First Impressions – THE ROCKETEER/THE SPIRIT: PULP FRICTION #1

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One of the original pulp heroes of the Golden Age of Comics meets the homage to pulp heroes in an IDW/DC Comics crossover. In THE ROCKETEER/THE SPIRIT: PULP FRICTION #1, a major councilman from Central City is found murdered…in California! The Spirit travels to investigate the bizarre occurrence, but doing so takes him into the territory of The Rocketeer! Is LA big enough for two men of mystery? Or will their first encounter spell disaster?

The Spirit was created by the legendary Will Eisner (for whom the Eisner Award was named) back in the Golden Age of Comics. Danny Colt was a Central City police detective until he supposedly died, only to wake days later in the cemetery. Legally dead, he adopted a mask and fought for justice as The Spirit. The character had many comics over the years (now owned by DC), and eventually was adapted to the silver screen in 2008, directed by Frank Miller.

The film is usually held up as one of Miller’s many failures.

The Rocketeer by contrast was created in 1982 by Dave Stevens, who wanted to homage the adventure serials and pulp heroes of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Cliff Secord was a mere mechanic until he happened upon wreckage that contained a small rocket. Rigging it into a jetpack and donning a helmet, he took to the skies to right wrongs as The Rocketeer. His comics have appeared sporadically over the years, by various publishers (currently IDW). It was adapted to film in 1991 by Disney.

In spite of its poor box office returns, it maintains a cult following to this day, considered one of the better superhero films of that era.

So being basically in the same genre, it was inevitable that these two would cross over. Hell, The Spirit already crossed over once with Doc Savage and Batman in the same comic, might as well have him hang with The Rocketeer. I’ve heard worse ideas for a crossover.

Archie and the Punisher? Really?

THE ROCKETEER/THE SPIRIT: PULP FRICTION #1 begins with a Central City councilman arguing against a plan to cede the city’s broadcast rights to a private enterprise for the new medium of television. This man is Tom Cunningham, personal friend of Police Commissioner Dolan. After an empassioned appeal to ethics, the council begins its vote, with Cunningham leaving in disgust. He is found murdered the next morning…on the complete other side of the country. Dolan enlists The Spirit, long-time ally in crime-fighting, in solving the case. Dolan, The Spirit, and Dolan’s daughter (and Spirit love interest) Ellen charter a plane to California.

Meanwhile, the Rocketeer’s love interest, Betty, was in fact the one who found the body of Tom Cunningham. The shock left her distraught and unwilling to leave her room, much to Cliff Secord’s dismay.

When The Spirit’s party lands at the airfield outside LA, Cliff’s fellow mechanic and partner Peevish overhears their intent to find Betty. This leads to the inevitable fight between The Spirit and The Rocketeer as a result of a misunderstanding. A staple in all crossovers. Of course the matter is cleared up when the two heroes’ respective older partners turn out to be old war buddies, and they realize they’re on the same side.

I wonder if at any other point in their respective comics they’ll so much as reference this newly bridged bit of continuity.

Mark Waid wrote the book, so you know it’s going to be good. He writes the (ironically Eisner award winning) Daredevil series, so that should be an indication of its quality. Issue one serves to establish the conflict and bring new readers up to speed on who these respective characters are. Not that it’s very hard to show what these two are about: one has a jetpack, the other hits things. It does help that the sense of fairness that the primary means by which The Rocketeer and The Spirit fight is in the air, where it’s clear they’re on the same level.

Let’s just say if a guy can fight while hanging onto the guy with the rocket pack, the latter doesn’t have an inherent advantage. Not that The Rocketeer is a slouch in mid-air fisticuffs himself.

Paul Smith does very good pencil work, but the one that stood out to me was Jordie Bellaire’s colors. Partly because of the setting and time period and partly because The Rocketeer’s costume is mostly brown and gold, THE ROCKETEER/THE SPIRIT: PULP FRICTION #1 leans much more heavily to Earthy tones. But The Spirit by contrast wears a blue suit and mask, and a red tie. These help him pop out more, which from a symbolic standpoint is actually kind of clever, assuming it was intended. The Rocketeer blends well in the California landscape, whereas The Spirit, away from home that he is, stands out much more heavily, both in-story and artistically.

I’d personally recommend THE ROCKETEER/THE SPIRIT: PULP FRICTION #1, especially to fans of either or both characters. As a fan of neither, I only brought a very cursory knowledge of the two franchises and I didn’t have any trouble following the plot or understanding who the characters were. It’s witty, well-drawn, and teams two different yet similar pulp-style heroes together. And their worlds are so much like each other and the real world that setting them in the same universe is almost a non-issue.

Once again, DC and IDW have worked together to create a great crossover, and I couldn’t be happier. Here’s hoping it’s as good as the Star Trek/Legion of Superheroes crossover.

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