contains a jet pack, apparently fueled by alcohol, and with a design that allows it to stay cool by quickly dissipating the heat of combustion.

Soon, Peevy constructs a helmet for Cliff to wear as he tries out the jet pack on his own. The helmet, which has a large dorsal fin to allow Cliff to steer in flight, is an Art Deco design that reflects the time, though it isn't necessarily the most fashionable thing: When Cliff asks, "How do I look?" Peevy replies, "Like a hood ornament."

Meanwhile, Cliff's girlfriend Jenny has been given a chance to appear in a Hollywood film starring actor Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton, in a parody of '30s movie star Errol Flynn). She is almost kicked off the set when Cliff shows up and bungles a shot, but she attracts Sinclair's attention; he is secretly working to get Cliff's jet pack for the Nazis.

Cliff and Peevy have several narrow escapes from the Nazis' Frankenstein-like goon Lothar (Tiny Ron) and mobster Eddie Valentine (Paul Sorvino), whom Sinclair has hired to track down the jet pack. Eventually Sinclair is outed as a Nazi, at which point Valentine and his gang, like any red-blooded Americans, switch sides.

The last major scene in the movie is a fight on a zeppelin which eventually ends in the ship's fiery destruction. (In reality, only one zeppelin, the Hindenburg, has ever been destroyed by fire in the United States). The explosion provides a novel story to explain how the "Hollywoodland" sign was shortened to "Hollywood."

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