Sunday, December 13, 2009

Buck Rogers: Science Fantasy Before Star Wars

I have a list of swash buckling space heroes and none of them ever flew an Apollo mission. Not that these men weren’t heroes, but would they have become those heroes without the inspiration of those that came before them? Just as many scientists and space explorers now give credit to Star Wars and Star Trek for their pursuits, how many were influenced by Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers?

Buck Rogers was given life back in the 1920’s in a pair of stories Armageddon 2419 A.D. and The Airlords of Han by Philip Francis Nowlan in Amazing Stories, a pulp magazine that focused on science fiction. 1929 saw John Flint Dille reinventing William “Buck” Rogers for a serialized comic strip and the Saturday Serial soon followed.

Buck Rogers was originally conceived as a fighter ace from the Great War named Anthony Rogers, who was trapped in a mine on Earth, overcome by a gas that put him in suspended animation. He awakens five hundred years later to help save what is left of America from the Han, an Asian aggressor with disintegration rays and anti-gravity technology. His military experience is crucial to the victories over the Han. Only later would he be the scourge of space pirates and fifty years beyond that to make his appearance against Princess Ardala and the Draconian Empire.

Buck Rogers saw many incarnations in radio, comics, movies and television, back in the 1950’s and again in 1980. The constants seemed to be Buck and his lady friend Wilma Deering. Dr. Huer would make his appearance when Buck Rogers was reinvented after Nowlan’s stories. The version of Buck Rogers I grew up with was the one created by Gil Gerard in 1979. This was swash and buckle stuff at its best. The series that followed was of course hugely influenced by the fashions and styles of the disco era and the adventure fun that seemed to be the formula of the 1980’s T.V. programing. Watching the series on DVD now is a guilty pleasure.

Now there is another incarnation of the hero that was so lovingly parodied by Warner Brothers and Daffy Duck; Cawley Entertainment Company is working on a retro-envisioning of the Buck Rogers for the newest media outlet the internet. The teaser has been getting some buzz, showing a sepia sky filled with mocha clouds, a sleek rocket-ship ducks and weaves among the nebulous fluff, the golden tail fins flashing in the defused light. The ship slides into the foreground, giving the viewer a close up of the nose art and the pilot’s name: Buck Rogers!

The beautiful marriage of the Net and the technology to create a series like Buck Rogers with the science fantasy of eighty years ago is not lost on me. A lot of folks on the web are all ready prejudging the series, or claiming that is a fake. I don’t care! If all I get is the teaser trailer, then I am happy. Because the teaser gets it, the promise of space travel before it was even thought possibly. This series, should it come to fruition, is an expression of the imagination from an era lost on most people today. The serials of that bygone era were Star Wars and Star Trek, they were the expression of “imagine if” the rocket ships, the ray guns, and the giant robots. These guys didn’t care about science, they were telling an adventure story. Without those adventure stories to inspire them, how many kids that applied themselves to science never would have?

The speculative fiction of every generation is a reflection of the times: the original stories of Anthony Rogers’ war on the Han to the serials that followed. The social questions raised in Star Trek and the speculation of George Lucas’ message when he created the Star Wars prequels. From a historical stand point these works from the 20’s and even the 80’s hold significant meaning for us. As adventures they are a rollicking good time. I think as long as we need heroic icons like Buck Rogers someone will breathe new life into him.

1 comment: