Rocketeer/Spirit: Pulp Friction #3
Writer: Mark Waid
Penciller: J. Bone
Colorist: Rom Fajardo
Rocketeer/Spirit #3 is a pretty over the top comic. Characters (especially the good ones) overreact to everything. When the Spirit tells the story of the death of Denny Colt and the birth, the heroic, man’s man Rocketeer runs off squealing like a pig about to be slaughtered. This melodrama also finds it into J. Bone’s art with grotesque expression and misshapen heads a regular occurrence on most pages. But despite its plethora of silly moments, Rocketeer/Spirit #3 is a solid middle chapter in Mark Waid’s miniseries and sets up the final confrontation between The Rocketeer and The Spirit and their nemeses The Octopus and Trask. And Bone depicts these villains in an understated, visually captivating way. The way he composes a panel shows how comfortable these men are straddling the world and use people as pawns in their schemes. Their motivations are barely developed, but The Octopus and Trask have a type of showmanship and ease of manner that eludes their heroic foils. Mark Waid’s script does a good job showing The Spirit and Rocketeer’s foibles which humanizes them as characters and makes them more likable.
If Rocketeer/Spirit #2 was an action adventure serial, Rocketeer/Spirit #3 is film noir. It is set in the cluttered, perpetual rainy Central City and opens with The Spirit talking about the city’s corruption and crime. Little details like the neon lights of a strip bar, rain puddles covering the sidewalk, and a porn magazine or brandy glass in the hands of a villain give Central City a personality and history. J. Bone builds a world that Mark Waid populates with his characters and their struggles. The Rocketeer is especially ill at ease here and is even frightened by the maitre’d at Betty’s hotel. Through the Spirit’s dialogue about nothing disturbing or affecting him, Waid shows how suffocating life as a masked hero can be in a crime-ridden city. Rom Fajardo’s use of dark colors (even the Rocketeer is brown and not gold) captures this feeling and contributes to the feeling helplessness in the face of powerful and organized evil.
Unfortunately, these themes and character moments lose some of their dramatic significance due to Bone’s facial work. He attempts cubism and contorts Spirit, Rocketeer, and other characters’ faces when they talk. Only the female characters and the Octopus maintain the same facial and body shape. These little flaws in the art also expose some problems with Waid’s script. The main female leads, Ellen and Betty, are either whiners or damsels in distress. This comic is set in the 1940s, but Waid fails to explore why these characters care about the men in their lives (beyond their good looks) or do anything. And there is also The Octopus and Trask’s plan to “privatize” television broadcasts and send solid objects via television is a pretty one-dimensional motivation. At least, Waid has the good sense to laugh at himself as some of their investors call this scheme something out of “Jules Verne novel”. He also throws in some bits of foreshadowing about The Octopus having a bigger plan in mind. Hopefully, the final issue will add some depth to these theatrical villains’ ridiculous plans.
Even if the plot has its fair share of laughable moments, Rocketeer/Spirit #3 has beautiful, detailed art. J. Bone is a master of composing a panel and filling it with activity. For example, while Commissioner Dolan makes a phone call, his daughter Ellen and Spirit flirt while the door is left wide open. His figures may be cartoonish, but Bone has a solid grasp on telling a sequential story with each cause having a payoff a few panels later. He does this with The Octopus by focusing on objects that the character is interacting with instead of The Octopus himself. This shows how The Octopus manipulates the people and things around him to get what he wants. Bone’s art is the highlight of this issue and perhaps this whole run. Even if the facial expressions and plot devices get a little crazy, Bone and Fajardo’s art along with flashes of brilliant characterization from Waid make a Rocketeer/Spirit #3 a decent read.