The Rocketeer is a comic book
character created by writer and artist Dave Stevens.
Set in 1938 Los Angeles, the Rocketeer was the alter ego of Cliff Secord: a
racing pilot and barnstormer who stumbled upon a rocket pack stolen from Howard
Hughes and stashed in his plane by two German spies while on
the run from the police. He decided to use the pack for a spectacular stunt
that would get him the money he believed he needed to keep his girlfriend,
Betty, and enlisted the help of his mechanic friend Ambrose “Peevy” Peabody to
design a helmet that would act as a rudder. However, selfish desires turned to
heroism when Malcolm, a local drunk, decided to cover for Cliff in the air show
when he was running late, and Cliff had to use the pack to save him. That, of
course, put him on the radar of both the federal government—the rightful owners
of the rocket pack—and the Nazis
who wanted it back for their own government.
|Dave Stevens' original depiction of the Rocketeer, his plane, and Betty under siege by gangsters.
publisher Steve Schanes had approached Stevens during a 1981 convention to do
two supplemental fill-in stories to pad out the second and third issues of his book, Starslayer.
Given complete freedom on the content, Stevens submitted a drawing of The
Rocketeer—which was used as the back cover of #2—to show his intended idea. He
then worked out a story to go around it. The character was an homage to the
Saturday morning matinee serials from the 1930s-50s and took particular
inspiration from King
of the Rocket Men and Commando Cody.
character proved popular, due in large part to Stevens’ art (he was a
self-proclaimed perfectionist and would work on a piece until he felt it was
perfect), and became one of the first successful entries in the growing
independent comics movement. Stevens was also credited for helping reignite
interest in 1950s pin-up model Bettie
having drawn numerous pictures of her and using her as the basis for the
character of Betty.
|Cliff convincing Peevy to help him in his scheme.
The Rocketeer continued on in
the first two issues of the anthology series Pacific Presents and
concluded in 1984’s Rocketeer
Special Edition, which was published by Eclipse Comics after
Pacific went bankrupt. A final three-part adventure penned by Stevens was
published by Comico
issues in 1988 and 1989, and then Dark Horse Comics for the third
in 1995, as well as the collection Cliff’s New York
Adventure (research and Stevens’ meticulousness led
to the extensive delays). The remainder of Stevens’ career was generally
devoted to pin-up work until his death from hairy
cell leukemia in 2008.
|The Rocketeer teaser poster.
Stevens had always viewed The
Rocketeer as a character primed for a film adaptation. A film version had been
in production in some form or other since 1983. Steve Miner purchased
the rights first, but strayed too far from the original concept and they
reverted back to Stevens. Stevens then offered writers Dany Bilson
De Meo a free option on the rights in 1985 after liking
their movie serial approach. They considered making it a low-budget affair, but
when they took on William
to write and direct they set their sights higher. The Rocketeer was
pitched to major film studios throughout 1986 but they had no interest in an
expensive comic book movie (clearly, a very different time in Hollywood).
Disney Studios, who saw the toyetic potential for the
character and agreed to make the film after a series of rewrites. Because of
the numerous delays in getting to production, Dear was forced to exit the
project and was replaced by Joe Johnston
|The Rocketeer, an all-American hero.
The Rocketeer largely adapted
the initial four-part story, adding in the character of actor/Nazi agent
Neville Sinclair (Timothy
Dalton) as the primary villain. The character was based on
movie star Errol
Flynn and the fabricated biography written by Charles
Higham that accused him of being a Nazi spy. Brought over
from the second story was the character Lothar (Tiny Ron Taylor),
a hulking man modeled after journalist and actor Rondo Hatton
who once worked at a carnival with Cliff (that shared history was abandoned for
the film). Because of Disney’s involvement, certain things had to be rendered
more family friendly; in particular, Betty was changed from a nude model to a
struggling actress and was renamed Jenny (Jennifer Connelly)
to avoid comparisons to Page. Finding an actor for Cliff proved difficult for
the studio, with the likes of Dennis Quaid,
Estevez auditioning for the role and Vincent D’Onofrio
turning it down. It ultimately went to Billy Campbell
after Stevens and Johnston convinced Disney he was perfect for the role.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have the same luck for Peevy when their choice, Lloyd Bridges,
turned it down. Alan
Arkin ended up with the role instead. Stevens himself had a
cameo as a Nazi rocketeer who was blown up by their own experimental pack.
The Rocketeer was released on
June 21, 1991, opening up in fourth place at the box office. It received
generally positive reviews from critics, but in the end only managed to bring
in $46.6 million in the United States making it a commercial disappointment.
Stevens, Bilson and De Meo had envisioned the film the first of a trilogy and
Disney hoped it would give them their own Indiana Jones-type
franchise (which Disney would end
up owning decades later, anyway), but the box office combined
with the falling out Johnston had with the studio resulted in the notion of a
sequel being squashed. The film was nominated for a Hugo Award
and several Saturn
Awards, ultimately winning the one for Best Costumes.
|The Rocketeer gets the Funko POP! treatment.
In the years following, The
Rocketeer film had developed a significant cult following while Stevens’
original comics were still very much in demand. New merchandise, such as poseable
figures and replica
helmets, were made, and in 2011 IDW Publishing
began releasing all-new
Rocketeer comics. In 2012, Disney reversed its
earlier decision and began revisiting the idea of a new Rocketeer. In
2016, Disney announced it would be making
a reboot sequel set six years after the original, with a
Black female pilot taking up the mantle when Cliff goes missing.
|Kit Secord gets a very special birthday present.
In the meantime, Disney also started
work on another project: an animated series. Developed by Nicole Dubuc,
The Rocketeer followed the same premise as the new film; except this
time around the new Rocketeer was Cliff’s great-granddaughter, Katherine “Kit”
Secord (Kitana Turnbull), who was obsessed with aircraft and flying (guess it
runs in the family). On her seventh birthday, Kit was gifted a mysterious box
containing the Rocketeer’s helmet. Upon showing it to her grandfather, Ambrose
(Frank Welker), he followed his father’s instructions and gave her a box
containing the rocket pack, making her the new Rocketeer.
|The Rocketeer with Ambrose, Tesh and Butch.
The series was set in the fictional
town of Hughesville, named for Howard Hughes. In the center of town was a
statue of the Rocketeer, regarded as the town’s greatest hero. Ambrose, like
his namesake Peevy, was an airplane mechanic that worked out of the airport and
kept the pack in working order, as well as designed a new helmet for Kit.
Aiding in Kit’s adventures was her best friend, Mitesh “Tesh” Cheena (Callan
Farris), an inventor that created new gadgets and upgrades for Kit to use. And,
of course, there was Kit’s trusty sidekick, her pet bulldog Butch (Welker).
Other characters included Kit’s father Dave Secord (original Rocketeer
Campbell), a stunt pilot in the local air show; Kit’s mother Sareena Secord (Kathy Najimy),
the manager of the Bulldog Café that served as Cliff’s primary hangout in the
film and comics; and Valerie d’Avion (Navia Robinson),
Kit’s other best friend from Valkyrie Flight Academy which her parents, Chantal
(Yvette Nicole Brown)
and Michael (Imari
Williams), own, and who has her own plane.
|The Great Orsinio and Deany.
Along with the occasional
happenstance like boulders blocking the train tracks and aerial accidents, Kit
often found herself protecting the town from a variety of criminals. Laura and
Harley (patterned after comedy team Laurel and Hardy,
voiced by Maria Bamford
Wahlgren, respectively) were bumbling thieving sisters;
Sylvester Slapdash (modeled after quick change artist Sylvester Schäffer, Jr.,
voiced by Maurice
LaMarche) was known as the “Costumed Bandit” for his tendency
to use disguises in his thefts with the help of his pet ferret assistant,
Lillith (Welker); The Great Orsinio (based on an acquaintance of Cliff’s from
the comics, voiced by Charlie
Adler), a magician that wanted to incorporate the rocket
pack into his act; Deany (a play on Harry
Houdini emphasized when characters ask “Who? Deany?”, voiced
Cheena), Orsinio’s hapless assistant with a background in
engineering; Rolland Poly, aka Doctor Doodlebug (Luca Padovan),
a kid genius in pill bug-themed armor that created inventions out of garbage he
stole and was advised by his watch A.I., Newton (D.C. Douglas);
Xena Treme (a play on “extreme”, voiced by Stephanie Lemelin),
an extreme sports athlete who did whatever it took to stay on top; Cast-Iron
Chef (food author and television host Ted
Allen), a food truck chef who constantly sought to steal
great recipes to improve his business; and Norman Sinclair (Raphael Alejandro),
the descendant of the film’s villain who wanted to become the Rocketeer
|Confronting Doctor Doodlebug.
The Rocketeer debuted on Disney Junior
on November 18, 2019. Disney approached Dubuc about helming the show while she
was still working on programs for Hasbro.
As a fan of the movie, Dubuc accepted the gig and became a showrunner for the
first time. The series was co-produced by Disney Junior and Wild Canary Animation,
with computer animation duties handled by Icon Creative Studio,
based off of the “steam pop” style—a bright, arts-and-crafts visual with
elements of machinery—developed by art director Max Miceli.
Character, background and prop designs were handled by Chad Frye,
Purves and Bryan
|Kit with her mother and father.
episode contained two 11-minute stories, with two episodes having a story that
spanned across both segments. As with other Disney Junior shows, a member of
the cast would recite the story title instead of it being displayed on screen.
The series was written by Dubuc with Kendall Michele Haney,
Wellman, with Johnson serving as story editor. Dubuc wrote
the lyrics to the theme song with music by Beau Black,
who also composed the music heard during the stock “suit-up” sequence whenever
Kit donned her flight gear. Dominic
Lewis composed the rest of the series’ music.
|Casualty of action.
Rocketeer was well-received, praised for its writing, characters
and diversity. In 2020, it was nominated for five Daytime Emmy Awards, although it didn’t
win any. Since the season finale has aired, there has been some question as to
whether or not the show was renewed for a second season—especially considering
it’s no longer listed on the Disney websites. Dubuc has stated on
social media that because of non-disclosure agreements she’s not permitted
to confirm or deny anything until the network makes any official announcements.
The entire season has been made available to stream on Disney+ and for purchase on YouTube.
Robbery / A Doggone Adventure” (11/8/19) – Foiling a robbery at the café
results in Kit’s rocket pack and helmet being stolen. / Butch sets out to
rescue his new friend.
Control to Rocketeer / Save the Statue” (11/15/19) – Tesh’s improvements on his
bike don’t pan out quite the way he hoped. / Kit and Tesh raise money to repair
the Rocketeer statue.
Caper / Songbird Soars Again” (11/22/19) – The Great Orsino sets his sights on
acquiring Kit’s rocket pack. / Kit befriends an old pilot and helps her return
to the skies.
Derby / Flight Class Heroes” (12/6/19) – A scheming young inventor plans to
ruin the downhill go-cart race with his weather machine. / Stranded in a
pilotless plane, Kit’s flight class has to work together to land safely.
Hughesville / The Piggy Bank Caper” (12/13/19) – The Great Orsino manages to
hypnotize the entire town. / Sylvester Slapdash steals Kit’s piggy bank when looking
for a special coin.
Hero / Hot on the Trail” (1/10/20) – Kit introduces Tesh to his extreme sports
idol after rescuing her. / A hike with Tesh turns into a need to stop Laura and
Harley from stealing a precious gemstone.
the Valkyrie / Follow that Bulldog” (1/17/20) – Jealous of the Rocketeer,
Valerie creates her own alter ego. / The Cast-Iron Chef steals Kit’s family
cookbook in order to spice up his repertoire.
for Disaster / The Critter Gang” (1/24/20) – Cast-Iron Chef makes another
attempt to steal the Secord family recipes. / Kit investigates wild animals
robbing the town.
for Takeoff / First Class” (2/7/20) – Kit volunteers at the café to prove she’s
responsible enough for flight school. / Kit befriends the coolest girl in class,
however she may like to show off in the air a bit too much.
Doodlebug / Bruce Goose” (2/21/20) – The Rocketeer sets out to find a
mischievous kid inventor. / Rocketeer teaches a goose that bonds with Bruce how
to fly and reunite with its family.
Lilith / The Hughesville Howler” (3/13/20) – Sylvester Slapdash’s pet ferret
runs away to join the Critter Gang. / Sylvester Slapdash plans to use the
legend of the Hughesville Howler to clear out the town and make it easier for
Lilith to steal things.
and Family Picnic / Lights, Camera, Action Hero!” (4/3/20) – Rocketeer sets out
to ensure Valerie’s dad can make the Friends and Family picnic. / Tesh’s camera
goes missing, and it contains footage of Kit’s identity.
Delivery / The Hunt for Hughesberries” (4/10/20) – Tesh asks the Rocketeer to
ensure his father will arrive in time to see the birth of his new sibling. /
The Cast-Iron Chef returns to steal all of the town’s Hughesberry pies.
Deany / Dr. Doodlebug’s Fair Game” (4/17/20) – The malfunctioning jet pack ends
up in Deany’s possession and he uses it to play hero, unaware of its problems.
/ Rolland’s latest invention may ruin Kit and Tesh’s art projects.
Valkyrie Cleans-Up / The Bank Job” (4/24/20) – Villains infest the town looking
to claim the reward for finding the stolen Rocketeer statue. / Kit helps Tesh
earn enough money to buy a new skateboard.
Top Problems / One Trick Pony” (7/4/20) – The circus is in town, and thefts
always seem to happen during The Great Orsino’s show. / Xena Treme cons Valerie
into flying for her new stunt despite Kit’s warnings.
/ Sitti’s Visit” (7/11/20) – Roland invents a device to help him win a new
merit badge. / The Cast-Iron Chef tries to steal Sitti’s cookbook.
Haunted House / The Halloween Heist” (7/16/20) – Kit uses a haunted house to
keep Orsino from getting his hands on the rocket pack. / Kit has to stop a
stampede used to cause a distraction from a theft going on in town.
Christmas Star” (7/17/20) – Sylvester Slapdash plots to steal all of the town’s
Search / Rocketeer Day” (7/18/20) – Kit’s Aunt Scarlet comes for a visit to
find where her grandfather’s plane crashed decades ago. / Sylvester Slapdash
plans to impersonate the original Rocketeer on Rocketeer Day in order to steal
the Rocketeer’s watch.
of a Hero” (7/25/20) – Kit turns to her foes for help in order to reclaim her
rocket pack from Norman Sinclair.