Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Reader's Diary #1355- Howard Chaykin: Buck Rogers Grievous Angels

Continuing on with my exploration into pulp heroes of early American radio dramas and newspaper strips (earlier I looked at Green Hornet and Dick Tracy), this time I looked at Howard Chaykin's attempt at rebooting sci-fi icon, Buck Rogers.

See if you can tell which line in the back cover summary gave me cause for concern:

Now, over eighty years after the creation of the newspaper strip that became a household word, Chaykin has returned the character and his universe back to the basics: Buck Rogers, former World War I ace is accidentally suspended in time only to awaken to a new and different easth, 500 years in the future, fragmented by war and ruled by an omnipotent force— the Chinese.

Now I've read enough comics from that time period to expect blatantly racist propaganda. But I have to say that I was was surprised to see, in a reboot, that Asians would be bad guys again. 

It turns out though that this was a conscious point on Chaykin's part and indeed Buck Rogers, surprising for his origin, lectures others about racism. 

Not that it's handled well. The racists in the book refer to the Chinese as "the slants" and "Chinks" and to be honest it's uncomfortable. I know, I know, in real life racists say nasty, ugly things, but this is a Buck Rogers comic, it's not exactly going for realism. Plus, if other details from the original strips were changed, this detail needn't have been the one to keep. And even with his anti-racism, Rogers is far from a hero. Worse than being condescending (he's speechifies his Marxist theories about war), worse than being a sexist (he laments that he finds it difficult to take orders from a "skirt"), he's also way too trigger happy.

The art, too, was terrible. I should change that, what I mean to say is that I didn't like it. The lines are scraggly and painted over, looking like rough sketches that no one bothered to fix up, and the colouring looks almost like spray paint graffiti art, giving everything an unnecessary and out of place shine.  But, it was at least different and points for that. Like Paul Pope's art, maybe it's just a taste I've not yet acquired. 


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