This year sees the 80th birthday of time-traveling American hero Buck Rogers, the comic strip and movie serial hero who also made the 25th century both a weekly destination and strangely sexy for a generation of children in the early 1980s (Okay, that last part may have had a lot to do with Erin Gray's Wilma Deering for a lot of viewers, I admit). Unlike most octogenarians, Buck's future is looking bright (There's a new comic and new movie both on the way), but we have to admit - we'd rather he stayed in the Old Folks Home and let someone new take his place.The problem isn't that I have no faith in Frank Miller to be the man who updates Buck for a 21st century audience (Although, now that you come to mention it, I'm not sure that I do), but that I don't think that you can successfully update him. Even moreso than his brother in awesome/stupid name space herodom, Flash Gordon, everything special about Buck Rogers seems such a 20th century idea that I'm not sure what, beyond name recognition, would make people want to update the series as is. To start with, there's his name: "Buck"? Who's seriously called Buck in this day and age? The era of heroes with ridiculous names has, much to my sadness, passed; now we prefer our heroes to have more realistic, common names like "Nathan Petrelli," "John Connor" or "Buffy Summers" (Okay, maybe that last one's a throwback). Gone are the days when Buck, Flash or even Adam Strange could wander around our subconsciousness without ridicule, or at least writers trying to explain away the name in an awkward and unconvincing manner.
And, if anything, the name of his love interest has dated so much more: "Wilma Deering" was something that sounded like the set-up for a punchline that never came even when I was seven years old, and I was a naive and easy to dupe seven year old. Would any actress really want to play a character with that name today? And if not, will we see some lame updated version take its place? "My name's Wilma - but you can call me Willow." Or maybe she'll be an alien: W'Ilma De'ering, perhaps? (In general, many of the names from Buck Rogers have dated appallingly. Could anyone really get away with calling an alien race "Mongols" now, for example? Or a space pirate "Black Barney"? Even later additions to the series, like the 1980s TV show's C3-P0/R2-D2 hybrid "Twiki" sounds like it came from the end of a writer's coke binge at Studio 54. What is it about this particular character that brought out the worst in writers?) More importantly, the idea of Buck waking up in the 25th century seems curiously quaint now. It seemed more of a milestone when he was created - It's 500 years away! Half a millennium! - and there's something just... well, less impressive for him to find himself "only" 400 years later, for some reason. You could, of course, keep the 500 year mark, but then he becomes "Buck Rogers In The 26th Century" which doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
And yet, I can't deny that there's something irresistible about the basic, original, Buck concept - which is why I'd like to see someone try to do something that didn't just reboot a franchise, but start from scratch altogether, with all new characters. Give someone who isn't stuck in the past (Hi, Frank) the basic pitch of "a fighter pilot falls into a coma and wakes up five hundred years later in a world at war with aliens" and let them go wild. No Wilma, no brainy scientist Dr. Huer and definitely no Twiki, but something new, a world that's as alien and unfamiliar to us as it is to not-Buck (Seriously, that name has to go. Even ironically). There's so much potential in the idea at the root of Buck Rogers that's completely buried under all of the Buck that we know. It'd be nice if someone who's taking on one of the revamps could just throw away everything that doesn't work - up to and including the name of the title character - and make it shine for a new audience.