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The Rocketeer: The Complete Deluxe Edition
posted January 27, 2010
 

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Creator: Dave Stevens
Publishing Information: IDW, slipcased hardcover, 248 pages, December 2009, $75
Ordering Numbers: 1600105378 (ISBN10), 9781600105371 (ISBN13)

The first person you know that dies will be way too young. And the second. And the third. And then when you move into your thirties it starts to happen with a bit more regularity. The one they don't warn you about is that when you turn 40, and the kid next to you in seventh grade gym class and the girl with whom you were once in a play and the guy with whom you puzzled out the name of the elf in Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer at 2 AM in a dormitory hallway, when all of those people fade from this place before you do, that there's a point where it's absolutely unremarkable. Those lives aren't cut short, they're just cut. You look at them and you think, "Well, that's a life." And it is, that's what we're taught a life looks like.

imageFor many people in the North American comics industry, including many in that vital Southern Californian enclave that is still largely under-appreciated in the wider scheme of things, Dave Stevens was a dear friend and talented artist whose loss was felt keenly. For most of us, however, of a certain age that read comic books and witnessed the medium's beautiful transformation of the 1980s and 1990s, Dave Stevens was simply a cartoonist who drew wonderful-looking comics panels and pages -- not to mention illustrations that called to mind those comics stories -- and through the sheer, studied application of craft and its attending values seemed to wish upon comics an alchemical change into something that embodied virtues past and present.

I can't say it worked out, but a collection of all of the Rocketeer work by IDW reveals, primarily, a fun comic book stuffed with sturdy characters and pleasing twists of fate, revelatory mostly of that graceful way certain cartoonists have of picking and choosing elements of design and narrative and representing them as their own. That may be a pre-Internet idea, I'm not sure, but I know it's through Dave Stevens that I first reconsidered those airplanes, and luxuriated in that pulp material, and stared at Bettie Page, and thought about flight as a primary joy after years of experiencing perfunctory depictions, and took in the particular way the sun blasts down on California during daytime hours. Those aren't inconsiderable things.

As to an appraisal of this particular volume, I realized with a small bit of joy and great deal of confusion while holding in my hands that I had yet to see a lot of the material here. I hadn't even read the last chapter of that second Rocketeer story, the one set in New York. The supplementary material is presented with a lot of class and precision; to my eye, it's a nicely accomplished archival project all around and certainly something to look at. The latter, the story I didn't know, it seems fitting that this was the last one both in closing the circle and hinting at problems that might have emerged had things continued. The reason I and so many others, an insatiable audience for "more" in most cases, never seemed to wish for another Rocketeer tale is here for the discovering: it's nearly impossible to pull the effects of that art through a narrative that fits and flatter everything the single images communicate. It was complete, after all. That it had a happy ending before fading to black, that made me smile.

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