Mark Evanier is reporting that artist Dave Stevens has died of leukemia at the age of 52.

When I was a kid, my favorite comics store was Haley's Comics in Ft. Collins (which was still in business last time I was up there, on Walnut St. just off of Old Town Square). There were plenty of things to drool over (not literally, of course) in the store - not least of which was a glass display case full of the early issues of pretty much every Silver Age Marvel title. I don't doubt that John, the owner, had bought them brand-new from the newsstand. He had a complete collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures on display - this being the early days, before the TMNT became over-exposed and over-merchandised. And there was this poster that always caught my eye.

It depicted a guy wearing a leather jacket and a jet-pack, struggling in the clutches of a gigantic monster, so huge that the hand clutching the heroic figure was the only part of the monster you could see. I had no idea who this character was, and it never particularly occurred to me to ask. But I always liked that poster.

In the summer of 1991, Disney released The Rocketeer, and I discovered who the character on that poster was. It was a pretty clear attempt to create a superhero franchise riding on the coattails of Tim Burton's hugely popular Batman film from a couple of years before. It also had a bit of that nostalgic-for-the-old-movie-serials, let's-punch-some-Nazis, Indiana-Jones-ripoff mojo going, too, of course. So, yeah...a movie that combined superheroes with Indiana Jones-style adventure? It should go without saying that I absolutely loved it.

Sadly, I was one of the few. It was a flop, and Disney's expected franchise never took off (no pun intended). Too bad, but the bright side was that the comics stores were stocking the collection of Dave Stevens' original "Rocketeer" strips that summer, whose previous shelf-life had been before my time.

So beautiful! Dave Stevens earned himself a reputation as an incredibly slow artist when it came to comics work, but you can see why. Every single panel is a masterpiece. He's also got a reputation as a cheesecake/pin-up artist, and there's a reason for that, too. The dude could draw women like nobody's business. But he also had a knack for action scenes.

And, well, let's talk design. The Rocketeer isn't exactly a superhero, so it's not exactly a superhero costume. But that jacket is just about the coolest jacket ever. And the helmet - well, the helmet owes a little something to a jetpack-wearing serial character called Commando Cody, but where Cody's helmet is pretty much just a bucket with a few holes cut in it, the Rocketeer's headpiece has style in spades. I mean...well, look at it:

I mean, that thing is just way cool. Some designer at Hasbro certainly thought so, too, and totally ripped off the design for a G.I. Joe character.