Buck Rogers Enters Comics’ Silver Age from Gold Key, Up for Auction
One of the most important and influential science fiction characters in history, Buck Rogers debuted in the story Armageddon 2419 by author Philip Francis Nowlan in Amazing Stories volume 3 number 5, cover-dated August 1928. The character would quickly go on to success in comic strips, radio, and film, and Buck Rogers proved to be irresistible and memorable to a number of important figures from comics and science fiction history. Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were influenced by the character, as was Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry among countless others. In comic books, Buck Rogers entered the Silver Age from publisher Gold Key in 1964, and there’s a Buck Rogers #1 (Gold Key, 1964) CGC FN/VF 7.0 Off-white to white pages up for auction in the 2022 September 4-5 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122236 at Heritage Auctions.
A passage from the forward of Armageddon 2419 in his Amazing Stories debut points the way towards one of the sparks of inspiration that nudged original creator Nowlan towards the creation of Buck Rogers:
When I began my long sleep, man had just begun his real conquest of the air in a sudden series of trans-oceanic flights in airplanes driven by internal combustion motors. He had barely begun to speculate on the possibilities of harnessing sub-atomic forces, and had made no further practical penetration into the field of ethereal pulsations than the primitive radio and television of that day. The United States of America was the most powerful nation in the world, its political, financial, industrial and scientific influence being supreme; and in the arts also it was rapidly climbing into leadership.
1927, the year prior to the publication of Amazing Stories volume 3 number 5 was an important year for man’s real conquest of the air and beyond — not to mention trans-oceanic flights. It was also the year that the character Anthony Rogers (his name in his initial pulp appearances, it was changed to “Buck” for the subsequent newspaper strip) made the fateful investigation of an abandoned Pennsylvania coal mine, which ultimately put him into a state of suspended animation for 492 years.
Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo, non-stop transatlantic flight with his single-engine plane The Spirit of St. Louis on May 21, 1927. News of the historic flight and its implications had captured the world’s imagination, and on the same day the flight was completed, the publicity-friendly Goddard was in newspapers around the country showing off a rocket design under the headline “Want to be the first to visit the Moon? Apply to Robert H Goddard, Clark University.” Goddard was in the news again just weeks later floating the notion of “a passenger-carrying rocket for transatlantic service.” By the end of the year, newspapers were carrying a depiction of a Goddard-proposed “inter-planetary rocket” that wouldn’t have looked at all out of place in an issue of Amazing Stories.
Such events helped influence Philip Francis Nowlan and primed a mass media audience who were becoming ever more interested in the science of the future. Buck Rogers became a syndicated newspaper comic strip from John F. Dille Co. in 1929, written by Nowlan and drawn by Dick Calkins, who had been a pilot in World War I. The strip became so popular that it served to inspire other science fiction comic strips, such as Flash Gordon and John Carter of Mars. A Buck Rogers radio serial (1932), film serial (1939), and a 1979 television series eventually followed. Meanwhile, E.E. Smith would go on to become one of the most influential science fiction writers of the 1930s-1950s. And in 1930, Robert H. Goddard acquired new financial backing and moved his base of experimental operations to Roswell, New Mexico where he eventually garnered the support of the U.S. Air Force — making Roswell, well… Roswell.
Buck Rogers was part of a confluence of pop culture developments that helped take science fiction farther into the mainstream and change the world’s perception of science. Its particular vision of the future remains imprinted in pop culture memory to this day, and there’s a Buck Rogers #1 (Gold Key, 1964) CGC FN/VF 7.0 Off-white to white pages up for auction in the 2022 September 4-5 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122236 at Heritage Auctions. If you’ve never bid at Heritage Auctions before, you can get further information, you can check out their FAQ on the bidding process and related matters.
Affiliates of Bleeding Cool buy from and/or consign to Heritage Auctions.