Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"...An infernal machine with a worker on either end." Buck Rogers in the 25th Century#1-4

As a publisher, Hermes Press are best known for the collections of reprints they maintain, such as their volumes of Buck Rogers and the Phantom comic strip collections. However, despite their minute experience in telling newly-published tales, I took interest in their recent 4-issue Buck Rogers series because while they may be novices - writer/artist Howard Chaykin has most certainly been around the block a few times.

Most of my knowledge about Buck comes from the 1970s television series, but Chaykin departs from all previous depictions of the character/property, instead propping up the character in a story first-time readers can follow. He doesn't begin the story with Buck's origin as a time-displaced 20th century man, however - it comes up later in the story, but this is not Buck Rogers Begins, to phrase a coin. It's almost a problem to be acquainted with Buck's history - I know enough to recognize Black Barney as a major antagonist from the comic strips, but Chaykin gives him only a minor role before swiftly killing him off.

There's a trend in popular culture when bringing back characters from previous eras to explore how "backward" (for want of a better term) said characters are when set against our "enlightened" present selves; it's cropped up in products like J. Michael Straczynski's the Twelve and Mark Millar's the Ultimates. Buck Rogers is different in that while Buck is a man from the first half of the 20th century, the people he interacts with are from the 25th century - thus, there's no ego to be had in demonstrating how we're more evolved than he.

Rather, the 25th century Chaykin develops has de-evolved! With much of the Earth depopulated, the remaining factions have formed rigid dogmas to demonize outsiders and thus perpetuate their never-ending warfare. In this scenario, the post-WW I Buck Rogers - a man disillusioned by the so-called "Great War" - is uniquely skeptical about prolonging the fighting and seeking to annihilate his supposed "enemies." While Buck can hold his own in a fight, he really wants the war to end; c'est voila: the 20th century man is more enlightened than latter-day folk!

Chaykin's art has reached a point where you know pretty well what to expect; some find his current style distasteful, others will still give him rope. I wasn't too bothered by the art, instead finding myself constantly distracted by the word balloons. Look at the tiny tails in the panel above! How is the reader supposed to tell which character is speaking when the tails are barely visible and don't point to the speaker? Also, issue#4 mistakenly printed one page sans dialogue - oops! Chaykin is game in this series, but the word balloons suggest Hermes Press are still figuring out how this "comic book" thing works.

Still, Hermes presents the tale uninterrupted by ads and the back material includes an interview with Chaykin, sketches, pin-ups and scripts - pretty good value, all told.

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