Friday, February 21, 2014

Rocketeer/The Spirit: Pulp Friction

As I've said in earlier reviews of their material, IDW has been doing a great job of keeping Dave Stevens ROCKETEER character alive and in the public eye, as well as making his adventures tremendously entertaining. That golden run of near-perfection was bound to hit a speed-bump eventually, and that speed-bump comes in the form of ROCKETEER/THE SPIRIT: PULP FRICTION, The Rocketeer's first "official" cross-over. (He's had a few wink-wink, nudge-nudge "Don't name names!" encounters with a certain bronze-skinned adventurer prior to meeting The Spirit.)

 Writer Mark Waid helms the crossover, which finds The Spirit and Commissioner Dolan (With daughter Ellen in tow...) heading out to California to investigate a bizarre murder of a Central City Alderman. The plot, as hinted at by the book's title, is something straight out of the most fantastic, far-fetched pulps: A pair of criminals trying to corner the burgeoning television industry hatch a scheme to use television signals as a way to teleport matter from place to place. (Things like that, especially in a period piece, immediately take me out of the story. I appreciate Waid's intention to hearken back to the pulps, but it's a ridiculous plot device...I wouldn't like it in a story with a modern setting, and I like it even less in a story set in the 1940's.)

 The corpse in question was discovered by Betty, The Rocketeer's girlfriend, so The Spirit and The Rocketeer inevitably cross paths, and (After the obligatory Hero-on-Hero dust-up, of course...) decide to team up to nab the culprits.

 Waid is usually a sure bet, but this adventure didn't do much for me at all. Will Eisner's THE SPIRIT is one of the real gaping holes in my comic-book knowledge. Yes, I know it's great stuff, but I need to get started collecting another expensive set of archive editions like I need a hold in the head. So maybe it was my lack of familiarity with the character that was part of the problem, but I didn't feel that he was written with any kind of charm or personality whatsoever. And Cliff Secord (The Rocketeer) has a real whiny-bitch moment (In The Spirit's graveyard home...) that made me want to fling the book across the room. (Well, it's a digital copy, so I guess it made me want to delete my copy and empty the recycling bin.) It seemed like Waid was playing for laughs, but it was out-of-character and not at all funny. The two main characters just didn't ring true to me at all, unfortunately.

 The female characters fare better, with Ellen Dolan coming out as the more likeable of the two. (I thought the already on-the-edge Betty was portrayed as more of a skanky whore than usual here....I mean, show me a woman who is going to answer the door to a masked stranger while wearing nothing but a skimpy bra & panty set, under a totally sheer gown, in the 1940's no less, and I'll show you a skanky ho!) Waid has a tremendous character moment with F.D.R., however, that was both moving and funny...that alone almost made the book worthwhile.

 Artistically, the first chapter, illustrated by long-lost UNCANNY X-MEN artist Paul Smith, is perfect. Smith is at the top of his game here. And then...he disappears. Visually, it looks like more than one artist taking his place (One of them is J. Bone, but IDW's review copy omits all covers and credit boxes, so I have no idea who did what, and Smith's vanishing act is never explained.) The artistic quality is all over the place, though, and it makes for a jarring reading experience. I don't know what happened to Smith, but IDW would have been better off waiting for him to finish the remaining three issues, or just getting another artist to handle the whole series after starting from scratch.

 Waid is generally a good fit for THE ROCKETEER, but this one just didn't do anything for me. Hopefully, he has more stories of Cliff and Betty and Peevy in store, and they'll be up to his usual standards.

 IDW provided a review copy.

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