Disney is rebooting The Rocketeer as a black female character

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No scrap of IP goes wasted at Disney and they’ve dusted off The Rocketeer, Dave Stevens’ classic pulp-inspired character, with a projected reboot that will star a black female heroine. Max Winkler and Matt Spicer have been hired to develop a script, and Brigham Taylor (The Jungle Book) is producing this along with Blake Griffin of the L.A. Clippers and Ryan Kalil of the Carolina Panthers. Maybe as in line with recent new black characters at Marvel and DC, the new Rocketeer will be a WNBA star?


The new take keeps the story in a period setting and offers a fresh view on the characters. Set six years after the original Rocketeer and after Secord has vanished while fighting the Nazis, an unlikely new hero emerges: a young African–American female pilot, who takes up the mantle of Rocketeer in an attempt to stop an ambitious and corrupt rocket scientist from stealing jetpack technology in what could prove to be a turning point in the Cold War.


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The original Rocketeer film came out in 1991 and starred Bill Campbell and Jennifer Connelly. Directed by Joe Johnstone (Captain America) is was a charming throwback film that showcased classic pulp themes such as a damsel in distress and a can-do tinkerer who builds a flying pack. Not a big hit when it came out, it has become something of a cult favorite. 

The movie was based on Dave Stevens’ creator owned comics that were published by Pacific and Eclipse (later Dark Horse and IDW) and included such pulp references as a heroine who looked just like pin-up star Bettie Page. And of course the gorgeous Bulldog Cafe:

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Stevens died in 2008. He was a good friend of mine, and I’m pretty sure he’s rolling over in his grave right now. Not because he’s a racist or a sexist but because The Rocketeer was created explicitly as a celebration of white male fantasy and based on nostalgia for that. Pretty simple. He also sold his baby to the wolves though – that Disney was making a film based on an indie comic was considered a triumph for creator owned comics back in the day – and he’d roll his eyes and sigh if he was still here. I just wish he was still here, eye rolling or no.

All that said, times change, people want different heroes, and the white male pulp tradition is no longer the only thing that matters. The Rocketeer has been retro since it was created and maybe it’s time to move on. Whatever this concept ends up being, while it could be connected to the characters origin it will need to explicitly rework that. It’s a shame that Disney can’t just develop a movie about a black female hero, but hanging this on existing IP seems to be the only way to go.

This news literally just broke, so I’ll be watching the outrage on both sides and rolling my eyes.

Comments

  1. says

    At first I thought this was a joke. Now I just feel sick. And no, the Rocketeer was not a “celebration of white male fantasy.” It was a good story with endearing characters that anyone could relate to.

  2. Jim says

    I would imagine that the entire tone of the concept would have to change. As far as I know, there isn’t a black female pulp tradition. Were there even black pulps? I can’t think of any. I guess later in paperback — Chester Himes was awesome, but that was late 40s and 50s.

  3. George says

    “The Rocketeer has been retro since it was created and maybe it’s time to move on.”

    The whole POINT of Rocketeer is that it was retro. That `1930s flavor gave the series its charm. Updating it won’t work, just as Tarzan, Doc Savage and the Shadow don’t work in a modern-day setting. (The makers of the current Tarzan movie set it in the 1890s, a wise choice.)

  4. says

    I think the white man as Rocketeer vs black woman as Rocketeer is a red herring that will get a lot of comments and a lot of mainstream media attention, but the point is Dave created a character named Cliff Secord who was a hero in the 1940s. It was both a tribute to pulp heroes and something new. This new proposed movie is about a character in a different time period who is not Cliff Secord but happens to have access to the Rocketeer equipment. It could be a great movie and I’ll probably go see it, but I would have loved to see a Cliff Secord story in the theater the way Dave Stevens imagined it and see that film get the appreciation the first one deserved. Either way, this news should get people talking about Dave and his art again even if the movie doesn’t get made. And anything that reminds people that the Rocketeer was created by one independent comic book artist named, Dave Stevens, and not a production committee at Marvel or Disney Studios is a good thing.

    And I agree with Jackie, “celebration of white male fantasy” was pretty harsh and made me do a double take on this article.

  5. says

    Jackie: “a good story with endearing characters that anyone could relate to” that is also “a celebration of white male fantasy.” The two are not mutually exclusive.

  6. says

    Heidi, if you think that is the main way to characterize The Rocketeer, out of all the dozens of ways it could be characterized, I’m very disappointed. The Rocketeer IS Dave. He put all the things he loved in that series, from diners and bulldogs to pulp magazines and art deco to gangsters, vintage cars and planes, and yes, “good girl” art. Those are all things I appreciate and that plenty of women and non-white males appreciate and enjoy.
    Peevy is Dave’s best pal Doug Wildey; Betty is Bettie Page, someone who Dave later befriended and helped out.
    When the movie was being made, I asked Dave in one phone conversation how things were going with Disney, and in a typical Dave way, he said, “I still can’t sit down.” To get the movie to be as close to Dave’s version as possible, he had to give up a lot. So forgive me when I get upset over an announcement like this. They are taking his unique creation and having their way with it, and no one is around to stop it.

  7. Kurt Busiek says

    >> Dave created a character named Cliff Secord who was a hero in the 1940s.>>

    1930s. 1938, specifically.

    >> This new proposed movie is about a character in a different time period >>

    The 1940s. 1944, if what the press release says is true.

    kdb

  8. MBunge says

    “The two are not mutually exclusive.”

    The second is fairly gratuitous and dismissive, however.

    I’m reminded of watching commentators on MSNBC belittling the primary results in Iowa and New Hampshire because they were, and I quote, “blindingly white.” As you can guess, they did not refer to the South Carolina primary as being “so black you need a flashlight to see what happened.”

    Mike

  9. Gk says

    My initial impression was that this would be an anachronism, and it will be if she is a military pilot, but if she takes the mantle as a way to circumvent her inability to serve, this could be a cool story.

  10. Zaragosa says

    Heidi: “A celebration of white male fantasy” just seems like a poor choice of words. How about, “a celebration of high adventure, pulp-style, serial storytelling.” I think the phrase “celebration of white male fantasy” is unecessarily exclusionary. Would you say the same about Doc Savage or The Shadow?

  11. Shawn Kane says

    I was introduced to the Rocketeer by my half-Japanese friend back when I was a young, white male. He also introduced me to the original black and white Teenage Mutant Turtles.

  12. says

    The comments here are as stark an example of “privilege” as I have ever seen. I did not say “white male fantasy” was bad, and made it clear I love the Rocketeer. However some seem to have taken it as an insult, as if identifying the cultural biases of a white man was somehow damaging — unlike, say, labeling everything NOT by a white man by the demographic group of its creator.

    And YES Doc Shadow and The Shadow are also while male fantasy. That’s kinda what the pulps were. Yes, yes, I know Margaret Brundige and CL Moore. That doesn’t change the extreme (and often horribly offensive) racial stereotyping, sexism and colonialism that was inherent in the form.

    When he revived it for The Rocketeer, Dave Stevens mostly avoided these traps and produced a wonderful and lasting work. But it is very much a product of a certain mindset – one mostly found in white men.

    Anyhoo, I don’t think “White male culture” is necessarily an insult. But identifying it as *a* culture and not the norm is how we start to make a more inclusive culture over all.

    Now that I’ve read more about this new Rocketeer I see it does proceed directly from the first movie. That’s a more respectful way of freshening up the concept, so…we’ll see.

  13. MBunge says

    “The comments here are as stark an example of “privilege” as I have ever seen.”

    Look in the mirror. The starkest privilege on display here is the privilege you feel to slap a label on something for no other reason than its creator being a white man.

    Mike

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