The Adventures of Buck Rogers

"Buck Rogers" operating the controls of a remotely piloted "air ball". Amazing Stories (March 1929)

Buck Rogers” operating the controls of a remotely piloted “air ball”. Amazing Stories (March 1929)

On January 7, 1929, the first adventure of Buck Rogers appeared in a newspaper. Buck Rogers is a fictional character who first appeared in a novella titled Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan. The adventures of Buck Rogers in comic strips, movies, radio and television became an important part of American popular culture.

Rogers made his first appearance as Anthony Rogers in Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. The character was born in 1898 and became a veteran of the Great War. He started working for the American Radioactive Gas Corporation investigating reports of unusual phenomena in abandoned coal mines near Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania in the 1920s. Unfortunately, Rogers was exposed to radioactive gas and fell into some sort of suspended animation for almost 500 years. Waking up in 2419Rogers wanders around, thinking he had only been asleep for a few hours. However, he meets Wilma Deering and she invites him to her gang. Their leader struggles with the Hans who rule North America from 15 great cities they established across the continent. They ignored the Americans who were left to fend for themselves in the forests and mountains as their advanced technology prevented the need for slave labor. In the sequel,, six months have passed and the hunter is now the hunted. Rogers is now a gang leader and his forces, as well as the other American gangs, have surrounded the cities and are attacking constantly. The airlords are determined to use their fleet of airships to break the siege. 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.

The Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D. comic strip debuted on January 7, 1929, on the same day the Tarzan comic strip debuted. In the comic, he also meets Wilma and is admitted to her gang. A Sunday strip was later added to Buck Rogers’ daily strip and was reprinted in Big Little Books. Buck Rogers became famous enough to also inspire further newspaper syndicates to launch their own science fiction strips, the most popular probably being Flash Gordon, Jack Swift, Don Dixon and the Hidden Empire, as well as John Carter of Mars.

The Buck Rogers radio program started in 1932 and is assumed to be the first science-fiction program on radio. In the show, Buck also found himself in the 25th century and the actors Matt Crowley, Curtis Arnall, Carl Frank and John Larkin all voiced him at various times.

Buck Rogers’ influence on popular culture is quite large. Rogers’ comic strip is featured in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Sci-fi movie, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. ET is inspired to create a makeshift communicating device by copying Buck Rogers. In 1999, the series Futurama was highly influenced by themes and characters from the Buck Rogers comic strip.

 References and Further Reading:

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