Early this summer, the legendary science fiction hero Buck Rogers rocketed back into comics thanks to the Dynamite Entertainment series that bears his name. But while the original 1920s newspaper version of the character found his way to the 25th century via some mysterious and dizzying vapors, the first arc of the new "Buck Rogers" unveiled a more plausible way to ricochet the hero around: an experimental gravity drive. "First and foremost, I wanted the MacGuffin that got Buck to the future to be a little more realistic (and I use that term as loosely as one will allow in science-fiction) than 'cave gas,'" explained "Rogers" writer Scott Beatty, who wraps his first arc with next months issue #5, explaining how the 21st century test pilot hero ended up enlisting with Wilma Deering's rocket pack-wearing brigade of the future.
"I think there's more story potential in a device that allows for the possibility of time-travel, rather than a plot-point owing to some Rip Van Winkle fantasy of 'over-sleeping' all the way to the 25th century. Buck left a certain amount of baggage behind in the 21st century, and we haven't made clear yet whether or not he's settling in to the life in the future, or longing for a way home to his own era. Buck's belief in the possibility of returning to this own time can drive this in directions heretofore unexplored in the franchise."
And although Beatty spent some quality time boning up on the past exploits of Rogers and company, that doesn't mean this version comes steeped in continuity. In fact, November's issue #6 presents a stand-alone tale focusing on Rogers' adapting to his new surroundings to entice new readers. "#5 concludes 'Future Shock,' the first arc and initial conflict with the Pack. Issue #6 is the stand-alone story, but one that also deals with the repercussions of Buck's arrival in the 25th century. As the world gets to know Buck Rogers, Buck gets to know the world of the future with some new friends. It's part courtroom drama, part travelogue, part camping trip and all precursor to the next half-year of 'Buck Rogers' adventures."
Beatty explained that, beyond serving as a solid jumping on point, the comic proves a challenging writer exercise for him in today's world of standard six-part arcs. "Having written longer arcs on books and mini-series that run 6 or 8 issues, I think the most challenging stories are the single-issue tales. Heck, even 10-page tales – when done right – require a finesse of craft and economy of storytelling that forces a writer to embrace some of the simpler and more elegant conventions of comics rather than decompress a story to the point that it runs too long and the payoff doesn't do just that. I think of those great 'done-in-one' stories I read as a kid, which I always remember much more vividly than the so-called 'epics.' So, if I can do a little from Column A and a little from Column B and appeal to both sides of the audience, then maybe I can help make 'Buck Rogers' – at least in Dynamite's incarnation – a book that lasts a good long time."
But while the solo story and the majority of the series will continue to explore the future of humanity, there's more at play in "Buck Rogers" than simple ray gun shooting. As seen in the opening arc, the cast of Buck's "past" in the 21st Century seem to have more going on than just mourning the lost pilot. "I think a woman named Ashley Deering illustrates that Buck is very much a man of two worlds. Buck's 'timeline,' for better or worse, spans 500 years of personal history. Buck's 'burial' doesn't have the kind of closure everyone needs. This is comics and anyone familiar with the medium (including the characters that inhabit it) know...If there ain't a body, he ain't dead!"
In the meantime, Rogers has his hands full in the future, though he seems to deal with it pretty well since Beatty's new take on the action hero involves mixing his swagger with a little bit of luck. "I don't speak from experience, but I believe that anyone who flies (for a living or just for fun...or, in a more limited sense, into SPACE) has a certain level of confidence and unshakeable belief in their own abilities," the writer said. "Buck's like that. He's a smart guy. But he can be headstrong also and too often governed by instinct over intellect. However, I think his narrative reveals a certain amount of introspection, especially from someone who's looking back on the arc of his life knowing that where he came from is as important as where he's going. Buck's learning curve is steep, but having survived being slung 500 years into the future, there's also a certain amount of reckless behavior his new companions will have to endure."
Enduring most of that will be Wilma, who proves slightly antagonistic to the lug-headed pilot at first, giving the series a few battle of the sexes sparks. "Readers will see very soon that Wilma's back-story is as revelatory to her character as Buck's personal history is to his. The 25th century may have anti-gravity suits and atomizer pistols, but it's still fraught with peril. And Wilma, understandably, has trust issues." Though one thing she does trust in is the new brand of technology introduced for this 25th century playground, from advanced robotics to species-altering genetics to the obvious rocket tech. "Each according to the needs of the story. The future is 'complicated,' mostly because the 500 years between Buck's THEN and NOW has been rife with conflict. Buck doesn't find himself in a post- apocalyptic future. Civilization still exists... and thrives in many areas. Think of it as POST-post-apocalyptic. Some very bad things have happened to Earth, but the Big Blue Marble has weathered those harsh times and – in my mind, at least – is in a rebuilding period. Since his childhood immersed in comics and sci-fi, Buck Rogers always dreamed of a hopeful future. And as long as he's in the future, he's damn well determined to do whatever he can to protect it."
That classic outlook brings Beatty's plans for the series full circle, as there'd be no fun in protecting the future without a few villains running around, including the classic Queen Ardala and her right hand man, Kane, although this time around the pair may not be quite as regal as they present themselves. "I don't want to reveal too much about Kane and Ardala right now. You'll get an even closer glimpse at their schemes in 'Buck Rogers' #4 and 5. Through no fault but his own, Buck is proving to be a fly in their ointment as far as their Pack dealings go. There will be fallout, and this particular triangle will become more complicated further into the series." As for the remainder of the year, the writer said that, "Black Barney shows up. So do the Airlords of Han. And Buck battles inside Earth, above it, and (of course) way above it before we close out the first year! With all the positive reactions we've been receiving, we're determined to do our best to keep readers happy and surprised with each and every issue."
Look for "Buck Rogers" #4 in stores tomorrow, #5 in the coming weeks from Dynamite Entertainment and the stand alone #6 early this November.