Artist/writer Stephan Mooney’s four-issue miniseries The Rocketeer: The Great Race sets out to follow-up Dan Stevens’ original two Rocketeer stories as the third installment in a trilogy. It feels ambitious compared to IDW’s other post-Stevens Rocketeer comics in that it’s not just a stand alone adventure with the characters that Stevens created but something that really tries to capture the tone of the originals while also bringing a sense of finality to the adventures of Cliff Secord. There’s a very “Spider-Man No More” angle to The Great Race, with Cliff seriously considering hanging up the jetpack for good so that he can be there for Betty.
However, that doesn’t mean that Cliff has completely sworn off high-flying adventures. An inventor promises to pay Cliff handsomely if he flies an experimental plane in an international aircraft race and wins a trophy made of a valuable element that could help advance science (in true old-timey pulp adventure fashion, we’re never told what the mysterious element actually does). The race sounds like easy money for Cliff, but he doesn’t count on one of his opponents being the Iron Baron, a Nazi pilot who gets ahead by killing the competition.
Not all of Cliff’s fellow pilots are enemies though, as he finds a friend in female pilot Debbie Seville. At first, it seems as though Debbie is presented as a threat to Cliff and Betty’s relationship, but after Debbie helps Cliff out of a few scrapes and bonds with her, he learns that he’s not really her “type,” and she’s more into Betty. Debbie’s sexuality isn’t really brought up again after this, but I didn’t go into this comic expecting any queer rep, so it’s a pleasant little surprise that the Rocketeer is canonically a friend of the lesbians.
Overall, The Great Race has some pretty excellent writing. Capturing all of the old-timey mannerisms of Cliff’s speech feels like it would be really intimidating, but Mooney handles his 1930s slang like a proper wise guy. Every returning character has the exact same voice that Stevens gave them, and even the pacing of the story feels just like that of the original Rocketeer comics. It’s admittedly an odd-sounding compliment, but Mooney is able to vanish into his own work so that The Great Race feels less like a tribute and more like the world of The Rocketeer continuing to exist like it was a real thing.
The art is solid, though admittedly, I’m not always into the heavy, dark lines and shadows. These details occasionally give the characters a photorealistic look that’s not “bad”, but it’s personally not a style that I’m into. Still, I can appreciate the way that it harkens back to artstyles of yesteryear, and it never gets in the way of the dynamic action. Cliff doesn’t get to use the jetpack much in this miniseries, but when he does whizz around and clobber Nazis, it’s a real visual treat.
Like The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures Deluxe Edition, this trade contains a hefty amount of bonus material chronicling the history of Dan Stevens and The Rocketeer. These thirty-nine pages pull from interviews conducted for the recent documentary Dan Stevens: Drawn to Perfection and cover everything from the genesis of the character to the never-made Superman/Rocketeer crossover.
Mooney has crafted a very natural continuation of Stevens’ Rocketeer comics with The Great Race. This collection pairs it with some new stories about Stevens’ life and creative process, and the result is a must-have for any fan of The Rocketeer.