REVIEW: ZICA TOYS 8" BUCK ROGERS FIGURE
When we think of science-fiction these days, I think most of us think of concepts like Star Wars, or Star Trek. Battlestar Galactica. Stargate. Planet of the Apes. Things like that.
Sometimes I wonder where science-fiction really got its start. Certainly it was popularized in book form by the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. And one of the earliest movies ever made, before 1900, even, was one in which a group of intrepid explorers -- in their Victorian finest, no less -- took a rocket trip to the moon.
But I wonder -- does science-fiction go back further? What form would it have taken? I am reminded of a couple of comic strips, from Johnny Hart's legendary "B.C.", about a tribe of cavemen. In one, one of the characters is drawing a primitive hammer, fire, and torch on a wall. Another is drawing a modern hammer, stove-top cooking surface, and light bulb on the wall. The first caveman is saying to another, "Him? He's all caught up in this science-fiction craze."
In another strip, a character is adding to a series of otherwise primitive cave drawings, sketching a modern-day Space Shuttle on the wall, complete with booster rockets. He's saying to another cavemen, "A million years from now, this is going to put some archaeologist in a mental institution..."
I doubt science-fiction dates back quite that far, though. By its very nature, science-fiction requires a certain amount of technology to help it along. Verne and Wells were uniquely suited to this, as the Industrial Revolution gave them the opportunity to ponder what machines might one day make possible, everything from space exploration to time travel, some of which we have since achieved, others not so much.
In 1928, a new hero came along, created by Philip Francis Nowlan. First known as Anthony Rogers, this character starred in a story called "Armageddon 2419 AD", published in the August 1928 issue of the pulp magazine Amazing Stories. Nowlan and the syndicate John F. Dille Company, would later adapt the character for a comic strip, and change his name to -- BUCK ROGERS.
The character would continue to be popular, starring in a serial film, movies, radio, television, and more.
When he first appeared, Rogers, a veteran of the Great War (now known as World War I), was born in 1898, and by 1927 was working for the American Radioactive Gas Corporation (and doesn't THAT sound like a fun job), investigating reports of unusual phenomena reported in coal mines near Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. While he is in one of the lower levels of one of the mines, there is a cave-in, trapping him. Exposed to the radioactive gas, Rogers falls into a state of suspended animation, where he remains for the next 492 years. He revives in a very different world, one in which various gangs rule North America.
Later, the concept would be reworked somewhat into a novella called Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and in 1929, the newspaper comic strip appeared. A radio show commenced in 1932, and at the 1933-34 World's Fair in Chicago, there was a ten-minute Buck Rogers film. A 12-part Buck Rogers serial was produced in 1939 by Universal, and there was an ABC television series in 1950. There was even a Buck Rogers costume for Captain Action in the 1960's.
But let's jump ahead into the 1970's. At this point in time, the action figure world was largely ruled by a company called Mego. With the exception of the waning days of the original G.I. Joe, and Mattel's Big Jim, Mego pretty much had everything going for it, predominantly with their 8" lines of action figures. They had Marvel, DC, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Wizard of Oz, and even were in the habit of snapping up any license that might conceivably be turned into action figures, although this did tend to result in such moderate oddities as Dukes of Hazzard, CHiPs, Starsky and Hutch, and The Waltons.
And then along came BUCK ROGERS. On the heels of the recently-canceled Battlestar Galactica, Universal decided that they still wanted to have some sort of science-fiction on the airwaves. Sci-fi was still popular. The original Star Wars trilogy was proving that readily enough. So why not bring back a classic character that hadn't really had all that much publicity for several decades, but was still a recognized property?
The result? A theatrical movie and two seasons of a very decent if occasionally off-the-wall television series, starring actor Gil Gerard in the title role of Buck Rogers. Mego picked up the toy license, but oddly enough, did NOT produce an 8" line of action figures. Instead, they produced a 12" line -- and a 3-3/4" line, that were based more on the movie than on the TV series, although of course there was a lot of carryover between the two, at least for the first season of the TV series.
In recent years, 8" cloth-costumed action figures have become popular again. EmCe Toys, with the blessing of Mego's founder Marty Abrams, have skillfully recreated the original Mego-style bodies, and brought out a very impressive line of Star Trek action figures, even including characters that the original line did not. They also did a capable line of Planet of the Apes figures.
Mattel, with the DC Comics license, has brought out a series of "Retro-Action Super-Heroes", based fairly closely on the Mego design, certainly with that intent in mind, and as with EmCe's Star Trek line, have produced a number of DC Comics characters that were never made in the days of Mego. They've also crafted an entirely new line of 8" figures based on the animated Ghostbusters.
And then we come to a company called Zica Toys. They decided to acquire the Buck Rogers license, and produce a series of 8" figures -- the first ever -- based on the 1979-81 movie and TV series, essentially doing something that Mego never really did. I have no complaints about Mego's original 3-3/4" line. Heck, I still have Twiki. But it would've been nice if there had been an 8" scale line -- and now there is.
Given Buck Rogers' longevity and occasional revisions, and since Zica's line of figures is based on one very specific aspect of Buck's history, I think it is advisable to take a more in-depth look at that particular portion of Buck Roger's world.
The pilot film, released theatrically in March 1979, fared well enough for NBC to commission a full series, which began with a slightly modified version of the original movie.
The series centered on Captain William Anthony "Buck" Rogers -- thus giving the character a new full name which still respected the original -- who was a NASA pilot commanding Ranger 3, a space shuttle launched in May 1987. Because of a life support malfunction, Buck is accidentally frozen for 504 years, before the derelict spacecraft is discovered in the year 2491. The combination of gases that froze his body comes close to a formula used in the 25th century for cryopreservation, and his rescuers are able to revive him. He learned that civilization on Earth was rebuilt following a devastating nuclear war that took place roughly six months after his launch, and is not under the protection of the Earth Defense Directorate.
The series followed him as he tried -- not always successfully -- to fit into 25th century culture. As there were no traceable personal records for him, he was uniquely placed, due to his pilot and combat skills and personal ingenuity, to help Earth Defense foil assorted evil plots to conquer Earth.
The pilot film depicted human civilization as insular and restricted to a few cities. However, this was revised somewhat in the series, where the previously unnamed "Inner City" became "New Chicago", and it was established that human civilization had spread once again across the planet, and also to the stars. After the movie pilot, little reference to "barren wastelands" was made, and as opposed to the isolationist planet seen in the film, Earth was shown to be the center of an interstellar human-dominated government.
Other characters long established in the Buck Rogers mythos were brought in, including Colonel Wilma Deering, who would serve as friend and partner in adventures; Dr. Elias Huer, the head of the Defense Directorate, and certain enemies, notably Killer Kane, played in the series by Michael Ansara, who is known to many science-fiction fans as the Klingon Kang from Star Trek.
New characters were also introduced. With the popularity of Star Wars' C-3PO and R2-D2, a diminutive humanoid robot, played by Felix Silla and voiced by Mel Blanc, named Twiki was introduced.
The second season seriously shifted its focus. The first season was viewed by some, even including Gil Gerard, as being too light-hearted. Instead of defending the Earth from external threats, Buck, Wilma Deering, and Twiki were now part of a a crew aboard the Earth spaceship Seacher, which had as its mission to seek out the lost "tribes" of humanity who had scattered in the decades after Earth's nuclear war in the 20th century.
Several characters were written out of the show, including most notably Dr. Huer, while new characters were added, including Admiral Asimov, commander of the Searcher; Dr. Goodfellow, the ship's main scientist; Crichton, a robot so snobbish that he was dubbed by some as the "Charles Emerson Winchester of the stars", a reference to the snobbish doctor in the later seasons of M*A*S*H; and most notably, Hawk, an alien humanoid with a feathered head that represented the last survivor of a race of bird-like people.
The second season suffered from both a writers' strike and lower ratings. Citing cost concerns, NBC canceled the series at the end of the strike-abbreviated season, with no distinct finale. The series was released in its entirety on DVD by Universal in 2004, although it is notable that the pilot episode is the theatrical version and not the TV edit, which included a number of differences.
My take on it all? Okay -- a lot of it wouldn't hold up all that well relative to modern science-fiction. Some of it was a little strange even then. But for the most part, I got a kick out of it, and have fond memories of it. And when a company called Zica Toys, who admittedly I'd never heard of, announced that they were going to be producing a series of 8" action figures based on this incarnation of Buck Rogers, I decided that was well worth checking out.
You won't find these toys in the stores. You have to get them online, through Zica Toys' Web Site. I'll give them a whole lot of credit for fast shipping. I ordered my Buck Rogers figure on a Wednesday, and I had him by the Friday of the same week, Priority Mail. It probably helps that Zica Toys is located in Kentucky, so they're somewhat centralized as such. Granted, your results may vary, but I was impressed.
Zica Toys plans a series of five figures. Available as of this writing are Buck Rogers and Tigerman, a muscular adversary. Next up are Hawk, the first time a second season character has ever been made as an action figure, and definitely getting my attention, and Killer Kane. A Draconian Guard is also planned.
So, how's the figure? Well, let me put it this way -- if Mego, back in the day, had been of a mind to turn out a really superior, really high-end, collectible-level series of 8" figures, which admittedly was something that just wasn't done in the 1970's, since there was no real recognition of a collectors' market in those days, but IF -- they had wanted to do something that was more or less compatible with, but structurally and production-wise, well beyond their "usual" product, I think it would have been something like this.
Honestly, I didn't know what to expect. I'd seen pictures of the Buck Rogers figure, of course, but being dressed in a cloth uniform, I honestly couldn't discern much as far as figure construction or overall quality was concerned. The headsculpt was an excellent likeness of Gil Gerard, but was it prototype or production?
This is why I dislike ordering action figures online and receiving them through the mail unless there's just no alternative. There are some things I don't mind doing this with. I don't mind ordering books, or DVD's, or CD's, online. But action figures? Not if I can help it. Sometimes I can't. There's no other way to get Masters of the Universe Classics, for example. And there was no other way to get Buck Rogers. All I could do was order him and hope for the best.
What I got, honestly, well exceeded my expectations. And given how high I generally keep those, that's not an easy achievement.
A word about the packaging, because it's pretty cool too. Buck comes in a "long box", that opens on all four sides and has a removable lid. He is visible through a "window" in the lid. He is packed into a form-fitting plastic bubble inside the box. The box is black with some star-like detailing here and there, and has the logo of the TV series on all sides, in brilliant silver and gold. Buck is copyrighted to the Dille Family Trust, whose name and logo appears on the box, along with that of Zica Toys. Also mentioned are Executive Replicas, Go Hero, and Winston I. Dunlop II. I'm not entirely sure who all those are, but they certainly have shown to me that they can put together one heck of an action figure!
Buck stands about 8-1/4" in height, very slightly taller than the Mego line. The headsculpt is a superb likeness of Gil Gerard. Although I believe it is molded in the same process used for Mego figures and modern Mego-type figures, the level of sculpted detail is well above average. The sculpted hair details especially offer evidence of this, and the facial details are definitely more defined than the days of Mego. The eyes are fairly deepset and painted extremely neatly. The hair has been given some additional detailing through paint-wipes, a practice which while I may abhor when it comes to weathering or dirtying, can be used to great effect on hair detailing, and certainly has been here.
The uniform is amazing. Honestly, I'm almost afraid to touch it. Those Earth Defense Directorate uniforms were mostly white. It makes me wonder what the TV show production crew's laundry procedures must have been like. The last thing in the world I want to do is get an errant fingerprint or stain on this costume. .
The uniform is a superb miniature replica of the costume worn by Gerard in the series. It features a white shirt with a collar and a sort of short tunic around the upper torso and shoulders. A colorful armband on the left sleeve represents the emblem of the Earth Defense Directorate, while another armband on the left with a little plastic gizmo on it completes the image. Buck is wearing a black belt with a silver buckle, with a chrome blue Earth Defense Directorate emblem very neatly sculpted in its center. There is a small device on the left side of the belt, and a holster on the right side, which nicely holds the blaster pistol that Buck comes with.
Buck is wearing tight-fitting white leggings, that have very pale gray vertical lines on them. The outfit is completed with white shoes. In the series, the shoes were pretty much part of the trousers, but hey, you can't do everything on a figure. The bottoms of the shoes are black, and have nicely sculpted treads. There's also a small gold emblem at the top of the collar. Really, it's a remarkable reproduction of the costume. The fabric is a sturdy, stretchable material, and has been very neatly sewn. The various accessories -- armbands, belt, etc -- are all separate pieces that have been dressed onto the figure. The right armband is sewn together, while the belt and the left armband use some of the slimmest Velcro I've ever seen. I'm impressed. Really thick Velcro can kill the look of a figure.
There's just one thing I haven't quite figured out yet -- how this figure was dressed. I suspect the leggings were simply pulled on and have an elastic band. But the shirt -- there's NO snaps or Velcro on this thing! Nothing! The only thing I've been able to deduce is that the shirt must have been pulled onto the body BEFORE the head was put into place. It's the only way I can think of that it could have been done.
With that in mind, I have to say that I can't really tell you that much about the actual body of the figure. It clearly possesses a well-defined physique, and is very well made. Buck Rogers has a good bit more weight to him than any of my EmCe or DC Retro figures, so I take that to mean that he's a good bit better made. But I can't really tell you that much about how the figure is put together, or what it looks like under the uniform. And sorry, but I'm not about to risk damaging the uniform in some errant attempt to remove it.
I can say this -- it's certainly well-articulated, and definitely above that of a Mego-type figure. Along with the expected articulation at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles, there's also an upper arm swivel and an ankle rotation. The arms also have a better outer movement than Megos traditionally did.
The hands are interesting. Along with being very nicely sculpted, with index fingers separate from the other three, they're molded from a very flexible plastic. This enables Buck to hold his pistol very effectively. But, additionally, the figure comes with extra hands, so they can be swapped out! The additional pairs of hands feature one pair that is slightly more open than the ones on the figure, and probably look a little closer to actual Mego hands as such, and a pair of hands formed into clenched fists.
Buck also comes with his flight helmet. This is a very nicely made piece, with superb detail and decoration on it, and it's a good fit on the figure's head. However, here is my one extremely minor complaint. These little pads have been placed inside the helmet to allow for a slightly better fit. And somehow or other, the adhesive used on the pads isn't a really good match for the plastic of the helmet. The pads don't tend to stay put all that well, and they leave a sticky residue inside the helmet, and that's the last thing you want to get on the rest of the figure. My recommendation here would be to remove the pads, find something to clean the inside of the helmet that will remove the residue without harming the helmet (what such a substance would be I have no real idea), and then place the pads back in with a different adhesive -- like maybe Glue Stick.
Granted also, Buck Rogers looks just fine, maybe even a little better, without the helmet, so you might just decide, as I have, to keep the helmet in the box and let the figure be displayed without it. And I want to be clear that I'm not criticizing the helmet itself. It's a nice piece and is very well made.
So, what's my final word here? This is an amazing figure. It's extremely well-made. I don't know that much about Zica Toys, how big a company they are, or anything like that, but after experiencing this Buck Rogers figure, I'm really looking forward to Hawk, and I find myself wondering what other licenses from the same time period are around that they might be able to work with. Is anyone doing anything with the original Battlestar Galactica these days? Get Apollo, Starbuck, and Adama in this format and I'll be all over it.
In the meantime, if you're looking for a very cool figure, from an interesting and entertaining take on a well-established concept, that's been carried out in a very effective and very high-quality version of a somewhat retro-style of action figure, you've got him right here. I can't imagine any Buck Rogers, Mego, or sci-fi fan being anything but extremely impressed with this figure.
The ZICA TOYS 8" figure of BUCK ROGERS from the BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY TV series most definitely has my highest, most enthusiastic recommendation!