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Anthony Rogers was a fictional character that originated in two short stories by Philip Francis Nowlan, "Armageddon 2419 A.D." and "The Airlords of Han" published in Amazing Stories (August 1928, March 1929).

The character was renamed Buck Rogers and reinvented by John Flint Dille as a comic strip, making its first newspaper appearance January 7, 1929. Rogers also appeared in a serial film, a television series (where his first name was changed from Anthony to William) as well and other formats.

The idea for the comic strip originated with Dille, president of the National Newspaper Syndicate of America, who convinced a somewhat reluctant Nowlan to undertake the strip. As an inducement to Nowlan, who doubted his ability with the comic strip medium, Dille suggested that Nowlan take the first episode from "Armageddon 2419, A.D." and change the hero's name from Anthony Rogers to Buck Rogers. Dille then enlisted editorial cartoonist Dick Calkins to co-author and illustrate. As of 2009, Buck Rogers is owned by the Dille Family Trust, as successor to National Newspaper Syndicate of America.

The adventures of Buck Rogers in comic strips, movies, radio and television became an important part of American popular culture. This pop phenomenon paralleled the development of space technology in the 20th Century and introduced Americans to outer space as a familiar environment for swashbuckling adventure.

Buck Rogers has been credited with bringing into popular media the concept of space exploration, following in the footsteps of literary pioneers such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter of Mars).

Amazing Stories

The character first appeared as Anthony Rogers, the central character of Nowlan's Armageddon 2419 A.D. While surveying an abandoned mine, Rogers, a former United States Army Air Corps officer, falls into a coma after exposure to a leaking gas and awakens in the 25th century. Together with his new comrades, the beautiful Wilma Deering and the intrepid Dr. Huer, he struggles to rid the world of evil warlords and "Mongol" hordes.

The sequel, The Airlords of Han, appeared in the March 1929 issue of Amazing Stories. The story's enemy force, the Han, were later renamed Mongols.

In 1933, Nowlan and Calkins co-wrote Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, a novella that retold the origin of Buck Rogers and also summarized some of his adventures. A reprint of this work was included with the first edition of the 1995 novel Buck Rogers: A Life in the Future by Martin Caidin.

In the 1960s, Nowlan's two novellas were combined by editor Donald A. Wollheim into one paperback novel, Armageddon 2419 A.D. The original 40-cent edition featured a cover by Ed Emshwiller.

Comic strip

The story of Anthony Rogers in Amazing Stories caught the attention of John F. Dille, president of the National Newspaper Service syndicate, and he arranged for Nowlan to turn it into a strip for syndication. The character was given the nickname Buck, and some have suggested that Dille coined that name based on the 1920s cowboy actor, Buck Jones.

On January 7, 1929, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D., the first science fiction comic strip, debuted. Coincidentally, this was also the date that the Tarzan comic strip began.

On March 30, 1930, a Sunday strip joined the Buck Rogers daily. There was, as yet, no established convention for the same character having different adventures in the Sunday strip and the daily strip (many newspapers carried one but not the other) and so the Sunday strip at first followed the adventures of Buck's young friend Buddy Deering, Wilma Deering's younger brother, and Buddy's girlfriend Alura. It was some time before Buck made his first appearance in a Sunday strip. Other prominent characters in the Sunday strip included Dr. Huer, who punctuated his speech with the exclamation, "Heh!", the villainous Killer Kane and his paramour Ardala, and Black Barney, who began as a space pirate but later became Buck's friend and ally.

Like many popular comic strips of the day, Buck Rogers was reprinted in Big Little Books; illustrated text adaptations of the daily strip stories; and in a Buck Rogers pop-up book.

"Buck Rogers" operating the controls of a remotely piloted "air ball".
Amazing Stories (March 1929).
Before Buck Rogers, there was no precedent for a serial comic strip, so the genesis of the strip was the creative work of several different people. Nowlan is credited with the idea of serializing Buck Rogers, based on his novel Armageddon 2419 and its Amazing Stories sequels. Nowlan approached John Dille, who saw the opportunity to serialize the stories as a newspaper comic strip. Dick Calkins, an advertising artist, drew the earliest daily strips, and Russell Keaton drew the earliest Sunday strips.

Keaton wanted to switch to drawing another strip written by Calkins, Skyroads, so the syndicate advertised for an assistant and hired Rick Yager in 1932. Yager had formal art training at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and was a talented watercolor artist; all the strips were done in ink and watercolor. Yager also had connections with the Chicago newspaper industry, since his father, Charles Montross Yager, was the publisher of The Modern Miller; Rick Yager was at one time employed to write the "Auntie's Advice" column for his father's newspaper. Yager quickly moved from inker and writer of the Buck Rogers "sub-strip" (early Sunday strips had a small sub-strip running below) to writer and artist of the Sunday strip and eventually the daily strips.

Authorship of early strips is extremely difficult to ascertain. The signatures at the bottoms of the strips are not accurate indicators of authorship; Calkins' signature appears long after his involvement ended, and few of the other artists signed the artwork, while many pages are unsigned. Yager probably had complete control of Buck Rogers Sunday strips from about 1940 on, with Len Dworkins joining later as assistant. Dick Locher was also an assistant in the 1950s. For all of its reference to modern technology, the strip itself was produced in an old-fashioned manner—all strips began as India ink drawings on Strathmore paper, and a smaller duplicate (sometimes redrawn by hand) was hand-colored with watercolors. Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, has an extensive collection of original artwork. The strip's artists also worked on a variety of tie-in promotions such as comic books, toys and model rockets.

The relations between the artists of the strip (Yager et al.) and the owners of the strip (the Syndicate) became acrimonious, and in mid-1958, the artists quit. (See Time, June 30, 1958.) Murphy Anderson was a temporary replacement, but he did not stay long, and the final installment of the original comic strip was published on 8 July 1967.

Revived in 1979 by Gray Morrow and Jim Lawrence, the strip was retitled Buck Rogers in the 25th Century in 1980. Long-time comic book writer Cary Bates signed on in 1981, continuing until the strip's 1983 finale.

Radio

In 1932, the Buck Rogers radio program, notable as the first science fiction program on radio, hit the airwaves. It was broadcast four times a week for 15 years, from 1932 through 1947.

The radio show again related the story of our hero Buck finding himself in the 25th Century. Actors Matt Crowley, Curtis Arnall, Carl Frank and John Larkin all voiced him at various times. The beautiful and strong-willed Wilma Deering was portrayed by Adele Ronson, and the brilliant scientist-inventor Dr. Huer was played by Edgar Stehli.

The radio series was produced and directed by Carlo De Angelo and later by Jack Johnstone. In 1988, Johnstone recalled how he worked with the sound effects of Ora Nichols to produce the sound of the rockets by using an air-conditioning vent.

Film and TV adaptations

World's Fair

A ten-minute Buck Rogers film premiered at the 1933-1934 World's Fair in Chicago. John Dille Jr. (son of strip baron John F. Dille) starred in the film, which was called Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: An Interplanetary Battle with the Tiger Men of Mars. Decades later, this film was shown at the May 2007 Windy City Pulp Convention in Chicago, Illinoismarker and at the July 2006 Pulpcon in Dayton, Ohiomarker. A 35 mm print of the film was discovered by the filmmaker's granddaughter, donated to UCLAmarker, restruck and subsequently posted to the web.

Department store promotion movie

A live-action short film was produced in 1936, designed to be shown in department stores to promote Buck Rogers merchandise. It was shot at in the Action Film Company studio in Chicagomarker, Illinoismarker, directed by Dr. Harlan Tarbell. The characters included Buck Rogers, Wilma Deering, Dr. Huer, Killer Kane, Ardalamarker, King Grallo of the Martian Tiger Men, and robots.

Movie serial

A 12-part Buck Rogers serial film was produced in 1939 by Universal Pictures Company. In this version Buck Rogers and his young friend Buddy Wade are involved in a dirigible accident in a remote place. Immediately afterward, they somehow get into suspended animation waiting for rescue. When they are finally discovered and revived, they learn that 500 years have passed. A tyrannical dictator named Killer Kane and his henchmen now run the world. Buck and Buddy must now save the world, and they do so with the help of Lieutenant Wilma Deering and Prince Tallen of Saturn.

The serial had a small budget and saved money on special effects by re-using material from other stories: background shots from the futuristic musical Just Imagine (1930), as the city of the future, the garishly stenciled walls from the Azura palace set in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, as Kane's penthouse suite, and even the studded leather belt that Crabbe wore in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars turned up as part of Buck's uniform. Between 1953 and the mid-1970s, this film serial was edited into three distinct feature film versions.

1950-1951 ABC television series

The first version of Buck Rogers to appear on television, debuted on ABC on April 15, 1950 and ran until January 30, 1951. Its time slot initially was on Saturdays at 6 p.m., and each episode was 30 minutes in length. Later, the program was rescheduled to Tuesday at 7 p.m., where it ran against the popular Texaco Star Theater hosted by Milton Berle.

There were a number of changes to the cast during the show's short duration. Three actors played Buck Rogers in the series: Earl Hammond, Kem Dibbs and Robert Pastene. Two actresses portrayed Wilma Deering: Eva Marie Saint and Lou Prentis. Two actors would also play the role of Dr. Huer: Harry Southern and Sanford Bickart.

The series was directed by Babette Henry, written by Gene Wyckoff and produced by Joe Cates and Babette Henry.

The series was broadcast live from station WENR-TVmarker, the ABC affiliate in Chicago, Illinoismarker. There are no known surviving kinescopes of the first Buck Rogers television series.

Motion picture and 1979–1981 NBC television series

In 1979, Buck Rogers was revived and updated for a prime-time television series for NBC Television. The pilot film was released to cinemas on March 30, 1979. Good box-office returns led NBC to commission a full series, which started in September 1979.

The series starred Gil Gerard as Captain William "Buck" Rogers, a United States Air Force pilot who commands Ranger 3, a space shuttle-like ship that is launched in 1987. Because of a freak combination of gases, he is frozen in space for 504 years and is revived in the 25th century. There, he learns that the Earth was united following a devastating nuclear war on November 22, 1987, and is now under the protection of the Earth Defense Forces, headquartered in New Chicago. The latest threat to Earth comes from the spaceborne armies of the planet Draconia, which is planning an invasion.

Co-starring in the series were Erin Gray as crack Starfighter pilot Colonel Wilma Deering, and Tim O'Connor as Dr. Elias Huer, head of Earth Defense Forces, and a former star pilot himself. Ardala appeared (played by Pamela Hensley), as a Draconian princess supervising her father's armies, with Kane (played by Henry Silva in the film; by Michael Ansara in the series) as her enforcer, a gender reversal of the original characters where Ardala was Killer Kane's sidekick. Although Black Barney did not appear as a character in the series, there was a character named Barney Smith (played by James Sloyan) who appeared in the two-part episode, "Plot to Kill a City". New characters added for the series included a comical robot named Twiki (embodied by Felix Silla, with voice provided by Mel Blanc), who becomes Buck's personal assistant, and Dr. Theopolis (voice by Eric Server), a computer brain Twiki carries around.

The series ran for two seasons on NBC. Broadcast of the second season was delayed until 1981 due to a writers' strike in 1980. When the series returned it had been retooled. Now rather than defending Earth, Buck and Wilma were on a mission to track down the lost colonies of humanity aboard the deep-space exploration vessel "Searcher". The series was cancelled at the end of the 1980-1981 season.

Two novels based upon the series by Addison E. Steele were published: a novelization of the 1979 feature film, and That Man on Beta, an adaptation of an unproduced teleplay.

Frank Miller has been slated to write and direct a new motion picture with OddLot Entertainment, the production company that worked with Miller on The Spirit.

Role-playing games and video games

Buck Rogers XXVC

In 1988, TSR, Inc. created a game setting based on Buck Rogers, called Buck Rogers XXVC. Many products were produced that were set in this universe, including comic books, novels, role-playing game material and video games. In the role-playing game, the player characters were allied to Buck Rogers and NEO (the New Earth Organisation) in their fight against RAM (a Russian-American corporation based on Mars). The games also extensively featured "gennies" (genetically enhanced organisms). The gameplay of the Buck Rogers - Battle for the 25th Century board game by TSR dealt with token movement and resource management. There is purported to be a single expansion for the board game called the Martian Wars Expansion, but it is not known if this was ever released.

Books

From 1990 to 1991, ten "comics modules" set in the Buck Rogers XXVC universe were published, entitled Rude Awakening #1 - #3, Black Barney #1 - #3. and Martian Wars #1-#4. These shared the numbering as a series issues #1 - #10 with issue #10 as a flip-book with Intruder #10. There has been speculation that two more stories were printed but not widely distributed.

Ten paperback novels set in the XXVC universe were published, starting in 1989:

The Martian Wars Trilogy
  • Rebellion 2456 by M.S. Murdock (TSR, May 1989, ISBN 0-88038-728-9)
  • Hammer of Mars by M.S. Murdock (TSR, Aug 1989, ISBN 0-88038-751-3)
  • Armageddon off Vesta by M.S. Murdock (TSR, Oct 1989, ISBN 0-88038-761-0)
The Inner Planets Trilogy
  • First Power Play by John Miller (TSR, Aug 1990, ISBN 0-88038-840-4)
  • Prime Squared by M.S. Murdock (TSR, Oct 1990, ISBN 0-88038-863-3)
  • Matrix Cubed by Britton Bloom (TSR, May 1991, ISBN 0-88038-885-4)
Invaders of Charon Trilogy
  • The Genesis Web by Ellen C. & Theodore M. Brennan (C.M. Brennan) (TSR, May 1992, ISBN 1-56076-093-1)
  • Nomads of the Sky by William H. Keith, Jr. (TSR, Oct 1992, ISBN 1-56076-098-2)
  • Warlords of Jupiter by William H. Keith, Jr. (TSR, Feb 1993, ISBN 1-56076-576-3)


Video games

In 1990, Strategic Simulations, Inc. released a Buck Rogers XXVC video game, Countdown to Doomsday, for the Commodore 64, IBM PC, Sega Mega Drive, and other platforms. It released a sequel, Matrix Cubed, in 1992.

High-Adventure Cliffhangers

In 1995, TSR created a new and unrelated Buck Rogers role-playing game called High-Adventure Cliffhangers. This was a return to the themes of the original Buck Rogers comic strips. This game included biplanes and interracial warfare, as opposed to the space combat of the earlier game. There were only a few expansion modules created for High-Adventure Cliffhangers. Shortly afterward, the game was discontinued, and the production of Buck Rogers RPGs and games came to an end. This game was neither widely advertised nor very popular. There were only two published products: the box set, and "War Against the Han".

Planet of Zoom video game

Sega released the 3D (using a periscope style viewer and LCD shutters to establish the effect) arcade video game Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom in 1983. The user controls a spaceship that must destroy enemy ships and avoid obstacles; Buck is never seen, except assumedly in the illustration on the side of the game cabinet, and its only real connections to Buck Rogers are the use of the name and the outer space setting. Home versions were released for the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari XE, ColecoVision, Coleco Adam, Intellivision, MSX and Sega Master System video game systems, and the Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64, Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, and ZX Spectrum computers. A version for IBM PC using CGA graphics was also available.

Later novels

Authorized sequels to Armageddon 2419 A.D. were written in the 1980s by other authors working from an outline co-written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle and loosely tied-in with their 1977 bestseller Lucifer's Hammer. The first sequel begins circa 2476 A.D., when a widowed and cantankerous 86-year-old Anthony Rogers is mysteriously rejuvenated during a resurgence of the presumed-extinct Han, now called the Pr'lan. The novels include:

  • Mordred by John Eric Holmes ( Ace, January 1981, ISBN 0-441-54220-4 )
  • Warrior's Blood by Richard S. McEnroe ( Ace, January 1981, ISBN 0-441-87333-2 )
  • Warrior's World by Richard S. McEnroe ( Ace, October 1981, ISBN 0-441-87338-3 )
  • Rogers' Rangers by John Silbersack ( Ace, August 1983, ISBN 0-441-73380-8 )


Numerous novelists have reimagined or adapted the Buck Rogers mythos over the years, including:



Toys

The first Buck Rogers toys appeared in 1933, four years after the newspaper strip debuted and a year after the radio show first aired. Some mark this as the beginning of modern character based licensed merchandising, in that not only was character's name and image were branded on many unrelated products but also on many items of merchandise unique to or directly inspired by that character. Of the many toys associated with Buck Rogers, none is more closely identified with the franchise than the eponymous toy rayguns.

The first "Buck Rogers gun" wasn't technically a raygun, although its futuristic shape and distinctive lines set the pattern for all "space guns" that would follow. The XZ-31 Rocket Pistol, a 9½-inch pop gun that produced a distinctive "zap!" sound, was at the American Toy Fair in February 1934. Retailed for 50¢, which was by no means inexpensive during the Great Depression, it was designed to mimic the rocket pistols seen in the comic strips from their inception. In the comics, they were automatic pistols that fired explosive rockets instead of bullets, each round as effective as a 20th Century hand grenade.

The XZ-31 Rocket Pistol was the first of six toy guns manufactured over the next two decades by Daisy, which had an exclusive contract with John Dille, then head of the National Newspaper Syndicate of America, for all Buck Rogers toys. Most of these were pop guns, which had the virtue a being noisemakers that couldn't fire any actual projectiles and were thus guaranteed to be harmless as one of their selling points.

The XZ-35 Rocket Pistol, a smaller 7-inch version without some of the detail of the original that's often called "the Wilma Pistol" by collectors, followed in 1935, retailing for 25¢ and arguably offering less value for quintuple the initial price. Most consumers hardly noticed, because in 1935 the floodgates were opened and they had a lot choices. Both the XZ-31 and XZ-35 were cast in "blued" steel with silvery nickel accents.

The XZ-38 Disintegrator Pistol, the first actual "ray gun" toy and such an iconic symbol of the franchise that it made a cameo appearance in the first episode of the 1939 movie serial, as if to show that what the audience was seeing was indeed the Real Thing, debuted in 1935. It was a 10-inch pop gun topped with flint-and-striker sparkler using a mechanism not unlike that used in cigarette lighters, cast in a distinctive metallic copper color.

The XZ-44 Liquid Helium Water Pistol was produced in late 1935 and early 1936. Loaded like a syringe by dipping nozzle into a container of water and drawing back a plunger, it was advertised to be capable of shooting 50 times without reloading.

In 1946, following World War II and the advent of the atomic bomb, Daisy reissued the XZ-38 in a silver finish that mimicked the new jet aircraft of the day as the U-235 Atomic Pistol. By then, pop guns were considered old-fashioned, and even the Buck Rogers franchise was losing its luster, having been overtaken by real-world events and the prospect of actual manned space flight.

By 1952, Daisy lost its exclusive license to the Buck Rogers name and even dropped any pretense of making a toy raygun. Its final offering was a reissue of the XZ-35 with a garish red, white, blue and yellow color scheme, dubbed the Zooka. The Buck Rogers rocket pistol that had started it all 20 years earlier had been overtaken by the real world bazooka.

"Space guns" in general and "rayguns" in particular only gained in prestige as the Cold War "space race" began and interest in "The Buck Rogers Stuff" was renewed, but it was no longer enough to offer a futuristic cap or pop gun. A proper raygun needed to actually project some sort of ray if it were to capture the imaginations of would-be space travelers of 1950s Americans. Enter the era of the plastic battery-powered flashlight raygun.

In 1953, Norton-Honer introduced the Sonic Ray Gun, which was essentially a 7½-inch flashlight mounted on a pistol grip. Pressing the trigger activated not only the flashlight beam (which had interchangeable colored lenses for differently-colored "rays") but also an electronic buzzer. It could therefore be used as a pretend raygun but also as an actual Morse Code signal device.

This toy, and its successor, the Norton-Honer Super Sonic Ray Gun, was featured prominently in the actual Buck Rogers newspaper strips of the time, many of which concluded with a secret message in a Morse Code variant called the Rocket Rangers International Code, the key to which was available only by sending as self-addressed stamped envelope to the newspaper syndicate or the "cheat sheet" included in the package with the toy.

Comic books

Gold Key Comics have adapted the original story into comic books twice in 1964 and 1978. Gold Key and Whitman Publishing adapted Buck Rogers in the 25th Century in the late seventies and early eighties.

In 2009, Dynamite Entertainment began a monthly comic book version of Buck Rogers by writer Scott Beatty and artist Carlos Rafael. The first issue was released in May 2009.

Fan film and web series

The Cawley Entertainment Company in 2009 announced it would produce a web series, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, scheduled for webcasting on the Internet in 2010 with Bobby Quinn Rice in the title role.

In June 2009, James Cawley's company Phase II Productions announced it would be produce a fan film of a new version of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Influence on language and popular culture

Buck Rogers' name has become proverbial in such expressions as "Buck Rogers outfit" for a protective suit that looks like a spacesuit. For many years, all the general American public knew about science fiction was what they read in the funny papers, and their opinion of science fiction was formed accordingly. Another phrase in common use before 1950 was "As crazy as flying to the moon," and serious science fiction fans were often derided about "that crazy Buck Rogers stuff".

In 2001, British rock band Feeder released a single entitled "Buck Rogers". Even though the lyrics had no reference to the show, the title was given to the song as the bands frontman Grant Nicholas created a keyboard piece which he felt sounded "futuristic", and therefore named it after the TV show as a working title due to being set in the future itself. The name stuck when it was used as the basis of the song that followed. It became the band's first top 10 hit.

Such was the fame of Buck Rogers that it became the basis for one of the most fondly remembered science fiction spoofs in a series of Daffy Duck cartoons. The first of these was Duck Dodgers in the 24-1/2th Century, which was directed by Chuck Jones in 1953. There were also two sequels to this cartoon, and ultimately a Duck Dodgers television series.

See also



Notes

  1. Patrick Lucanio, Gary Coville, Smokin' Rockets: The Romance of Technology in American Film, Radio and Television, 1945-1962 (2002). McFarland. ISBN 078641233X
  2. Archived 2008-08-14
  3. Old Time Radio: "To Boldly Go..."
  4. Lesser, Robert. A Celebration of Comic Art and Memorabilia (1975) ISBN 0-8015-1456-8, page number?
  5. Buck-Rogers.com - "Buck Rogers" TV Series (1950-51)
  6. Frank Miller Helming "Buck Rogers", Superhero Hype!, December 19, 2008
  7. World of Spectrum: Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom
  8. Killer List of Videogames: Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom
  9. Atari Age: Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom Standard label
  10. Lemon64.com: Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom, 1983, US Gold
  11. Dynamite Debuts Buck Rogers for a Quarter, Newsarama, February 23, 2009
  12. Back to the Future: Barrucci and Beatty on Buck Rogers, Newsarama, February 23, 2009
  13. Scott Beatty Talks Buck Rogers, Comic Book Resources, March 6, 2009
  14. Drawing the Future: Carlos Rafael on Buck Rogers, Newsarama, March 9, 2009
  15. Pascale, Anthony "Phase II's James Cawley Bringing Buck Rogers to the Web", TrekMovie.com, January 12, 2009
  16. BuckRogersBegins.com
  17. Thomas D. Clareson, Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction (1992). Univ of South Carolina Press. Page 6. ISBN 0872498700
  18. Mimosa 28, pages 102-107. "Roots and a Few Vines" by Mike Resnick


References

  • Strickler, Dave. Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924-1995: The Complete Index. Cambria, CA: Comics Access, 1995. ISBN 0-9700077-0-1.


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