I recently had the pleasure of being invited to the Madame Tussauds Blackpool Marvel Experience opening night. It was a fun evening and I left feeling impressed with the quality of the experience and all the exhibits.

Being a podcast about 20th Century Pop Culture this kind of thing is perfect for me. I got to get a photo with Sid Rotten, Freddie Mercury and the Two Ronnie’s. I was a happy little nerd to begin with.  So to top it off with the main reason I was there was awesome.

The exhibit is split into four areas each focused on different parts of the comic experience. The first is a faux comic book shop displaying a wide array of modern Marvel comics, many of which I have read. However the thought struck me that this was a missed opportunity. The racks could have been used to demonstrate the evolution of the Marvel universe from its Birth in the early 60’s to the Modern Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which the exhibits focus on. Although this may be filled differently when open to the public.

Moving past this you enter the second zone with a smouldering Hemsworth Thor. The statue is excellent, not only is the face spot on the Thor Avengers movie costume is perfect. Set up like an ice cave you also get to see if you are worthy by trying to lift the Asgardian war hammer Mjolnir.

Beyond this is zone 3, an open area with several excellent Marvel Heroes and photo opportunities. The goliath Hulk looks incredible (see what I did there!). He is accompanied by the meanest mother fu… er, greatest spy master Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury and your friendly waxwork Spider-man.

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In my opinion, the best is saved for last where you will have the chance to have a picture with a full size Groot. It looks stunning and who doesn’t want to join the Guardians of the Galaxy.

It’s not the largest exhibit but it is an excellent celebration on the modern Marvel Universe. All the displays are great with (mostly) life like statues and loads of interactive elements. They are a slice of British pop culture heritage and to have this joined by some of the most iconic characters in modern pop culture is wonderful.

I congratulate the team that worked on this for capturing the essence of wonder and imagination that Marvel and the MCU inspires.  It’s a well worth a visit for anyone holidaying in Blackpool.

Excelsior!

The “Circus Theory” of entertainment, Or why Marvel need more fire eaters

When I spent my spare time dressing in lycra and throwing other men around a squared circle I learnt a lot about how to organise a show to maximise the enjoyment of the audience. It’s a simple theory that my close friend and co-host Mike has quoted at me so many times – a show should always be like a circus. In itself it sounds a bit daft, so let me explain.

The Circus is a single show, you sit down and for an hour or more you are entertained. However, the key is that during that time you will experience so many different acts. It could be the acrobats swinging through the air, the Clowns tumbling, the stunt bikers or the fire eaters risking their lives, if you don’t like one you will like the next, or the next. There will be something that keeps you on the edge of your seat and you will go away thinking about.

We applied the same idea to a wrestling show. You would have a hard hitting match between two technical experts, a fast paced highflying stunt-fest, a dramatic tag team match, a comedy match and finish with a no holds barred hard-core match. They were all wrestling matches but we added in variety so that there was always a match that would stand out for everyone in the audience. 9 times out of 10 this worked perfectly (as long as the matches were good!).

In essence … variety is the spice of life.

So how does this apply to Marvel? I have read Marvel comics on and off for years and enjoyed quite a lot of what I have read. In the last few years however I would say that the majority of what they have to offer is stale and cookie cutter bland. It’s not for want of trying; they have introduced new characters and had some interesting and talented creators work for them. The problem is the majority of the output is a homogenous mass of superhero noise with a couple of outliers that try, sometime successfully, to break the mould (Jeff Lemire’s Moon Knight, Tom King’s Vision, Jason Aaron’s Mighty Thor). They are all slight variations of the simplest of acts; flashy crisis / event driven cartoons with snappy dialogue and humour. This sounds like a good comic, right? It would be but when it makes up 95% of the companies output it gets very boring.

Even when they start with a flair for something different, like Jason Aarons Doctor Strange run, they soon fall back into the standard fare. It’s like the “House Style” leaks into everything and eventually makes it all the same. They have the their “Fresh Start” coming in May 2018 which I am sure will be a loud and fabulous tidal wave of more of the same.

DC isn’t completely free of this but they keep it contained and seem to have found a way of using it. Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, the stories often run in cycles and they will never push the boundaries too far. At least in the main run. They use it like a warm blanket, a patchwork quilt of continuity and nostalgia. The difference is that they are actually different characters. The Superman books always feel different from the Batman books which feel different from the Green Lantern books etc.

That wouldn’t be enough on its own, the house style does leak in. So what has kept them a step above? They acknowledge that variety is important. They have multiple worlds they dip into time and time again and use them to try something different; Earth 2 in the New 52 era was interesting for this. They have Else World stories, like the current “Batman: White Knight” story that is playing out an idea that could never be used in the main Batman book. In addition to that they have created imprints that have stretched the possibilities of comics and the superhero world. Swamp Thing, Constantine and Sandman all pushed the boundaries in ‘Vertigo’ during the 90s. More recently they have created the new Imprint ‘Young Animal’ which has allowed creators to push the boundaries of imagination with Shade the Changing Girl, Doom Patrol and Mother Panic, all of which can and do interact with the main DC continuity.

So what we have is two companies producing very similar products:

The first company producing a large quantity of similar products centred on a central style. They rely on customer good will and nostalgia or the love of specific characters that then appear in almost every book (Deadpool at the moment). The result is that customers start to drop off as they tire of not being challenged or being given something slightly different.

The second seems to have learnt a lesson. They also court the sense of nostalgia that exists for their top tier characters and have a habit of over saturation for hot property characters (Harley Quinn, we’re looking at you!). However they have also found a way to challenge those ideas and concepts. Moreover, they have created avenues for creators to really push the boundaries of imagination. A sandpit part of the universe that not only has Batman and Wonder Woman but also a snarky English magician con-man and a team of heroes that live on a teleporting transvestite street called Danny.

I will always want something fun and exciting from my nostalgia character superhero books. They are the bread and butter of the comic book industry and when done well can be great, we all love the acrobats. These are not always enough, for me at least, sometimes I want something different like a fire eater. Then I will look to the fringes and check out something like Doom Patrol or Hellblazer. That means my money is going to go the company that will provide me a Variety Show in their superhero offerings.

My Secret Origin

Everyone has a story, an origin story if you will, about how they were first introduced to comics. It changes from generation to generation, country to country and person to person but they are always interesting. In Britain there are several comics that will almost always be mentioned, for the younger readers there is the Beano and the Dandy. They are filled with whacky Comedy anthologies containing looney toon level characters with very British twists.

I got these sporadically for years as a young kid and got an annual for each every Christmas. As far as I was concerned these were comics. I was aware of Batman and Superman but only in the sense of characters that were toys and appeared on other merchandise. It was not until years later that I would learn about them and their full and complex mythology.

So how did I bridge that gap between Dennis the Menace and the Dark Knight? My Nan took me and my sister on a lot of day trips in the summer holidays. She couldn’t drive so we travelled on coaches to the destinations. These journeys could be incredibly dull and I loved to read so what better way to pass the time than reading comics?

Before one of these journeys I was given some money to buy something to entertain myself with. So I trotted into the local newsagents, my money in my hand not knowing that on this occasion my life would change. I looked through the usual magazines and kids comics, not really interested in what I was looking at. That was until I noticed an orange cover sticking out from the back. Pulling it out I was confronted with a helmeted character astride a bike clad in guns and a large gold eagle. It was an issue of “The Complete Judge Dredd”.

I opened the pages and flicked through the black and white art. It contained several chapters of the classic Cursed Earth saga, Judge Dredd and a bunch of cohorts travelling across the radioactive cursed earth on a mercy mission. I was hooked!! But I wasn’t finished there. As I pulled out the issue of Complete Judge Dredd, I uncovered that week’s issue of 2000AD. I was noticed it because the same character, Judge Dredd was it. My chubby little hands grabbed it from the shelf and opened it up. I couldn’t believe it, these stories were in colour!

I purchased both comics and ploughed through them several times that day. However, the one thing that struck me hard was that neither of them contained the end of the stories. I had to get the next issues to see what was going to happen. I went back to the newsagent a few days later and asked when the next issues will be in. They told me and I was back week on week absorbing the mad beautiful sci-fi horror that was early 90’s 2000AD.

As is very obvious from my previous blogs and podcasts, I did not stop there. As the title of this blog states, 2000AD was my gateway drug into the comic world. It was and is such an amazing comic and a staple of British pop culture.

After a couple of years of the 2000AD world I came across a Forbidden Planet in my home town. Holy Shit!! There are shops dedicated to this and so many other wonderful comics!! It blew my tiny little mind. My obsession was about to go to the next level … but that is a story for another day.

I would be fascinated to hear your comic’s origin story, what was your first comic? Where did you see it and what did you feel about it? Please let me know.

List of 5 comics you may not have heard of that deserve a film adaptation

You will notice from the dates on the series below that I am breaking my own rules again but this is my blog so it’s ok every now and then. So, I am listing comics series that I think are underrated and would also translate the big screen awesomely.

1.    Elephantmen (2006):

In a future war a corporation has found a way to fuse Human and Animal DNA to create super-hybrid soldiers. They are programmed for war, violence and killing, the perfect soldiers for the future battle field. They fight for many years but when the war ends they are liberated, helped and rehabilitated to be useful members of society. They take on jobs and live their lives but to many they are dangerous genetic freaks, they are The Elephantmen.

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The series is noir sci-fi and primarily follows Hieronymus (Hip) Flask a Hippopotamus, who works for a law enforcement agency.  Using his natural and trained skills he takes on a series of mysteries that start to centre in on the other Elephantmen. As he interacts with them we find out more about the world, how they have managed to move on, or not.

As well as being a fantastic sci-fi series in the vain of Blade Runner it challenges the ideas of what former soldiers go through when they come back to society. It also highlights the theme of what makes us ‘Human’ and whether we are victims of our nature or if we can push against it and be more.

This series would make a fantastic film franchise, especially now that the special effects have reached a level that can make Hip and the other Elephantmen so real. This could be much more than a summer blockbuster; this could do what great sci-fi always does; say something about who and what we are, using something out of this world. This could be an awesome mix of story and visuals.

Elephantmen is written by Richard Starkings and individual volumes and a Mammoth collection are easily available on line.

 

2.  Blacksad (2000):

What if Disney animated an adult focused noir detective series populated by anthropomorphic animals living in 50s America? Well you would get Blacksad. Think Zootropolis written by Raymond Chandler.

The series centres on John Blacksad a private detective and black cat, as he falls into different pulp style detective stories. He is your stereotypical gum shoe, a hard-nosed detective with a heart of gold. He can’t refuse a beautiful dame or a victim in danger.

The first story is straight forward and a great homage to its many pulp sources. However the second and third stories make a shift to become more political statements. ‘Arctic Nation’ deals with the concept of racial segregation in a small town. The story doesn’t mess around and includes a racially motivated lynching near the beginning and gets even darker at times. The third story ‘Red Soul’ deals with the McCarthy era witch hunt for communists. This story has some heavy themes about how your politics and how you act on them can define you.

There have been several attempts to create an adult focused animated movie, very few of them have been successful. This series has so much potential to tell action packed important stories about who we are using Disney like characters. I am convinced in the right hands this could be amazing.

Blacksad is a Spanish comic written by Juan Diaz Canales and drawn by Juanjo Guarnido. English translations are easily available on line. 

 

3.    Skullkickers (2013):

I admit I haven’t played Dungeons and Dragons; however I have enjoyed a lot of fantasy novels and films so I am well aware of the tropes and clichés that the genre is populated with; the medieval environment, swords, sorcery, dwarves and elves on and on it goes. Keep those in place and make it a madcap action adventure series written by Jim Zub and you get a refreshing take on an old story. Two nameless warrior mercenaries wandering the land looking for money and adventure, a massive muscle bound barbarian (nicknamed Baldy) and a tough as nails dwarf (nicknamed Shorty); from there we start the story.

The great thing about this series is the fact that the majority of the fantasy elements are taken seriously. The threats are serious; it’s actually our heroes that provide the comedy in the midst of the action. They are living the life they want and they are having fun doing it. There is nothing deep or thematic in the book to read into. This is designed to be popcorn fun action and it succeeds. Think Guardians of the Galaxy mixed with Tolkien.

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Also the art is perfect for the series; it’s simple and bold with great character designs and excellent imagination.

Skullkickers could be an amazing action adventure franchise, a balls to the wall summer tent pole blockbuster that would rival Lord of the Rings and out do World of Warcraft. I can see Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as Baldy, it would be awesome.

Individual volumes and oversized collections are available on line.

 

4.    Rogue Trooper (1981):

War is hell, but what if you were created for the sole purpose of existing and fighting in that hell? On the far off planet of Nu-Earth in the distant future a war has been raging for years between two armies, the Norts and the Southers. The war has lasted so long that the atmosphere of the planet is unbreathable with poison gas. To provide a more robust army the Southers create Genetic Infantry (GI) soldiers that can breathe the atmosphere. They’re stronger, faster and more resilient; they will bring the war to an end. However, in their first major engagement in the Quartz Zone they are almost all massacred. The Norts knew they were coming and ambushed them.

Of the deployed GIs only Friday survives, left to wonder the war torn landscape not fighting for any side, just trying to survive. He is not alone in this journey; he has three others with him. Each of them dead and their personalities replicated on a chip and installed on a piece of his equipment (Helm, gunner and Bagman – the names sort of explain themselves).

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Rogue trooper and has been running for 35 years and has built up a fantastic sci-fi mythology. I wouldn’t even try and touch on it here for fear of missing something out. If you want to know more I strongly suggest you check it out on line.

There are so many story opportunities in this series and so many ways they could be told. My preference would be a gritty sci-fi war story, imagine a sci-fi take on Saving Private Ryan, Platoon or Black Hawk Down.

The complete stories are being collected in volumes and available on line.

 

5.    Half past Danger (2014):

The tag line for this 6 issue limited series says it all really – Dames, Dinosaurs and Danger! This is blockbuster comic making at its best. Written and drawn by Stephen Mooney, it homage’s pulp novels, serials and classic adventure tales. It wears its influences on its sleeve and parallels or comparisons can be made between characters in this book and so any others; Indiana Jones, Doc Savage and Steve Rogers.

Set during World War 2 the series follows Tommy ‘Irish’ Flynn as he is shanghaied into joining a small band of elite soldiers. Their mission is to stop the Nazi’s from capturing and weaponiseing Dinosaurs from a long lost Island.

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Like I say, this isn’t particularly original but it is a whole lot of nostalgic fun with beautiful art and fun dialogue. The images could be used as story boards they are framed in such a cinematic way.

Harrison Ford it clearly too old for Indy (despite a new film being produced!). It’s time for a new adventure series to take the centre stage.

A great hardback edition is available on line.

British Invasion Review: Grant Morrison's "The Coyote Gospel"

Grant Morrison had been given the green light to write his four issue miniseries for Animal Man and it was a success. The bods at DC knew that if they were going to take a chance on Arkham Asylum then Morrison needed more exposure and if Animal Man was working, why change anything. So they asked him to continue, but after finishing your story what do you say? How about shifting focus to a coyote that has been sent to the DC universe from a parallel animated world?

While the first four issue of Animal Man dig into the weirder mythology of the DC universe, issue 5 creates its own weirdness. It’s an absurd existential tale about sacrifice and fear. Again, I won’t go into deep detail but I will cover the salient points, in fact I am barely going to mention Animal Man himself at all.

The main elements in the issue are the revelations about a coyote that walks around the desert on two legs and a man that loses everything but his faith. The issue opens with optimism and a trucker that has turned his life around for the better. During a conversation with a hitchhiker we learn that he’s a gay man in the 80’s that has found a loving partner and is doing well, he has even found religion. Then they meet the bipedal coyote … and run him down with a truck. This could be the end of the story for both the trucker heading home and the dead coyote. However, we quickly learn that this is far from the end when the coyote’s broken body heals.

The story picks up a year later for these two and in that time a lot has happened. The trucker has lost everything; his partner was killed in an accident. His mother had died from cancer, he had lost his job and the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the hitchhiker he helped a year before has also been killed. Tracking it back he pin points the start of his bad luck on the day he ran over the devil, or as we know the coyote. Now he wants revenge.

After running through several attempts to kill the coyote in some very looney toon ways, the coyote meets Animal Man and presents him with the truth. We learn that he is from a world of cartoon characters, beset by constant violence but where no one can die. Sick of this endless cycle of pointless violence he goes to see his creator and partition him to intervene and stop it. The creator agrees, on one condition, the coyote will be transported to another world to suffer again and again, thus saving his world from violence.

The book ends with Animal Man stating that he cannot read the script he has been given that contains the truth. The Trucker finally kills the coyote believing he has killed a / the devil, thus saving the world.

To stop there for a moment, we are really getting into the Morrison-isms that I have always enjoyed. The concept of parallel or multiple worlds will come up again and again in everything from Doom Patrol, Batman, Final Crisis and of course Multiversity. It is a core conceit of the DC universe that Morrison is a master of. Also, woven into this issue and some of those other stories, especially Final Crisis is the idea of a “creator”. This is returned to later in his Animal Man run, when Buddy Baker actually meets Grant Morrison. In this series and Final Crisis we meet characters that have been forgotten and exist in a limbo waiting for a creator to pluck them out and use them again.

Moving from the purer Morrison ideas, the heavy religious overtones of this issue cannot be missed. From the truck drivers cross and mission to kill the devil, the evangelist on the TV in the Baker home to the idea of the Coyote sacrificing himself to endless punishment to save his world from violence.  Of course the irony being that a man of faith has killed a being that is on a mission of pain for the purpose of peace.

I think because of his longer list of stories behind him Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing 21 is a better statement of his ability; it is better structured and tighter plotted. However this issue from Morrison is like an experiment, he throws in some good ideas in a loose construct and it comes together brilliantly. It’s no wonder he comes back to the ideas again in the future. Of the three issues I am discussing, this is my favourite.

British Invasion Review: Alan Moore's "The Anatomy Lesson"

For Alan Moore his statement of intent came with his American breakthrough. He had done a lot of work in the UK and it had gotten some attention. However, writing for Swamp Thing gave him exposure to a much wider audience. His first issue on the series was a wrap up of the previous writer’s story; in fact the issue is actually called “Loose ends”. With issue 21 he was able to start taking the series in his direction.

In issue 20 Swamp Thing is shot and presumed killed. In issue 21 we literally get a lesson in the Swamp Thing, where he came from, what he is and how he works. I am going to try and avoid spoilers but I will give the basics. The person that had Swampy ‘killed’ has kept his body and brings in Doctor Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man, to analyse the body. As he learns more and more, so do we. We and Swamp Thing also find out by the end of the issue what he really is.

This issue is a literal rebirth for the character, not only does he awaken from the dead but when he does so everything about the characters essence has changed. This issue takes what started as a mutated Man and transforms him to something much more mythical.

A lot of this issue deals with what it is to be human, and how we define ourselves. It is demonstrated that Woodrue, a plant/man hybrid villain from the DCU, uses synthetic skin to hide his true appearance, wanting to look human.  Does his appearance make him human?

There is also the man that had swamp thing killed, the old General, who lives and works in a digital office space, the king of his castle. The tower of steel and wires, as he sees it, a symbol of his wealth, but if you’re not engaging with society, are you human? Again when we learn what Swamp Thing really is, the question is presented: Are you a person because of the body people see, or the thoughts in your head.

This question is represented in the issue by book end images. The opening page shows Woodrue’s human face looking through a rain soaked window. The final page presents the same image, only now the human façade has been washed away and we see the Floronic man.

This is just one theme that I have picked out form the issue, a lot more can be taken from these 22 pages. However, just in presentation of this one theme we get to see the use of mirroring, which would be used in much more detail in Watchmen. As well as presenting juxtaposing ideas, like nature vs. technology and what it means to be human – Woodrue vs. the general. These are not only Moore ideas that he would visit again but more importantly the techniques used will be refined and used again and again in his future works. A lot of what came before is very good but this issue defiantly represents a turning point for Moore. This is a confident, well written story that being received well encouraged Moore to become more ambitious. 

"British Invasion: The invention of the modern comic book writer" Review

Despite my love of history and reading I haven’t read many biographies. I will admit to an attention span that needs something exciting every couple of pages to keep me going. So pages about someone’s childhood and family always become dry and my thoughts start to drift. However, there are a couple of biographies I would hold up as great examples of the genre that I really enjoyed. Mick Foley’s ‘Have a Nice Day: A tale of Blood and Sweatsocks’ and Kevin Smith’s ‘Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a fat lazy slob who did good’ kept me engrossed and I would recommend them to anyone. I can now add to that list Greg Carpenter’s ‘British Invasion: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and the invention of modern comic book writer’.

I should caveat that British Invasion is not wholly a Biography; while it does cover most aspects of the three subjects’ lives it also provides insightful and detailed analysis of their comic book work. The balance that this book strikes is perfect and written in an accessible fashion. This could have been a dry and dull text book but at no point is it overly academic but it also never dumbs down or patronises the reader.

The objective of the book is to provide a history of events and analysis of the impact of three of the most influential comic book writers of the last 30 years. Highlighting how these three men defined an era with some of the most well regarded and loved comic books ever. It achieves that objective and then some.

The history aspect is sufficiently detailed for the reader to understand where Moore, Morrison and Gaiman come from without getting bogged down in “this, then this and then this” listing of childhood events. I found it fascinating that three men from such different backgrounds could become so entwined historically and thematically. The rea historic detail comes later in the book chronicling how each of them entered the industry and then moved from work to work. This biographical context alone provided deeper meaning to the work they were producing. Knowing why and how Morrison created King Mob for ‘The Invisibles’ is one step beyond!

The book however goes further. This is where it is worth noting the author’s (Greg Carpenter) background as a college lecturer. Carpenter has taught courses on topics such as Comics, Shakespeare, Modern & Post-modern American literature and Screen-writing to name a few. So to say that he knows what he talking about is an understatement.

Carpenter’s analysis of the works, both popular and obscure, of each writer is fascinating and thought provoking. I lost count of the times that I dashed to my collection to read an issue or check the page of a book and seeing it in a completely new light, with more depth and meaning.

Having read this book it has achieved three key things for me that have changed the way I will not just read comics from Moore, Morrison and Gaiman but all writers and artists. Primarily, by providing an insight into the life of each writer I now appreciate more than ever how comic books are influenced by the personal situation of the contributors. Secondly, it has given me a deeper and richer understanding and love of the writer’s works. Anything that makes me love something more than I already do is always good. Thirdly, it has provided an education in the questions to ask and elements to consider when enjoying and experiencing any piece of art. I don’t and won’t claim to be able to provide any deep or meaningful analysis but knowing where to start is great. As an addition it has add a number of books I wasn’t aware of to my “Must read” list.

Overall, this is well written, accessible and insightful look at three genuinely brilliant creators that took comic books out of the spiral of silliness and proved that they could be art.

Greg Carpenter’s ‘British Invasion: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and the invention of modern comic book writer’ is published by the Sequart Organization and available through their website (sequart.org) and other book selling sites (I got mine from Amazon). 

The Rocketeer 1991 Review

As a companion to my first episode (coming soon) I thought I would provide a review of the underrated pulp hero film, The Rocketeer.

 

The current deluge of Superhero films isn’t the first time Hollywood has dipped into the cape and tights well. Over the years there have been highs (Superman 1978) and lows (Superman IV 1987). In the middle of this was a small group of films that revisited the pulp heroes of the 1930’s. The best of these is 1991’s The Rocketeer.

 

The Rocketeer is a great representation of the heroes of the 1930’s, despite not actually being one. The Rocketeer was created in 1982 by Dave Stevens as a homage to the heroes he loved a child. The film maintains this loving homage and sense of adventure.

 

The film follows Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell), a stunt pilot in 1938 California. A good but unreliable guy trying to get along and impress his beautiful girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), when the mob drop a rocket pack in his lap. The story is a typical hero origin story. Several groups want the rocket pack and Cliff is planning to use it to make money. By the end the good guys win and Cliff becomes a better person. It’s simple and pretty rote, so why do I enjoy it so much?

 

Simple, this film makes me smile from ear to ear. The characters, the setting, the action are so much fun. Billy Campbell isn’t a great actor but he has a boyish charm and enthusiasm that makes him watchable. The moment he finds the rocket he wants to strap to his back and give it a try. Cliff considers the rocket a chance to do something awesome and make a buck. Ok, Cliff’s arc isn’t one of personal discovery for the greater good. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have heart. Cliff learns to appreciate that there is someone he will put ahead of everything, the woman he loves.  

 

The supporting cast are really good. Jennifer Connelly as Cliff’s girlfriend, Jenny Blake, feels of the period without being just a damsel in distress. Plus she is stunning throughout. Alan Arkin is, as always, great as the weary but loyal best friend.  Then there are the Villains.

 

Timothy Dalton brings a moustache twirling glee to the role of Neville Sinclair. He is a smarmy, arrogant rogue made worse by being revealed as a Nazi. However, while being key to the plot making him a Nazi feels a little lazy. He is joined by a host of stereotypical 30’s gangsters and a Monster henchman, Lothar, in impressive (if immovable) Rondo Hatton make up. They are pantomime baddies, they’re bad but you never feel the Heroes are in any actual danger.

 

Director Joe Johnston brings comic book charm, heart and adventure to the film. A touch he would later bring to another superhero franchise with Captain America: The first Avenger. Despite being produced by Disney the Rocketeer didn’t have as much money as Cap and it shows. The film is let down by the special effects which, even for the year, are weak and haven’t aged well.

 

Even with iffy effects I love the two big set pieces of the film. In the first Cliff saves a pilot from an out of control Bi-plane during a stunt show, using the rocket pack for the first time. Seeing Cliff in the full outfit is awesome. The Design is great; a pulp hero has leaped from page to screen. The rescue doesn’t go so well, it’s a success but almost at the cost of Cliff’s life. Our hero is finding his feet in the only way a hero can, a birth of fire.

 

The second is the big finale, which is amazing in its comic book lunacy. A simple trade off escalates to a fight atop a burning Zeppelin. The turning point comes when Sinclair’s true allegiance is revealed and he is joined by a Nazi army. Not sure how they got there but I am happy to go with it. The reveal puts the gangster goons on the side of the FBI in a shoot out against the Nazi’s. During this Cliff, Sinclair and Lothar are fighting on the blimp which, as to be expected, eventually explodes. It is ridiculous but almost pitch perfect for the film.

 

I am a big fan of the big modern superhero universes. However, watching this makes me wish for a pulp hero universe. Smaller less god like heroes in a bygone era. I am sure it is being considered but until we get it go and enjoy The Rocketeer.