Saturday 6 November 2010

Jetman performs new aerial stunt

Jetman performs new aerial stunt

Swiss pilot Yves Rossy, aka Jetman, has once again caught my attention with the testing of a refined version of his jet-pack wing. I admire M. Rossy immensely, for having the ability to create such a fantastic device (particularly so considering previous attempts at jet-packs, which barely get the user off the ground) and the skill and nerve to fly the thing at all. In these times of health and safety and reams of paperwork M. Rossy and his invention are something to marvel at in much the same way as people followed the exploits of Lindbergh, Earhart and Johnson in the '20s and '30s, I'd like to think. Long may he continue to thrill us aeronautical-minded chaps with his jet-pack designs.

To add a bit of a vintage theme to this post I'm going to use this story as an opportunity to include some clips of my other favourite "rocketmen" (albeit fictional, alas!) from down the years. I should warn you that these are classic examples of or homages to dodgy mid-fifties B-movies so if that's not your kind of thing best stop reading now!

To start us off is the 1949 Republic serial King Of The Rocketmen which introduces us to the idea of a jetpack-powered flying man in the character of Jeff King. Our hero is a scientist who, with the help of a colleague, uses an "atomic powered rocket flying suit" and sundry other inventions to battle the evil Dr Vulcan:

Three years later and Jeff "Rocketman" King has given way to Commando Cody (still, however, in the same Rocketman suit) whose first appearance was in the 12-part serial Radar Men From The Moon. In this series, the first part of which you can see below, our intrepid flying man foils evil moon ruler Retik's plan to invade the Earth!

Then, in the same year, came the brilliantly-titled Zombies Of The Stratosphere (perhaps nowadays best known for being the first film of Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy) and another change of name - now the Rocketman is Larry Martin, but who in every other respect is exactly the same as Commando Cody. This time Earth is menaced by malevolent Martians, whose devious plan is to set off an H-bomb to blow the Earth out of its orbit and put their planet in its place!

Next, and somewhat confusingly, comes the 1953 serial Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe which is a prequel to Radar Men From The Moon and reintroduces the character of Commando Cody. Unlike the previous Rocketman adventures each episode was an individual story in itself (although there was still a chronological order to them), as the villainous alien The Ruler attempts to take over the Earth. I can't find a clip or trailer for this one so instead I'll include this hilarious over-dub, Commando Cody and the Hatless Planet, which affectionately yet effectively sends up the series and '50 B-movies in general using clips from the serials:

For the next 30 years fictional Rocketmen became rather thin on the ground but then in 1982 the late Dave Stevens, illustrator and comics artist, came up with the character of The Rocketeer in homage to the Rocketman/Commando Cody serials and other sci-fi/fantasy films of the '30s. Rocketeer stories appeared sporadically between 1982 and 1995 and are now collated in the recently launched The Rocketeer: The Complete Collection graphic novel. However the high point came in 1991 when Disney released the film The Rocketeer:

This is by far and away one of my favourite films ever, although sadly it didn't perform well at the box office (it was unfortunately released at the same time as some piece of nonsense called Terminator 2) and the subsequent planned sequel was cancelled. I'm pleased to see that it is on Youtube in 11 parts and it is also readily available on DVD (which of course I have). Perhaps the 1990s was the wrong time for a '30s-style adventure film but now what with the sudden explosion of interest in vintage and M. Rossy's jet pack flights, perhaps we will see a Rocketman on our screens again soon...

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