Pacific Comics had been serialising The Rocketeer, first as a backup feature in Starslayer, and then in the Pacific Presents anthology during 1982-84.
As Mark Evanier explains, Dave Stevens is very s-l-o-w, which explains why it had taken two years to get these five chapters together, and before that happened, Pacific Comics had gone bankrupt, and Eclipse took over the publication of the final chapter of the Rocketeer serial.
So we start off with a recap of what’s happened so far…
And we’re off! Stevens’ artwork is super-sharp and attractive, of course, but you all know that.
In addition to the final chapter of the story, we also get some very attractive pin-ups, like this one by William Stout…
And the always fabulous Michael Wm. Kaluta.
And apparently Pacific had been running a Betty (the Rocketeer’s girlfriend) look-alike competition? So the winner is announced here.
And then a year later Eclipse reprinted the entire saga in album format, so we get to revisit Stevens’ older work.
The Rocketeer may be an overt tribute to old (like 20s) adventure serials, but there’s perhaps more slapstick than there used to be in those.
But there’s the usual stuff: Our Hero finds a gadget, and there’s nazis and feds and criminals after him.
Stevens’ anatomy was slightly wonky in the start (that head is a bit too big), but there’s a lot of very attractive cheesecake here. And, yes, Betty is modelled after Bette Page.
As stories go, The Rocketeer is neither better nor worse than an old action film. You have all the cliches, like the boss firing Our Hero…
… and the damsel being distressed…
… sometimes more distressed than you’d expect in these things, but it’s all pretty lighthearted and inoffensive.
Some of the stuff is just “eh?” even at this extremely low bar for realism. But air-planes buzzing cars and breaking the windows? Eh?
The printing on the album is super-crisp and displays Stevens’ linework perfectly. Except for the last chapter, which had been printed in the Rocketeer special. It looks like it’s been blown up from a smaller source, while the other chapters don’t. So I started wondering whether the first chapters had been drawn for a larger form factor, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Perhaps Eclipse re-shot the artwork for the first four chapters, but then reused the film for the comic on the last chapter, but just blew it up? In any case, whatever they did is a shame, but… It’s not like the pages are ugly or anything. Just not as pretty as they should be.
I looked to the indicia page to see whether there was any explanation, but nothing beyond a thank-you to Jaime Hernandez for “last minute art assist”. Eh? So I googled a bit, and that doesn’t explain the reproduction difference, either, because he apparently just did the breakdowns to this page:
As well as a couple of panels on the preceding page, which were added to the album version.
But I guess that scuppers my “they reused the film” guess.
Dave Stevens continued The Rocketeer very intermittently, and it’s been collected and reprinted many times.
Stevens died in 2008.
But what did people think of The Rocketeer at the time? I found this amusing snippet from an interview with Howard Chaykin in The Comics Journal 109.
GROTH: Dave Stevens?
CHAYKIN: (pause) It’s pretty, it’s gorgeous, it’s really lovely… I envy the seductiveness of it..
GROTH: There’s a but coming.
CHAYKIN: 1 sort of wish the Rocketeer had been a better, denser story. Sorry. There really isn’t a but.
GROTH: You seem really hesitant.
CHAYKIN: I thought there was, but no. I could see it coming myself, but… Dave draws like a motherfucker. I wish it didn’t take him so long to do this stuff. Or I wish he could figure out a way to trim some of the excess fat and’ do simpler stuff.
GROTH: He and Kevin could start Unproductive Studios.
Dave Stevens is arguably the first (and biggest) star created by the direct sales phenomenon. His Rocketeer series and the covers he did for Eclipse have spawned a veritable cottage industry of t-shirts, posters, and prints, the profits from which have unfortunately been swallowed by a withering legal battle with Marvel.
I guess people liked his artwork.