Rocketeer / The Spirit: Pulp Friction

Out next month is a dynamite pairing of two comic properties with old-fashioned flavor. Rocketeer / The Spirit: Pulp Friction works so well because the creators know their stuff. The characters sound right (and different from each other), their histories are acknowledged (without leaving out readers who don’t know them), and the look is nicely retro, clear and easy to read.

It’s 1941, and the Spirit, Commissioner Dolan, and Ellen Dolan go to Los Angeles, where they run into Cliff Secord, the Rocketeer. A Central City alderman, against granting exclusive broadcast licenses to the burgeoning medium of television, is discovered dead in the California city. Betty, Cliff’s pinup girlfriend, found the body. There’s something of an impossibility, though, since Dolan saw the dead man eight hours before on the opposite coast, and back then, it would take most of a day to get from one location to another.

The premise, written by Mark Waid, starts out with the characters fighting, then teaming up in the classic style. Cliff’s mechanic Peevish turns out to be a war buddy of Dolan’s, which makes the two title heroes feel even sillier after their in-flight squabble. Although it’s some gorgeous choreography, arms and legs akimbo in mid-air.

Paul Smith’s staging in the first chapter is incredible, full of distinctive panels, many of which could be used to sum up the pulp feel of the story, from Betty’s picture poses to the Spirit, seen through a snowy city window. It’s a shame that the series wasn’t able to keep the same artist throughout. The second chapter, drawn by Loston Wallace, has expressive figures but less creative layout. J. Bone’s second half is more stylized, making the girls particularly seem more “cutesy-pie”.

Betty finds the Spirit attractive, which makes Ellen jealous and annoys Cliff. And the background, looking at monopoly control of the airwaves, is quaint and yet timely in its analogies. As well, it provides aspiring actress Betty a reason to stay involved in the story and eventually be rescued. There’s also an undercurrent of East Coast vs. West, New York vs. LA.

I normally wait for collections for miniseries, but given the art changes and cliffhangers, this probably would read better in monthly issues. Regardless, it’s a fun retro ride. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

4 Responses to “Rocketeer / The Spirit: Pulp Friction”

  1. Argo Plummer Says:

    I read the first two issues of this mini and lost interest. I thought it was fine, but not worth $4 an issue. Mark Waid is usually spot on for me, but this seemed a little weak. I wonder if I might enjoy it better in trade form, as the cliff hangers were kind of ruined by the mini’s erratic shipping schedule.

  2. Johanna Says:

    If you left off halfway through, you missed the flip side, when the Rocketeer and cast go to the Spirit’s Central City. (The first half was the Spirit group in California.) Whether you find that entertaining or not, I don’t know — personally, I liked the Hollywood jokes more, but that’s me.

  3. Argo Plummer Says:

    My favorite part of the two issues I read was the juxtaposition of casts and settings, so I probably would’ve enjoyed that in the later issues. I have to admit, I have never been a huge fan of either character–I picked this up for the writing of Waid and Paul Smith’s art (I met Mr. Smith when he did a signing at a comic store where I worked during graduate school in the late 90s and still have several Dr. Strange comics he autographed for me), so when the artist changed, some of my interest waned. Add that to the fact that I thought this was one or Mr. Waid’s weaker efforts, and I am happy to wait until I find the final two issues in a bargain bin or find a copy of the TPB heavily discounted to see how it ends. However, I was glad to see it reviewed on your sight, and as always, enjoy your thoughts, even if they differ from mine!

  4. James Schee Says:

    Like Argo, I read the first couple of issues and just lost interest. I wonder if a part of that is not being overly familiar with the characters. They started to grate on my nerves by midway through issue 2.

    Waid rarely misses for me, but I just found this book lacking. There didn’t seem to be a lot of depth. Though there was a lot of posturing that was supposed to be funny, but just left me cold and almost feeling awkward.

    Heck I can’t even remember exactly why the two characters were interacting now, the actual story itself left so little impression in my mind..




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