With the release of Action Comics #1 in 1938, the tastes of the American public immediately shifted from space men in jet packs to colorful caped crusaders. Almost overnight Buck Rogers all but disappeared from the collective consciousness.
He enjoyed a brief return to prominence with the birth of the space age. A new slew of movies and products were released with his face all over them. Even some established comic book characters got a Buck Rogers-style revamp. (I mean, isn’t Green Lantern just a spiffed up version of Buck?)
Buck has lain more or less dormant since the cancellation of his early 80′s tv show. There have been a couple of false starts as far as movies and web series. There was even a role playing game. But, for the most part there has been no Buck Rogers in thirty years!
In 2009 came Dynamite and their series about the hero of the 25th century. Written by Scott Beatty and illustrated by Carlos Rafael, the ten issues published cover some familiar territory, while putting their own spin on some familiar faces and places.
Buck Rogers pilots a space ship with an experimental “gravity drive” designed to harness the power of gravity and propel him further, faster than anyone has travelled before. But, while in space something goes wrong and he blacks out, only to awaken 500 years in the future. He finds himself in the middle of a war between humans and bio-machines who use genetically enhanced hunting animals to aid in the capture and consumption (yes, you read that right) of the humans.
Beatty writes a pretty tight script that balances the reader’s familiarity with the concept of Buck Rogers, with the necessary set up of the situation. Using a series of flashbacks, he tells the story of Buck’s arrival in the future allowing the main storyline to progress, while still permitting the requisite history to be told. It also makes room for some intriguing sub-plots to be revealed during the flash backs that eventually have implications in the main plot.
The authors make sure to include a few nice nods to the overall Buck Rogers mythos throughout the story. Buck Rogers crash lands in a cave filled with “background rads”. Before space travel became part of his mythos, Buck Rogers originally was caught in a cave in where he was kept in a state of suspended animation due to radiation in the cave. In addition, there is a fantastic scene where Buck and Col. Deering put on classic costumes from the Buck Rogers stories of the 1930′s. While this may be a wink and a nod to the reader, it goes a long way to honor the history of the character.
Where the story falls apart is the plot “twist” in the end of the 5th issue when the operators of the bio-machines are revealed. This story element is so ridiculous that is shakes the credibility of the entire series. This is unfortunate because, up until this point, there are hardly any missteps.
The character designs for the modern Buck Rogers crew are a nice balance between the familiar (some of the character and ship deigns are lifted directly from the 80′s tv series) and some striking innovation (the Buck Rogers costume design was handled by Alex Ross). If nothing else, the Trans-suit designs capture the wonder and excitement of “the future”. All the elements for space adventure are present: awesome suit, ray gun, anti-gravity flight pack. Let the adventures begin!
When it comes to visual storytelling, Rafael’s art is not quite up to par. His figure design is good, and the characters move with fluidity. But the necessary background details are missing in some scenes, which makes for some instances where it is not clear what is happening in the panel. For as visually exciting and entertaining as the world of the future should be, it is frustrating to have to guess at what the creators are trying to show.
Like the pulp serial from which he arose, Buck Rogers is a disposable comic that is enjoyable and entertaining while you read it, but will not leave a lasting impression. However, that being said, it was enjoyable enough to bring me back for volume two to see how the series wraps up. For fans of the character, look for this collection on sale, or see if you can pick up individual issues on the cheap.