Buck Rogers is dead. Stranded in his space suit with only 12 hours of oxygen near Mars, he’s been missing for nine days. The opening scene of “Buck Rogers” #3 creates a pretty harrowing situation for the eponymous hero that matches John Cassaday’s chilling cover. The rest of the issue explains exactly how this opening scene can be true and, yet, the book continues with Buck in tow.
He’s in the future. Well, that was simple. It’s not exactly surprising to find Buck in the 25th century considering that’s the concept, but the beginning of this issue sets up the concept in a compelling manner, getting the reader invested in the character before showing him at all. Sadly, these opening scenes that set up Buck as a much-loved hero with devoted family, friends, and a grateful public are the high point of an issue that, while pleasant, is simply a collection of scenes that lack conflict and tension.
Despite the dire circumstances that Buck finds himself in (no hope of rescue, enemies closing in), there’s never a real sense of danger. Beatty goes too far in creating a sense of fun and wonder, sucking all of the drama out of the scenes. What should be shocking and surprising for Buck seems to only receive a “Well, here we go adventuring!” reaction. He’s a confident character, but confident to the point where nothing comes across as actually dangerous. It’s hard to tell if this is meant to be serious or comedic, because the plot says serious, but the actual character work says comedic.
Carlos Rafael does some good, dynamic work in this issue. He really shines when there’s any sort of action, like the talking bear with a gun that gets into a fight with some humans. He also conveys a sense of fun in his drawing, which adds to Buck Rogers seeming quite confident and in control all of the time. His actual character work varies heavily in this issue, though. The opening scenes show some very good depictions of somber, serious emotions, but, later, his character ham it up, acting melodramatic and way over-the-top. It’s unclear if this is purposeful or another example of the comic not knowing what tone and style to stick with.
“Buck Rogers” #3 presents some interesting and engaging ideas with a fantastic set up initially, but, as the issue progresses, it’s hard to maintain interest as nothing seems dangerous or to matter a great deal. Beatty seems to be attempting to capture the awe and wonder of past Buck Rogers stories, while also grounding it in 21st century sensibilities of realism, and the two clash heavily, creating a mishmash of storytelling.