Rocketeer / The Spirit: Pulp Friction

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.

Rocketeer / The Spirit: Pulp Friction

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, as the Spirit cast visits California, then the Rocketeer and his friends visit the Spirit’s Central City.

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.)

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