Sunday, October 28, 2012

Comics Sunday #5: Buck Rogers Future Shock TPB

"Nothing else makes sense.  We've been worrying over the wrong question.  It's not the's the when."

--Anthony "Buck" Rogers

Truth or Dare

When I started collecting comics back in 1993 during the big comic book boom, there were two major houses--Marvel and DC.  That was pretty much it.  You either liked Spider-Man or Batman.  Iron Man or...Booster Gold, I guess.  The Avengers or the Justice League of America.  On my side of town, anyone who liked DC was a loser.  They just didn't know how to make exciting comics, or so my friends thought, as I quietly hid my Green Lantern collection from their prying eyes.

Unfortunately, that whole one-or-the-other attitude carried over into my second run at comic book collecting, which started with Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis.  No matter what those eleven year-old kids may think now, I became a permanent DC fan because of that book (I think a lot of people did).

When I paid a visit to my local comic book store (aka "The Happiest Place on Earth") a few months ago, I spotted something completely different on their "just in" shelf.  It was the first Buck Rogers trade paperback volume, titled Future Shock, produced and released by Dynamite Entertainment.

My first reaction upon viewing Buck in his glowing, Tron-like suit was "I have got to see what this is about."  I paged through it at a casual pace, noting Buck's humorous narration boxes and the attractive take on Wilma Deering.  Within a minute I had reached the last page and decided that this was coming home with me.

This was the first time I had ever read or purchased a Dynamite Entertainment title, and these guys should be winning every Eisner award under the sun.  While everyone's out there arguing over Spider-Man's rogue's gallery (and frankly, who has time to care about them anymore) and which Batvillain is going to take over Gotham next (again, why should we care), Dynamite has been stealing all the glory from right under Marvel's and DC's noses. 

Don't believe me, eh?  Fine--I'll prove it to you.

The Gravity of the Situation

Volume One of Buck Rogers collects the first five issues of the series, which introduces a new set of circumstances that, eventually, place Buck where he needs to be--five hundred years in the future and with Colonel Wilma Deering rescuing him from certain doom.

This Buck Rogers, along with his friend Craig McDonnell, has developed a gravity drive that allows him to travel through space at Ludicrous Speed.  Basically, it takes all the gravity from the surrounding fields and planets and pushes it in the direction you're traveling, therein pushing you forward at speeds unknown.

Unfortunately, the military has seized Buck and Craig's invention for a mission to intercept an impromptu Noah's Ark, en route to deep space from Mars.  While this wouldn't normally be cause for alarm, a psychotic plague infected the researchers on the red planet, making them kill each other and basically go ape-shit.  One of these researchers took a strain of the plague and, along with DNA from 50 other animals, launched it in this "ark" before he died.

Buck's mission is to intercept this Ark of Doom and blast the thing out of the sky before it causes any more trouble.  And speaking of trouble, Buck engages the gravity drive and totally overshoots the Ark of Doom until he disappears from radar completely...and reappears five hundred years in the future, crash-lands on Earth in his "antique flyer," and gets rescued by Colonel Wilma Deering in a sexy trans-suit (which actually makes the noise "biddi-biddi-biddi" when it's low on power--gotta give 'em credit for that).

Over the next four issues, Buck and Wilma try to escape the clutches of The Pack, a race of genetically engineered mammals who can speak, walk on their hind legs, and interact with humans on all levels.  They're also hunting humans for food like wild game, which is not a pleasant thought, but it does hark back to the science fiction writers of the golden age (if you consider The Pack and their mission as a form of social commentary like I did).

Wilma proves that she is not some shrinking violet who needs rescuing every issue--not only does she have looks, but she has brains and combat skills to back them up.  It's an empowering female character in a genre mostly reserved for scantily clad, sword-carrying bimbos and anime girls with clothes that shred like tissue paper.  I would like to congratulate the Buck Rogers creative team for making Colonel Deering capable, confident, and downright cool.

Once Buck and Wilma get a distress signal to their comrades on Earth, Buck's gravity drive (left behind in his "antique flyer") is commandeered and installed in the Starbuster, one of the Earth fleet's rocket ships, so they can go rescue our hero and heroine.  With the technology of the 25th century, the drive finally works the way it was supposed to, catapulting the Starbuster from Earth to Mars in a few panels.  Personally, I think all they needed was a really good electrician.

Volume One wraps up with the Earth Flight Troopers storming The Pack's vessel.  Deering and her team go to rescue any human captives, while Buck goes to gum up the engine room.  I don't intend to give it all away, but he calls his plan "Operation: Hot Lunch."  As Deering puts it to one of her Flight Troopers, "I don't get it either," but you will by the end of this book, along with a great many other things about Buck's past on Earth, his present, and where things are headed in the future.

The Men Behind The Curtain

I had never read Scott Beatty's work before, but I was familiar with the name.  I am now proud to call him one of my favorite writers because of his work on Buck Rogers.  The way he cuts from past to present and back again, the way Buck's narration is often interrupted (or completed) by present-day dialogue, and the clever humor injected at the right moments are what made me keep reading this book till it was over...and left me craving for more.  That's the sign of a great book, and since the next trade paperback is still available, I don’t have long to wait. 

The art team of Carlos Rafael (pencils and inks) and Carlos Lopez (colors) knock this thing right out of the park.  To paraphrase Buck, "This is like the stuff I read in comic books and novels."  While giving everything a 21st-century edge, Carlos and Carlos also manage to keep the 20's and 30's feel of Buck intact as well, and it's really something to marvel at.  The glow on the Flight Troopers' suits is very reminiscent of Tron, and at the same time, is something altogether new.  The atomizers are very retro and also very, very cool (I'd like a six-pack of them to go, please).  The covers by John Cassaday, especially the covers for issues one and two, really stand head and shoulders above the rest due to his art and Lopez's coloring.  Dare I say "Dynamite does it right"?

Simon Bowland's letters are not a problem and they don't clutter up the panels.  Those are my two complaints about letterers, and as long as they pass those two criteria, they're in good shape.  The other thing I noticed about Simon's letters was the font he chose for the Pack's leader characters, who walk around in rotund, bulky mech-suits.  Because it was thin and lightly colored it was a little difficult to read, but this is really just nitpicking.

And finally, when you put everything together, you have a slam-bang sci-fi action comic book that has totally rebooted Buck Rogers for a new generation of fans while keeping the old fans happy (I know it kept me happy, at any rate).  The one thing I did notice about these first five issues is the breathless pace they run on--every issue ends on a cliffhanger, daring you to turn the page and keep reading.  You just can't put this thing down until you run out of pages, so be warned--once you start reading Buck Rogers: Future Shock, you won't want to stop...and that, my friends, is actually a good thing.