Cliff Secord has been all over the world thanks to his rocket pack and his skills as a racing pilot, but this summer the Rocketeer is coming home to do something he hasn’t done in nearly two decades: a new, full-length comic series. After bursting back on the scene last year with the anthology series Rocketeer Adventures, IDW is shifting into a new gear and publishing a four issue miniseries by writer Mark Waid and artist Chris Samnee. As the first all-new series for the Rocketeer since Dave Stevens held the pencil for the final issue of Rocketeer Adventure Magazine in 1995, it’s quite a feat – but for an aerialist like the Rocketeer it’s all part of the job.
“It's a big responsibility and I don't take it lightly at all,” Waid tells Newsarama. “All I can tell you is that as someone who bought all the original Rocketeer comics as they came out and read them until they fell apart, every page of Dave's work is burned into my brain and we intend to come at Rocketeer with the same sense of respect and honor that Dave himself showed to his forebears.”
Created in 1982 by Dave Stevens as a homage to the movie matinee icons of the 1930s and 1940s, the Rocketeer’s adventures were set in pre-WWII California where Secord worked as a pilot-for-hire while moonlighting as an adventurer with a space-age rocket-pack prototype he finds. In this new Rocketeer series by Waid and Samnee, Secord is pulled into action when a mysterious ship docks in the Los Angeles harbor with cargo that’s both big and alive.“As the Rocketeer, Cliff’s dealing with two arch-nemeses set to strike the West Coast with a cargo of terror they’ve crated in from a place quite familiar to movie historians,” Waid reveals. “While this is going on, Cliff has another set of problems to deal with. The end of the 1930s saw the beginnings of the Federal Aviation Administration and the start of a great deal more regulation of free-wheeling airmen like Cliff--who, if he doesn't learn to control his temper, may find himself permanently grounded in red tape.”
This Rocketeer adventure is more than just the helmeted hero facing off against a pair of criminals, as Waid is carrying on the tradition Stevens started to incorporate some of that era’s pulp- and pop-culture icons into the story. Both the mystery man with the bronze complexion who created the Rocketeer device and the hawk-nosed “Mr. Jonas” play a role in this story.
And there’s also one special girl for the Rocketeer that Waid could never forget.
“What's a Rocketeer story without Betty?” the writer exclaims. “She's always got Cliff at her beck and call, and she knows it. But in this story, she has a real rival for the first time – Peevey's niece, a sparkplug of a gal who's head-over-heels for Cliff!”
Speaking of head-over-heels, both Waid and artist Chris Samnee admit they feel that way for all of the characters in Stevens’ Rocketeer world – but platonically, of course.
“I've been a fan of the Rocketeer and of Dave Stevens' work since I was just a kid so it's honestly been a bit daunting,” the artist admits. “Dave created such a wonderful world for these characters to live in and some of the most beautiful work ever seen in comics so it goes without saying that he left some pretty huge shoes to fill. That said though, I'm giving this book everything I have and trying my hardest to live up to what Dave created. And having a ball every moment I'm at the board.”This all-new Rocketeer series is something that editor Scott Dunbier had been working towards for years, even before he joined IDW in 2008. After talking with Stevens and his friends David Mandel and Kelvin Mao for years, it became one of his first major projects when he joined IDW. “We wanted to publish it the way Dave Stevens intended it to be done,” Dunbier explains. “David and Kelvin were a great help in many ways during this whole process (and continue to be). We published two collections: a regular hardcover book with all the remastered art, and a deluxe version that was over-sized and had more than 100 pages of addition material in it. Once these books came out it really solidified our relationship with Dave's estate, his mother Carolyn, and sister Jennifer—they were very pleased and saw that we were committed to doing these books in as good and respectful a way as possible. Then we did the Rocketeer Adventures anthology, and that was really well received, and this month the second anthology will debut. Throughout this long process we had been talking about doing a new Rocketeer mini that would be one story, by one creative team—the time was right.”
Seeing two such high-profile creators on a new Rocketeer story is bound to be an invigorating sight for fans of the character, and as it turns out this particular match-up is something on more than one editor’s mind. Earlier this month Marvel announced that Samnee was joining Waid to draw Daredevil. When asked if it was fate, coincidence or something more at work, the creators have different answers.
“Fate! I choose fate!” Waid says. “In actuality, I knew Chris was secretly booked for Rocketeer when Daredevil editor Steve Wacker called me out of the blue and asked if I thought he'd be a good fit for Daredevil... and my heart stopped. I couldn't tell Steve about Rocketeer, but I didn't want to shoo Chris away... so I made the first of what will, I'm sure, be many, many panicked late-night calls to Chris to ask him which he was choosing – and when he said "both!", I was happy as can be!”
For Samnee’s side, he says it’s less about destiny and more about two editors with similar ways of thinking.
“It’s coincidence, really. In both cases, it was the editors who brought me on board,” the artist points out. “The Rocketeer series has been in the planning stages for a while so, even though its only just now being announced, I actually signed on to do it before I knew I would be doing Daredevil. I feel incredibly lucky to get to work with Mark on both books! I hope he doesn't get sick of me!”
As the two creators share the page in creating the first new full-length Rocketeer series in over a decade, they’re both firmly aware of the rich tradition they’re stepping into following Dave Stevens. For Samnee it’s especially potent as one artist carrying on after another.
“Rocketeer plays to everything I love in entertainment. It's funny, full of adventure and with a fair amount of daring-do,” says Samnee. “I feel, even though our styles are different, Dave and I share some of the same sensibilities and a number of the same artistic influences. For me, working on The Rocketeer is all coming pretty naturally. Stylistic differences aside, there's no sense in fixing something that isn't broken. The Rocketeer is, in my book, one of the best character designs comics have ever seen. I've added a few of my own touches here or there to make it mine but I'm really trying to stay true to the world and characters that Dave Stevens created.”