Back when I was a kid, Buck Rogers was probably the second coolest thing on television - the first being, of course, Battlestar Galactica. I mean, Buck was a way cooler hero, but Galactica had the cooler robots, the better ships, and - supremely important to a kid - awesome toys, just like Star Wars. In fact, I can still remember the neighborhood gift exchange where 3 of us boys got Cylon Raiders . . . and the other one got clothes. That was probably the first time I heard a kid my age swear out loud, in front of our parents!
Anyway, the point of all this reminiscing is that I recently got my hands on a copy of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: The Western Publishing Years Volume 1. From the cover of the first issue to the cast photos and memorabilia at the back, this is a collection that's just chock full of memories.
The first thing that struck me about these comics is just how recognizable everything is. The artwork is pretty standard, late 70s kind of stuff, but so were the Batman and Spider-Man comics I remember reading at the time. This ships looked exactly like I remember, and I was able to identify most of the characters without even reading their dialogue. The only real exceptions are Wilma Deering and Princess Ardala, neither of whom looks at all like the galactic beauties I had such a crush on.
The collection opens with the 3 issue adaptation of the original Buck Rogers movie, and does a decent job of conveying the basics. While I found it lacked the charm and the sarcasm I remember so well from Gil Gerard, it did capture the coldness of Wilma from early in the series, as well as the guiding wisdom of Dr. Theopolis - absent the comic chirping of Twiki. It definitely leans hard on the post-apocalyptic element, far more so than I remember as a kid, but that very well be because I was focused on the robots, the spaceships, and the women.
Following that, we get a standalone issue that takes Buck to one of Saturn's moons - the one with an atmosphere comparable to Earth (somehow, I think my science classes overlooked that). There he encounters a beautiful, big-headed alien woman, and negotiates a deal to obtain grain for Earth. It's actually an interesting issue, because it tackles just how easily life in Earth's only remaining domed city can fall apart.
After that, we get part 1 and 2 of a story that puts Wilma on trial - with none other than Dr. Theopolis as the prosecutor - for aiding and abetting her brother, who was previously banished as a traitor. It's a great story, one that nicely resolves the question of what happened to Princess Ardala, and one that gives us our first real hint of romance between Buck and Wilma. Unfortunately - and here is my only real complaint - the collection doesn't include the part 3, so we're left hanging, with multiple lives in the balance.
Instead of giving us part 3 of that story, the collection ends with a copy of the first Buck Rogers comic, dating back to 1964. While it's a bit off-putting for fans of the television series, it's an interesting look at where the character came from, complete with very 1950's sort of costumes, plastic helmets, and big-eyed little green men. It's almost impossible to compare the two interpretations, but it's clear they share the same source material.
That peek back at the origins, combined with the memorabilia featured at the back of the book, is what makes this collection more than just a hardcover reprint of some average 70s science fiction comic books. It really ties everything together nicely, reminding us in vivid color of the television series we fell in love with, but also reminding us that it was just the latest in a long line of interpretations.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins