Summary: Missing scientists! Plucky girl reporters! Betty and Cliff on the rocks! The mysterious Church of Cosmicism! And who is the sinister Otto Rune? Pulp thrills the way you like them as the Rocketeer comes up against a brand-new adversary in… “The Hollywood Horror!”
The Rocketeer vs Hollywood Horror, by Roger Langridge and J. Bone 7.25
I’ve never read the original ‘The Rocketeer’ comics by Dave Stevens. In fact, I’m not sure that I knew it was a comic book when I first saw the motion picture way back in 1991 – or the second time, well over a decade later. I think I only really found out when I watched ‘Bettie Page Reveals All‘.
Wait-a-minute! What’s the connection?
The thing is that Stevens, in creating The Rocketeer, was doing an homage to a long-gone era, to the pre-war America of the late ’30s. In his strips were nods to various aspects of pop culture from that period, including the Rocketeer himself and his girlfriend, Betty (hence the documentary!).
In any event, I was suddenly curious to revisit the super-adventurer, especially if it meant that I could see Stevens’ phenomenal Bettie Page-inspired spreads of Betty (who had been changed to “Jenny” in the movie, incarnated as she was by Jennifer Connelly). I had obviously missed out!
Sadly, my local library didn’t have Stevens’ original works, but it did have one of the revival mini-series that were published by IDW in the last few years: ‘The Rocketeer vs Hollywood Horror’ is the fourth one in the revival and it was written by Roger Langridge, the genius behind ‘Fred the Clown‘.
This collected edition begins with an introduction that sets the stage for Langridge’s approach to the comic. In it, he expresses his enthusiasm not just for Stevens’ original work but also for the era that he set it in – noting that his own favourite comics and movies are all from the late ’30s.
And that’s quite visible in ‘vs Hollywood Horror’, in that it not only refers to notable events and landmarks of the time, but it features cameos by Nick and Nora Charles as well as Groucho Marx (I’m sure that there are probably others, but I don’t know the era well enough to confirm this).
In this collected mini-series, Cliff Secord/The Rocketeer finds himself on the trail of a missing scientist while Betty is on the hunt for her missing roommate, a reporter who was investigating a mysterious religious leader by the name of Otto Rune – a megalomaniac charlatan bent on ruling the world.
It’s exactly the type of thing you would expect from a book inspired by and entrenched in comic books and movie serials of the time, and Langridge does a marvelous job emulating the genre. He also modernizes it (as perhaps Stevens did?) by giving The Rocketeer a strong female character in Betty.
I was quite taken by the fact that Betty has a personality of her own and is as important to the book as Secord himself – perhaps even more so. While Secord is haplessly trying to follow a few leads and stumbling slightly, she plunges head first into the villain’s lair, irrespective of the danger to herself.
However, though I enjoyed the writing, there were some lapses along the way, for instance when Rune sets up a dam to be sabotaged, so that he may claim that he foresaw its destruction at the hands of a bolt of lightning (in so doing, he can convince his gullible attendance to donate to his “cause”).
A news bulletin states that The Rocketeer was safe after the incident, but there was no one around to confirm this – plus which he climbed out of the water after the bulletin. Anyway, it doesn’t make sense because, as he got out, he was immediately assaulted by some hoods trying to get his jetpack back.
So much for being safe!
So, either Langridge slipped up, or he purposely spoofed serials of the era, which were full of such continuity errors. Sadly, I think it’s the former, as the book in no way hints that he’s doing this anywhere else. This put me off, because I felt like I was reading something subpar or cobbled together.
Still, this version of The Rocketeer is a terrific homage to the pop culture heroes of the day, and it makes me want to read the original stories even more than I already did. Until that day comes, I suspect that I won’t be able to stop myself from watching the motion picture again – for good or bad.